Africa Film WebMeeting

Message from: (african-cinema-conference@XC.Org)
About: FW: The Myth of Wild Africa

Tue, 02 Sep 97 08:21:00 PDT

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    Originally dated: Tue, 02 Sep 97 08:21:00 PDT

    Fri, 29 Aug 1997 11:30:03 -0400 (EDT)
    From: Njubi <>
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    Recent posts on "travel writing" in East Africa are a
    reminder of the venerable myth of "wild Africa." Nothing, it
    seems, plucks the heartstrings like a baby elephant. For
    over a century, the West has constructed a powerful myth of
    the "dark continent" and their efforts to "tame" it. Thus we
    have the deluge of books, magazine articles, television
    series, and films, (remember Tarzan?)

    Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for the storytellers,
    most people in the West are introduced to Africa through
    these programmes sponsored by the National Geographic
    Society and other conservationist organizations. "Nature"
    and "Nova" for instance, are watched by millions of viewers
    in Europe and North America and increasingly in parts of
    Asia and Latin America.

    This construction of Africa as the last great wilderness,
    the untamed paradise, the virgin land, had no place for the
    African who had co-existed with the environment for millions
    of years. Thus the conservationists created "national parks"
    all over Eastern and Southern Africa to "protect" the
    animals from the "natives" who were then redefined as
    "poachers." These parks have continued to receive million
    of dollars from fund-rasing campaigns ... apparently there
    is no "compassion fatigue" when it comes to baby elephants.

    The explorers, big game hunters and settlers who populate
    this genre constructed a myth of wild and primitive africa
    that fueled the spread of racism across Europe and the
    Americas. The narratives are constructed from locations that
    reflect the prejudices and motives of the writers. like
    Columbus, Cortez, Balboa, Pizzarro, explorers in Africa like
    Speke, Grant, Livingston, Stanley were the vanguard of
    imperialism. they colored their narratives to suit the
    tastes of their audiences and sponsors. The same goes for
    settler memoirs and "novels" (Margery Perham, Karen Blixen,
    Robert Ruark, Elspeth Huxley et. al.) The so-called
    anthropologists and scientists among them are the worst of
    the lot because they gave an aura of leaning to the myth. of
    course the journalists, like Stanley, of new york, did not
    bother to mask their racism.

    I could go on, but I suggest that the filmmaker take into
    account the many critiques of the colonial imagination by
    East Africans. In Ngugi wa Thiongo's _Detained: A Writers
    Prison Diary_, for instance, he describes the settlers as
    "parasites in paradise. Kenya, to them, was a huge winter
    home for aristocrats, which of course meant big game hunting
    and living it up on the backs of a million field and
    domestic slaves."

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