Narrating the Postcolonial Nation

Mapping Angola and Mozambique

by Ana Mafalda Leite (Volume editor) Hilary Owen (Volume editor) Rita Chaves (Volume editor) Livia Apa (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection VIII, 291 Pages


The essays collected in this volume look at the way that Mozambican and Angolan literary works seek to narrate, re-create and make sense of the postcolonial nation. Some of the studies focus on individual works; others are comparative analyses of Angolan and Mozambican works, with a focus on the way they enter into dialogue with each other. The volume is oriented by three broad themes: the role of history; the recurring image of the voyage; and discursive/narrative strategies. The final section of the book considers the postcolonial in a broader Lusophone and international context.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Power, Language and the Poetics of the Postcolonial
  • Part 1: Historical themes
  • The Narrative of the Nation in Craveirinha
  • The Other Feet of History: A Reading of Choriro by Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa and O Outro Pé da Sereia by Mia Couto
  • Rewriting the Thresholds of History in Order to Re-Think the Nation
  • The Memory of Colonization and the Sentence of the Future in the Figuration of the Nation
  • Utopias and Aporias: The Measure of a Nation’s Dreams
  • Part 2: The voyage theme
  • Novels as Travel Diaries: The Case of Angola
  • Ruy Duarte de Carvalho’s Desmedida: The Voyage as Synthesis and Invention
  • The Voyages of the Postcolonial Nations in Estação das Chuvas and Terra Sonâmbula
  • The Reconfiguration of the Nation in Eduardo White’s Janela para Oriente
  • Part 3: Discursive strategies
  • Women on the Edge of a Nervous Empire in Paulina Chiziane and Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa
  • A House of Marked Cards: The Public Discourse of the Political Elite in the Novels of João Paulo Borges Coelho1
  • Reflection and Aesthetic Development in the Work of Manuel Rui
  • Nation and Narration: What Does African Cinema Tell Us?
  • Some Thoughts around the Invention of the Lusofonia Narratives
  • About the Contributors
  • Index of Names
  • Series index


← viii | 1 → Introduction

The three sections of this collection are built around representations of the nation in Angolan and Mozambican literary texts. Although some of the essays in the present collection1 make a comparative study of Angolan and Mozambican works, especially as they enter into dialogue with each other, other contributions focus on individual Mozambican or Angolan works seeking to unravel the many ways they narrate, recreate and conceptualize the nation, its space and myths.

These essays also reveal the way in which the writer’s gaze works side by side with the creation of the idea of the ‘nation’, in a trajectory that lies between memory and history, between territorial space and the voyage, seeking out new ways of ‘narrating’ which would integrate within its linguistic and genealogical texture the merging of cultural traditions that originate both in native territories and in the West.

Each section covers a topic – Historical Themes, The Voyage Theme and, finally, Discursive Strategies. Even though the three sections are separate, in practice the three topics are inexorably interwoven given that very often they are interconnected and naturally implicated in each other. If history is a relevant feature in the construction of the idea of the nation in postcolonial narratives, the voyage can also help to configure it through ← 1 | 2 → memory, as can the chosen genres, be they autobiographical or in the form of memoirs, etc. Even though I am aware that topics overlap with each other, I would like to draw attention to some of the possible conclusions that can be gleaned from the essays collected in this book.

Thus, if we turn to the topic of ‘Historical Themes’, it is common, when we consider the work of Angolan and Mozambican authors, to see narratives that revise the discourse of the foundation of the nation by calling into question notions such as origin, genealogy, genre, indigénisme, power, community. We notice also an insistence on a revision, from an endogenous perspective, of colonial history, especially at the point where it intersects with the pre-colonial. This is a revision which is based on testimonies that derive from oral tradition or from the revision of historical sources or written documents, and even from the imagination. From this perspective, we sometimes see the tendency to fictionalize historical sources. On the other hand, there is the sensitive acceptance that colonial and pre-colonial histories are made of interweaving and mobility, and, very often, of unpredictable discontinuities, all of which contradict the hegemonic and arrogant discourse of the genealogy of origins, as well as the doxa of antagonistic dichotomies.

