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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction



Another Last Word

by
Taban Lo Liyong


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Another Last Word



Title: Another Last Word
Author: Taban Lo Liyong
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1990)
Length: 175 pages
Availability: Another Last Word - US
Another Last Word - UK
  • These pieces were written and published between 1969 and 1978

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Our Assessment:

B : rough but energetic pieces, ranging from thoughtful to thoughtless

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Spring/1991 Peter Nazareth

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The complete review's Review:

       "Good wine matures with age. So do good essays like these ones", Taban Lo Liyong promises his readers in the opening sentences of this book, which collects pieces apparently written between 1969 and 1978. Elsewhere in his preface he opines: "In their own right, they are very, very fine essays."
       Here and elsewhere, bravado is not lacking. Taban "participated fully in the literary and cultural debates of the late sixties and early seventies" -- or, as he humbly reminded his audience (in 1974): "more than anybody else, I have been the most vociferous, and consistent advocate, promoter, and critic of literature and the other arts in East Africa for the last decade." These 32 essays, letters, and lectures offer a good overview of that time and place and the many topics of interest and concern to Taban. It was a rich period for East African literature, and the often contentious Taban was indeed very active in much of it -- as writer, critic, scholar, and teacher.
       A number of the pieces were delivered at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi, which, under Frantz Nagel's stewardship, "was the best salon in town". There are also letters, essays, and interviews in this collection, a follow-up to Taban's earlier volume, The Last Word.
       This is not a volume of scholarship, detailed literary (or other) criticism, or careful analysis. Vigorously written, they are energetic bursts (occasionally becoming mere diatribes), many better suited to be heard than read. "Enjoy yourself", he tells the reader, "get excited, infuriated, enlightened." Certainly, one of his prime objectives is to arouse the passion (and the occasional ire) of his readers -- and he generally manages that, though he is often a bit blunt in his approach.
       Taban eggs on his audience, and the pieces are valuable for that alone. He may not always be right, but at least he offers solutions (of sorts) and suggestions. He is tired of complacency. As he puts it (in his somewhat distinctive style):

The only way to progress Africa is to derange Africans, to make them selfish, to make them individualists, to make them goal-conscious
       His exhortations serve a purpose, though Taban's politics are sometimes questionable -- as is his expression. In a letter to the editor about a review in the Times Literary Supplement of his story-collection Fixion and his essays collected in The Last Word, Taban wrote:
     Now, I say this: The blackman is the most virile creature around. The blackman is the chosen race. Arise and conquer the world ! Africa, Arise and Conquer. Arise and Conquer. This is your century. The next century is yours. Will to conquer. Prepare for Conquest. (...)

     But, for Africa to fulfil her destiny our leaders have to be taught that power is man's destiny, a beggar even of foreign aid is a woman. That aggression is healthy, and sin to redress a wrong the greatest virtue in the world of morals. And, our search for revenge is the greatest weapon we have got.
       (Taban's letter was apparently never published in the TLS. Too bad -- that would have made for an interesting literary debate .....)
       Elsewhere he suggests:
     What is greatly needed, what has always been lacking, is not a national philosophy; not a national orientation, but a militant, universal racial goal, under which the various nations can work out their destinies, tributary to the whole.

