What constitutes African literature? Is it literature written by Africans, literature that depicts the African experience? Does African literature have to be written in African languages? These questions were raised and gave rise to debate, a debate that started as far back as the 60's. At the African writers conference held at Makerere in 1962, which sought to debate if not to answer these questions. The legacy of colonialism has left the African writer with a dilemma with regard to the language choice in writing. In his article 1, Obi Wali challenges that "any true African literature has to be written in an African language and that "uncritical acceptance of English and French as the inevitable medium for educated African writing, is misdirected and has no chance of advancing African literature"2. Obi Wali continues to give an example:.
"Less than one percent or the Nigerian people had access to, or the ability to understand Wole Soyinka's Dance of the Forest. Yet, this was the play staged to celebrate their national independence, tagged on to the idiom and traditions of a foreign culture"3.
Wali's challenge was met with varying and heated responses in particular with regard to the language issue. Before we consider the responses however, I shall examine the role played by language in a society.
Any language serves a dual function in a society, first as a means of communication and secondly as a carrier of culture. In day-to-day communication people use language i.e. the spoken word, and written signs. The second function involves language serving as collective memory bank. The way people express themselves, how they establish values, and the way they see themselves is determined by their language, and thus language is instrumental in identity formation. Through language people formulate a cultural identity and as Ngugi suggests "language as culture is the collective memory bank of a people's experience of history"4.