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Friday, February 23, 2024

WAEC slaps Gambian linguistic and cultural heritage via literature

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WASSCE, I believe, is also designed to expose (particularly through literature-in-English) candidates to English and (West) African socio-cultural, political, economic, and spiritual lifestyles. But is this the order of the case? Are Gambian cultures truly exposed to other West African countries and beyond through literature-in-English? Is WASSCE truly West African? Are candidates from other countries exposed to Gambian literatures just like the way Gambian candidates are exposed to most especially Nigerian and Ghanaian literatures?


Anyway, findings have shown that Gambian cultural and linguistic heritage is not fully showcased in WASSCE. If Nigeria can be having her three major languages fully represented in the examination, nothing should stop other stakeholders like The Gambia from having at least one of their standardised indigenous/national languages too. I think the Gambian Ministry of Education should be blamed for this because I don’t think there is any indigenous language taught even in primary schools. This is seriously a cause for concern. Gambian writers should also see this as a challenge. They should also be moved and encouraged to write in codified indigenous languages like Mandinka and Wolof so as to save the generation unborn from losing or missing their roots.

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Researches have also shown that a valid and trouble-free reflection of the culture of a demography can best be seen in the prosaic and dramatic/theatrical writings of the son(s) of the soil; NOT common in poetry – as it deals with poet’s personal emotions and feelings about the world within and around him. Unfortunately, little or no attention is given by WAEC to Gambian literary (most especially drama and prose) writings that depict the real cultures and lifestyles of Gambians. Or does it mean that there are no qualified or suitable Gambian novelists, poets and playwrights apart from the late Lenrie Peters? 

Let’s briefly consider Gambian literature in WASSCE literature-in-English syllabi so far from a decade ago until today (and in fact till 2020), and see how fair WAEC has been operating:

See a clear concise illustration of the unfair treatment of Gambian literature (particularly in drama and prose), which I called a slap on the face of Gambian linguistic and cultural heritage in the table below:

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Apart from Wheatley Phyllis (1753 – 1784), who was known as the only precolonial, and a colonial Gambian writer, there is no other writer one can point to who had one time or another championed literary writings in the country.  Even the popular Lenrie Peters, who has now become WASSCE’s pseudo-representative of Gambian writers, was never deep enough in the culture of The Gambia; it is very rare to see a reflection of Gambian cultural heritage in his writings. Maybe in few cases. Anyway, let’s imagine that there were few established Gambian writers 40 years ago. What about now when The Gambia has delivered of hundreds of talented and creative inkers? Are the inkers too sleeping? What is the function of Gambian WAEC official at the headquarters in Ghana? What about the roles of the home-based WAEC officials? Are there internal crisis among Gambian writers to be resolved or settled, maybe, by the government?

No doubt about the fact that the establishment of Gambia national printing press and the University of The Gambia sparked the evolution of literary writings in the country. This does not mean that there were no writers before the establishment of these two literary platforms. These two majorly contributed and hastened the establishment of Writers Association of The Gambia – another forum that sprang up the image of Gambian literature, and publishing houses, which brought about rapid outpouring of Gambian hidden creative and literary talents.

The Gambia, nowadays, has been blessed with talents who have penned hundreds of contemporary Gambian literature texts written to inform eyes beyond the coast about cultures of The Gambia. Some of them are Amie Sillah’s The Silent Voices, Nana Grey-Johnson’s The Magic Calabash, Baaba Sillah’s When the Monkey Talks, Papa Jeng’s The Boat Boys, Janet Bajang-Young’s The Ultimate Inheritance, Fodeh Baldeh’s Wasted Opportunity, Ramatoulie Kinteh’s Rebellion, Juka Fatou Jabang’s The Phoenix, Momodou Sabally’s To The Gambia: the Smiling Coast, and many others.

Writers Association of Gambia (WAG) too should wake up from slumber; settle their internal socio-political disputes and differences (if there are any), and work collectively to uplift the image of the country’s linguistic and cultural heritage.

In addition, government should aid Gambian writers economically and politically for their works to be accessible to readers outside the country and the continent, and be recognised by international examining bodies.

Finally, for WASSCE to be truly “West African”, and for WAEC to actualise her vision of becoming “a world-class examining body adding values to the educational goals of its stakeholders”, there is need to revisit the criteria and procedures for text selections for Literature-in-English so as to West-Africanise holistically candidates of WASSCE; literature students in West Africa should all also be exposed to socio-cultural lifestyles of the sub-continent – particularly sub-Sahara Africa through equal or balanced selection of Literatures texts from the member countries. There is nothing bad in exposing literature-in-English candidates to works of writers from other African countries like Kenya and Senegal, but it shouldn’t be at the detriment of some stakeholders like The Gambia. 

Author: Mutiu Olawuyi


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