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Xala: Decoding El Hajj’s Symbolic Ethnicity in Ousman Sembene’s Anti-epic Xala: A Question of Language

W Reed


This paper is both a film and literary study that examines the legacy of imperialism and the problems of decolonization through their depiction in Ousmane Sembène’s 1976 film Xala. It is a landmark work critiquing the tendency of the leaders of countries freed from the bond of colonialism to maintain the old order, despite equipping themselves with the trappings of their own culture, so-called symbols of ethnicity. The term ‘symbolic ethnicity’ refers to a strategy of self-identification in this case, by using objects that are identifiable as ‘African’. This paper attempts to decode this phenomenon of post-colonial Africa as it is shown in the film, and from there extrapolate larger meanings from those objects and the act of self-identification, as well as to explore how the tactic fails, why it fails, and to suggest remedies. Through the course of the exploration further questions of study along those lines also become apparent, such as the difficult coexistence of two social realities, Africanité and modernité.

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eISSN: 0856-6739