Mapping the Interior: Memories of Africa

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Title: Mapping the Interior: Memories of Africa
Author: Koning, Paul Eugene
Advisors: Elaine Neil Orr, Committee Chair
John Morillo, Committee Member
Wilton Barnhardt, Committee Member
Abstract: This thesis takes the form of a literary memoir relating my experiences in East Africa, both as the child of missionaries and as a young adult returning to teach. In crafting a memoir of my thirteen years in Africa, I hope to explore a number of issues relating to place and identity formation. Like many missionary children and others who have grown up in cultures not their own, I struggled with the sense that I belonged neither in East Africa nor in the United States, the place my parents called "home." My relationship to East Africa remains complex. On the one hand, I came to love it with a fierceness I have yet to fully understand. Yet because of the stain of colonialism, I am forced to wonder whether or not I even have the right to do so. In an age of postmodern disorientation and postcolonial displacement, an examination of the attachment to and disengagement from place seems a topic worthy of consideration. For me as a child, Africa was a place of adventure. My memories are predominantly of the frontier atmosphere, the vaguely lawless feeling of life on the edge. As a member of an elite minority, I was able to enjoy many aspects of this paradise that most of its inhabitants will never know. In retrospect, the great sadness of my time in Africa was the way in which I was almost totally isolated from the African people themselves. Tall hedges, comparatively great wealth, and a vast cultural chasm divided my family from them. While the motives of my parents and many other missionaries were genuine, the fact remained that our position was privileged and our lives relatively easy. The memoir opens with a scene in which young African boys hurl stones at a group of white missionary children walking their bicycles along a dusty road. The flight of the stone that struck me, the sound of my bicycle clattering to the ground, and the sight of my blood trickling into the dust have remained with me ever since. Only now am I beginning to realize the value inherent in that painful moment. This minor clash has given me a window onto the larger landscape of cultural conflict and the wounds that remain from the colonial era. Another aspect of the project, a recurring theme that provides a kind of framing mechanism for the narrative, is an exploration of the act of mapping. Autobiographical writing and the art of mapping share a number of qualities. Each attempts to fix on paper a representation of its particular subject. Both provide for a reader a rather limited and wholly biased portrait of the place or person being described. The cartographer and the memoirist select the elements to include and, perhaps more revealingly, the elements to leave out. Because of these factors, memoir can perhaps be seen as fictional, or at best as a two-dimensional view of a life. Does this diminish its "truth"? As I relate stories from my childhood and early adulthood, I am inscribing a record of my life. Can such a record be trusted? Perhaps not, but even so it will provide both writer and reader with the opportunity to consider issues of postcolonial existence that they might otherwise have passed by.
Date: 2007-06-26
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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