Creative Expression, Culture, and Society
The creative expressions of African peoples are a complex blend
of many media, each of which offers a unique perspective and which
together communicate everything from the mundane to the sublime.
The collections of the Library of Congress are particularly strong
in information about art, handicrafts, music, dance, film, oral
and written literatures, and other aspects of the humanities that
enrich life in each African community and which have influenced
societies wherever peoples of African descent have settled.
African textiles may be used to communicate the wearer's
feelings or beliefs. The Adinkra
cloth shown here is from Daiei Hakubutsukan shozohin
ni yoru Afurika no senshoku (Kyoto, 1991).
A twentiethcentury example from the Ashanti people of Ghana,
this cloth is described as a "dyed and hand stamped textile
of cotton with silk inserts." Its original use was as funeral
cloth, and the word adinkra means "to say farewell."
Selected from more than sixty possible designs to convey
the extent of the mourner's grief, Adinkra symbols are stamped
on the cloth against background colors such as dark brown,
black, or scarlet. (Copyright ©The National Museum
of Modern Art, Kyoto, 1991)
Kente cloth is the name for the woven textiles produced
by strip weaving by the masters of this technique, the Ashanti
and Ewe peoples of West Africa. Designs were created specifically
for royalty, for the wealthy, and for ceremonial occasions,
and the status and gender of the wearer of each cloth was
proclaimed to all those who saw it and understood the meanings
conveyed by color and design. Illustrated, from African
Majesty: The Textile Art of the Ashanti and the
Ewe (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992) by Peter Adler
and Nicholas Barnard, are a cloth intended for wear by a
woman and one for a man to wear. (Illustrations copyright
© 1992 by Peter Adler. Courtesy Peter Adler
Celebrations of African arts have drawn international audiences.
Brochures, commemorative programs, conference papers, films, music,
and sound recordings document these events. The first World Black
and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), for instance,
was held in Dakar in 1966 and the second in Lagos in 1977. FESPACO
(Festival panafricain du cinéma de Ouagadougou) which began
in 1969 as result of FESTAC, 1966, is held every two years in
the capital city of Burkina Faso. It gathers together all elements
of the African motion picture industry to view the best the industry
has to offer and to award prizes. The Library has been successful
in acquiring the organization's quarterly FESPACO Newsletter,
individual monographs, every festival's program, and many related
materials such as posters. These may be found in the General Collections,
in the African Section's pamphlet collection, and in the Motion
Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.
Exhibition catalogs assist art collectors, art historians, anthropologists
and others to authenticate early works and to trace the evolution
of African art. For example, the catalog for the New York Museum
of Modern Art exhibition African Negro Art (1935) documents
its innovative emphasis on the artistry of the works included
rather than on their "exotic" origins. Catalogs often provide
the context, explain the function, and trace the development of
artistic expression. The Library's collection of hundreds of studies
of graphic designs and textiles in books and periodicals such
as African Arts and Arts d'Afrique noire have
assisted both academic researchers and commercial artists.
Information about artists and art collections may be found in
sources such as the Harmon Foundation collection of 37,600 items
housed in the Manuscript Division. Among its files of correspondence,
catalogs, and scrapbooks are biographical notes on African artists
and correspondence between the foundation and African art centers,
publishers, and artists. In the Performing Arts Reading Room are
monographs with recordings such as Art et artisanat tsogho
(1975), including interviews with Mitsogho artisans of Gabon.
Cloth stamped with Adinkra symbols,
popular today as commercial or organizational logos, has
been worn in Africa to express personal theological or philosophical
beliefs. In his The Language of Adinkra Patterns
(Legon, Ghana: Sebewie Ventures, 1972; 1994), Alfred
Ko. Quarcoo offers a table of symbols. (General Collections)
top right. The African continent glories in diversity. Based
on his own drawing, this map by George P. Murdock from his
Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History (1959)
shows hundreds of ethnic groups. (Copyright © 1959
by the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.)
Middle Eastern Division)
Of the four hundred to one thousand languages spoken in Africa,
the Library of Congress tries to collect materials in as many
African languages as there are materials published or recorded,
including "contact" languages (that is, creoles and pidgins).
The Library collects studies about the evolution and special characteristics
of European languages as spoken outside the country of origin
(for instance, French as spoken in Côte d'Ivoire). Although
most African languages use either a modified roman or the Arabic
alphabet, others, such as Ge'ez in Ethiopia or Vai in Liberia,
developed independently. All alphabets are represented in the
Library's collections. The Language Map of Africa and the
Adjacent Islands, published in 1977 on four sheets with a
text and index, graphically portrays the diversity and complexity
of African languages.
The Library's outstanding collections of dictionaries, grammars,
and similar linguistic studies are well known published materials.
Other studies are rare manuscripts. "Breves notas para o diccionaro
N'bundo ou Angolense," a manuscript dictionary dated ca. 1883
is held in the Manuscript Division. Others appear in more than
one format, such as Bibliographie des langues camerounaises
(1993), a book accompanied by a computer disk.
