If you’re still feeling that there are no cool African superheroes you can look up to, or that there are no mythical characters who can inspire you, or that African myths and legends and fables are dead and of no use anymore, think again. I firmly believe that the future home of several of the African fables and stories which many of us heard as we were growing up is to be found in the fantasy genre. And that is the opportunity that I saw in adapting this fable. And more than adapting it, I would say I expanded it into a full-on fantasy novel. It’s an effort at creating a hero who we can be proud of as Africans and who can also appeal to everyone in the world, at some level. That really is the challenge that faces every storyteller.
The significance of this story is to address what few people speak about, but that I really feel is present. There is a certain lack of pride or lack of identity and representation, and as a result, a sense of marginalization and being left out when it comes to African storytelling in the sphere of popular narratives. A question I have asked many times is, “Why the most well-known African literature, and by extension, the most popular African literature, always literary?” By literary I mean literature that doesn’t fit into any of the so-called “commercial” genres such as horror, comedy, fantasy, science fiction, and romance. I am sure if I were to ask you to name a well-known African author or African book, you would come up with a title that was literary. And I think that is why this particular story and this particular fable, are significant. They represent the variety of storytelling that can still be found in the continent if we dig deep enough. It doesn’t allow us to forget our own stories.
From my experience, most African people aren’t aware of the heroes of their history: whether they be real or imaginary. All these heroes form a huge pool of overlooked cultural references. It is also true that a good number of them are simply underdeveloped stories, from a narrative perspective. And, linking this with the ideas around black consciousness, and the decolonization narrative, one does feel the need for a fictional character who could, so to speak, “rise to defend us”. I think that is another very important significance of the Lwanda Magere story. It gives us a hero that most Africans, especially people from Kenya, and more especially ordinary people, can look up too.
Another often forgotten aspect of the story is the power play between men and women and how women are represented. I have come across very many people that have a sort of utopian view about old Africa, or as a friend of mine likes to say, “the olden days”. I think that many people think that those days were hunky-dory. Everyone lived happily, cared for each other, respected each other, and lived as though heaven were on earth. They tend to forget the stories we have heard about slave trade, empire-building, and massacres – and in the precolonial era at that. And even if their response would be that those are the stories that are told by the conquerors about the conquered in order to reduce the latter in their own estimation, I think if we just take a step to the side and observe human nature as it really is, we would realize that there has been no era in human history and no place in the world, that has not been plagued by the defects and errors and mistakes that all of us are prone to. We are all human after all. Therefore, I think that the Lwanda Magere fable, from the point of view of the representation of women, is quite significant. I know that when people read the book I wrote, one of the main critiques is going to be that the female characters are underdeveloped. Granted, they didn’t have a massive role to play in the narrative of the first book, but with the passage of time, I hope we will all be able to see how the roles that they play will grow over time. In the original fable, I find it very interesting that the female characters have so much power and sway in terms of the effects they have on the hero. Just go back to my former post about the original fable, to see what I mean.
So even though I don’t fully agree with all the tenets of black consciousness, which is a topic for another day, I do agree that it is important for every nation, every person, every community on earth to actually celebrate their heroes. The Lwanda Magere narrative gives us an interesting and strong springboard into doing this.