Monday, June 15, 2009

Humor in Africa

Published in Humorgrafe
by Osvaldo Macedo de Sousa, Lisboa, Portugal

1-What do you know about the history of humor in your country?
I wrote an article about Sudanese cartoon published in “Cartoon World” book by Bayram Hadjizadah- Azerbaijan (2009). Its title is (History and Present-day of Sudan Cartoon) and I hope it become helpful for your research, the article title is (History and Present-day of Sudan Cartoon):

Sudanese cartoon now is comparatively modern. Sudan knew this art since 1821 when The Turkish army occupied the country. They brought with them the stories and tales of The Near East, charters of these stories and tales speared widely, among these characters was "Juhah". Many countries have similar charters, for example in Iran and Azerbaijan we find "Molla Nasreddin", in Turkey we find Naserddin Khodja.

The stories and jokes of these characters spread widely among poor people in the towns and villages, generations pass them to generations. After occupation of Sudan by Britain and Egypt in 1898 Sudanese newspapers like Alsudan Alhadeeh, Alhadara, Alfajar published cartoons from English and Egyptian newspapers especially from The English Magazine "Punch", but at that time there was no Sudanese cartoonist.
The first cartoonist "Ezzaddin Osman (1933-2008) started his work in 1959 in "Alakhbar" newspaper, and then he transferred to "Alray Alaam","Alayam" and "Alsahafa" newspapers.

In the early of 1980`s " Ezzaddin " had been banished to Emirates for ten years because one of his cartoons against the Minster of transports in the government of the ex-president Gafer Nounery .When he returned back to Sudan in 1986 he continued his work with "Al telegram" ,Nabbed Alkarikaeer" and "Alsharie Alsyasi" newspapers . He retired and stopped his drawing cartoons in 2005.

“Ezzaddin Osman had a great influence on the Sudanese politics and society. He had a great ability in creating public opinion. Ismail Alazahari the first Sudanese Prime Minster after Independence in 1956 was accustomed to start his day by reviewing Ezzaddin Osman’s cartoons.

His cartoons discussed in markets, streets and offices, some of his works became famous jokes in Sudan told even today.

Cartoon art in Sudan reached its climax point in 1994 when "Nabbed Alkarikaeer" or "Cartoon Pulse" the first Sudanese cartoon newspaper. After that many cartoon newspapers published like "Alawail", "Alam Alazkeya", "Donya Alkarikaeer" and Alam Alcomdia".

All these specialist newspapers supposed to be a strong base for this art nourishment, but unfortunately most of them stopped publication, now there is only "Nabedd Alkarikaeer" and "Alawail" are published.

Nabbed Alkarikaeer in 1995 was the first Sudanese newspaper in distribution it exceeded all newspapers even the political one and there are more than 14 cartoonists. Now it has only two cartoonists, the space of cartoons is decreased too much; most cartoonists stopped working in newspapers because of poor salaries paid for them.

In Sudan now is about 35 daily newspapers, cartoonists work within their staff is only eight, four of them work in political newspapers.

This situation resulted from the fact that publishers do not allow cartoonists to publish their works especially the beginners. Even mature and experienced cartoonists have no chance to publish their works and their salaries are very poor. One of the problems of cartoon art in Sudan is security censorship which removes any work critiques political, social and economical situation.

Another problem, Sudanese cartoonist has no any organization to protect them and to improve this art. All efforts to improve this art in Sudan are individual; the state does not give any attention for cartoon art in Sudan.
The future of cartoon in Sudan is in danger, the number of cartoonist is continuously reduced, few of them take cartoon as a basic job, and most of them have other jobs.

Future will witness no cartoons on the Sudanese newspapers .Ezzaddin Osman had planted the first seed of cartoon art in Sudan, but this tree will die if no one takes care of it.

2- Has it ancestral roots or is it just a contemporary formula of European importation of facing reality?
In Sudan we no effect of Europe in our local cartoon, at least until the past 10 years. Sudan is relatively new country, until 1821 there is no united country called ( Sudan ). There are more than 596 tribe divided into many ethnic and cultural groups, and every group have its local humor stories and heroes, but there is no one super humor hero selected by all Sudanese.

In 1821 The Turkish army occupied the country and they brought with them the stories of "Juhah" from The Near East.
But the first (Local Humor Super Stars) was Wadd Naffash how was a real personality lived in Umm Dorman City, and the most famous cartoon character is (Ammak Tanngo) or (Uncle Tanngo) which appeared in Alsubbiyan magazine since 1946.

3- Are there many cartoonists in your country? If yes, what are their names? Do you have their contacts?
There are few cartoonists and most of them are not professional.

4- Are there any Humor Festivals in your country?
No there are not at all!

5- Is there any specialized humoristic press in your country? If yes, what are the names of the newspapers? Is the other press publishing cartoons?
Yes, now there are only two newspapers: "Nabedd Alkarikaeer" and "Alawail" are specialized humoristic press, the space of cartoons is decreased too much; most cartoonists stopped working in newspapers because of poor salaries paid for them. Besides that the quality of these cartoons decreased so much.

In Sudan now is about 35 newspapers, cartoonists work within their staff is only eight, four of them work in political newspapers. There is only one Sudanese comics magazine called (Semesma)

6- Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to this art?
I believe that any caricaturist should carry clear message of awareness , this awareness maybe take a political form in most cases, this may not satisfy some who are trying to avoid politics. I have way in caricature which I called (theory of the tree) and it can be explained as follows:

If you see that a tree has damages and you want to uproot it, you will not only wipe its trunk and remove some leaves from dry branch, but you must focus on the original and uproot it from the roots at all.

