Why our literature is in decay

Why our literature is in decay

It is unnatural to pass through the world for the sake of being forgotten, and those that believe we are just mere dust in the wind that passes with the wind only to be forgotten have got it wrong. We are here to be remembered for our deeds, we are here to be noted for our achievements, and we are here to live life as we should; as equal men and women not segregated to a certain rung on the social ladder, and whosoever believes that we live only to fill the days with our noise, playing subservient roles ad nauseam is plain unrealistic.

Respect should be given where it is due, and it should be the respect of the genuine type; not that sort of ‘smile-in-your-face-stab-you-in-the-back’ type of respect afforded to the so-called heroes of the land that gave their all to ensure that the Kingdom is recognised on the international scene through their varying efforts.
Our heroes are not rightly honoured, often given the cursory glance in the form of honours made of plastic and medals made from tin at some occasion where the meals are served by figures that reserve the larger part of the buffet for themselves.

Our literature is one of the first on the continent, with Thomas Mofolo leading the way with his masterpieces, but even he himself is honoured more abroad than in the land of his birth. He is almost unknown locally, though lectures on his life and his work are carried out in various universities across the world, as if he lived there more than he did here.
The fact of the matter is that there is no sense of patriotism when it comes to the achievements of the heroes of the land of Lesotho, as if their efforts contributed nothing to the advancement of the state.

There are more books burned than there are books read in the country, and this means that the wealth which we have in terms of literature and knowledge feeds the braziers rather than ignite the minds of the youth that could themselves ascend to the high levels their forebears did if only the works of the predecessors were given due attention.
The average local school child knows more about western literatures than the literatures of the local writers who are trying very hard to present the views of the masses through their works. A work of literature does not express only the views of the author, but it is also a body of knowledge that addresses the concerns of the masses within which the writer grew up among and became that which is later revered in the works he or she pens.

It is perhaps this fact, that is, the mirror image of the society as seen in the words of the book of literature that leads to the local society not wanting to honour the writer because the picture he or she presents is not exactly what they want to see.

The colonial age of the chiefs is almost gone and there is a new type of chief in the picture; the politician that works really hard to be aggrandised in almost every field of study. If the work somehow reveals some of the weakness in the system of governance or social arrangement, then such a work is secluded to the darkest corners of the libraries where it shall not be found.
There is no truth that is partial, and the truth is meant to uplift the individual and the masses out of the clutches of unemployment, poverty and the general lack in proper welfare structures that ensure that the lives of the citizens are comfortable enough.

The expectation that the works of literature written can only be of the patronising type is the surest way to error, the type of error that sees entire countries going around in circles instead of progressing to a future of self-sufficiency and independence.

The literature of the land carries both the ideology and the thought pattern of the masses that make up the larger part of the populace, this means that shutting down literature occludes their wishes to a corner. The literature is the vehicle that addresses their concerns and without it, such concerns never see the light of day; and the cycle of poverty and general poor welfare structures goes on.

If you have read Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, then you will know as a fact that some of the core social concerns need to be written about to address current circumstances and to be a point of reference for the generations that follow. Had this figure not bothered to air his concerns in this work, then the thoughts on what came to be termed ‘Black Consciousness’ would not be known and the system of Apartheid would have gone on unchecked, and the South Africa of the present day would not be known.

The Nazi type of ideology Verwoed and cronies wanted to drive would have remained in place and who knows what would have become of the majority? It therefore does not make sense why there is a general disregard for the words of the writers that bother to observe and to analyse the trends in society for the benefit of the harmonious living of society as a whole.
Why the culture of utter disregard for the words of the literary figures of the land goes on unceasingly in Lesotho is simply a sign that we are a society that does not know where we are going, blundering blindly into a future we shall surely not reach for all of the points of reference are ignored. There is just no way one can reach a destination without a roadmap, and there is no way one can achieve success in anything if they do not have a manual.

The literature of the land serves as the manual when it comes to the point of addressing issues and establishing their solutions, because the literature is written from the point of view of the individual, and the individual is in him or herself the most basic point of the entity we call society.
Of Black Consciousness, Steve Biko has this to say:

Black Consciousness is an attitude of mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.

It is based on a self-examination, which has ultimately led them to believe that by seeking to run away from themselves and emulate the white man, they are insulting the intelligence of whoever created them black.

