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History of African Literature

African Literature, although unrecorded, dates back to ancient history. This is a research on the history and related concepts of how their culture began through their writings.

Bird’s Eyeview

African literature has more recently become more popular specially as it has greatly influenced the American literature. This website presents a general and more popular way of looking at the beginnings, development, influences on the literary works of the people of this culture-rich continent.

What is Literature?

As man started to walk the earth, he developed a system of recording down things around him and interpreting them according to how his own perception. This act of documenting may have been the start of the medium which literature uses. Not all written material may be considered literature though. Only those that closely emulate the human experience, emotion and thought are regarded as literature.

The Beginnings of Asian and African Literature

Literature may have its roots from the pre-historic period. The hieroglyphs of Egypt, found around 3200 BC to about 400 AD for example, is a system of writing which used symbols, have been used to record some things about what had transpired in history. However, these are not considered literature.

Among those considered to be the earliest records of literature is the Egyptian Book of the Dead written down in the Papyrus of Ani in 250 BCE.

Many of the literary works are handed down by oral tradition. In Africa, the lack of literacy did not make it possible to write literature down. Histories, myths, legends, including stories, dramas, riddles, songs, proverbs and other literary works were handed by mouth from generation to generation to entertain, educate and remind the people about their past, heroic deeds of their people, ancestry and culture.

Factors that Influence African Literature

In African Literature, the earliest records of works have been those that were found in Egypt.

Religion and Spiritual Belief

In Africa where Animism had been practiced for a very long time, lyrics, stories and poems, although unrecorded, have been handed down from generation to generation. Some of their stories were of animals that struggled for their freedom. Egypt, being the origin of civilization in the continent, has greatly influenced the culture, religion and literature of Africa.

Introduction of Civilization

Asia is the birth place of the civilized world. As Africa is proximally located to Asia, much of the developments spread to the continent. Also, much of the recorded African literature came only after the continent was colonized in the 19th century.

Political and Social Conditions

Living conditions and political situations have paved the way for the development of literary works, such as those that were written as reactions to slavery. Colonization has given the continent the medium by which they could put into writing and document their art, culture and situation. Much of those that were written were reactions to racism and the African struggle for freedom and independence.

Nature and the Environment

How the earth was created, the creation of the first man, the trees, the plants and animals – these are some of the things that Asian and African literature depict.

Notable Literary Works


  • Mzimu wa Watu wa Kale”(Shrine of the Ancestors” by Muhammed Said Abdulla (Swahili)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation,(1911) by Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford (also known as Ekra-Agiman)



  • Song of Iowino (1966) by Acholi



  • Yoruba


  • Epic of Sundiata


  • Kalila and Dimna (Muslim)


  • Chants and Hymns
  • Book of the Dead (Egyptian)


  • Things Fall Apart (1958) by Achebe


  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Olaudah Equiano, also called Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789).by Olaudah Equiano
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10 Responses to “History of African Literature”
  • rhein
    March 22nd, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    its good………
    i have some question!!!?
    can you answer this for me!?

    what is the difference between culture of Asia and Africa literature?
    what are the achievements of Asian and African in literature?

  • selemani ebuela guems
    August 15th, 2009 at 7:37 am

    As african student at the university of dodoma in tanzania,i am so interesting to exchange with you on African literature and get more clorifications on in.

  • selemani ebuela guems
    August 15th, 2009 at 7:45 am

    is it true that african literature is marginalized by european languages and cultures? a discussion was conducted by students and mostly concluded that african literatures and cultures are pushed out by colonizors. The use of Bible and foreign languages played an important role to this marginalization.

  • Julia Devardhi
    September 4th, 2010 at 3:59 am

    I am an Indian national teaching in Haramaya University of Ethiopia for the past 8 years. I have had the chance to teach African Literature and I found that it was more than what the normal world thinks of Africa and its variety of culture.

    African Literature is rich in its variety and full of information that proves to the world that much of it has been distorted by a few european writers.

    the way the “african” tried to express himself is universal and while teaching them the River Between and Things Fall Apart, we come to understand the richness of the african culture and how many of experiences are common to mankind in a large sense.
    To me it was invigorating and gave me a whole new sense and feeling about africa and its diverse cultures–

  • jeffrey
    February 26th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    what sort of literature can be regarded to be african literature? secondly what qualifies a writer to be an african writer?

  • peace
    March 1st, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    how could a student of literature possibly get a detail of the history of the three Geners of literature

  • Mr.HeaDShOt
    December 27th, 2011 at 6:39 am


    can you please answer this my question?

    what is the difference between culture of Asia and Africa literature?

  • Bababa Mujtaba
    April 26th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    African Writers and novelists such as Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wathiango and rest of them have clearly depict the true and real image of African’s culture.

  • MORE
    May 9th, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    my question is about African literature and development anybody who can help me?

  • Desalegn Tadesse
    August 27th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I am Desalegn HU.
    African literature is a literary work of African people concerned with their culture ,as well about their life. Its dev’t begins during the colonial period.

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