Amadou Hampate Ba's Cultural and Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

" (Pettersson, 2006) Oral and written verbal art languages are both used for the purpose of information communication as well as information presentation with the reader and listener receiving an invitation to consider the information.

The Narrative & the Symbolic

The work of Abiola Irele (2001) entitled: "The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora" states that Hampate Ba "...incorporates the essential feature of the oral narrative at significant points in his work in order to reflect their appropriateness to situations and for special effects. Their conjunction with the narrative procedures sanctioned by the Western model thus enlarges their scope and give them an unusual resonance. At the same time, although he writes with conscious reference to this Western model, he does not feel so constrained by the framework of its conventions that he is unable to go beyond its limitations. His departures from the established codes of the Western narrative rely on the resources of the oral tradition, which in turn provide a new dimension of expression to the adopted model." (Irele, 2001)

Irele states that the documentary and symbolic are both represented in the reconstruction of Hampate Ba of the African civilization and as well states that the reader comes to the realization that "the whole panoply of life, the whole ceremony of manners and values reproduced here, is that of a civilization that is on its last legs doomed to yield to a new order the open spaces it had for ages inhabited." (2001) That which is recounted by Hampate Ba is "the process by which the feudal system" transitions to "a new economic order determined by the interest of French capitalist imperialism..." (Irele, 2001)

Hampate Ba's work entitled "The Fortunes of Wangrin" are stated to "set out in the most graphic way the moral issues thrown up by the process and thus assumes a spiritual significance" that is worthy of attention. It is maintained in Hampate Ba's work the profound amoral nature of Wangrin which is stated by Irele to be the "outstanding trait with which he endows his creation. It is stated by Irele that as this specific narrative develops "there is a constant crossing of the documentary and the fictional perspectives, so that Wangrin often reemerges in his status as a real life reference for the story; he is both real and imagined, with a simultaneous existence within the text and outside it. This interaction between fact and fiction is reinforced by the notes, which serve as detailed ethnological commentary to the text in its documentary aspects and specify at the same time its referential code for its intelligibility as a work of fiction." (Irele, 2001)

Irele states that the marker of primary importance of the fictional status of this work is the language because "...even at its most factual, denotative and referential, the language constantly points to a significant beyond the historical." (2001) Amadou Hampate Ba writes that the Bambara tradition of the Komo "...teaches that the Word, Kuma is a fundamental force emanating from the Supreme Being himself -- Maa Ngala, creator of all things. It is the instrument of creation: 'That which Maa Ngala says, is!' proclaims the cantor -- the singing priest of the god Komo." (Jandt, 2004) Hampate Ba states that the three potentialities of "ability, willing and knowing" were deposited in Maa however these are "static, till speech comes and sets them into motion. Then vivified by the divine Word, they begin to vibrate. At a first stage they become thoughts, at a second sound, and at a third words." (Jandt, 2004)

Amadou Hampate Ba and His Conceptualization of Speech

Speech is stated by Hampate Ba to be the "externalization of the vibrations of forces, every manifestation of a force in any form whatever is to be regarded as its speech." (Jandt, 2004) This is the basis for the belief then that every sound uttered by every being in the Universe is a form of speech and "everything is speech that has taken on body and shape." (Jandt, 2004) Hampate Ba elucidates that the speech of Maa Ngala is 'seen, is heard, is smelled, is tasted, in touched. It is a total perception, a knowing in which the entire being is engaged." (Jandt, 2004)

Speech has the power to create peace or to bring about destruction and Hampate Ba compares speech to fire as "one ill-advised word may start a war just as one blazing twig may touch off a great conflagration." (Jandt, 2004) Therefore,
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speech has a doubt function stated by Hampate Ba to be the functions of:

(1) saving; and (2) destroying.

