Afro-Asian Literature Course Synopsis

Afro-Asian Literature (Course Synopsis). This handout contains summaries and highlights of literary periods, pieces, and characteristics across African and Asian regions. 

African Literature

  • African literature comprises the oral and written works of the continent composed in either African languages (more than a thousand languages and dialects) or foreign ones.
  • The widespread African oral tradition is rich in folktales, myths, riddles, and proverbs that not only convey an imaginative view of the world, but also serve as religious, social, and educational function.
  • Unlike Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, black Africa has no ancient traditions of written literature.
  • Some major works in West Africa in the 1950’s were primarily concerned with reinterpreting African history from an indigenous point of view that stresses the dignity of the African past.
  • Since independence, French-African writers have re-examined the past from a new perspective and have focused on the social and political problems of the present.
  • Today, diverse themes are treated in some African language literature, but topics such as sex and politics are seldom explored, possibly because publication is still strictly censored in many countries.

Egyptian Literature

  • Ancient Egypt was the source of great works written on papyrus or on the walls of temples, tombs, pyramids, obelisks, portraits and monuments.
  • Ancient Egyptian literature rose and grew in the bosom of religious beliefs, but it quickly evolved to deal with man’s ordinary day-to-day life. Literary works occupied a distinguished position in the ancient Egyptian thought and civilization. The ancient Egyptians viewed literature as a source of spiritual nourishment and a unique way to elevate style of expression.

Arabian Literature

  • A written Arabic literature began to be known with the collection of the Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam, in Arabia in the 7th century A.D.
  • The history of Arabic literature is usually divided into periods marking the dynastic changes and divisions that took place within the Islamic world which include: Umayyad and Abbasid periods.
  • Arabs possessed a highly developed poetry, composed for recitation and transmitted orally from generation to generation which reflected and praised the customs and values of the desert environment in which they arose.
  • An inventive type of folk literature, exemplified in The Thousand and One Nights (popularly known as the Arabian Nights) drew upon the recitations of wandering storytellers called

Hebrew Literature

  • The most significant characteristic of Hebrew literature is that the greater part of it is directly or indirectly the outgrowth of the Bible. Prose literature of the historical type constitutes a large portion of the Old Testament

Hindu Literature

  • Indian literature is based on piety, a deeply religious spirit. The oldest know literature in India is the Vedas. According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apaurueya “not of human agency”, are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti (“what is heard”). This contains hymns and prayers for gods. Indians believe that a knowledge of gods and a strong belief in Hinduism is necessary to save mankind..
  • Indian literary masterpieces are written in epic form, corresponds to the great epochs in the history of India. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the most important epics of India; the latter is the longest epic in the world.
  • Medieval Indian literature, the earliest works in many of the languages were sectarian, designed to advance or to celebrate some unorthodox regional belief. Examples are the Caryapadas in Bengali, Tantric verses of the 12th century, and the Lilacaritra (circa 1280), in Marathi.

Chinese Literature

  • Through cultural contacts, Chinese literature has profoundly influenced the literary traditions of other Asian countries, particularly Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
  • Chinese poetry, besides depending on end rhyme and tonal metre for its cadence, is characterized by its compactness and brevity.
  • Most literary works are deeply rooted on the teachings of Confucius.

Japanese Literature

  • The origins of Japanese literature lie in oral poetry and mythology, and the earliest surviving work in Japanese Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) transforms such myths into written form, explaining the cosmology of the Japanese and justifying the legitimacy of the ruling house as descendants of the sun goddess.
  • The most obvious characteristic that sets Japanese literature, and especially poetry, apart from other world literatures is its briefness, its brevity.
  • Contemporary Japanese writing in translation has found a wide audience in the West, in part because much new fiction uses American literary approaches—-fast, wild action, low-down language, irreverent attitudes toward social institutions—–to make works that are still distinctively Japanese.

Persian Literature

  • Persian literature has its roots in the culture of pre-Islamic Iran although it was strongly influenced by the Arabic language and culture of its conquerors.
  • Persian poetry, providing the stronger cultural tradition, adopted the rigid Arabic ode which was used for various subjects but especially for love in both its profane and mystical manifestations.
  • Persian prose encompasses stories, fables, histories, and manuals of conduct, among other forms. Classical Persian prose was often characterized by rhyme, but this led to artificial intricacies and thus to its subsequent decline.