Alex Bangirana

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 11:00-12:30 Room II

Speaker: Alex Bangirana (Uganda)




Alex Bangirana


Literature is a mode of communication through which both individual and collective experiences, thoughts and feeling are made through various forms of expressions – narratives and recitations. Literature gives us an insight into human nature, thoughts and actions, and the psychosocial composure of individuals within a community. Some scholars like Henry Glassie have argued that “context is the source of interpretation, the environment of significance. Outside context there is no understanding.” Every society creates its own literature in the context of its lived reality. Literature is about politics, religion, sociology, arithmetic etc. It is about life. It educates and entertains. Negative behaviour and values are condemned while the positive ones are reinforced. Central to this mode of communication is imagery. The purpose of imagery is to clarify the unknown. It is desirable that literature of a people should be created in their language. We can not empower people in foreign languages

The ideal world

The best description of the ideal world I have found is codified in a Chinese proverb which goes:

If there is light in the soul,

There will be beauty in the person.

If there is beauty in the person,

There will be harmony in the house.

If there is harmony in the house,

There will be peace in the world.

This is what all cultures and civilisations aspire for.

The Real World

We are aware that we do not live in the ideal world, we live in the real world. What is the nature of the world in which we live? I will quote a conversation some European explorer, Samuel Baker, had with some African chief called Commoro, at whose court he had been hosted in the 19th Century.

Baker: If you have no belief in a future state, why should a man be good? Why should he not be bad, if you can prosper by wickedness?

Commoro: Most people are bad; if they are strong, they take from the weak. The good people are all weak; they are good because they are not strong enough to be bad.

Commoro’s argument is that the real world in which we live, is far from the ideal. Literature attempts to bridge the gap between the worlds by demonstrating that the ideal world is within reach. It further shows that we can overcome the difficulties we experience in the real world.

Children’s Literature

Children’s literature in Africa has its roots in traditional folktales that include myths, legends and fables. All these stories have been oral and they form the main source of written literature for children today. Children’s literature has developed and is presented in various forms such story books, picture books, historical fiction, modern fantasy and fiction. Myths and legends deal with a bygone era. Characters in myths and legends are gods, demi-gods, and super human beings living in glorified times. The characters are seen to have absolute authority to cause things to be, including the creation of human being. The listener is ordinarily expected or required to believe the account to be true. Whatever is presented in myths and legends was to be followed for the sake of order and harmony. This is not to say that such positions were necessarily just! For example, there are some myths that argue that kings deserve their position because it was given to them by the creator. Similarly, the untouchable people at the bottom of the social structure were put there by the same God. Any attempt to challenge or change such a position is seen as challenging God the almighty.

On the other hand, folktales and fables are about a world that resembles the one in which we live. Characters in folktales behave and act like people we know of, some are fair others are unjust; some are good others are bad; some are considerate others are selfish – traits very similar to those found in the real world.

Fables use animal characters through which the narrator is able to comment on undesirable behaviour in society. We earlier on said that literature works through images. Animal characters are symbolic of human beings. Trickester tales, a subdivision of fables demonstrate that the strong can never take from the weak forever; they further show that the situation in which the strong take from the weak is not desirable and it is not good.

The ideal world is the harmonious one in which all people do as they should. People are good not because they are weak but because they owe it to the community. Society owes us as much as we owe it. The ideal world is the harmonious one in which there is no hatred, there is plenty of love, there is no injustice.

Aware that there is a shortage of goodness, a shortage of justice, a shortage of love – society developed literature. Literature cautions and discouraging those who think that the strong should oppress and take from the weak.

In trickster tales, small and weak animals defeat larger and more powerful ones. There are many examples of such tales where hare or chameleon come out victorious by defeating elephants and lions.

Literature in general is facing major challenges arising out of technological developments. Books now have to compete with DVDs, TV and Video among others. I am consoled by the fact that these technological toys are not as convenient to carry around and use the way you can read a book under a tree or the train. The book has its major advantages.


Myths and legends set rules and standards by which society is to be guided, controlled and governed. To go against any of these standards is to wrong the gods and invites calamity to befall the offender. This in a way is an attempt to establish an ideal world where everybody will not do as they please but as decreed.

Folktales and fables demonstrate human failings. Children, for whom this literature is intended, are at an early age taught to aspire to build an ideal world because it is achievable.

Children are taught through fables and folktales that the real world is hurting because it lacks order and peace; this is the reason, there is no harmony.

Each folk tale ends with a moral meant to reinforce the central message of the story. The moral will commend virtue on the one part and condemn vice on the other. This is the basis of the dream that the ideal world is achievable. In addition to the literature that has developed out of oral folktales we have diversified into picture books, modern fantasy and fiction, contemporary fiction and poetry.

One major element that runs through all good children’s literature is that children are shown that there are difficulties in this real world and they are shown that these difficulties are not impossible to overcome. In creating literature, we aim to create in the child’s formative mind the impression that for a harmonious world to be – the strong must assist the weak, and that being physically weak does not condemn one to failure in the face of daunting and supposedly insurmountable challenge. Good literature says to them, you shall overcome.