     I see no reason why Africans should not work hard, even with vengeance, towards world domination. The goal declared, the will present, the ways will be found.
       Taban calls The Last Word a "War Cry for African Aggression". Aggression is, one hopes, a position that has, in the more than two decades since he wrote these words, become indefensible. The horrific power struggles that continue to wrack the continent have come at an immeasurable cost. With the exception of a handful of coups replacing horrible dictators (à la Amin) with nominally better ones no good whatsoever -- and a great deal of bad -- has come of military might in Africa. If there is one thing that Africa does not need, it is aggression. Indeed, the continent would surely be many steps closer to world domination if it had demilitarized when it finally broke free of colonial rule, rather than waste so many lives and so much energy, money, and time in suicidal self-destruction.
       Taban is, however, correct in looking forward, rather than back. He feels Africa should put the outrages of colonialism behind it, using the memory of it to build a better world (with living well being the best revenge) -- and using European and Western ideals and models where they can improve the lot of Africans. He subscribes to some capitalist ideals -- occasionally to very misguided excess:
Now, there is a vast land which must be exploited economically. Therefore it must be exploited so that its products will contribute to our development. If the Masai are sitting on it, drive them out like in the industrial revolutions, so that they can come to Nairobi and become workers. They and their cousins in Uganda, the Karamojong. Lazy men who are kept alive by their wives. Lazy people who stand on one leg and dream of Ngai, food gatherers who are parasites on cows, milk and meat. A disgrace to a country of workers. Flush the Masai out of their lazy condition. Make them money-minded, that's the way to develop, or introduce rinderpest to destroy all their cows.
       Taban exaggerates on purpose, too, knowing that some of these ideas are too outlandish or ridiculous to consider. He wants to shake people out of complacency -- as one imagines some of these pieces must have done.
       There is also a good deal about the arts and the role of the artist in society. Taban is well-versed in literature (and especially the situation in East Africa at this time), but he also does not overly romanticize the role of the author. "East or West, artists cry best", he acknowledges, but he also often looks beyond the arts to how society might be changed, understanding that the most significant tasks will be undertaken by others.
       There are also a variety of more practical pieces: brief introductory literature lectures (including on oral literature -- a Taban favourite), discussions of the state of drama education in Kenya, on Nietzsche ("Nietzsche is a friend, and, he holds the key for African progress"), and a fun piece on "The Primitive Publishers of East Africa", in which Taban boasts that: "If I were not so addicted to writing, I could have moved into the publishing business and made enough money to build a Hilton". (Sadly, the state of publishing in the region seems no better decades later.)
       There are also two interviews with Taban (by Peter Darling and "the ubiquitous Berth [sic] Lindfors") which provide more detail about Taban's own life and work, as does the revised biography in his letter to the director of Heinemann Kenya, "Goodbye East Africa". In this letter, the final piece, Taban speaks of having "fully recovered my nationality (Sudanese)". He notes that:
(...) now that the East Africa we knew and loved is no longer there, and a lately developed nationalism has gripped even my agemates, friends, and colleagues, I had also to recover my Southern Sudanese nationalism. It is only natural.
       Natural, perhaps, but also unfortunate (nationalism may be a great unifier, but citizens rarely end up the better for it: look at the catastrophe of African (or post-Soviet Eastern European and Central Asian) "nation-building" over the past two decades). In the preface to this collection, Taban mentions the next collection of essays that he would like to publish. Certainly, it would be interesting to read those from his time in Papua New Guinea, as well as the more recent ones from the time of his tenure as professor in the Sudan: one hopes for Yet Another Last Word.

       Occasionally crude, occasionally roughly hewn, these short, energetic bursts in Another Last Word are still interesting -- and often valuable -- reads. Taban is willing to change his mind (about population growth, for example), and he certainly throws a lot of ideas out there, most of which are at least deserving of discussion. He is willing to attack any and all holy cows, and is insistent only about one thing: action is necessary. And that, in often complacent Africa, is already something.
       One hopes that he has come to realize that exhortations to violence and militarism are unacceptable, that the cost is crippling -- and that an author's words can easily be abused in support of such outrages.
       Still, Taban's is an important and interesting voice, well worth paying attention to -- even if only to dismiss much of what he says.


       Note: "They are unchanged", Taban writes in his preface about the pieces; presumably he means that they have not been revised in any way for this edition. A bit of editorial revision -- or at least some good copyediting -- would, however, have been welcome. One can argue about matters of style (as Taban stretches grammatical usage and punctuation all out of shape -- see the quoted passages above), but certainly the spelling mistakes could have been fixed. For example: in the preface he says the last piece is a letter written "in March, 1978"; the letter itself then is dated "18.2.1987". He writes of "Gerald Manley Hopkins" and "Golda Meier", he says that "literature" comes "from the Latin word lettera, meaning letter" (the latin word is littera), etc. etc. Trivial slips ? Perhaps. But the attention paid to detail also reflects on the pieces as a whole. And there is just a bit too much carelessness here.
       (There are, however, also felicitous slips. Our favourite: "Chaucer put 'popular' English Oral Literautre into written English literature." How better to express the idea of an other-literature, a liter-autre that is then transformed into literature ?)

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Links:

Taban Lo Liyong: Other books by Taban Lo Liyong under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Taban Lo Liyong was born in Kajokaji, in the southern Sudan, in the late 1930s. He grew up in Uganda, and studied at National Teachers' College (Kampala), Howard University, and got an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. He has taught at the universities of East Africa (Nairobi), Papua New Guinea, Juba, and now at the University of Venda in South Africa. He is the author of numerous works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

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