Speaking the Postcolonial Nation

Interviews with Writers from Angola and Mozambique

by Ana Mafalda Leite (Volume editor) Sheila Khan (Volume editor) Jessica Falconi (Volume editor) Kamila Krakowska (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection XVI, 274 Pages


This volume brings together interviews on the topic of the postcolonial nation and its narrations with prominent writers from Angola and Mozambique. The interviewees offer personal insights into the history of post-independence Angola and Mozambique and into the role of the intellectual elite in the complex processes of deconstructing colonial heritage and (re)constructing national identity in a multinational or multiethnic state. Their testimonies provide a parallel narrative that complements the many fictional narrators found in Angolan and Mozambican novels, short stories and poems. The authors interviewed in the book are Luandino Vieira, Ana Paula Tavares, Boaventura Cardoso, José Eduardo Agualusa, Ondjaki and Pepetela from Angola; and João Paulo Borges Coelho, Marcelo Panguana, Mia Couto, Paulina Chiziane, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa and Luís Carlos Patraquim from Mozambique.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Editorial Note
  • Maps of Angola and Mozambique
  • Introduction
  • Part 1 Angola
  • Interview with Luandino Vieira
  • Interview with Ana Paula Tavares
  • Interview with Boaventura Cardoso
  • Interview with José Eduardo Agualusa
  • Interview with Ondjaki
  • Interview with Pepetela
  • Part 2 Mozambique
  • Interview with João Paulo Borges Coelho
  • Interview with Marcelo Panguana
  • Interview with Mia Couto
  • Interview with Paulina Chiziane
  • Interview with Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa
  • Interview with Luís Carlos Patraquim
  • Ruy Duarte de Carvalho: In memoriam
  • General Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii → Foreword

This volume of interviews with writers from Angola and Mozambique represents an important contribution to the study of postcolonial literatures, in particular those that have emerged in Sub-Saharan Africa over the last half century. In a field that has traditionally been dominated by anglophone and francophone theorists, critics and writers, the presence of important voices in the literatures and cultures of those African countries where Portuguese is used, has often been overlooked outside the obvious constituencies of Portugal, Brazil and the lusophone African countries themselves. This is not the place to discuss the relative ignorance surrounding African literatures in Portuguese among specialists on postcolonial literature in English-speaking academia, but to rejoice in the fact that this book sets out to fill a considerable gap. Following in the footsteps of Michel Laban and Patrick Chabal, who, in the 1980s and 1990s, published interviews with lusophone African writers in the original Portuguese, the organizers of this volume have, for the first time, enabled some of the most representative authors to have emerged from Angola and Mozambique over the last half century to be given a voice in English, thanks to the lively translations of Luís Mitras.

Literature in Portuguese is unique among African writing in European languages for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is the oldest among such literatures. Portugal’s early involvement in the slave trade meant that it established emporia and territorial zones of influence and interaction as early as the sixteenth century in areas of south-west and south-east Africa that now form part of the modern states of Angola and Mozambique. Cities such as Luanda and Benguela in Angola, and Mozambique Island and Quelimane on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa were commercial entrepôts long before the so-called ‘scramble for Africa’ in the nineteenth century ushered in the era of formal colonial rule by European powers in the continent. Mixed Afro-Portuguese or Afro-Indo-Portuguese populations ← vii | viii → emerged who served as intermediaries between the Lisbon-appointed European administrators and the African native populations in the hinterlands of these trading cities. In due course, these local creole elites would form the basis of some of the earliest nationalist movements, especially in Angola, but we should not forget the creole intelligentsia of the Cape Verde Islands, and its role in an evolving regional and, eventually, national consciousness both in the archipelago and in the mainland territory of Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau).

