Literary landscape in Equatorial Guinea

An afro-ibero-american universe

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Context
Donato Ndongo Bidjogo and other Equatorial Guinean writers’ involvement in the University of Columbia-Missouri’s cultural days featuring Hispano-American literature that was organised in the United States from 12-16 May 1999 was a pleasant surprise – Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country is currently undergoing a huge creative boom.
Once Spain’s only colony in Sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea became independent in 1968 and the new government very quickly cut all ties with its former coloniser by setting up a repressive autarkical regime. The intellectual elite that grew during Spanish sovereignty was gradually eradicated in a series of purges under the new regime. The country’s first Head of State, Macias Nguema, ran the country with an iron fist and was behind what Max Miniger-Goumas (a specialist on Equatorial Guinea and member of the Spanish college of African studies) calls « Nguemism ». Between 1968, independence year, and 1979, when the coup d’état against Macias took place, literary expression was banned. Important figures from the literary and art worlds were systematically eliminated. The execution of Dr Manuel Castillo Barril at the Bata prison, and the assassination of Professor Mambo Matal in the Black Beach penitentiary in Malabo, are perfect examples of the vehemence of this anti-intellectual movement. To preserve their integrity, the surviving intellectuals had no other choice but to take exile in Spain. Dr Nzé Abuy, the first Archbishop of Equatorial Guinea and author of a number of works (1) was one of the first to leave.
The fall of Macias in 1979 marked the renewal of relations between Equatorial Guinea and Europe. In 1980, Equatorial Guinea and Spain signed a co-operation agreement. Culture became an important feature of the new relationship between the two countries. Three men (previously exiled in Spain and very much in the lime-light) were to play a vital role in reviving Hispanic culture in Equatorial Guinea: sculptor Leandro Mbomio Nsue (2) (the Minister of Culture), writer Donato Ndong Bidjogo (3) (Deputy of the Hispano-Guinean cultural centre and co-ordinator of the cultural magazine, Africa 2000), and Professor Constantino Ochaa Nvé (4) (Director of scientific research). The Centro Hispano-Guineano cultural centre, which opened in Malabo in the early 1980s and hosts a publishing house, rapidly became the nerve-centre for the cultural revival, with Spain’s support, through the publication and distribution of quality works of literature written by authors from Equatorial Guinea.
During the 11 years following the 1968 independence, Equatorial Guinea only had one recognised novel. Cuando Los Combes Luchaban was written in 1953 by Leoncio Evita (5). During the 1980s there was a veritable literary renaissance, encouraged by a swarm of writing competitions and literary awards. This was Equatorial Guinea’s « siglo de oro » (golden age). Equatorial Guinea’s literary renaissance was consolidated in the 1990s with the publication of a number of novels, essays and treatises, often included in University syllabuses in neighbouring countries (especially Cameroon and Gabon). Such was the case with Donato Ndongo Bidjogo’s Las tinieblas de tu memoria negra [Darkness in your black memory](6) and El Parroco de Niefang [The cleric of Niefang](7) by the author of this article.
Original literature
At a crowded conference during the cultural festival at the University of Columbia, Donato Ndongo Bidjogo presented his country’s literature as being unique in Africa, having developed within a mixed Hispano-African environment. Equatorial Guinean literature takes its inspiration from stories by Cervantès, and Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda’s poetry. However, it is also first and foremost a way of expressing tradition, a product of the ancestral imagination, deeply rooted in the very soul of Africa – an Africa of ritual, of myths, of legends, of tales, of dance and of communal discussions. Artistic creativity in Equatorial Guinea is thus fed by very different, and yet very complimentary African, Hispanic and American cultures. Literature from Equatorial Guinea is the product of a tri-dimensional cultural environment – that of Afro-Ibero-Americanism – and this is what makes it unique.
Literature from Equatorial Guinea is also unique in the way it is evolving, as the beginnings of a literature of transition. It is an expression of the fight to deconstruct colonial hierarchy, a cry of anguish in its post-independence exile. It is a song of freedom in its eternal quest for a new world. It is formed by new cultural realities bearing the mark of a new cultural identity.
Authors and themes
There are basically three main generations of literary expression in Equatorial Guinea. These are clearly defined by their historical and chronological context. They are: the Elder Generation (colonial period 1900 – 1968), the Exiled Generation (1968 – 1985) and Contemporary Generation (after 1985).
The literature of the Elder Generation is dominated by the colonial period. It first reflects the rupture in African society violated by the brutal appearance of the « white man » and his colonialism. The Elder Generation is characterised by descriptions of the new African situation with the eradication of ancestral society, replaced by the realities of the colonial period. Lastly, this literature provides the first accounts of a new awareness of the indigenous identity and takes the first step in the fight for the country’s independence. Leoncio Evita’s work, Cuando los Combes Luchaban (cited earlier) had a strong influence on this period.
The intellectuals of the Exiled Generation lived through the terror that reigned during the first eleven years of independence. Most of these authors left their mother country and those who stayed under the dictatorship were exiled and isolated within their own country. During this period – a time of anguish for those who stayed and a time of anonymity for those who left – Equatorial Guinean intellectuals could not help but write about the people’s suffering. Literary expression became the African’s cry from within, his reaction to the awful realities of the time. This literature is marked by a powerful lyricism that Professor Mbare Ngom (8) has called the « moriña ». The « moriña » is the heart-felt expression of an intense pain used as a form of political protest. The Exiled Generation is a generation of poets, a generation that bears both physical and mental scars. Some of the authors of this period have remained anonymous while others are now well known. Zamora Loboch, Balboa Boneke, and Ciriaco Bokesa are all part of this generation, but their greatest representative is Anacleto Olo Mibuy (9), Equatorial Guinea’s literary griot, exponent of Afro-Hispanism and defender of the Bantou identity.
The Contemporary Generation arose out of the cultural renaissance that took place in Equatorial Guinea during the 1980s, with the support of the « Centro Hispano-Guineano de Malabo ». This generation, unlike the previous generations that were far more homogenous, groups together authors on very different paths. They work with different themes and have different backgrounds. The Contemporary Generation includes writers like Maria Nsue Agüe, author of « Ekomo »(10), the first novel to be written by a female author, or poet Juan Tomas Avila Laurel(11). Maria Nsue Angüe’s work is remarkable in that it breaks with traditional forms imposed by Spanish Classicism. Using Castilian vocabulary Maria Nsue Angüe creates an African semantic universe to describe one African woman’s struggle within the traditional and everyday realities of her world. Ekomo has had a powerful impact on Equatorial Guinea’s literature. At the other extreme are other still unknown creators. Their poetry is like the song of an innocent child. Sometimes, the nostalgic memory of time spent with a lost friend clouds the peaceful skies painted by the new poets who are running from the realities of contemporary Africa, preferring to watch their world pass by from the shade of a coconut tree.

