(Extracts from a paper presented at the International Conference organised by the University of Par es Salaam on the Arusha Declaration)
One of Tanzania’s most important political landmarks, at least on paper, was the publication of the 1967 Arusha Declaration. The Arusha current manifested its far reaching waves in works of literature and the arts. Some artists laid all their hopes in the Declaration and, thus, sang or wrote its praises. Others had the ‘let’s wait and see attitude’ and, therefore were left as bystanders watching by the roadside. Yet others were sceptically critical from the very beginning and did not agree to swallow wholly the words of politicians.
These groups did not emerge only in poetry as some erroneous views seem to suggest. Tanzania, which had been regarded as the driest patch in what Taaban Lo Liyong had termed in the sixties ‘the East African literary desert’ was emerging as a gigantic and very important oasis of a written, indigenous African language literature. Many works poured out in prose, poetry and drama. Obviously, Taaban’s was an artificially created barrenness as it ignored completely the rich and abundant oral literature of hundreds of ethnic groups in East Africa and over-worshipped written literature.
Theoretically, largely due to the Declaration, Tanzanian literature was now overloaded with the call to go back to the village. A theme that had been initiated antedatedly in Shaaban Robert’s novel ‘Utobora Mkulima’, (Utobora the Farmer) got new blood in such works as Penina Muhando’s play ‘Hatia’ (Guilt), Ndyanao Balisidya’s novel ‘Shida’ (Hardships), in Kathias Nyampala’s ‘Ngonjera’ poems and in hundreds of poems written in Tanzania’s dailies and weeklies and on Radio Tanzania. Different music bands, choir groups and such prominent fine artists as Sam Ntiro increased the impetus of the theme by s pecialising in it.
Thus the period immediately after Arusha up to the mid-seventies is full of works of art and literature that are mainly concerned with content. It is at this time that one finds the artistic level of the written works at its shallowest. Even such a fine work as Muhando’s ‘Hatia’ is marred, as its creator gives us a very contrived solution to her heroine’s predicament – to go and join the villagers in the newly formed Majogo village. Ironically, it is also at this time that the concept of the village, the Ujamaa village especially, is portrayed as a conglomeration of, among others, all those ‘thugs’ and whores who have been failed by town life.
The artistic failure of the works in this trend keep on surfacing in literary pieces whose creators are led by the nose by political and ideological ideals at the expense of appropriate artistic standards. Perhaps the most glaring examples here are J. K. Kiimbila’ s ‘Ubeberu Utashindwa’ (Imperialism will be Vanquished) and F.E.M.K. Senkoro’s ‘Mzalendo’ (Patriot). These two novels deal with the liberation struggle in such a manner that the reader feels that he has been reading political treatises rather than works of art. K.K. Kahigi’s and Ngemera’s play ‘Mwanzo wa Tufani’ (The Storm’s Beginning) and Mohamed Seif Khatib’s epic poem ‘Utenzi wa Ukombozi wa Zanzibar’ (a poem on the liberation of Zanzibar) are two other works worth mentioning here. While the former emulated the Arusha and Ujamaa sloganeering, the latter was, in earnest, just a description of important successive events in the history of Zanzibar.
Following suit are the novels of Shafi Adam Shafi ‘Kasri ya Mwinyi Fuad’ (the Luxurious Palace of Fuad, a Feudal Lord) and ‘Kull’ (Coolie). The latter, though, has one merit in that it was the first major literary work in Kiswahili that did not advise the worker to leave the city and go back to the village.
The first ever collection of poems in English written by young Tanzanian poets ‘Summons: Poems from Tanzania’ has an introduction that quotes, among others, Mao Tse Tung on the importance of high artistic quality that matches progressive ideas in literary works. However, a closer look at most of the poems in this anthology, shows, with all due respect, a very poor artistic standard. Obviously, this was an aftermath of Arusha, for as we are told in the introduction, this is a new generation of poets who ‘started primary education after Uhuru, secondary education after Arusha’.
Lastly and perhaps the most typical of all in terms of sloganeering and parroting, was the anthology of poems that dealt with the Arusha Declaration and ten years after: ‘Mashairi ya Azimio la Arusha Baada ya Miaka Kumi’. In this anthology representative poets like Shaki, for example, claim that everyone in Tanzania, thanks to the Declaration, is extremely healthy due to having too much to eat!
Tanzanian literature has grown in various phases out of the process of negation. (This concept is not in the strictly Hegelian sense but rather loosely implies the process under which one type of literature emerges and takes the place of the type before it). Thus, as an indirect protest against, and negation of, the above trend of artistic bankruptcy, there were a number of developments in the literature. Three major groups can be randomly identified. The ‘popular’ cluster, the satirical clique and the free verse poets. Tanzania’s ‘popular’ Swahili literature was the most attractive and consisted mainly of potboilers, cheap books, junktales and sexploitation. This, in direct opposition to the content-oriented works, aimed at the audiences glands, fascinating their minds and exciting their flesh through the sensational and sentimental rather than the intellect. Popular variants of magazines such as Sani, Fahari, Ulatati and even the Party weekly Mzalendo became the major outlets for such ‘popular’ authors as John Rutayisingwa, G. Twarindwa, Mbunda Msokile and others. Love thrillers like J. Simbamwene’s novelettes ‘Mwisho wa Mapenzi’ (the End of Love) and ‘Kwa Sababu ya Pesa’ (Because of Money) emerged as short lived best sellers. In these ‘popular’ pieces, and through them, one noticed a distortion of social reality. How fair is it to take these works as ‘popular literature’ when, by all standards, they are just cheap potboilers? Popular literature should suggest contemporary literary tastes and the needs of the masses in terms of improving their standard of living and making them understand their environment better so that they can change it.
