Limits and prospects of African humour
Izuu Nwankwọ (Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University )
Nkatha Kabira (University of Nairobi)
Language and Literature
David Hume, LG.10
Wednesday 12 June, 8:45-10:15, 10:45-12:15 (UTC+0)

Short abstract:

From pre-colonial court times, laughter has always ensured communal unity in Africa. Recently, offence-taking has risen due to mounting sensitivities against jokes that abuse other than amuse. What are the legal, economic and/or socio-cultural implications of this to individual existences in Africa?

Long abstract:

Edward Hall's claim that "an understanding of a people's sense of humor is one key to the structure of that society"; underscores the far-reaching implications humour has on every aspect of individual and communal existences within Africa. Humour builds bridges across cultures; intersects with diverse values/identities, while also destroying them through derision. Indeed, it illuminates and invisibilises deeply embedded societal structures. It can thus be inclusive and selectively exclusive. For its teetering position astride the amuse-abuse divide, it inherently connects and disrupts, foregrounds incongruences and insults; propped up mostly by audience's momentary suspension of offence. From pre-colonial court jesters to modern-day stand-up and cartoon comics, laughter has had much relevance to the socio-cultural wellbeing of Africans. Recently, however, growing irritation to ridicule globally has instigated increasing criticisms against humourists. From Nigeria's Basket Mouth's rape jokes to Jonathan Shapiro's sensational cartoons of South Africa's Jacob Zuma, and to Bassem Youssef's serial run-ins with the Egyptian government, audiences have expressed dislike for the disruptions of humour despite the characteristic emotional relief and unifying shared laughter satirists provide. The panel hopes to discuss varied perspectives on the prospects and limits of African humour through multidisciplinary, historical/contemporary viewpoints that examine the connections and disruptions; analyse the significance of humour in understanding African societies; and/or interrogate myriad economic, socio-cultural and legal consequences of the tensions between offence-taking and freedom of expression within humour-generating African performances, literature, political satire, etc.