Ethnography Within an Autobiographical Portrait: The Case of Camara Laye’s the African Child

David Ako Odoi, Ernest Kwesi Klu


Africa as a continent has many ethnic groups. For most non-Africans, Africa is a homogenous society and therefore all African societies and cultures are lumped together. There may be many similarities between cultures. However, the subtleties in culture for each group are not obvious to people outside Africa and most often they are ignored. Early novelists from Africa like Camara Laye have sought to project their own unique stories and give an expose on what and why their ethnic group puts up certain practices. In these stories however, the artist also invariably writes the history or ethnography of the group. So, though Laye’s work is regarded as a novel and in most instances as an autobiography of childhood, the work has deep touches of ethnography and therefore provides a bridge between these two spheres. It becomes therefore important to have a close study of these two domains as shown in The African Child. This paper therefore aims at investigating some ethnographic concerns of the Mandinka society and analyzes the purpose and role of two prominent names used in the work. It is these apparently neglected part that aid in projecting Laye’s autobiography.


Ethnography, Totem, Autobiography, Culture, Mandinka, Mimesis, Sundiata Keita

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