The Yoruba Collection of William & Berta Bascom, University
of California, Berkeley (1993), consisting of about 700 microfiches,
reproduces a collection of 470 rare books mainly on the Yoruba
language but also features biographies, novels, hymnals, literary
criticism, folklore, and histories, by various authors, dated
from 1841 to 1973, held in the Bancroft Library at the University
of California, Berkeley.The works are chiefly in Yoruba with some
volumes in English, French, Hausa, and Latin. This compilation
is available in the Microform Reading Room.
Languages may also be studied using the Library's collections
of recordings of the spoken word, music, and films. La Crotte
tenace et autres contes ngbaka-ma'bo de République centrafricaine
(1975) combines music, poetry, songs, and tales from the
Central African Republic in a book and two sound discs. The compilers
describe it as a "a collection of 13 texts corresponding to nine
Ngbaka-ma'bo tales and songtales, two of which were obtained in
several versions. For each text in Ngbaka (with phonological transcription)
there are three corresponding stages of translation: one, word
for word, a translation in intelligible French, and a final translation"
(p. 7). This work provides summaries in English, French, German,
Russian, and Spanish.
These pages from Sigismund Koelle's Polyglotta Africana;
or a Comparative Vocabulary of Nearly Three Hundred
Words and Phrases in More than One Hundred Distinct
African Languages (1854) illustrate the principal languages
of western Africa. Reverend Koelle, a missionary of the
Church Missionary Society, London, assisted in the settlement
of freed slaves in Sierra Leone. The languages represented
are those spoken by the repatriates, hence illustrating
the diversity of peoples who had been enslaved and then
and Special Collections Division)
The Library offers the researcher the opportunity to hear the
sounds of Africa in the Performing Arts Reading Room or in the
Folklife Reading Room, where the Archive of Folk Culture is housed.
A wide spectrum of music and sound recordings is represented,
including contemporary music; traditional music such as that associated
with specific ceremonies or events including weddings or funerals;
songs and ballads written for political parties and protest movements;
and national anthems.
The recording Bantu Music from British East Africa (1954)
provides a map indicating the location of each recording and descriptions
and photographs of the musical instruments used. African Rhythm:
A Northern Ewe Perspective (1995), a study about the Ewes
living in Ghana and their music, includes a sound disc. In addition
to their performance value, musical instruments may be works of
art in themselves. In Musical Instruments of Africa: Their
Nature, Use, and Place in the Life of a Deeply Musical People
(1965), the visual and functional aspects of instruments
are explored in the printed text and on a phonodisc.
This Senufo wall hanging from
Korhogo in northern Côte d'Ivoire consists of six
strips of cotton cloth that have been sewn together, commonly
called a fila cloth. The geometric designs and realistic
figures drawn on the cloth by Senufo religious artists are
traditionally used to communicate to the gods and to the
participants in Poro society ceremonies the wearer's desire
for protection and for life's necessities. Widely imitated
and replicated, Senufo paintings are sold all over the continent
as mass-produced tourist art.
(African and Middle
The Library's collections of hymnals have been used by theologians,
linguists, and musicians. Among the many owned by the Library
is Incwadi yamagama (1849), a Zulu hymnal compiled by
the American Zulu Mission, which is bound with a Zulu catechism
Incwadi yokubuza: inhliziyo yako ma i bambe amazi ami (1849),
the latter containing Bible questions and answers, the Ten Commandments,
and the Lord's Prayer. These works are found in the Rare Book
and Special Collections Division.
Materials about music and musicians may be found in several other
divisions. For author, educator, and poet Melvin Beaunorus Tolson
(1900-1966), the Manuscript Division holds a collection of his
papers (1932-75, the bulk of which date from 1940 to 1966), about
4,000 items that document his activities, which ranged from serving
as mayor of Langston, Oklahoma, to becoming poet laureate of Liberia.
His Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (1953) is in
the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Those interested in dance studies, linguistics, or cultural anthropology
may view videos in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded
Sound Division. Cultural Dances, produced for the Kaduna
State Council for Arts and Culture in Nigeria (1990?), is a video
recording in Hausa showing costumed performances. The video recording
of the coronation of the Kabaka of the Buganda, Ronald Mutebi
(Mutebi II), Empaka za' maato emunyonyo (1993), shows
a three-stage ceremony reflecting both traditional customs and
contemporary political administration of interest to historians,
political scientists, and anthropologists. A similar documentary
produced by Universal Pictures, Haile Selassie -- Coronation
Festivities,1930 includes close-ups of the Ethiopian and
western dignitaries in attendance as well as views of Addis Ababa,
particularly its large, open-air market and its artisans at work.
Written in Ge'ez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian
Orthodox Christian Church, on parchment, The
Psalm of David, Ge'ez
Manuscript Psalter dates from the fifteenth or
sixteenth century. The psalter refers to the Holy Trinity,
Mary, Jonah, Zachariah, and others. Depicted here is Moses
receiving the tablets of the Law.
