Essay on Afrofuturism
Number of words: 2067
Coined in the 90s, Afrofuturism describes any literary works with aspects of science fiction, Afrocentricity, non-western cosmologies, fantasy, historical fiction, and magical realism. This genre critiques past and present predicaments that are faced by blacks, while conceptualizing the futures of those individuals that thrive from cultural experiences gained due to historical African diaspora. Moreover, fantasy and science fiction novels serve as a way to assess and deal with issues of society, both past, and present. Therefore, it is undoubted that writers of color will tend to utilize science fiction and fantasy in order to reveal their opinions on race, as well as feelings of otherness, particularly in white-dominated societies. As such, a sub-genre of Afrofuturism emerged so as to aid in classifying specific novels. This paper will then analyze three stories by Nnedi Okorafor by revealing how Afrofuturism has been depicted in each book.
Rusties, a masterpiece work by Nnedi Okorafor and Wanuri Kahiu, delves on science fiction and fantasies. This story is set in Nairobi, a city in Kenya, where the protagonist lived. Written in the first person, the protagonist in the story narrates about rusted robots. Importantly, the narrator denotes that “Rusties have been around for, like, thirty years,” particularly, after recalling how his father used to brag about those robots (Okorafor and Kahiu). Moreover, the protagonist denotes that these robots “were upgraded with moderate artificial intelligence in order to process information more effectively and placed in the most traffic-crippled African cities of Lagos, Nairobi, and Cairo” in order to aid in controlling traffic (Okorafor and Kahiu). From this excerpt, it is explicit that magical realism has been used because the traffic in the quoted towns has been painted meticulously while revealing how fantastic they are. Even though it is a fictional reality in a modern world, the way the author expects the audience to envisage the contemporary town is one that is fabulous because there are magical elements added to it. Overall, magical realism is overtly portrayed in this section, thus showing Afrofuturism as a sub-genre in the novel.
The authors used elements of fantasy in the novel, particularly revealing the aspects of improbable activities or imagined actions that may be impossible. Set in Nairobi, the protagonist accounts for his experience with a traffic robot named CV3 Ndege. As a five-year-old, the protagonist vividly recalls a one time when he “saw Rusty Ndege’s eyes do that brief flash of pink it rarely did for anyone. “You’re welcome . . . ” It said. It paused and then added, “Magana,” which was his name, and this startled him. This excerpt indicates that this robot, CV3 Ndege, behaved exactly like a human being, which is somewhat impossible. Therefore, this extract suggests the author’s use of fantasies in order to deliver the message, especially by envisaging a robot that is able to recognize someone’s name. Also, the protagonist narrates the absence of accidents and other misfortunes that may befall a five-year-old, which are fictional in practice. These imaginations constitute a significant part of the author’s work, thus indicating Afrofuturism.
Non-western cosmology and Afrocentricity is imminent in the story. The former fuses the science with mythology in order to deliver Afrocentricity – a historical study of people of African origin. Fictionally, the protagonist narrates of Backlash Bracelets, which he believed was mined out of Rusties’ motherboard. The bracelet was named “Robot Cop Killer Jewelry, then simply CopKiller Jewelry” because it was sold to an American rapper who saw it fit to use that name. Notably, the protagonist then denotes that “Backlash Bracelets were products of the Kazi Bure underground anti-robot revolution that started in Kenyan, Egyptian, Nigerian, and South African universities about nine years ago” and this indicates the appreciation of African technological advancements (Okorafor and Kahiu). This excerpt, therefore, shows how the author tried to acknowledge the know-hows in African nations by denoting the specific countries that initiated the Kazi Bure activism in order to end robotic works in those nations. Moreover, historical fiction, mainly that related to “Copkiller Jewelry,” which is a rap artist’s name, indicates an essential element of Afrofuturism. Generally, this excerpt about bracelets fuses several elements in Afrofuturism, and the author has succeeded significantly in portraying each one of them explicitly.
Biafra is the second book considered for analysis, which was authored by Nnedi Okorafor in 2005. After being abroad for a long time, Arro-yo returned to Nigeria – a land, which was then filled with Civil War at the time of her return. With the capability of flying, Arro-yo was able to evade gun shorts one time when she found herself amid the ongoing battle. Using the second person narration, Okorafor asserts that the British colonizers selected magicians and sorcerers who “used juju charms like magical walking sticks to repel bullets and secret elixirs to prevent poisoning” (Okorafor). This excerpt indicates the use of magical realism, mainly by adding elements of magic to the historical event that occurred in Nigeria when people were fighting foreigners in order to gain independence. Another aspect is the non-western cosmology, which is evident in the extract, especially revealed by the ability of the local charms to suppress the gun shorts and save people from dying. Additionally, historical concepts are fused in the story, which makes it a realistic event, yet the capability of these charms to subdue the power of guns makes the story fictitious and extraordinary. As such, the realistic perception of the contemporary world is vividly painted while using magic so as to exaggerate the situation.
The technique of non-western cosmology is an example of Afrofuturism. This element portrays the ability of Africans to use scientific capability in order to mold tools. Well, the author has used this aspect in the novel, while narrating the encounters Arro-yo experienced during the civil war in Biafra region. The scientific advancements make it possible for the locals to be innovative:
In Biafra, we invented the Ogbunigwe bomb and self-guided surface-to-air missiles to help us. Women became spies and soldiers. Children did their part, too. Scientists on both sides spoke of developing nuclear and biological weapons. But our weapons could not match the Nigerians’, whose were supplied by foreigners. And then the enemy was able to cut off our food supplies and we began to starve, we began to lose faster (Okorafor).