Secondly, the Liberal Revolution of 1820 in Portugal had repercussions on the country’s colonial cities, for it sanctioned the establishment of printing presses in the colonies and encouraged the emergence of newspapers, and in their wake, literary activity. Many Angolans nowadays trace the origins of their country’s literature to the second half of the nineteenth century, beginning with poems suggesting an influence of Brazilian romanticism and culminating in a collective response to new racist policies upheld by incoming Portuguese administrators, published in 1901 under the title of Voz de Angola Clamando no Deserto [Voice of Angola Clamouring in the Desert]. With the onset of twentieth-century colonial rule, and in particular during the Estado Novo dictatorship (1933–1974), this critical writing and nativist consciousness was inevitably stifled. However, during the years following the end of World War II, which witnessed growing demands for independence from European colonial rule among a new generation of African intellectuals, movements of regional cultural awareness re-emerged in both Angola and Mozambique. It was at this point that the first debates occurred about what constituted Angolan or Mozambican literature. The obduracy of the Portuguese dictatorship, which brooked no criticism of its rule in Africa, meant that the aspirations of these new Afro-Portuguese intelligentsias were crushed through arrests, deportations, and censorship. When nationalist movements were formed and embarked on guerrilla warfare against the Portuguese army from 1961 in Angola, and 1964 in Mozambique, the gun took over from the pen. Yet, as these interviews show, literary activity did not cease. Indeed, the African wars were as much literary wars as they were military campaigns. The poems of Agostinho Neto, poet and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in Angola were put to song, while much of the poetry ← viii | ix → published by Mozambican nationalists had clear revolutionary political messages. At the same time, three of Angola’s major writers, Luandino Vieira, Uanhenga Xitu, and António Cardoso, arrested for their part in the Luanda uprising of 1961, wrote while imprisoned in the colonial concentration camp of Tarrafal in the Cape Verde islands. Indeed, it was during his imprisonment that Luandino Vieira won a literary prize in Portugal in 1965 for his short stories, published under the title of Luuanda, which in due course led the Society of Portuguese Authors, the awarding body for the prize, to be closed down by the regime. All this explains the third reason for the unique trajectory of African literature in Portuguese: the close link between literary production and the concept of nation building.

When Angola and Mozambique, along with the other Portuguese colonial territories eventually won their independence in 1975 after the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship the previous year, state-sponsored writers’ unions or associations were soon created (in Luanda in 1975 and in Maputo in 1978), in an attempt by the new Marxist regimes to channel literary activity into the service of building a cohesive sense of national identity. It was during these years that notions of ‘Angolanidade’ (Angolanity), or ‘Moçambicanidade’ (Mozambicanness) were widely debated and projected, while publishing activity was handled largely by these state-backed organizations. Four of the writers interviewed for this collection played some part in the running of the Union of Angolan Writers and the Association of Mozambican Writers during the 1980s and 1990s. Much has changed since those early, idealistic years. During the 1980s, both Mozambique and Angola began to abandon their socialist policies before the collapse of the Soviet Union put a final nail in the coffin of their lingering revolutionary aspirations. This, coupled with the successful end of their own civil wars, enabled the Angolan and Mozambican governments to embrace what many critics would claim have become particularly virulent forms of capitalist development. The role of writers has also changed in the sense that they have increasingly come to question monolithic concepts of national identity, while some of them have sought to give voice to those who have, in some way, been marginalised by the great social and economic transformations of the last twenty years. This is why the satirical content of the fiction of Mia Couto, Pepetela and José Eduardo Agualusa has played an important ← ix | x → role in preserving the independent function of writers as expressing the conscience of the nation in contemporary Mozambique and Angola.

The fourth defining characteristic of African literature in Portuguese relates to the whole question of language. It is true to say that the debate over the role of the colonial language in African literature has not produced the kind of radical approach suggested and implemented by a writer like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Kenya, who openly rejected English as a language that could truly express African reality. Lusophone African writers have tended to focus on the transformations undergone by the Portuguese language in its African reincarnation as a way of expressing their own ‘Angolanity’ or ‘Mozambicanness’. Undoubtedly, a major influence on this approach came from the example of Brazilian literature, for Brazilian writers as early as the 1920s had adopted a playful, experimental attitude towards literary language, in an attempt to express a sense of Brazilianness based on the way their fellow countrymen spoke Portuguese. The narrative technique of Brazil’s greatest linguistic experimentalist, João Guimarães Rosa, was openly acknowledged by Luandino Vieira and later Mia Couto, as encouraging them in their own literary priorities. The Africanization of the European colonial language for literary purposes is not, of course, unique to Lusophone Africa, but in the case of the latter the literary flows across the Atlantic from Brazil, the largest and most culturally diverse Portuguese-speaking nation, demonstrate that this process in countries like Angola and Mozambique did not occur in a vacuum, but as a result of the circulation of ideas and of literary material within the lusophone world. Many lusophone African writers were inspired by the poets and fictionalists of Brazilian Modernism.

