Of Chameleons and Gods


Region: Africa

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature

Dates of Action: 1981

Artist: Jack Mapanje

Description of Artwork: Of Chameleons and Gods is the title of the first collection of poetry by Malawian poet Jack Mapanje, published in 1981 in the UK and Malawi. In his introduction to the work, Mapanje describes as the result of the work of "ten turbulent years". The 'chameleon' of the title refers to the disguise of personal voice he deemed necessary in order to mount a criticism of the politics at the time.

Incident: The collection was withdrawn from circulation in Malawi, because it was seen as a critique of the current government and especially the leader Hastings Kamuzu Banda. When Of Chameleons and Gods was initially published in 1981 it was neither officially proscribed nor cleared for sale. Thus bookshops were not allowed to display it, but no one could be prosecuted for possessing a copy. In 1985 the Ministry of Education and Culture issued a circular banning its use in schools and colleges.

Results of Incident(s): With his use of metaphor and traditional forms Mapanje was able to out wit the censors. But finally he could do so no longer: his book was banned and he was imprisoned. Partly, of course, this simply reflects the effectiveness of Mapanje's criticism and the frustration of the authorities at his wit and skill... " ...His poetry began to deal more overtly with political themes.... He now regards himself as 'Out of Bounds'...."

No further information is available as to Mapanje's imprisonment.

Source: Human Rights Watch/Africa Watch, "Where Silence Rules, The Suppression of Dissent in Malawi," October 1990, Pg. 75-79 , Wikipedia