I believe that the politicians are scourge of Sudan ; every problem its origin a political problem such as poverty, unemployment, spinsterhood and crisis of the sport, I can prove that if in some respects, not all of them. Therefore, I focus on the direct political issues unlike some colleagues who mock the details of daily small suffering such as the provision of food, the problem of transportation and the money. But when I collected all these details, I discovered that it forms a single word with clear and large letters is (corruption!

I am working on the criticism and revealing the main causes of our suffering and not the side effects, I think that any caricature as (direct free-kick)!
I consider cartoon is my way to clear my visions and my weapon which I use to fight corruption.

7- Who are your local masters?
Which are your international references?
Personally, I don't have a local master, but most of Sudanese cartoonists flow the cartoon style of the most famous cartoonist in Sudan (Ezzaddin Osman). My international cartoon reference is (Ares) from Cuba .

8- Do you think that in your graphic style there is a special African influence?
Yes I guess so, and this appears so clear on my subjects and shapes and faces which all show our local issues.

9- Can African Culture influence your way of creating humor?

You can not say this absolutely and all the way because the humor in North Africa (Arab countries) is so much different than South. In Sudan we effected with many different cultural waves, so Sudan is special case and this influence is personally and different from artist to anther. In simple words I can divide the main cultural influences in Sudan to: (Islamism Arabism movement, Africanizing movement, and at last the European culture). Sudan is in the cross section of Africa and Asia and so many cultures so judgment is so personally and relatively.
The African culture appears its strong effect very well in the countries of South of Sahara.

10- What is your definition of humor? Which is the role of cartoon in the contemporary society?- I think the caricaturist must provide political and social awareness through his work, because the hand which holding pen is one, but it must express issues of thousands and millions of the oppressed and the marginalized. Caricaturist must not paint to his personal glory, also caricaturist should not consider himself as government-employee to fill in white rectangular area in a page, and also he must not make himself joke to entertain some readers. Here I mean who working in the political press only, where some of people make caricature is synonym for jesting. When I meet some people and they know that I'm caricaturist, they expect me to tell jokes, but I'm not clown to draw jokes for readers, I raised the slogan of (the time of laughter is over).

We laughed at our pain and our tragedies enough time, but the wiping on wounds doesn't cure it and analgesics do not treat the cancer. I know that my speech quite rough, but the truth is more severe than that.
I don’t know how person can laugh amid all these tragedies and smile amid these tears and bloods. I think that joking in this critical time considered misleading for minds and unreasonable vanity in the time of seriousness!

11- Do you think that your political opinions influence your cartoons?

Yes I think my political opinions and visions is my first and biggest inspire of me, I am a communist and I do most my cartoons about the social equality, fighting poverty and corruption, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, hunger, sickness, racism and calling for Socialism and human rights and democracy.

12- How does your country see graphic humor?
The majority of Sudanese governments want the people to believe that cartoons mean telling jokes and this is absolutely wrong, the politicians and the military dictatorship governments curb the rule of cartoon art in telling jokes and used the cartoonists as a tools to mislead the public opinion and to fool the Streetman.

13- How do the politicians react? Is there any official censorship? Are there any governmental or private persecutions?
Most of politicians in Sudan don't like the cartoonists and they make many problems with them. I faced in May 2008 a big problem with ex-Prime Minster of Sudan (Alsadeg Almahdi) because one of my cartoons.

Yes, one of the problems of cartoon art in Sudan is security censorship which removes any work criticize political, social and economical situation. The official censorship done by The Security system officers, they come at night to every newspaper and remove any cartoon they don't like, some times this thing becomes so random. Dealing with the security censorship became a part my daily work. To avoid problems with security censorship some times I didn't draw about the subjects they did not want me to say my opinion about it, so with time I made personal censorship on myself and became involuntarily a part of this censorship and that is the worst thing can ever happed, but no this is a living reality.

14- Further to political problems, are there any ethnic, religious or social problems for that censorship?
In Sudan you can not criticize the political leadership, the presidency, corruption. Beside that you can not criticize religious leadership or religious at all.

15- Are the ethnic issues an obstacle for a democratic laugh? What about the religious ones?
In Sudan the ethnic issues and religion is a big taboo and most of cartoonist don't even think to talk about this, ever at all.

16- Have you ever been persecuted or went to prison?

17- Do you believe that humor can help with the democratization of the world?
I think cartoon is one of most powerful opinion tools and we should use it to show our readers and people the real vales of democracy, equality, peace and human rights.
The cartoonist should have enough awareness to help make our world a better place to live in.

18- What do you think about the relationship between Africa and Europe ? North and South?
I think there is so many misunderstanding things between North and South, The imperialism made a bad history still presents now in our life. The ages of slavery and European occupation of African, Asia and Latino America confessed both the new generations of North and South.
I guess we can not change the past but we can make the future, so we have to respect each other and work together to build a new peaceful world.

19-Can humor be a helpful instrument in that relationship? An instrument to allow us to know better each one of us? Or do you believe that it should be done in more serious ways, through other forms of art?
The cartoon art can play an important rule and fix and correct the form of relationships between North and South because the art that I conceder it a cross road of many kinds of arts like plastic art, photography, cinema…etc , I think we can make the things better with serious ways and support democracy and human rights.

20- If you succeed to laugh with everybody, can Peace be a universal reality?
I believe in the global peace and I work so hard to make the future better for our next generations, I know may be I can not watch when the universal become a living reality but the dreams of today will be the reality of tomorrow, we have make the best of our ability to make this dream get closer and more achievable and possible for our unborn kids.
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