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Beninese literature at a glance
A few reference books
To find out more on Benin
The first record of French having been spoken in Dahomey was at the end of the last century (Benin was known as Dahomet until 1975) but, as Père Bouche recalls in his memoirs entitled Sept ans en Afrique occidentale: la Côte des esclaves et le Dahomey [Seven Years in West Africa: The Slave Coast and Dahomey] (1885), a rich literary culture based on the oral tradition was already established when the French language started to be spoken. As far as written texts are concerned, the author and literary critic, Adrien Huannou, discovered that the creation of the journal L'Echo du Dahomey [The Dahomey Echo] in 1905 preceded the publication of works which were, strictly speaking, literary. The first novel published by an author from Benin, that of L'Esclave [The Slave] by Felix Couchoro, was published in 1929. Ten years later, the author Paul Hazoumé published an historical novel entitled Doguimici. Like the majority of authors of their generation from Benin, Couchoro and Hazoumé scarcely criticised the "beneficial effects" of the French occupation. It was not until the post-war period that a literature developed which was increasingly critical and hostile towards the French colonial enterprise, culminating in Albert Tévoédjrè's L'Afrique révoltée [Africa in revolt] (1958). The 1960s are notable for the denunciation of society and neocolonialism which took place at this time. Among the best known writers of this period are Olympe Bhêly-Quenum and Jean Pliya whose plays were very successful. The coup of 1972 divided literature into two camps: people for and against the revolution. Jérôme Carlos arrived on the literary scene at that time and later became one of the great authors of his generation. The 1980s are marked by a greater variety of themes than those previously tackled, and by the success of a number of newcomers, such as Moudjib Djinadou, Edgar Okiki Zinsou, Dominique Titus, Albet Gandonou and even more recently (2005) Arnold Sénou. (See Le Bénin littéraire.)
Women's writing dates back to the 1980s, with the publication of Gisèle Hountondji's autobiography, Colette Sénami Agossou Houeto's poetry and the novels of Flore Hazoumé, whose father is from Benin. Over the past few years, some new authors have contributed further entries to Togolese literature. Amongst those writers are
Adélaïde Fassinou, Béatrice Lalinon Gbado who is heading Ruisseaux d'Afrique - a small publishing house specialising in children's literature - and the well known Senegalese author Ken Bugul who now lives in Benin, thus widening further the field of "Beninese literature".
Please note: Authors' cultural heritage and identity extend beyond their association to a specific location [see Angèle Bassolé Ouédraogo's réflexions autobiographiques and Achille Mbembe "Afropolitanisme" Africultures 66 (2006), pp.9-15.].
Christine ADJAHI GNIMAGNON
Colette Sénami AGOSSOU HOUETO
Béatrice LALINON GBADO
- "Littérature béninoise". Notre Librairie no 124. (1995).
Huannou, Adrien. "Approche générale et historique de la littérature béninoise". Notre Librairie no 124. (1995), pp. 10-21.
- Rouch, Alain et Gérard Clavreuil. "Bénin" in Littératures nationales d'écriture française: Histoire et anthologie. Paris: Bordas, 1986, pp. 9-26.
- Midiohouan, Guy Ossito. « Le phénomène des "littératures nationales" en Afrique » Peuples Noirs Peuples Africains no. 27 (1982), pp. 57-70. [Consulté le 29 novembre 2004].
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The University of Western Australia/French
Created: 05 Jun 1996
Last updated: 10 November 2006
Archived: 25 October 2008