‘Africans have no idea of history’ claims racist author

By Toyin Agbetu | Wed 25 August 2010

The Evening Standard returns to its traditional racist form as it publishes one of its most idiotic attacks on Africa through the guise of an interview with the anti-African writer VS Naipaul. Toyin Agbetu reviews the article.

To classify Geordie Greig’s article as journalism would be an audacious piece of fiction. In his interview of VS Naipaul, Nobel Laureate and author of the new travel book ‘Masque of Africa’ we find an incredible synergy between both the interviewer and his subject seemingly hell bent on presenting one of the most academically stunted, myopically racist depiction of African spirituality ever.

The text opens with Naipaul claiming with deliberate duplicity “I am hoping it is not going to cause a firestorm. It is so not my intention…I just wanted to see what made the [African] people tick,”

The article states that Naipaul who claimed to be researching the spiritual heart of Africa discovered after six months of travel a ‘picture of the continent's spiritual identity’ based around controversial elements such as ‘child sacrifice, witchcraft, primitive magic and trickery’.

It is tempting to dissect Naipaul's ramblings about ‘kitchen cruelty’ to animals or the ‘profound’ stories of faith he found in Azania (South Africa). But to ignore his vitriol against nations such as Uganda, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Gabon would be negligent of me.

Whereas he is willing to characterise African spirituality in Azania through the language of ‘human body parts made by witchdoctors into a mixture of so-called “battle medicine” for respectable middle-class Africans’, his anti-African beliefs come to the fore with his ignorant musings on the rest of Africa as a Continent without a literary culture, claiming;

“I talked about this to people in Africa. They did not see it like that. They thought it just one of those little things that would be put right eventually. They did not see how fundamental it was not having a writing, a literature, a past you could turn to. I wondered why they could not do the writing.”

VS Naipaul

Illogical puerile agenda

And it is from this point that the either incompetent or profusely ignorant Geordie Greig fails to challenge the point and instead goads him on with an illogical puerile agenda designed to eradicate the existence of even well known African authors such as Ayi Kwei Armah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kwame Nkrumah, Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta, Chinweizu, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Ousmane Semebene, Ama Ata Aidoo, Chinua Achebe or Cheikh Anta Diop. Without challenge Greig allows and one feels almost encourages Naipaul to make cretinous comments such as;

“But they have no idea of history, though. No idea of a past. This is true of Africa generally. There is not a book in which you can see where you were 100 years ago and that for me is very disturbing.”

Perhaps disturbing is also the correct word to view the failing faculties of a once interesting author who now deliberately courts controversy to stimulate sales through shoddy and predictably offensive work. The Trinidad-born, Indian author has previously been criticised for his racist, misogynist and Islamophobic views.

With his narrow understanding of African beliefs he seeks out evidence to affirm his ignorance. Indeed Naipaul boldly writes;

“I had expected that over the great size of Africa the practices of magic would significantly vary. But they didn’t. The diviners everywhere wanted to ‘throw the bones’ to read the future, and the idea of ‘energy’ remained a constant, to be tapped into by the ritual sacrifice of body parts. In South Africa body parts, mainly of animals, but also of men and women, made a mixture of ‘battle medicine.”

Nowhere in the Standards double page article does the topic of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Ifa, or even its derivative Vodun emerge. There are no words on the Yoruba, the systems in Kemet or indeed the profound metaphysical philosophy and cosmological teachings of the Dogon whose art and ancient scripts depicting their Ancestral words of wisdom predates the literary accomplishments of non-African scholars by a time period substantially greater than a mere 100 years!

It is with great irony to recall that The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001 was awarded to V. S. Naipaul “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”.

Perhaps someone will lend him a copy of UNESCO's General History of Africa as a starting point. You see it is difficult to refer to this published article by the Evening Standards as journalism without bringing the profession into disrepute.

Likewise with anything VS Naipaul either says or writes. Pity.

African Origin of Civilisation: The legendary multidisciplinary scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop

External Links
ES - VS Naipaul: You might not like it, but this is Africa – exactly as I saw it
UNESCO - General History of Africa
The Masque Of Africa: VS Naipaul

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Is VS Naipaul right in stating Africa has no history or culture of literature? Is African spirituality across the entire Continent simply a mish mash of ‘child sacrifice, witchcraft, primitive magic and trickery’ as he claims?
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