In the novel “WE NEED NEW NAMES,” AFRICAN AS OBJECT OF PIETY: COLONIALISM, Bulawayo’s narrative allows the application of the notion that African life and cultures are commonly misrepresented through typecasting and conventionalization. It engages with deprived postcolonial cosmopolitans and the legacy of colonialism in its retroflection of a vision that is influential and tragic. The novel is based on the story of an unprivileged black girl child navigating the difficult times in a country whose socio-economic situation is drowning and undertaking a diasporic journey to the West. Little Darling is not only the narrator of her own predicament but her country as well: through a naïve, brave, and intuitive voice, she accompanies the reader into a world whose image is often manipulated and misrepresented in the eyes of the West. As well as through Darling’s first-hand storytelling, the reader has the chance to access the events through the eyes of some Western media representatives.

So, the novel induces us to weigh how Zimbabwean peoples and traditions have been represented in order to get the attention of a hegemonic Western audience. These essay discussions justify that African life, and cultures are commonly misrepresented through stereotypes. This critique argues that Bulawayo has ironically reproduced stereotypes as a way to critique the market for African literary representation.


Misrepresentation of images of distant Africa to the Western audience

Throughout the novel, pictures appear as the most deployed means to transmit images of distant Africa to the Western audience. Their predominant characteristic, though, is the inability to depict a situation in its entirety. Their presence in the country is depicted while capturing, by means of a camera, some key and tragic moments of Zimbabwean history, such as the demolitions taking place during ‘Operations Murambatsvina,  “then later the people with cameras and T-shirts that say BBC and CNN come to shake their heads and look and take our pictures like we are pretty, and one of them says, It’s like a tsunami tore through the place, Jesus, it’s like a fucking tsunami tore this up” (WNNN 67). They can only capture a scene partially, in pieces and fragments, often omitting the surrounding. The factual reality is susceptible to interpretation and thus exposed to the risk of being manipulated and misinterpreted according to different discourses. CRITIQUE ON “WE NEED NEW NAMES,” AFRICAN AS OBJECT OF PIETY: COLONIALISM

African as an object of piety

In the novel,(CRITIQUE ON “WE NEED NEW NAMES,” AFRICAN AS OBJECT OF PIETY: COLONIALISM), the African children are deliberately portrayed ironically in shabby conditions so that they no longer emerge as subjects but as objects of piety, in fact, fully responding to charitable needs. “ As soon as the cameraman sees Chipo’s stomach, after the first moment of shock, the pregnancy becomes the subject of his photo shoot and he starts taking pictures “like she has become Paris Hilton” (WNNN 53). Comparing the eleven years old pregnant child photographed by the journalist to an American VIP followed by paparazzi embraces a bitter irony: the child’s image is appropriated by the Western media while she is an unaware and powerless victim. The NGOs or Western media exploiting African children’s images in order to gain consent in the West is a good example of how “subaltern voices are often immediately recuperated, transformed and inserted into different narratives and agendas set by other interest groups.” a pattern into which African childhood doesn’t fit.

Africans Parents and their role

When talking about childhood, of course, also the figure of parenting is relevant, and parents as well are supposed to meet certain expectations in relation to their role? In order to control African childhood, institutions and international organizations expropriate the parents and their role, leveraging on their material and more trivial needs. In ” We Need New Names “, parents and adults are portrayed as infantilized by the NGO people and not capable of complying with their parental role, in the way the discourse on childhood globally disseminated would require. Among adults complaining about how the NGO people are not visiting often enough, the only Mother of Bones refuses to queue to be granted trinkets rather than more useful gifts. Clearly, what Bulawayo wants to stress is the extent to which African people suffering hardships are made dependent on Western economic aid. What stands behind his dynamic and its perpetration is, of course, the production of discourse about Africa arbitrarily constructed by the West. (CRITIQUE ON “WE NEED NEW NAMES,” AFRICAN AS OBJECT OF PIETY: COLONIALISM), the novel draws attention to how the discourse is spread through the mass media and how the control over the latter ensures control over the processes of representation and construction either of the self or the Other. Not only by producing a discourse on Africa but also by controlling the means of communications, the West has the power to produce knowledge with which to construct an image of the Other, in contrast to which it can shape its own identity. The interference of the NGO on the life of the locals, therefore, appears as nothing more than the perpetuation of colonial discourse that, building pieces of knowledge on Africa, becomes a tool to exert power over it.


Hence, if Africa is a helpless country in need of being savior’s role saved, the West obviously fulfills the role of the savior. The kind of aid provided does nothing but perpetuate a dynamic in which, instead of empowering African people by providing them the tools to go beyond their own predicament, Western institutions reinforce the patterns of dependency. This way of representing Africa and poverty does nothing but lead to a “dangerous paternalism” that “empowers the wrong person.

As we see, Darling’s identity in the West is often reduced to assimilation with the African continent. Since the first moment, the woman in the bathroom makes the girl representative of the whole of Africa, and most of all with Africa’s abjection, reporting a number of wretched episodes going on in different regions of the continent, such as Congo, where “rapes and all those killings” (WNNN 175) are taking place. This stereotypical association with Africa also happens to Darling while working at the supermarket when, since she is panicking at the sight of a cockroach in an empty bottle, her manager, Jim, says: “You’re just acting up, I know you’ve seen all sorts of crazy shit over there” . In the Western imaginary, hence, Africa is nothing but a receptacle of pain and unintelligible strangeness of all sorts, a site of abjection of which their inhabitants are the carriers.


Achebe, Chinua. [1958] 2001. Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin Classics. [Google Scholar]

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. 2013. Americanah. London: Fourth Estate. [Google Scholar]

Almond, Ian. 2006. “Rogues of Modernity: Picaresque Variations in the Postcolonial Genre of the Enlightenment Missionary.” Orbis Literarum 61 (2): 93–113. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0730.2006.00882.x.
2022-07-29 06:16:13

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