Hampate Ba states that it is for that reason that speech "...above all, is the great active agent in African magic." (Jandt, 2004)

Hampate Ba and Death

The elders of Africa hold that "life is movement and movement begins with the contradiction of the limbs...Non-contradiction means death." (Jandt, 2004) Life is stated by Hampate Ba to be "a constant toing and froing, a permanent gift of self." (Jandt, 2004) Oral tradition, according to Hampate Ba "cannot be summed up as transmission of stories or of certain kinds of knowledge. It generates and forms a particular type of man." (Jandt, 2004)

The work of Thackway (2003) entitled: "Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone" relates that studies of a thematic nature of Francophone African film quite often "point to the parallels between the themes and archetypal characters found in both the oral tales and films. The characters or situations which are found habitually to be present in the tales of Africa are recognized by audiences quite easily and the traits are then interpreted with those characters in mind and applied is symbolism of specific themes and situations. It is explained by Hampate Ba how the characters "in the tales represent us all." (Thackway, 2003)

Thackway states that oral tales serve to "...evoke a wide range of social issues, set precedents for behavior and regulate inter-community relations" and the greatest majority of Francophone African films "do the same, whether the films are realistic, symbolic, experimental, surreal, or comic." (2003) Specifically reference is made to the Fulani initiation tale 'Njeddo Dewal' by Amadou Hampate Ba describes such journeys as an unending abundance of wild events, fantastical combats, perilous journeys, successes and failures that follow a non-linear path to their final happy conclusion." (Thackway, 2003)

Hampate Ba and the Conceptualization of 'God'

In Hampate Ba's work entitled: "Aspects of African Civilization (Person, Culture, Religion)" translated by Susan B. Hunt, and what was originally published in French as "Aspects de la civilization africaine: personne, culture, religion" Hampate Ba states that to treat "...traditional relationships between African man and God" as it has been proposed through generalization of one specific form of religion to all of Africa might lead to the commission of errors that are profound in nature. This is because that there is "no African man who represents a type applicable to the entire continent, from north to south and east to west. There are African people of the north living in the Mediterranean basin or along the Atlantic coast. There are the people of the Sahara, and their neighbors, the people of the Savanna. Finally, there are the people of the forest. Just as there are many types of character, of behavior, of ethnicity, so there are many forms of traditional religion." (Hampate Ba, in Hunt, 1972)

Hampate Ba states of God that "...Maa Ngala" (Lord of All) or "Masa Dembali" (Uncreated and Infinite Lord) to the Bambara, or "Gueno" (the Eternal) and "Dundari" to the Fulani -- is regarded as the Supreme Being, the one creator of all that exists, beyond any contingency, beyond the grasp of human intelligence, and at the same time transcendent as to his being and immanent as to his manifestation. He is apart from everything and out of reach of any assault, and at the same time present everywhere. "Everywhere there is sky, there is 'Maa Ngala'," says the Bambara proverb." (Hampate Ba, in Hunt, 1972)

Hampate Ba explains that there are intermediaries between God and man and that the four fundamental elements of nature, specifically fire, air, earth and water, "play a dominant role" however he states that the "nearest and most efficacious of the intermediaries is still the ancestor -- the ancestor who founded the village, or the ancestor of the tribe -- because a secret tie of blood connects him to his progeny through men, while a bond of umbilical cord and milk ties him to his lineage through the women." (Hampate Ba, in Hunt, 1972)

Hampate Ba and the Conceptualization of Death

Death, according to Hampate Ba "makes it possible for the soul to recover its astral fluidity, having been stripped of the carnal weight that keeps it attached to the earth. It is this weight, this heaviness, that remains in the corpse and makes it impure. Once disembodied, the soul finds an appropriate base from which it can respond to any…

Sources Used in Documents:


Aggarwal, Kusum. Amadou Hampate Ba et l'africanisme. De la recherche anthropologique a l'exercice de la fonction auctoriale. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1999.

Dielika Diallo "Hampate Ba: the great conciliator." UNESCO Courier. 30 Sep, 2009. UNESCO 1992. Online available at:;col1

Djabrohou, Zohra (1994) Amadou Ba Hampete if We Were Told a Bridge Between Orality and Writing. Hampate Amadou Ba, Griffon, dec.1994. Online available at:

Hampate Ba, Amadou (1972) Aspects de la civilization africanne: personne, culture, religion. Translated by Susan B. Hunt. Online available at:

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