The authors interviewed in this book represent different generations of Angolan and Mozambican writers. The most senior figures are Luandino Vieira and Pepetela, both of whom were active members of the MPLA during the 1960s, the youngest, Ondjaki, born two years after Angola became independent. Most of the other writers came of age during the first decade of independence. The Mozambicans, Mia Couto, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa and Marcelo Panguana, belong to a generation of writers who began to question the dogmatic truths and the socialist realist priorities of ‘revolutionary’ writing, and in so doing, began to explore the artistic ← x | xi → possibilities of traditional African oral culture in their work. The same could be said of the Angolan writer, Boaventura Cardoso. Some writers, such as the Mozambican, Luís Carlos Patraquim and the Angolan, José Eduardo Agualusa, left their native lands shortly after independence and became writers in exile. In fact, Agualusa is the most international of Angola’s writers, having lived in both Brazil and Portugal, while exploiting the lusophone Atlantic triangle thematically in his work. Traditionally, the vast majority of writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa have been male, but the decades since independence have witnessed the emergence of female writers, and two of the most important women’s voices are represented in this collection: both Ana Paula Tavares, the poet from Angola and the Mozambican novelist Paulina Chiziane have contested the gendered assumptions of the ‘revolutionary’ years, to provide a view of their countries that explores not only the experience of women, but also how this experience may be nuanced by regional ethnic culture.

Indeed, one of the problems writers have had to contend with since independence is that national literary activity and notions of identity have been rooted in the cities, where such activity inevitably takes place. In Angola, for example, literature was born in the capital, Luanda, and literary activity after independence was dominated by the city, all the more so because of the civil war which destroyed or inhibited activity in alternative centres of literary culture such as Huambo, Lubango or Benguela. The situation was only marginally less extreme in Mozambique, where cultural and political power remained located essentially in Maputo, despite a journalistic and literary tradition in Beira that petered out as the civil war gripped the central part of the country. This problem of capital-centred prevalence is not limited, of course, to Africa, but could equally well apply to the nations of Europe (one merely has to think of the dominance of London and Lisbon in England and Portugal). However, in African countries that have emerged so recently from colonialism, the fragility of urban-based state institutions and the challenges they face in trying to represent communities divided by language, and where the urban-rural divide is still so marked and notions of nationhood still weak, constitute a breeding ground for profound misunderstanding. Writers such as Mia Couto, João Paulo Borges Coelho and Paulina Chiziane in Mozambique, and Ana ← xi | xii → Paula Tavares in Angola, seek to bridge this gap between rural or regional tradition and urban modernity in their work.

While writers such as Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa have been regularly translated into English in recent years, others, such as Luandino and Pepetela, and now Ondjaki, have been translated more sporadically, meaning that there is a considerable corpus of their fiction that is unavailable to English readers. The work of other writers is unknown in the anglophone world outside specialist fields within academia. That is why this collection comes at such an opportune moment, for it will enable readers outside the field of lusophone studies to gain an insight into the major issues confronting writers in two of Southern Africa’s most culturally vibrant countries.

David Brookshaw
University of Bristol
September 2013


XVI, 274
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
heritage history intellectual elite national identity
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. XVI, 274 pp., 14 maps

Biographical notes

Ana Mafalda Leite (Volume editor) Sheila Khan (Volume editor) Jessica Falconi (Volume editor) Kamila Krakowska (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). Sheila Khan is a researcher at the Centre for Research in Social Sciences at the University of Minho. Her publications include The Lusotropical Tempest: Postcolonial Debates in Portuguese (2012) and Imigrantes Africanos Moçambicanos: Narrativa de Imigração e de Identidade e Estratégias de Aculturação em Portugal e na Inglaterra (2009). Jessica Falconi is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra and lectures in Portuguese literature at the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’. Her doctoral thesis was published in Italy under the title of Utopia e conflittualità: Ilha de Moçambique nella poesia mozambicana contemporanea (2008). Kamila Krakowska is working towards her doctorate in Brazilian and Mozambican literature at the University of Coimbra, having previously studied at the University of Wrocław. She has published articles on national identity in the work of Mário de Andrade and Mia Couto.


Title: Speaking the Postcolonial Nation
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292 pages