Theme of social commitment in Ousmane sembene God’s bits of wood and Festus iyayi’s violence


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1.1 Background of the Study

 The openness of literature as a concept permits the numerous definitions given to the word by different scholars. Wellek and Warren (1968) define literature as “a social institution, using as its medium language, as a social creation…Literature represents life and life is in large measure, a social reality, even though the natural world and the inner or subjective world of the individual have also been objects of literary imitation”.

But, In 1981, Warner Berthoff observes: “… literature itself has its own purpose and determinants… never wholly autonomous it draws its prime motives from deep within the common culture, the life experience of its producers in their time… but it never speaks for the totality of that culture,” Therefore, literature or any work of art generally is not closed, independent or self-sufficient on its own. There is a connection between literature and the milieu/environment where it is produced and this fact has been demonstrated in SembèneOusmane’sGod’s Bits of Wood.

Since social problems are systemic things; literature as a product of a given human society can be employed to solve or at least to reduce social challenges by consistently flogging such issues and recommending functional remedies to the identified perceived social contending impediments.

Literature is designed on the basis of prevailing daily or persistent events both socio-culturally and ideologically. As an open concept, it is seen and described variously by different people. Achebe (1988) “Literature, whether handed down by the word of mouth, or in print, gives us a second handle on reality, enabling us to encounter in the safe, manageable dimension of make-believe the very same threat to integrity that may assail the psyche in real life, and at the same providing through the self-discovery which imparts a veritable weapon for coping with these threats whether they are found within problematic and incoherent selves or in the world around us”.

Cyril Mokwenye (2000). “Literature was (and it is still) the most efficient medium of manifesting African culture and civilization, while poetry became the most effective genre for expressing it … not just to illustrating and defending Africa’s cultural values …but also to the rehabilitation of Africa’s damaged image, …”. We, however, extend the frontier of our discussion beyond poetry because poetry is not the only genre of literature. There are three major genres of literature namely: drama, poetry and prose. All these branches of literature have potential ingredients which make them functional platform to showcase Africa’s beliefs, feelings, norms, values and aspirations which can translate into desired societal development. Literature is not just a piece of writing, which only entertains. It is equally, at the same time too, a means of expressing ideas, views, opinions, experiences, feelings, body of knowledge, cultural values as well as teaching moral lessons and healing souls. Literature has turned out to be” a medium of appending contemporary or conventional realities through the exposition of the socio-cultural and political experiences of a given society; since it (literature) is a product of a particular human society. It is far from being ambiguous that literature buys into the expressive function of a given language. And, the understanding of culture and the society, which are potential ingredients on which literature is premised, paves the way for an effective development”, (Ogundokun, Sikiru A., 2013: 1 – 9).

Through protest writing, radical but reasonable African creative artists condemn the follies and the vices in their societies. They frown at corruption, bad governance, repressive policies, woman oppression, moral decadence and societal disturbances such as religious intolerant, with a view to making positive changes, which might accelerate human and material developments in Africa and the world at large. The primary aim of these committed African writers is the genuine struggle for cultural and socio-political revolution using literary activities as a platform. The different peoples of the world are made to understand the African world view through writing both now and before independence.

The major challenge of the 20th century is racial segregation but in this 21st century cultural issues have presented themselves as the most disturbing determinants, which militate against global developments. UNESCO sees culture as “What has shaped societies’ and individuals’ ways of life; while certainly rooted in ancestral values, it is also a source of dialogue, exchange, innovation and creativity, and the foundation stone of endogenous systems of solidarity, forms of expression and ways of transmitting knowledge that are as valid for meeting the challenges of tomorrow as for preserving traditions”, (UNESCO, 2005). In a simple term, culture is an aspect of people’s identity which promotes social integration and organization among a community of people.

Once the culture of a people is capture by another people, the people whose culture is invaded will remain in a perpetual darkness, perhaps till the kingdom comes. Culture is a soft-ware, the moment it is inflicted by the virus of another culture; the affected culture is crippled and becomes impotent. However, culture is never static; it is dynamic, hence, it should adopt itself to constructive and meaningful changes which come or evolve with time. In this modern world which is ruled by science and technology, an unhealthy attachment to cruel crude culture is unacceptable as it hinders societal development.

1.2 Aim of the Study

The main aim and objective of this study is to examine the theme of social commitment in Ousmanesembene God’s bits of wood and Festus Iyayi’s violence. The specific objective of this study are to:

1. examine Social Commitment and its Determinants

2. examine Relevant historic instances of social commitments

3. examine Contemporary instances of social commitment

1.3 Scope of the Study

The focus of this study is Africa as portrayed by the duo of Festus Iyayi and OusmaneSembene in Violence andGod’s bits of woodrespectively. This research investigates how judiciously the understudied works reveal the plight of the poor, social commitment and their oppression in Africa. The choice of works based on Nigeria is motivated by the fact that the country gives a fair representation of West Africa. This is imperative as it is almost certainly impossible to study works from every part of Africa considering the constraints of time and resources.

In order to achieve this, the research work shall be limited to using Festus IyayiViolence andOusmaneSembeneGod’s bits of woodas the data for the analysis of these issues.

1.4 Justification of Study

The significance of this research apart from providing a reliable source of information for future researchers on the theme of social commitment in African literature is also of great value in appraisal of government poverty eradication and commitmentprogrammes in Nigeria. Understanding the difficulties experienced by the poor in society will strengthen Nigeria’s nascent democracy and promote good governance.

This research is also a celebration of artistic imagination and dexterity displayed by these distinguished African Writers: OusmaneSembeneand Festus Iyayi.

Again, social commitment and poverty has been examined as one of the major issues in Africa and how it has become difficult to eradicate. Though scholars and writers have examined these motifs, sometimes as a single entity and at other times collectively, readers do not yet seem to understand the disastrous effects poverty has on people. That is what OusmaneSembeneand Festus Iyayi point out in their novels, God’s bits of woodand Violence.

These novels are the primary sources of reference as they capture the experiences of the poor people and social commitment. Both novelists unfold the nature of the instruments of power which meant that effective governance is misused on the governed especially the poor.

1.5 Research Methodology

The research is both qualitative and descriptive, with thematic analysis of the texts. Themes of social commitment are adequately analysed. The methodology approach used for the effective analysis of this study is a blend of Marxist theory and socialist realism theory. This is because the Marxist theorist view society (especially capitalist society) as politically locked down and hold the freedom of the people. They portray the suffering of the masses in their literary texts and form their analysis and view point, stating that the masses suffer as a result of corruption, voilence and stratification which our leaders seem to always ignore. The social realism theory falls in line with human concerns and perspectives.

The referent society is Nigeria which is the setting in the selected texts. The use of Marxist and socialist approaches are justified as the two novelists whose work shall be used as the data for analysis share the same ideological approach which is Marxism and Social Realism.

1.6 Research Questions

The research question for this study are:

1. What is Social Commitment and its Determinants?

2. What is relevant historic instances of social commitments?

3. What is Contemporary instances of social commitment?

1.7 Definition of terms

Social responsibility: is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems.

Violence: is “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.” Less conventional definitions are also used, such as the World Health Organization’s definition of violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.”

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