A few months ago I felt compelled to have live conversations with fellow African creators, and hence “The African Narrative” series was born. The show has since evolved to include discussions with publishers, bookstore owners, literacy advocates, teachers and librarians.
The following was extracted from my chat with L.M. Daini is based in the UK. Leine is a teacher and author with a deep love for poetry and folktales.
Christine: I’ve seen so many stories about Africans that are often drawn from sad experiences such as poverty, war, etc. How do you think we can be at the forefront of telling our own stories as opposed to them being majority written by non-Africans
Leine: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it so eloquently in her 2009 Ted Talk. It is the danger of a single story. I believe it’s partly due to the writers being academia, historians, or students of Africa that may find stories of war and struggle more fascinating and appealing. And a happy go lucky story is considered not interesting, which means those stories don’t get told. Subsequently, people that are not of African heritage will buy these stories because that’s what they are used to seeing and therefore are willing to continue purchasing those books.
Christine: I’ve heard in some cases that publishers are hesitant to take on stories from minorities because they feel the market is not ready and the books may not sell well. Yet before the iphone was ever conceived we weren’t missing it, until Steve Jobs dared to do something different and after it was released we all went through a mental shift. People camped overnight and lined blocks all day to get their hands on it. Surely we could have continued using email, flip phones or whatever, but it didn’t take long for the smartphone world to blow up and for us to fully embrace the change. Knowing this, I look at the way certain literature is judged before it even sees the light of day and I think this should be flipped.
Leine: What I find is that the human story is the same no matter what. There may be different elements related to culture, customs, food, etc, but pain is pain, joy is joy, and love is love. All of these different things are real no matter the color or background. When I see someone crying, I can relate because I’ve cried before, I know the feeling and don’t even have to know all the words to comprehend what’s going on. I’ve relocated twice in my life and it’s not difficult to insert yourself in certain places because people are people and so the stories will be the same.
Christine: I get so passionate about this topic and it stems from my first encounter with Africans in the media when I first moved to the US at 16. The only coverage about Africa was the same call for donations to sponsor a child for just a dollar a day so they could have food, water and go to school. It became a natural reflex for me to switch the TV channel as soon as such an ad came on.
Leine: I was born in France, moved to my home country, Ivory Coast, with my family at the age of ten, and then relocated to the UK at thirteen. At the time my dominant spoken language was French although I understood English very well. On my first day of school, the teacher went out of her way to instruct my new classmates to be extra gentle with me and said, “remember all of this is new to her, it’s very overwhelming and she’s probably never seen that many white people in her life. We must look very pale and strange to her.” I remember thinking, “excuse me, I can hear you.” I was dumbfounded and went home to tell my mother who proceeded to laugh so hard making light of it in the process. Because of her reaction I did not internalize this or take it as seriously and was able to move on. However, I still find it disturbing that this was a very highly regarded school with an extensive focus on supporting children from other backgrounds learn English, yet they were so ignorant.
Christine: I’ve also encountered people that are able to mentally locate Paris, France or Sydney, Australia but will stumble at the mention of Nairobi, Kenya and may go on to mention South America as a possible location. I had an educator once defend this by stating that it is because most Americans have never been to African countries. Yet the same people haven’t been to Europe either.
Leine: There are a couple things I feel indirectly contribute to this. First off the map misrepresents the African continent and makes it look like a massive country. It also appears smaller than other countries such as Russia and Canada, making it look like a country and less important.
Additionally, the Pan-African movement which was created as a result of independence and wanted to bring people together as brothers and sisters from various countries, did not acknowledge different cultures well enough. So with that, it allowed other people to see us as a monolith. So it’s really up to us to change this narrative and create books, documentaries and more.
Christine + Leine: We need to do a lot more to celebrate African legends, everyday African stories that humanize us and help affirm our sense of identity.
Leine Marie Daini is a teacher and poet, and her fascination with the beauty and power of words began as a little girl. Now she really enjoys storytelling both in the classroom and on stage. ‘The Giraffe’s Eggs’ is her first book. Her new podcast, Giraffe’s Eggs and other African Tales is now available wherever you prefer to listen.
You can find Leine at www.lmdaini.com
-Christine Mapondera- Talley