It is then feasible to summarize that the authors’ intention was to reveal that not only Europeans could use contemporary means so as to build superior weapons but also the locals managed to do it. This excerpt shows that both sides of the militant group had scientific prowess, and therefore, both were able to create superior fighting tools with the capability of suppressing their opponents.
Scientific fiction and fantasy is one crucial element of Afrofuturism, and Okorafor used it extensively in the novel, Biafra. This feature mainly denotes of imaginations that are improbable, yet the protagonists are able to use it. Arro-yo, as she came back home to Nigeria, “she flew into the sky to get away from gunless, machete-bearing, desperate men gone mad who tried to attack her” during the battle (Okorafor). It is impractical for someone to fly, yet the author gives the protagonist that capacity. Also, it can be envisaged that somewhat the author made this scene look fabulous, particularly by fusing a rather overt fantasy into a realistic situation. Civil war is a probable event; however, someone cannot fly. Also, it is pragmatic to denote that such war predicaments are historically feasible, and hence, it can bring the element of historical fiction in the novel, to mean that the author utilized fictional stories to reveal possible actualities of the past.
Authored in 2016, Afrofuturist 419, is a novel by Nnedi Okorafor scrutinizing a scam letter by Bakare Tunde, a cousin to Air Force Major Abacha Tunde, yet it had elements of truth. This story reveals a remarkable yet forgotten achievement of a Nigerian astronaut who was working alongside his Soviet Union’s counterparts in a space mission. A letter dubbed confidential, explains historical concepts about Abacha, a Nigerian, who was “the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979” and later joined the “Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989” (Okorafor). This excerpt, therefore, provides a significant recognition to Abacha, who is undeniably non-European, and who managed to be among the first people to have landed in the space. However, he was stranded upon dissolution of the Soviet Union, and that he had no means of returning to earth. Uncharacteristically, his space was assumed by cargo when astronauts from the Soviet Union occupied the Soyuz T-16Z. It was negligent and absurd to ignore a human being and let his space occupied by cargo. This extract, overall, depicts a historical fiction that is accompanied by the unfair treatment of people of color.
Afrocentricity is eventually revealed in the novel, especially at the end of the story, whereby the author narrates the historical facts about Abacha, who was neglected by Soviet Union’s Spaceflight Services Inc. Notably, Abacha denotes that he learned the term Afrofuturism before he left, and to him, it means “Blacks who love space and the future—like Sun Ra, P-Funk, black-rooted scifi” (Okorafor). Thus, Abacha believed that he qualified to be an African Afrofuturism because he “left the Earth to see what was out there” (Okorafor). These extracts reveal the story of a decent African man, Abacha, who is enthusiastic about learning about the space. Even though the members of his crew neglected him, he boasts of having returned home alive and being able to narrate the ordeal himself. However, he rebukes his cousin’s scam attempt to make easy money out of his shortcomings. As such, he describes how the letter had made him famous and even made people believe that he had accumulated a flight pay worth $15,000,000. He believes that no one would pay him this amount of money because it was too much. Overall, Afrocentricity is explicitly revealed by the author, mainly narrating the predicaments that Abacha underwent as one of the African decent space enthusiasts.
The elements of non-western cosmology are present in the entire story. From 1979 to 1990s, it was not realistic to find that African descent could be part of individuals who made it to space. Abacha defied this norm and joined the Spaceflight Services Inc. Based on a scam letter by his cousin, yet revealed later on to be a compelling story, Abacha’s story became viral, and his catastrophe spiraled all information outlets, including newspapers. Even if he was astonished by Tunde, he later reconsiders his first stance on his cousin by reaffirming that he loved him regardless of his scam tactic. Having used “Salyut 6 space station in 1979” and “later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989” means that it was not only European descent who could explore the space, but also Africans were able to do it (Okorafor). Even though the whites neglected him, he accomplished his mission to be an African astronaut who visited the space.
Overall, Okorafor’s three novels, Biafra, Afrofuturist 419, and Rusties, considered for this analysis on Afrofuturism has significant elements about the sub-genre. The aspects that have been extensively used by the author in the stories entail science fiction, non-western cosmologies, fantasy, magical realism, Afrocentricity, and historical fiction. Magical realism, mainly, has been used in most scenes by the author in order to explain and reveal Afrofuturism in the stories. This concept paints a realistic view of the contemporary world by adding magical moments to it. Afrocentricity is extensively used in Afrofuturist 419 because the author delved squarely on the Abacha’s issue without including other side stories. The stories narrated the life of African descent who made it to space as an explorer alongside other Soviet Union astronauts, which is before the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1990. On the whole, Afrofuturism in these novels has been utilized so as to reclaim black’s identity, mainly by reimagining the past events and then projects a brighter future.
Okorafor, Nnedi, and Kahiu, Wanuri. Rusties. 2016.
Okorafor, Nnedi. Afrofuturist 419. Clarkesworld, 2016.
Okorafor, Nnedi. Biafra. Olympia Fields, Illinois, 2005.