Turning to the second topic, The Voyage Theme, and following the lucid observation made by Iain Chambers in his ‘Power, Language and the Poetics of the Postcolonial’ that ‘[t]o inhabit the spaces of the postcolonial city and the postcolonial nation is to inhabit a doubled inheritance that is simultaneously both local and planetary’ (see p. 9), we notice in Angolan and Mozambican narratives an internal traffic in the sense of a re-mapping of the hegemonic centres and the enlargement to other places of subalternization of the nation. This way, the voyage through the periphery of the countries can appear to reproduce the colonial north/south logic. We can also conceive of the voyage as a trajectory for the reconfiguration of memory or, in a different way, the voyage can be used as a reconstitution and discussion about the notion of borders. The voyage as a theme in the narratives reveals itself to be essentially an internal voyage within the territorial space of the nation-state, in the sense of giving recognition to the different geographies of the maps of Angola and Mozambique, and of going beyond the capital cities to give space to rural areas, and other cities ← 2 | 3 → and places that have been historically and culturally silenced. In the texts under study, the voyage reveals itself to be a form of knowledge about cultural differences, as well as an acceptance of the heterogeneity of the nation. On the other hand, the question of the diaspora did not appear to be a significant theme in literary texts from Angola and Mozambique.

In the third section, Discursive Stategies, we note the insistence on memoirs and on the intersection between memoirs and autobiography. Memoirs can be regarded as a narrative form and as a combinatory textual genre, one that implies the dissolution of genealogical frontiers, including that of poetry. The use of memory within narratives performs the task of recovering the repression of the civil war in the two countries and the pasts that were forgotten and for which there were no references, as well as the affirmation of subjectivity within the tableau of an imaginary that is community-based. The handling of memory by visual narratives is another of the discursive strategies analysed, namely the relation between the nation and the narration of the nation from the perspective of African cinema.

Simultaneously thanks to the unravelling of signs in the three broad topics (History, Voyage, Genre) we can see how the idea of the nation comes to be, through the deconstructions of narratives and the re-thinking of theory. It is from this perspective that the theoretical reflections by Iain Chambers which immediately follow show us that the re-writing and re-elaboration of the past and present ‘is also a re-writing of the geographies of modernity and, in particular, of the cartographies of the postcolonial city, both that of Lisbon and that of Luanda and Maputo’ (see p. 9). He also considers the ramifications of postcolonialism in the context of the former imperial metropoles and how the ties of interdependence that have been created are reflected in the chosen linguistic policies, as well as in the literary texts, that come to narrate a community based on language, institution and in theoretical/ critical orientations. In effect, Chambers views language as a form of cultural power and political manipulation: ‘In the asymmetrical relationships of power between the old metropolis and the new postcolonial nations, the language in common provides for the explicit exercise of economical, political, and cultural power’ (see p. 7). From another perspective, but in a similar line of thought, Jessica Falconi’s concluding essay argues that the linguistic policies and the narratives built around the ← 3 | 4 → idea of lusofonia operate within an ambiguous frontier between nation and empire. Ultimately, she calls our attention to ‘the starting point of the many geographies drawn by the narratives of the postcolonial nation which, in calling upon other margins and frontiers, other matrices, other stories, will also ultimately undo this same of imaginary of lusofonia (see p. 280).

Postcolonial writing operates within a place where the ghosts of the empire are enunciated in a language that ‘pretends’ to be multiple but is, at the same time, one, yet is always in the process of differentiation and national/cultural translation. How does it do this? By means of writing and the re-invention of history, by the trafficking of peoples and places and of new discursive strategies. This is what is demonstrated in the essays brought together in this book.


1 The present volume is part of CESA/the University of Lisbon’s Nation and Postcolonial Narrative project. The project was funded by the FCT and has Ana Mafalda Leite as its principal investigator. The following researchers participated in the project: Rita Chaves (University of São Paulo), Sheila Khan (Centre for Research in Social Sciences, University of Minho), Livia Apa and Jessica Falconi (University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’), Kamila Krakowska (Faculty of Letters, University of Coimbra). Hilary Owen (University of Manchester) and Iain Chambers (University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’) contributed as consultants.


Power, Language and the Poetics of the Postcolonial

The articulation of literature is a form of violence on the same level as that of the formation of the nation, to which it is always connected. Literature from the outset of modernity has always belonged to the nation; in order to define it a geographical border and a dominant culture that gives name and substance to its most disparate expressions is required.

