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We will hear from Onoh herself in a guest post written to you, the American library worker, tomorrow, but for today, I wanted to give you a very quick primer on African horror, point you to a few resources to explore on your own, and give you authors to check out.
Let’s start with a primer. What is African horror? Well, in 2015, Onoh had this wonderful top 10 list explaining what African horror is and also, very importantly, is not:
1. African Horror is not a reference to AIDS, famine or Ebola, just as Indian Horror is not a reference to rapes or honour killings. African Horror is a literary genre in its own right, a sub-genre of horror that has existed for centuries, albeit without a formal title till my book, The Reluctant Dead, began spearheading the term, African Horror.
2. African Horror encompasses several horror sub-genres like supernatural horror, psychological horror, demonic/occultic horror, sci-fi horror (popularised by Nnedi Okoroafor) slasher/gore/splatter horror and paranormal romance to mention a few. My books are focused on African supernatural horror, specifically, ghosts and hauntings.
3. Just like the old Japanese Kaidan tradition, African Horror stories are geographically targeted, depicting the core traditions, beliefs and superstitions of a particular village/tribe within a horror context. Thus, my books, The Reluctant Dead and Unhallowed Graves will resonate with anyone familiar with The Ring or The Grudge.
4. African Horror is usually steeped in the moral values of individual tribes, with most stories reinforcing these values and the dire consequences of ignoring or abandoning them. Thus, in Unhallowed Graves, we witness the terrible events that befall a grieving mother who goes against the village traditions and attempts to resurrect her son buried in Ajo-ofia, the unhallowed burial ground of people deemed to have died an unclean or bad death.
5. African Horror has a strong cinema presence in Nollywood films, a Nigerian film industry that produces popular drama, depicting terrifying supernatural events within an Igbo/African setting.
6. Amos Tutuola, the famous author of The Palm-wine Drinkard and My Life in the bush of Ghosts, is the father of African Horror. His books are considered modern classics today and have been translated into several languages.
7. Africans respect, fear, revere or abhor their Medicine men. Some cultures refer to them as Juju-men, Root-healers, Voodoo-men or witchdoctors. By whatever name they go, they all boil down to one thing - powerful men (and at times, very rarely, women) whose actions, good or bad, always impact on the daily lives of their people. No African Horror story is ever complete without reference to these powerful and controversial Medicine-men.
8. The Gullah culture of the American South has very strong ties to African culture and their horror stories are very similar to African horror. Today, Eden Royce, author of the book, Spook Lights and one of the few people that still speak the Gullah language, is spear-heading the Southern Gothic Horror, steeped in Gullah beliefs and culture. People that love Southern Gothic Horror will enjoy African Horror too.
9. African Horror stories are not Folktales, contrary to popular conception. These days, modern African Horror is written in prose and style similar to mainstream horror, which readers from all over the globe can relate to. My last book, The Reluctant Dead, enjoyed wide readership from fans worldwide, proving that true horror does indeed cross all boundaries. My latest book, Unhallowed Graves, follows in the same style, while retaining its distinct African voice.
10. Finally, African Horror books and films are out there for anyone interested in discovering the terrifying tales from our mysterious continent. Unfortunately, due to the unsatisfactory classification of literary works, one is likely to find African horror books under "Multicultural" rather than under "Horror". Hopefully, in the near future, an overhaul of the classification system will see more horror works by Africans writers and non-African writers writing African Horror, classified under their rightful category - Horror.In that list, Onoh mentions the late, Amos Tutuola whose works can be found in many American public libraries, but I would bet you don’t have a horror sticker on them. Back then, we classified these books as African “Mythology,” but they are horror-- loud and proud. Yes, Tutuola’s works, like many African horror writers use the monster from folklore as a starting point, but so do Western authors. How soon we forget that the entire concept of a zombie began in Haitian culture. Yes, it has evolved from that kind of zombie in the last few decades, but that is where it began. Yet, we do not call zombie tales “mythology.”
Also, since humans have lived on the African continent far longer than here in America, they have a huge number of awesome monsters in their storytelling tradition to draw off of.
In fact, I would like to argue in this post today that if you have a typical American horror fan, especially one who has “read it all,” your best place to take that reader is to the rich and vibrant history of African horror and its awesomely terrifying world of monsters.
Click here for a list from Mental Floss on 11 legendary [and terrifying] monsters from all across Africa with an attribution to their country of origin. This is just a glimpse into the source material for an entire continent of horror fiction inspiration.
Please do not worry about a white person from a typical American suburb not being able to relate to these African tales. That is a cop out. If your reader is a horror fan already, that is all of the necessary background he or she will need to fall right into these stories and love the terror that follows. It all is based on the same appeal factors. It is just the monsters themselves who are a little different.
I should also point out that I am mostly writing about African horror written by authors from Nigeria and South Africa because their work is the most easily found in English.
You can click here to read about a brand new anthology of African horror writers with 10 authors you can read right now, including Onoh. Here is the table of contents with links to the authors’ Goodreads pages [where applicable]. The links will lead you to more authors and more story compilations by the very best African horror authors today:
“Daughter Dearest” by Chioma Odukwe – A woman who has just lost her husband finds herself in danger of losing her daughter as well and goes to desperate lengths to keep her in this unusual zombie story.
“Shame” by Nerine Dorman – A biracial couple try to find acceptance during South Africa’s post-apartheid transition period but find themselves confronted with a devastating horror instead.
“Sleep Papa, Sleep” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa – A mistake made during a taboo trade leaves a young man in modern Lagos desperate to rid himself of something terrifying from beyond the grave.
“Blood and Fire” by Sawaleh – Religious corruption in one of Africa’s largest Megachurches provokes an ancient and unspeakable horror that seeks to punish, corrupt and feed.
“Koi-Koi” by Raymond Elenwoke – One of Nigeria’s most prevalent and persistent urban legends is given an origin story in this frightening interpretation of the Lady Koi-Koi mythos.
“Eaters Of Flesh” by Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso – A young university student is confronted by mysterious events involving his parents that threaten his sanity and his life.
“Afin” by Edwin Okolo – Twisting the Snow White fairy tale in surprising ways and transposing it to pre-colonial Nigeria, the court of a king is thrown into disarray when his older wives pit themselves against his youngest.
“Hadiza” by Nuzo Onoh – A man’s greed and lust lead him to divorce his faithful and loyal wife, an action that has dire consequences in this Nollywood-Horror style tale.
“The Wild Dogs” by Mandisi Nkomo – A Swedish woman volunteers to help fight a strange disease consuming Cape Town and comes faces to face with monstrous inhumanity.
“Udu” by Damilare Falowo – A village girl and her newborn child are thrown into a cursed forest to die but in the forest she finds vengeful things that are worse than death.
with an Introduction by Wole TalabiI wanted to end by reminding you that there are some bigger name African writers of dark speculative fiction who you have in your libraries and who take the time to promote their lesser known colleagues including Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz, and Nnedi Okorafor. [Not surprisingly, 2 out of those 3 are white.] Let’s start with the known authors, and begin to branch out from there. You don’t want to miss out on this trend. Take advantage of its spike in popularity to grab some new reads for your patrons.
Tomorrow, Onoh, the true expert, will be here with a guest post, and then Wednesday, I will have a review of her latest novel, The Sleepless, which has already garnered heaps of praise across Great Britain.