By Kangsen Feka Wakai, Founding Editor
Two years ago, when I asked Cameroonian novelist Francis Nyamnjoh about the role of the African writer in an interview published in The Frontier Telegraph Newspaper in Cameroon, he referred to Chinua Achebe’s assertion in his collection of Essays, Home and Exile, where Achebe states that the role of the African writer is to capture the story of the African community, at home and in the Diaspora, with the respect, dignity and sensitivity that it requires given that Africa, as a continent, has suffered and continues to suffer from stereotypes.
It was the same sentiment echoed by Cameroonian novelist Patrice Nganang, author of Dog Days—an avant garde novel written from the perspective of an urban dog, in an interview by literary translator Peter W. Vakunta published on Palapala magazine when he stated that:
“What compels me to write is the feeling that the complexity of an African life has not been told yet, and the conviction that if we do not tell our stories ourselves, then we should not complain if others speak for us. I am convinced that African stories are just beginning to be told, particularly on the African continent. But I also think that when African stories have been told out of the continent, in general, their richness which lies in their complexity has often been removed and it has given way to flat narratives. Yet, African lives are complex.”
In making such a statement, Nganang surmises the raison d’etre of www.palapalamagazine.com, a forum where African writers, artists and communicators, in the continent and diaspora, can converge and engage with themselves and a global audience on subjects that offer a glimpse into the African reality.
Palapala magazine is an all volunteer, not-for-profit attempt to use digital tools to enable that task. And though it is hosted by a Technorati, a blog hosting site, Palapala—at least according to the team behind the initiative, which includes Nigerian born artist Abidemi A. Olowonira and Cameroon born writer, Dibussi Tande, is more than a blog.
Created to accommodate all media [pod-casting and video-streaming], Palapala’s ultimate goal is to tell compelling and humanizing stories.
And the African story must be told…
It is a narrative which is both urgent and necessary—an urgency that derives its being from the paucity of the African perspective in the rich global pantheon. And despite the fact that we now inhabit a smaller and more interconnected world, the human narrative remains an incomplete mosaic without a well articulated narrative of the African experience and perspective.
It is the presence of this vacuum in our collective narrative that necessitates the telling and re-telling of the ‘African story’ without which our human narrative will be incomplete. In so doing, Palapala magazine joins a coterie of outlets that have taken it upon themselves to tell the African story devoid of the gore that has become cannon-fodder for what passes for objective journalism exemplified by the global media giants.
It is this understanding of this monumental task that writers, artists and communicators have, as chroniclers of the human experience, which fuels the embers of Palapala magazine. It is my belief that our well being as humans could be enhanced—though not perfected—by the kind of stories that not only enable a better understanding of our experience, but compels us to reflect and hopefully improve that experience.
But because the process of telling a story requires more than just the proverbial intercourse between ink and pad, finger and keyboard, and artist and muse, projects like www.palapalamagazine.com remain inimitable facilitators and cherished allies in this process.
Palapala magazine is the kind of forum where Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi can introduce readers to the inimitable Zimbabwean writer Dambuzo Marechera; where Berlin based Kenyan Poet JKS Makokha can evoke his sublime lyricism; where Cameroonian writer Wirdzerem G. Barfee can critique the state of English-speaking Cameroon literature; where Palestinian cultural activist Hadeel Assali can have conversation about poet Mahmoud Darwish and the Houston Palestinian Film Festival, which she helped found.
Thus Palapala magazine becomes of a soundboard for a diversity of voices and sentiments. But above all, a place where stories are told.
Kangsen Feka Wakai is the founding editor of www.palapalamagazine.com. He worked as a correspondent for the Houston Chronicle and his writings have been published in Callaloo, African Writing Magazine, Sentinel Poetry Quarterly and the Journal of the African Literature Association. He lives in the Boston area.