—LIDIA CURTI, La Voce Dell’ Altra

Quem saberá da intertextualidade
das nossas cidades fracturadas,
excepto nas multilínguas […].


Is a European language far from home a white mask for black skins? As the unrequested inheritance of empire, is it merely a linguistic burden, an unwelcomed reminder of former enslavement and present-day planetary subalternity? Such languages – Spanish, English, French and Portuguese – came violently from the sea to disseminate these questions in the Caribbean, in the Indian subcontinent, throughout Africa and Latin America. After the retreat of empire and the emergence of the new nation there was no possibility of stripping the imposed language back to the bone, peeling away the layers of the master’s syntax and starting anew. That language had by now also become a home for the previously silenced and subordinated: the colonized. In the colonising logics of power, language itself, routed through local accents and the heterogeneity of historical immediacies, bent and creolized in the unbounded realm of orality, is the stubborn historical testimony of that inheritance. Neither the property of the old ← 5 | 6 → colonial power nor of the postcolonial subject, this language, simultaneously planetary in purpose and local in affect, mutates, survives, renews itself and lives on.

In this light, today it becomes impossible to impose a unilateral understanding and thereby ‘colonize’ the question. The ex-colonial world cannot simply be treated autonomously, and neither can that of the ex-colonial power: there is the need to register changes in the literary, cultural and historical configuration throughout the sphere of European cultures. In the specific case of Lusophone cultures there is not simply the inheritance of Portuguese colonialism that is transformed and translated into the elsewhere in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde; there is also the question of how the language and the culture of the ‘translated’, the metropolitan centre, is itself transformed by the return of other histories and narratives within the language and literature it considers to be its ‘own’. The centrality of Portuguese – now ‘uprooted’ – in the multiple narratives of an African postcoloniality neither proposes the mirror nor the monstrous mutation of its European ‘origin’. It is something more, unexpected and unplanned, which not only ‘talks back’ to a previous authority, but also goes beyond that dialectic as it decants its complex colonial inheritance into diverse planetary locations. This is surely the point that Gayatri Spivak makes about the conditions of narrative representation being inseparable from the conditions of Imperialism. The spaces of modernity, the very interiors of its cities, houses, languages and lives, are, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in The Origins of Totalitarianism, simultaneously the spaces of colonialism.

In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon touched the political and theoretical heart of the question when he affirmed that it is the colonizer who ‘knows’ he is ‘making history’. Understood as the extension of the history of the metropolis, the history the colonizer makes is not that of the country or the territory he is stealing. Hence the immobility in which the colonized subject is imprisoned as object in the colonial narrative of modernity can only be challenged by destroying that particular cartography of power and its associated historiography. Only through a re-writing of the very terms of space and time does it become possible for the silenced ← 6 | 7 → subaltern to speak from within the complexities of a history that is multiple, multilateral, contested and still in the making.


VIII, 291
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
history voyage international context
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. 291 pp.

Biographical notes

Ana Mafalda Leite (Volume editor) Hilary Owen (Volume editor) Rita Chaves (Volume editor) Livia Apa (Volume editor)

Ana Mafalda Leite is professor of African literature at the University of Lisbon. Her areas of research include Mozambican literature, African cultures and literatures in the Portuguese language, oral literature and postcolonial studies. Her recent publications include Oralidades & Escritas Pós-Coloniais (2012). Hilary Owen is professor of Portuguese and African studies at the University of Manchester. Her publications include Mother Africa, Father Marx: Women’s Writings in Mozambique (2007) and Antigone’s Daughters? Gender, Genealogy, and the Politics of Authorship in Twentieth-Century Portuguese Women’s Writing (with Cláudia Pazos-Alonso, 2011). Rita Chaves is professor in African literature at the University of São Paulo. She is on the editorial board of Revista de Letras and Via Atlântica. Among her recent publications are Mia Couto: O desejo de contar e de inventar (with Fernanda Cavacas and Tânia Macedo, 2010) and Portanto … Pepetela (with Tânia Macedo, 2009). Livia Apa is studying towards a doctorate in African literature at the University of Lisbon. She has translated into Italian works by Mia Couto, Ruy Duarte de Carvalho, Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos and Ana Luísa Amaral and has recently published Abitare la lingua: Riflessioni sulla lingua portoghese in Angola (2010).


Title: Narrating the Postcolonial Nation
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