Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to Write About Africa: a Parody

Thanks to classmate Meredith Sizemore for sharing Binyavanga Wainaina's parodic essay "How to Write About Africa." The full-text article is available on Granta. How does Wainaina's essay engage with our discussions about shattering cultural lenses before reading literatures that depict cultures or historical periods that differ from the readers'?


  1. Book recommendations: Paulo Coehlo, Brida/The Witch of Portobello (I love both equally)

    also, something I ran across that was interesting, that coincides with the Gender and War paper.



  2. Rabab Hashmi
    April 13, 2010

    The essay "How to Write About Africa" made me feel connected to every aspect of the content. Having lived in Africa (Malawi and Zambia) for 5 years, I can really relate to the "African" stereotype. Unfortunately, when I tell people I live in Africa, some of their first questions are "So you have seen a lion?", "Do you have cars there?" or "How do you speak English?" Sometimes I am so appalled at the questions that I don't know if it's a mere joke or a serious question to which I have to reply, "No I do not have lions in my backyard, we do have cars and English is the official language in Zambia". The part in the essay which addresses the fact that people should write about Africa as one big country is also true. People fail to understand that Africa is a continent, which has different countries of unique identities. The word "Africa" will immediately be understood, however if I say I live in Zambia then I will be asked, "Oh, what state is Zambia in?" When I go back to Zambia to visit my family, all my friends have had the same experience and we joke about the distorted perception people have about Africa. Not to be too harsh, it is understandable that people would have this view due to the way media portrays Africa. However, it saddens me when we do not attempt to learn more about different cultures without our "cultural lenses", as we discussed earlier in this class. Being an international student and having lived in many countries, I can truly say that there is a whole different essence to each culture under the stereotypical image, which we all should try and explore.

  3. Kelsey Souleret

    In "How to Write About Africa", the paragraph that discussed the animals in Africa reminded me of the Disney movie The Lion King. When Wainaina talks about how the “lions teach their children”, it made me think of Mufasa being the wise teacher, knowing the secrets of Africa and the “circle of life”. Wainaina also says “hyenas are fair game” to be cast as the bad-guys of the safari, similar to how they are the evil minions of Scar in The Lion King. You also have the mandrill, a character that takes on the persona of the “ancient wise man” of Africa. This proves how our cultural lens is influenced from a young age, especially through American media. Because of this film, the images of wide-open safaris and red sunsets are typically what comes to mind when we initially think about Africa.

    Wainaina, Binyavanga, “How to Write About Africa”, Granta 92. Paragraphs 7,12

  4. Kelsey Brennan (extra credit)

    This satire is a perfect example of how cultural lenses can cause a person to completely misjudge a region or ethnic group. The author uses a comedic tone to illustrate all the stereotypes that seem to accompany people's thinking about Africa, from the unusual cuisine to the native tribes running around naked. By wearing a cultural lens that is all we are ever going to believe Africa is like. However, through my own experience and through this class, my lens has been shattered. I traveled to Morocco and was expecting to be in the middle of a desert sweltering hot. However, I saw lush green hills and felt a nice steady breeze, nothing at all like expected. And through this course we've learned of the different regions of Africa from the Massai culture to apartheid in South Africa. People can believe what they want to, but without shattering their cultural lens, they are causing themselves to miss out on learning about beautiful cultures and their people.