THE BURDEN OF MEMORY: CONSIDERING GERMAN COLONIAL HISTORY IN AFRICA “memory obviously rejects amnesia…” (Soyinka 1999)
In his groundbreaking book titled The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness (1999), Wole Soyinka questions the way devastating histories of oppression have been dealt with in the independence era. He asks; “Once oppression stops, is reconciliation between oppressor and victim possible? In the face of centuries long devastations wrought on the African continent and her Diaspora by slavery, colonialism, Apartheid and the manifold faces of racism what forms of recompense could possibly be adequate?” Writing about how different states have tried to address these atrocities through reconciliatory structures such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, and its curative leaning towards curbing reoccurences of such histories from happening in the contemporary and, alongside this, to move towards a place of healing, Soyinka proposes a third way of dealing with these histories. He proposes art - poetry, music, theatre and visual arts - as the possible “seed of reconciliation”, arguing that “art (is) the generous vessel that can hold together the burden of memory and the hope of forgiveness”.
Thinking about Soyinka’s proposition in relation to the history of German Colonialism in Africa, this project considers a coming together of creative work produced in the last ten years and in the six African countries affected by German colonialism: Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia, Togo, Cameroon, and the African diaspora communities in Germany. It considers a coming together that attempts to show the proximity and distance of this past and at the same time invites a weaving together of the different ways cultural practitioners have dealt with this history’s widespread impact across the African continent. Such a collation speaks to the effect of a history of entanglement between the imaginary and reality and presents the power and ability of artistic forms to look back with a critical eye. It is this critical eye that tells a history not only from the victors’ position but one that speaks to the power of resilience and resistance of Africa against colonisation. It is, what Soyinka describes as “self-restoration through a humanistic ethos”, arguing that it enables a way to complicate memory that on the one hand burdens Africans to remember and not to forget, and on the other hand, speaks to the desire to move on from this past and to heal. Titling this work in reference to Soyinka’s work, we contemplate the doors that practitioners have opened in their reflections about the way African societies are rebuilding themselves in the contemporary from this colonial past.
Princesse Marilyn Douala Manga Bell
Rose Jepkorir Kiptum