So there’s been a spot of disagreement about how to think about state systems in Africa in relationship to J.K. Rowling’s world-building for her Harry Potter novels. I feel a bit bad about perceptions that I was being unfair, but I also mostly continue to feel that this is just the latest round in a long-standing interdisciplinary tension (arguably all the way back into Enlightenment philosophy) about what exactly can be compared about human societies and on what basis the comparison ought to be made. I think that’s a discussion in which African societies have often been described as having a deep history of not having what Europe has, with the comparison serving to explain disparities and inequalities in the present-day. I am not the first to react strongly to that mode of comparison.
But I also do feel that it’s important in some sense not to have a dispute that is both scholarly and political completely overwhelm the possibility of giving useful guidance to J.K. Rowling and other creators who work with fantasy or speculative fictions. In general, I would like to see specialists in African history and anthropology be prepared not only to provide useful, digestible knowledge to fiction writers but also to non-specialists. Which means, I think, showing how it could be possible to draw upon specific African histories and experiences to create and imagine fictions and stories that incorporate African inspirations rather than to treat Africa as a zone of exclusion because it’s too difficult or touchy.
So: a bit of fanfiction, intended to demonstrate how to subtly rework what Rowling has already said about her wizarding world.
For a month now the instructors at Uagadou have dutifully assembled to ward off attempts by students, particularly those in Ambatembuzi House, to cast kupotea on the statue of Peter Prefectus that has been at the foot of the Great Stairway for the past sixty years.
Prefectus’ own nkuni spirit has joined the teachers in defending his statue, though as always it is hazy and distracted, only half here, half wandering indistinctly in the halls of England’s Ministry of Magic. We say that they must allow the spell to be cast: let him go home once and for all. There are few left in Prefectus House, anyway. The white wizards who still live in Africa go to Hogwarts, Ilvermorny or Durmstrang, as do some number of Africans.
Prefectus Must Fall. Though we students love Uagadou and what we learn here, it is time for this school to be a truly African school. Not the “African” of silly affectations like using hands instead of wands that a few teachers introduced forty years ago in an attempt to get away from Prefectus’ wholesale importation of the curriculum of Hogwarts! Let us rediscover the real history of African magic, of the many magical styles and ways of learning from Africa!
We know the truth now. This old, rotting, half-real castle shivering in the mountains isn’t a thousand years old, it’s 110 years old. Or more to the point, it’s a thousand-year old school that was stolen and stuffed inside an imposter’s cheap recreation of the school that never let him be a teacher. Peter Prefectus was a fourth-rate wizard stuck in a basement of the British Ministry of Magic who decided that if he couldn’t teach at Hogwarts, he’d go off to Africa just like the Muggle officer Harry Johnston and make a Hogwarts there.
There was a school here once, back before the kingdom of Bunyoro rose. It wasn’t for all Africans everywhere, but Swahili and Ituri and Khoisan wizards from the coast and the jungle and the forests all came. People from the shores of the big lakes came, people from the hills and savannah came. That’s where Peter Prefectus built his fake Hogwarts, where that old school was. The leaders of that ancient school foolishly let him and helped lift the stones and cast the spells. They felt they needed to understand what was happening, and to learn the magics that Prefectus offered, but all they did was sell out our heritage!
They don’t tell you when you get sorted that Prefectus was an incompetent who had the cheek to believe that his teachers and pupils were incapable of any real magic anyway. He never learned an African language, not one, but made the students learn spells like “expelliarmus” and “impedimenta”. He hired other European wizards and let them bully and hurt and even kill the Africans who came there. We had wizards like Grindlewald and Voldemort here too, but they were in charge and no one came to the rescue, not for us.
We know the truth. Prefectus must fall.
Prefectus stole two schools! The ancient one of the lakes and then he had the cheek to try to steal a name from near to another old African place of magical learning, the school which today still exists at Kumbi Saleh in the ruins of Ghana. Hard times for it now, harried by sinister wizards hiding in the Sahara who believe that all magical schools should be destroyed. That is another reason Prefectus must fall: it is time for Uagadou to do its part in helping other African wizards in their struggles. Kumbi Saleh should not have to wait for a half-hearted delegation of wizards from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang to save it from attack. We should not hear any longer from our headmaster and teachers that it is “against tradition” for Uagadou to play a role.
Uagadou, even in disrepair, is still wealthier than our real comrades at the ancient academies in Kumbi Saleh and Axum. We should help them and work with them and learn from their wisdom about wizarding. We should be working with the “moving school” of Eshu, the secret society of West African wizards who have no castle or building, but who move tirelessly from one site of ancient power to the next, from Old Oyo to Benin to Kumasi, walking the ways that they know. We should talk to the small schools that meet all over the continent, and reach out to wizards too poor or endangered to think of coming here. Uagadou should train far more Africans than it does, and stop just being for a small handful of families made powerful by their dealings with the European wizards.
Prefectus Must Fall! Unite to liberate our school and our peoples! Leave off the lies, cast away the glossy brochures that arrive by Dream Messengers to entice you here. Face the truth!