16 November 2007


Paper written for the course English for Academic Purposes II, professor Andrew Packett (University of Coimbra, 2007)

In this paper, I will explore the theoretical foundations of the assertion that post-colonial Angolan literature functions as an instrument in service of the construction of a national identity through the invocation of ideology. The area post-colonial studies applied to lusophone African literature is, unfortunately, very limited (Mafalda Leite, 2003: 5). First of all, I will discuss the assumption that literature influences the construction of a national identity; thereafter, we will see how this functions in the context of contemporary Angola. Thirdly, there will be made a distinction between two types of ideologies, inclusive and progressive ideologies, which I presume will be clearly distinguishable in post-colonial Angolan literature.

The concept of national identity had been widely studied, by academics of the most diverse fields. In this paper, we will make certain assumptions based on the social constructivist school. According to this interdisciplinary approach, the nation is an imagined community[1], a social construction that is the result of a dialogical process of interaction between individuals, institutions and practices (Sarup, 1996: 11). Accordingly, any national identity, or the sense of belonging and self-consciousness furnished by the state and various other factors, is negotiable, fluid and subject to change by dominant cultural elements and practices. When we assume, furthermore, that ‘it is in the construction of a narrative, the making and telling of a story, that we produce the self’[2] (Sarup, 1996: 46), we can easily agree with Patrick Chabal, according to whom ‘literature is a central component of the cultural identity of all modern nation-states […] therefore, modern literature is best understood historically as one of the most important forms of cultural output in and through which a nation-state becomes identified’ (Chabal, 1996: 4).

Angola as a nation-state is the product of the imposition of borders by the Portuguese; different tribes, speaking different languages, suddenly became considered as belonging to one and the same category – Angolans. The colonial experience and perhaps even more the wars following it, have profoundly disturbed the conception of the self in Angola. In fact, the only thing the variety of peoples of Angola have in common, is the (post-)colonial experience; only during the war of independence ‘ethnic, local and national identities have become intertwined’ (Brinkman, 2003: 219). According to both politicians[3] and academics, the Angolan national identity ‘continues to be an intellectual construction wanting to be a national one’ (Mata, 2002b: 2). Thus confirm Figueiredo and Gerheim Noronha: ‘identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something which is supposed to be fixed, coherent and stable is dislocated by the experience of doubt and uncertainty’ (Figueiredo & Gerheim Noronha, 2005: 191). In these times, national literature, a means of consolidating a shared context between civilians of a country, becomes an especially effective medium for dealing with the experience of a vacuum of identity by the construction of a inter-subjectively conception of the self. According to Inocência Mata, the construction of this conception is a process marked by the recent past ‘because the nature of the social and human relations are generated in a situation of imminent colonialism’; therefore, ‘literature constantly functions as a (re)writing of either the colonial or the post-colonial reality’ (Mata, 1995: 30), to try and overcome the inflicted traumas. Everything points to the conclusion that postcolonial Angolan literature will reflect these preoccupations with the colonial experience and the following process of identity building.

Constructing a national identity means, as we have seen, offering citizens a sense of belonging. One widely practiced way of reaching that goal has been by invoking ideology. Ideology, or the abuse thereof in pursue of political power, has been responsible for countless deaths and divisions between family members and regions in Angola.[4] Nevertheless, Angolan authors, politicians and intellectuals continue to recur to ideology for the purpose of constructing a national identity, thus expressing the desire or even the necessity of a commonly shared project, of an ideological banner, that is capable of uniting the Angolan citizens. Ideology, being based on an incontinence shared by a community, furnishes a common goal and, thus uniting individuals, influences the conception they have of their identity. Madruga Dantas explains how literature can serve furnish that ideological banner: ‘impelled by the desire to create a new reality in contraposition of the one imposed by colonial politics, Lusophone African literatures […] emerge marked by the signs of utopia. Signs […] that persist still today, in spite of the conquered independence, in the dealing with conflicts of diverse nature that still haven’t been solved’ (Madruga Dantas, 1).

We here distinguish between two different kinds of ideology, based not only on various studies concerning the expression of national identity in Angolan literature[5], but also on a variety of Angolan post-colonial literary works[6]. The first kind of ideology is inclusive ideology, by which I mean distinctions as nationalism and ethnicity, which fit in the traditional and political definition of ideology; these ideological projects provide whoever adheres to it with an identity, at the same time differentiating and alienating who does not: since inclusive ideologies are based on the concept of difference and the philosophical distinction between the Self and the Other, they exclude as much as they include. According to Inocência Mata, in Angola inclusive ideology is consciously invoked in service of the national project: ‘categories like class, culture, ethnicity – objective denominators of that constitute the links of association between the individual and his community, categories which, in harmony, configure the present identity (or identities) or are symbolically connected for the construction of an identity which is being made national’ (Mata, 2002b: 2).