The works cited above do not fulfil the above noble task. Rather, they continue leaving the masses in the prison of their predicaments. The ‘popular’ trend was part and parcel of ‘mass production’ which, by its nature, turned everything into a commodity ready for sale in the capitalist market. The trend was a direct consequence of the preceding one; it was an immediate negation of a former, content-oriented literary movement.
The second major group that emerged with quite a force was that of the satirical artists. These filled Kiswahili literature with biting satirical voices which, in a way, portrayed the hypocrisy of those in power who were pretending to be serving the Declaration, and thus, the masses.
Examples in which satire appears in combination with other literary modes can be seen in Harrison Mwakyembe’s novel ‘Pepo ya Mabwege’ (Fools Paradise) and in C. G. Mumg’ong’o’s ‘Njozi Iliyopotea’ (A Lost Dream). These novels portray the gluttonous corruption of the ruling clique who are busy swindling even the little that the poor man is supposed to have. Yet the works show how, ultimately, these greedy skunks are merely enjoying a fools’ paradise which is very short lived. One discovers in these novels ‘exposure by ridicule’.
In short stories like those of G. Ruhumbika in his two works, ‘Parapanda: Wali wa Ndevu na Hadithi Zingine’ (Horn: Rice from the Beards and Other Stories) and the hilarious and most successful one both artistically and in content, ‘Uwike Usiwike Kutakucha’ (Whether You Crow Or Not It Will Dawn) one finds whole piercing satirical pieces which mock at the out-moded culture of society’s gluttonous leaders.
As in the case of the ‘popular’ literature , the satirical literature seems to have emerged as a negation of the content -oriented sloganeering literature discussed above. There was a need to have a more lively form to make the social and political measures interesting to the audience. There was, for example, a need to make the audience laugh at themselves and, in the process, prescribe some kind of panacea. There was no better medium here than the satiric voice.
Satire is peculiarly one of the arts that presupposes a body of settled social and political standards which shall serve as sanction for its rebuke and, at the same time, a certain security and tolerance in the application of the standards. The Arusha Declaration set those standards and artists were keen in following the implementation of the Declaration’s objectives.
Almost immediately after the Declaration’s proclamation some greedy leaders began going against the standards set by the blueprint. This is clearly and hilariously shown in the play by Penina Muhando and Amandina Lihamba ‘Harakati za Ukombozi’ (Liberation Struggle). In this play one discovers humorous ridicule and rebuke containing a demand for correction from those who have betrayed the Declaration.
Edward Rosenheim insists somewhere that satire can be identified partly by its concern with historic particulars. If we find no such particulars then, insists Rosenheim, a work is NOT satire. In other words satire must ask historic whys and, if possible, answer them.
Isack Mruma in his novelette Nguzo ya Uhondo (Pillar of Luxury) rather than ask the whys portrays the historic hows. In this work we meet the major character Lord Madengu, already dead from the very first chapter. The humorous ridicule comes out clearly in the commotion that follows the death of this Minister who, incidentally, and against the spirit of Arusha, is also Director and shareholder in various capitalist enterprises. The radio stops its normal broadcasts and plays soft, mournful army tunes bracketed by eulogical outbursts about the late son of the nation who died while building the nation. There is further hurly-burly among university students, some of whom are for and others against the late leader. There is tumult among the peasants and even amidst drunkards, the latter openly declaring that the death does not affect them so long as they are left alone with their illegally brewed gin. Meanwhile eulogies continue pouring out from the radio. The truth of the matter, however, and this is the satiric point that the author wants to drive home, is that the Honourable Minister died just when he was completing his eighteenth beer in the Mlimani Hotel!
Following suit are Penina Muhando’s play ‘Lina Ubani’ (There is a Panacea) and E. Kezilahabi’s play ‘Kaputula la Marx’. The former portrays the traditional enmity between politicians and experts. The latter shows the plight of the intelligencia in a corruption ridden society. The whole play takes place in a prison cell where the prisoners, locked up after trying to stir up some unrest in the country somehow drill a hole in the wall and are able to perceive what is going on outside.
The above works show how angry the artist’s sensitive pens have grown towards people, ideas and institutions that have betrayed the Arusha Declaration. The pens’ assaults and attacks have been directed to persuading the audience to view, and if possible, act unfavourably towards those satiric objects.
F. E. M. Semkoro
(We hope to include further extracts from this paper in the next issue of the Bulletin – Editor)