1. Ciriaco Bokesa, Nzé Abuy en el Recuerdo, Africa 2000 N° 16, pp. 4-5, CCHG, Malabo, 1992.
2. Leandro Mbomio Nsue, Las Artes plasticas en La Sociedad Bantu, African 2000 N° 6, pp. 4-15, CCHG, Malabo, 1989.
3. Donato Ndongo Bidjogo, Hispanidad, Africa 2000 N° 6, pp. 2-3, CCHG, Malabo, 1989.
4. Ocha Mve Constantino, Guinea Ecuatorial, Polémica y Ralidad, Anzos, Madrid, 1985.
5. Leoncio Evita, Cuando los Combes Luchaban, IEA, Madrid, 1953.
6. Donato Ndong Bidjogo, Las Tinieblas de tu memoria negra, Fundamento, Madrid, 1988.
7. Gisèle Avome-Mba, Religiosidad, descolonizacion y conflictos culturales : el Parroco de Niefang, CERAFIA, Département d’Etudes Ibériques, Université Omar Bongo, Libreville, 1998.
8. Joaquin Mbomio, La originalidad de la literatura guineana, Department of Romance Languages & Literature, University of Missouri, Columbia, May 1999.
9. Mbare Mgom, « Afro-fascismo y creacion cultural en Guinea Ecuatorial : 1969 – 1979 », Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos, vol XXI, N° 2, 1997.
10. Maria Nue Angüe, Ekomo, UNED, Madrid, 1985.
11. Juan Tomas Avila Laurel, Poemas, CCHG, Malabo, 1998.
///Article N° : 5455

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