One type of inclusive ideology which has been practiced and thus studied intensively is ethnicity, by Ellis Cashmore defined as ‘a conscious aggregation of persons united or closely related by shared experiences’ (Cashmore, 1996: 196), an imagined community which in Angola represents an essential component of the identitary configuration that constitutes the individual (Serrano, 1992: 86). The Angolan individual confirms itself as forming part of an ethnic collective, of a ‘hierarchy of structures based on criteria of ancientry’ (Ibidem, 1). Frequently, as a reaction to material conditions, ethnicity has been deployed in Angola as a means of advancing interests of distinct groups (Cashmore, 1996: 198 & 201). Therefore, ‘while nationalism has been by and large evaluated as a positive force, ethnic identity was often seen as primitive and negative: « tribalism » would divide the nation.’ (Brinkman, 2003: 197)

Because the Angolan individual defines himself foremost as being part of an ethnic community, the national project is still precarious. It is exactly nationalism, or the legitimacy of the state for representing the nation, that constitutes the second inclusive ideology that will be discussed here. Nationalism only works because it is based on national identity (Sarup, 1996: 130) If we would define a nation as a human group united by the consciousness of its unity and a desire to live together, according to Carlos Serrano, this concept might be confused with that of ethnicity (Serrano, 1992: 87). Nationalism, like ethnicity, is an (inter)subjective reality, constituted by the body of individuals that shares not just a sentiment of nationality but also a historical and political consciousness – it is there that ethnicity distinguishes itself from nationality, and it is in the battle of the various ethnic groups against the colonists that these two concepts unite.

However, nationalism is a problematic concept in the Angolan case, because the Angolan nation was imposed on whoever lived inside what the Portuguese delimitated as being a country. The imagined community ‘Angola’ was formed based on denomination by the Portuguese; to resist their domination, it was imperative to form a front which would not be dividable into pro- and contra-portuguese; the different ethnicities recognised one another in their being dominated and united themselves in their protests. But the cohesion of the nation, still fragile, became an extremely problematic issue when the battle against the Portuguese turned into a battle for national power between various ethnic groups, from different regions; at that moment the issue arose of what exactly it is that the Angolans share, besides the scars left behind by the Portuguese. The cleavages between ethnic groups, an essential division when trying to understand the notion of identity that an Angolan has, still represents a constant tension with the national objective, or, as writes Carlos Serrano: ‘the biggest part of the African states are multi-ethnic and [this] cannot be forgotten when one aspires to transform an independent country into a nation, that is, into a political unity identified as a political project, a State’ (Serrano, 1992: 85). Ethnicity and nationalism are both inclusive ideologies that, even though they function on a different level, leave little space for one another.

But these inclusive ideologies, while they are being invoked and practiced, are being threatened in their effectiveness due to the disintegration of their fundaments by the effects of globalization, which results in certain aspects of post-colonial literature, which ‘has come to destabilise the captivating aspects of an identity claimed national, appealing to a ‘subjective consciousness’, individual, pursuing and trying to fixate the diverse historical memories through fragmentary figurations’. (Mata, 2002b: 2) Partly in reaction to this disintegration, partly due to local developments, new forms of ideology have developed, forms which I here call progressive ideologies.

In this era of globalization, Africa is still an historical-cultural space very different than Europe; and where the two diverge, the Angolan intelligentsias want to differentiate themselves in order to construct a national identity which takes its distance from the colonial experience. Therefore, another definition of ideology might be necessary to clearly captivate the unity of the country and of the ideological projects there expressed; it has to be a definition of ideology which is not imposed ‘from outside’ but which arises from comprehension of the local context, taking in account intrinsically Angolan values without being closed and turned inside. An ideology based on these presuppositions I call progressive. This category of ideologies opposes itself to inclusive ideologies for not being based on the inclusion of individuals for sharing a vision or common goal, but for the sharing of an open source attitude, which might not be defined that clearly, but which at least permits dialog and interaction between individuals, whatever their identitary context might be. I will here treat one example of progressive ideology: hybridism.

Hybridism is a concept proposed by amongst others Stuart Hall, and evolves around the idea that ‘the construction of identities in times of post-modernism is inevitably a process in becoming, impure and hybrid’ (Coser, 2005: 172). In Angola, hybridism still is a theoretical utopia; furthermore, because of the long duration of the Portuguese colonization, ‘the stereotype of the colonized has not had the closure which has been attributed to the British Empire […] the sexual penetration converted into territorial penetration and racial interpretation originated fluctuant significants.’ Boaventura Sousa Santos, which has extensively studied the Portuguese colonialism, concludes that ‘the experience of ambivalence and of hybridism between colonist and colonized, far from being a post-colonial claim, was the experience of the Portuguese colonialism during long periods’ (quoted in Mafalda Leite, 2003: 14).

