Justin Lewis
Comparative Rhetorics in Contemporary West African Cinema. ETSO Conference. Middle Tennessee State University. April 14, 2007.
Publication year: 2007


This paper extends George Kennedy’s call for investigations into “comparative rhetoric” or the way rhetorical authority, form and function is employed by non-Western cultures. By utilizing Bakhtin’s theories of utterance and Foucault’s ideas concerning logophobia, this paper performs an analysis of pre-colonial and post-colonial West African Mande social structures via their rhetorical apparatus’. West African Mande culture is divided into separate and distinct social classes based on each castes ability to traffic in “nyama” or “rhetorical-supernatural force.” This inquiry reveals that in pre-colonial times oral recitations such as the Sundiata epic allowed West African bards to authenticate and critique the dominant class hierarchy through epideictic and deliberative oratorical performance. In contemporary West Africa, film productions, such as Keita and Guimba the Tyrant, allow West African bards to reconstitute their oral rhetorical art in the postcolonial era in a “double-voiced” speech-film act that both authenticates and critiques the dominant discourse of farmers, nobles and politicians.