Some thoughts on writing about Africa

March 27, 2010

This last week I’ve doing some research into human trafficking and cults. An important feature to be introduced to my story is a human trafficking group that masquerades as a religious cult. I have it in my mind that the cult, disbanded in the ‘present day’ of the novel, was based in the Sinai desert. It’s such a desolate, barren place that seems perfect for this group to hide away and do horrible things. 

 I want to base the group in Africa as it suits the purposes of my story that we still tend to find aspects of African culture intriguing. However, I walk a fine line between evoking mysterious and uncanny responses and a simple tabloid revulsion towards perceived immorality and ‘uncivilised’ behaviour.

 We read news stories about massacres and brutality in Africa or we see films like Blood Diamond that portray more inhumane acts and we start to associate continent with violence and corruption.  For example, this story in The Independent about a dismembered body found in the Thames explains it as ‘African human sacrifice’ as if Africa is a country and not a diverse continent, like they practice human sacrifice from Rabat to Johannesburg.

Representation of Africa and other developing countries is a highly contentious issue. Africa especially is worn out from pictures of starving children and such like – all its cultural richness and history is lost. So I’ve been researching African history and culture to help me represent aspects of Africa with texture and depth. The recent BBC series ‘The Lost Kingdoms of Africa’ has been excellent in celebrating Africa’s history. Also Bruce Parry’s series Tribe is very good.

Africa sets a challenge to think beyond the common images thrown at it, and I have to admit it can be easy to fall in line with some tired old idea about Africa, but I’m keeping a sharp and merciless eye out for any such occurences.

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