The relation between the (ex)colonist and the (ex)colonized is ambiguous, and it is generally very difficult to categorize works, authors and identities. Thus, the colonized ‘which ‘metaphorizes’ in itself the hybridism of the Portuguese colonial configuration’ cannibalizes the Portuguese language, a process of which Luandino Vieira is a symbolic example (Mafalda Leite, 2003: 15-16). Mafalda Leite observes that ‘the majority of Angolan writers are assimilated, a significant part is of European ascendancy, almost all of them are from urban areas, without direct contact with the countryside, and they do not dominate, save some rare exceptions, the African languages’ (Mafalda Leite, 1995: 9). Said in a more optimistic manner: the Angolan authors are already good examples of the progressive ideology ‘hybridism’: they reunite in themselves characteristics of both Portugal and Angola, of black and white, of metropolis and province. Authors differ in the point they take on the here mentioned continuums.

To resume, in this paper, I have tried to show how Angolan literature can be mobilized as a vehicle for ideology, which in turn is a brick in the wall that we call national identity. I have shown that literature is a legitimate tool in the construction of national identity, and that this process is especially actual in the case of Angola. Furthermore, I have shown two types of ideologies which one could come across in present-day Angolan literature: inclusive ideologies, of which I have given the examples of nationalism and ethnicity, and progressive ideology, with the example of hybridism. The Angolan national identity is far from consolidated, and it will take a long time and many an ideological battle before things are settled.


Brinkman, I.

2003 War and Identity in Angola, two case-studies, in: Lusotopie 2003, p. 195 – 221

Carr, E.H.

1981 The Twenty Years’ Crisis, New York: Palgrave

Cashmore, E.

1996 Etnicity, em E. Cashmore (ed.), Dictionary of Race and Ethnic Relations. Fourth edition. London: Routledge (tradução portuguesa, p. 196 – 203)

Chabal, P.

1996 The Post-Colonial Literature of Lusophone Africa, Londen: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers

Coser, S.

2005 Híbrido, Hibridismo e Hibridização, em E, Figueiredo (org.) Conceitos de literatura e cultura, Juiz de Fora: Universidade Federal Juiz de Fora, p.163 – 188

Figueiredo, E. e Gerheim Noronha, J.M.

2005 Identidade Nacional e Identidade Cultural, em E, Figueiredo (org.) Conceitos de literatura e cultura, Juiz de Fora: Universidade Federal Juiz de Fora, p.189 – 205

Leite, A. M.

1995 Empréstimos da Oralidade na Produção e Crítica Literárias Africanas, publicado pela União dos Escritores Angolanos, www.uea-angola.org (página visitada 30-05-07)

2003 Literaturas Africanas e Formulações Pós-coloniais, Lisboa: Edições Colobri

Madruga Dantas, E.

Literatura, território e questões sobre hibridismo, publicado pela União dos Escritores Angolanos, www.uea-angola.org (página visitada 01-06-07)

Mata, I.

1995 A periferia da periferia, em Discursos, 9, p. 27 – 36

1999 Pepetela e as (novas) margens da nação angolana, texto apresentado no VI Congresso Internacional da Associação Internacional de Lusitanistas, Rio de Janeiro

2002a A imagem da Terra na literatura angolana: uma viagem ao rizoma da nação literária, em: Mar além, no. 1, p. 7 – 17

2002b A actual literatura angolana: pontes ligando gerações, estéticas em rupturas, publicado pela União dos Escritores Angolanos, www.uea-angola.org (página visitada 28-05-07)


1992 A Geração da Utopia, Lisboa: Publicações Dom Quixote

Sarup, M.

1996 Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World, Edinbrugh: Edinbrugh University Press

Serrano, C.M.H.

1992 O processo da constituição dos estados nacionais em África, em: FUNDAP. (Org.). Seminários FUNDAP - Países africanos de língua oficial portuguesa: reflexões sobre história, desenvolvimento e administração. São Paulo: FUNDAP, p. 85 - 102

Sousa Santos, B. de

1994 Pela Mão de Alice – o Social e o Político na Pós-Modernidade, Porto: Edições Afrontamento

[1] For a classical though still actual overview of the social constructivist school, see The social construction of reality (1966) by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann

[2] All quotations have been translated from Portuguese by the author of this paper.

[3] For explicit references to the political wish of consolidating a national identity, see for example Dos Santos, J.E., Opening Address by President José Eduardo dos Santos to the 3rd Symposium on National Culture, Luanda, 11 September 2006

[4] For vivid testimonies hereof, see for example Brinkman, 2003 and Pepetela, 1992.

[5] See bibliography.

[6] Exemplary are Geração da Utopia by Pepetela (1992) and O Livro dos Rios by José Luandino Vieira (2006).

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