African Languages Shine In Olongo Africa’s New Anthology

Olongo Africa’s multilingual anthology celebrates the dazzling diversity of fiction by African writers, and raises important questions for the future of literary translation

by GRIOT - Published on 28/04/2023
Wàtá (originally published as Water) by Chika Unigwe. Illustration: Moussa Kone

On Olongo Africa’s website, Water, a story published in English by an Igbo writer, can be read in Nigerian Pidgin, and Moráyọ̀, a story published in English by a Yorùbá-British woman in Shona, which is mainly spoken in Zimbabwe. To Have a Ghost Baby, first published in English by an Igbo writer, can now be enjoyed by Tamazight-speaking readers all over West- and North Africa, while The Dark-Blue Suit, originally published in Portuguese by an Angolan writer, is now accessible in Hausa. The list goes on and on.  The ominous collective “of writers, artists, and editors fighting for the independent press” behind experimental news, arts and culture magazine Popula, is behind the initiative, which has set its sights on translating African writers into African languages.

The idea behind Olongo Africa, is motivated by circumstances. In many cases, it is easier to read published African writers in Swedish, Korean, German or Japanese than in Hausa, Tiv or Ibibio. “Could it one day become commonplace to have African stories exist in as many other African languages as they are in non-African languages?” they ask. Olongo Africa’s founders are interested in the interaction between African languages and how they transport stories across cultural and human boundaries. They are also interested in cementing the  multilingual character of the African continent in a way that can be creatively significant. For them, this neglected area of translation could extend the universality of stories into more geographical and intellectual spaces.

Mhide (originally published as Homecoming) written by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. Illustration: Moussa Kone

To mark the occasion of International Day of the Mother Tongue on February 21 this year, they published the Olongo Africa anthology, which currently includes ten short stories in largely West-African languages as well as Shona and Kiswahili, illustrated by Moussa Kone. The anthology is set to be expanded into a larger collection and a print edition set for release later in the year. The collection’s editors Kọ́lá Túbọsún and Salawu Olajide said they were motivated to initiate this project to create cultural conversations across the continent and promote literature, lexicography, audiobooks and translation.

Each of the translations exists as an audio piece read by the translator. This is intentional for Olongo Africa, who are curious to see “whether deliberate and intentional projects of translation and orality can have any impact on the future we hope to build, where multilingualism is less of a barrier than a bridge between consciousnesses” as their introductory note explains.  “How different it would be if the different peoples and cultures could speak to each other with perfect intelligibility. How wonderful to hear each other’s thoughts unfettered by the boundaries of language […] What kind of a continent would that be? And what world?” they ask.

The online anthology features fiction by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Ayobami Adebayo, Iquo Diana Abasi, Troy Onyango, Joao Melo, N. Jane Kalu, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, E.C. Osondu, Masimba Musodza, and Chika Unigwe. The stories are translated into Nigerian Pidgin, Igbo, Ibibio, Shona, Tiv, Hausa, Yorùbá, Kiswahili, Tamazight, and Edo. The print version of the anthology will include 10 additional stories translated into 10 additional African languages. All 20 stories will  be published in a print version.

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