Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

The Olinka

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A few years ago I was a History major with an African History focus, so when reading The Color Purple I was interested in Walker’s portrayal of indigenous African cultures.  A brief check on African history proved my suspicions that the Olinka people that Nettie spends extended time with are a fictional culture.  I am not sure what Walker’s intentions were in creating a fictional African society to open up a dialogue between African-American and African culture.  I think that, for me at least, the implications of this decision are that the Olinka become a kind of “Pan-African” culture.  This seems to take away some of the power of this narrative because it loses its specificity.  This is not to say that I don’t appreciate some of the tough subjects that Walker at least nods to in her discussion of the Olinka.  Subjects like generation, cash crops, and ritual/tradition are a few that I thought were handled with particular complexity.  I am just wondering what the implications are for this well known text to have so much power in defining what people think of when they think of Africa and yet the Africa that is described is fictionalized to this extent.  Why did Walker choose not to write about the Bassa, who seem to be (geographically speaking) the closest to the Olinka?  The Bassa have heavy populations around the coast of Liberia and specifically in Montserrado country, which is where Monrovia (the capital) is.  What is lost or gained by creating a culture that can encompass all of the aspects of “African culture” that Walker wanted to discuss?  Does a fictional culture that can act as a pan-African example have the same political relevance/force?




One thought on “The Olinka

  1. Prehaps if you look up the meaning of the name “Olinka” you can see why Ms. Walker used it and maybe that is an assumption on my part. Sometimes we try to be so deep when the answer is right there on the surface.

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