The literature within which we write offers a door into which we can enter to self-discover, look into the mirror, and see ourselves for who we really are; a quality without which we cannot progress. It does not make sense to have the body of work of the preceding generations of writers in the country to be analysed by scholars from universities outside of the Kingdom, when the academics in the land are equally if not more capable of providing incisive analysis on the different works of literature because they do it from the inside.

The scholar from another land does not understand the basic cultures of the Basotho because the culture within which he or she grew up in is different. The views and perspectives they give are those of an individual speaking from the outside, and they therefore cannot be as succinct as those of a scholar born and raised in the same country as the writer whose work is being analysed. Allowing the outside to analyse the inside leads to the inside forgetting what the real truth and the fact of the matter is, like a figure being told by voices from the outside who he or she really is.
One has to self-know, to self-understand, and I think that for the longest period, the bane of Lesotho literature stemmed from it being analysed by figures with academic titles who know very little about local custom and tradition, about the prevalent social and cultural aspects of Basotho as a society.

This makes it impossible for the local to self-define when it comes to the local literature because one is then taught about local literature by a voice that comes from the outside which he or she does not understand.

Ngugi speaks of the double burden the African student goes through in having to learn of their local culture in a foreign language. This means that one first has to interpret the local work written in a foreign language into the local language, and then to find the meanings in the local language, then to write the final analysis in the foreign language.

It is a process that takes long, so long that by the time the local pupil gets to the meaning, they are too tired to read another local work and instead choose to shelve it.
I am currently surprised at the large number of local works of literature from the past that are not known to the average student (including of course me). The basic question is: why is it that they are not read in schools? Why are they limited only to being read by people that have a particular interest?

There may be answers to these questions, but I guess the answers themselves prove to be vague and the general misconception that we cannot write as Basotho goes on unchecked.
My argument is based on the question: if we were the first to write and to publish works in vernacular and other colonial languages, how true is it that we cannot write? It does not make sense to be the pioneer of something and then later to be considered an ignoramus when it comes to the actual act of performing the duties related to the execution of that which one pioneered.
There are a few facts that may be unsavoury for individuals holding views contrary. The first is that Lesotho lost its culture of publication with the advent of the age where publishing houses did the printing and publication of works for the lucrative school market. This means that works that were meant for private entertainment were left out in the cold and only books that were meant to be part of the curriculum took the fore.

The writers of the works meant for reading in private somehow lost the will to write because far often than less, their manuscripts would languish in the dark to be eaten by moths or, as is the case with many works, were used as kindle for fire by relatives who came across them in the trunks where they were kept.
This does not apply only to those writers that were unknown, but it also applied to such famous figures as Thomas Mofolo whose body of unpublished works was lost after his death. Such a loss means that the treasure in terms of knowledge contained in such works is lost forever, and there are certain salient aspects of the writer we shall never get to know, meaning that the following generations of writers that might have benefited from such works have lost out. And the buck stops there.

There is a general disregard for works of literature ever since the political system changed in the post-independence era. Only those works that are related to the veneration of the political structure and thought are given preference over those works that explore other issues prevalent in society. The poet that speaks of the peace in a brook is not given preference, rather, the poet that composes political slogans actually gets something in return for their effort.

The fact of the matter is that every individual existent on earth needs to be acknowledged for their effort, and where such acknowledgement is lacking, it is not worth anyone’s while to go on doing a task that does not pay in one’s lifetime.

Posthumous awards do not put food on the table of the writer or anyone, in fact, posthumous awards are the surest expression of political hypocrisy; and it is rampant on the mainland of Africa.
There is just no honour in being called a giant of literature or any other art form if the system treats one as a child who deserves only sweets as payment for their work. The writer and the artist in the land of Moshoeshoe is treated as such; a child who scratches paper for the sake of personal entertainment and not for the benefit of the minds of the nation as a whole.
The irony in all this is that the judges actually make an effort to go and watch operas and stage plays from other countries and have the sense of hypocrisy to actually comment whilst they oppress the local writer and artist in varying ways.

Literature and art define a people, and without them, a people has no identity or sense thereof: thus the fumbling one finds in Basotho society of the current era when it comes to the addressing of issues that really matter. We need to know who we are in terms of our literature and art if we are to progress.

By: Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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