African and Middle
Eastern Division )
Bound in goat skin leather, the Islamic prayer book Fî
Madh Al-Rasûl has an inscription that dates
its creation to before 1894 in the Gambia. This beautiful
manuscript is written in Arabic with local language translations.
(Near East Section
African and Middle
The oral narrative, whether epic poetry, folktale, or recitation
of a historic event, may be presented by a storyteller, with dramatic
emphasis and artistic skill before a live audience. The narrator's
performance is sometimes accompanied by music and costumed dancers.
Transcriptions of individual epics and griot recordings, such
as La Geste de Ségou (1979), tell stories like
this one about the medieval kingdom of Segu (Mali). Here the tale
is recited by Bambara griots and recorded on disc and also transcribed
as text. Anthologies such as Oral Epics from Africa:
Vibrant Voices from a Vast Continent (1997) present a
selection of works from across the continent. Also available are
video recordings such as Keita: The Heritage of the Griot
(1994), which dramatizes the Malian epic describing the life of
Soundiata Keita, king of Mali (A.D. ca. 1211-55). Modern African
poets, novelists, and dramatists have drawn on the classic tales,
proverbs, and histories of their communities.
The Library's collections include first editions, reprints, and
translations of such African authors as Amos Tutuola, Camara Laye,
Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ayi Kwei Armah, and Elechi Amadi,
to name just a few. The Library's collections of literary journals,
such as Présence Africaine and Black Orpheus,
and African newspapers that publish poetry and other literary
works will interest researchers.
The Library is proud to count in its collections such ground-breaking
works as Maxamed Daahir Afrax's Maana-Faay: qiso (1981-91),
reportedly the first novel written in romanized Somali script
and Abdulai Sila's Eterna paixão (1994), said
to be the first novel published in Guinea-Bissau after it achieved
independence from Portugal. The Library owns the 1968 and 1970
editions of The Black Hermit, by Ng˜ug˜ý wa Thiong'o,
reputedly the first full-length play by an East African author.
The works of the three African authors who have won the Nobel
Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) in 1986, Najîb
Mahfûz (Egypt) in 1988, and Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
in 1991, are in the collections, too.
Recognized internationally for his poetry and essays, Léopold
Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, and several
other writers (for instance, Aimé Césaire, who first
used the word in print in a poem in 1937) developed the concept
of négritude, a term used to describe that which
is distinctive about African culture as found on the continent
and in the diaspora. Senghor's Anthologie de la nouvelle
poésie nègre et malgache de langue française
(1948), a collection reflecting négritude,
has been noted as a milestone in African literature, influencing
other authors particularly in francophone and lusophone countries.
African literature has been made into television dramas and films.
For example, Chinua Achebe's popular Things Fall Apart (1958),
describing life in Nigeria, was made into a thirteen-episode television
miniseries in 1990 and now can be viewed in the Library's Motion
Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.
From time to time, outstanding African authors are invited to
the Library's Recording Laboratory, of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting,
and Recorded Sound Division to read from their work and comment
on it for the ongoing Archive of World Literature
on Tape, accessible in the Recorded Sound Reference Center
and Listening Facility. In addition, the archive includes material
that was intended for broadcast as part of the Voice of America
radio program "Conversations with African Writers," hosted by
Lee Nichols. Some of these interviews have been published in Conversations
with African Writers: Interviews with Twenty-six African Authors
In addition to the poets, novelists, and dramatists mentioned
above, the African continent has continued to produce many outstanding
nonfiction writers whose works the Library of Congress collects.
The historian Mahmoûd Kâti (1468-1593), also known
as Mahmûd K't ibn al-Mutawakkil K't, is highly regarded
for his Tarîkh al-fattash, a collection of stories
and legends about the Ghana empire dating back to the seventh
century A.D. Building on the work of his teacher, Ahmad ibn Ahmad
Baba (1556-1627), who was from Tombouctou, an important trade
center on the caravan routes across the Sahara, Abd al-Rahman
ibn Abd Allah al-Sa'di (1596-1656?) describes nine hundred years
of African history in his Tarikh al-Sudan.
More recent historians include Joseph Ki-Zerbo of Burkina Faso,
who in addition to writing many articles and histories of Africa,
served as an editor of unesco's eight-volume General History
of Africa (1981-91). Although a physics professor at the
Senegalese national university, Cheikh Anta Diop has become best-known
for his writings on the origin of man and the history of ancient
African civilizations, many of which have been translated from
French into English.
The examples described above illustrate the rich treasury of
creative expression, intellectual challenge, and cultural diversity
preserved in the Library's Africana collections.
Dala'il al-Hasan w1-al-Husayn (1958), an Islamic prayer
book from Zaria, Nigeria, offers a beautiful modern example
of handwritten Arabic calligraphy used to write an African
(Near East Section
African and Middle