Singing the Law

BookSinging the Law

Singing the Law

Oral Jurisprudence and the Crisis of Colonial Modernity in East African Literature

Postcolonialism Across the Disciplines, 24


April 18th, 2020

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Singing the Law is about the legal lives and afterlives of oral cultures in East Africa, particularly as they appear within the pages of written literatures during the colonial and postcolonial periods. In examining these cultures, this book begins with an analysis of the cultural narratives of time and modernity that formed the foundations of British colonial law. Recognizing the contradictory nature of these narratives (i.e., both promoting and retreating from the Euro-centric ideal of temporal progress) enables us to make sense of the many representations of and experiments with non-linear, open-ended, and otherwise experimental temporalities that we find in works of East African literature that take colonial law as a subject or point of critique. Many of these works, furthermore, consciously appropriate orature as an expressive form with legal authority. This affords them the capacity to challenge the narrative foundations of colonial law and its postcolonial residues and offer alternative models of temporality and modernity that give rise, in turn, to alternative forms of legality. East Africa’s “oral jurisprudence” ultimately has implications not only for our understanding of law and literature in colonial and postcolonial contexts, but more broadly for our understanding of how the global south has shaped modern law as we know and experience it today.


'Singing the Law is an exemplary contribution to the burgeoning field of postcolonial literature and law scholarship. Leman makes a compelling case for why we should pay attention to the relationship between a specific literary form—memoir, drama, dictator fiction, dialogical epic poetry—and oral and written law.'
Anne W. Gulick, University of South Carolina

Author Information

Peter Leman is an Associate Professor of English and Affiliate Faculty Member in Africana Studies at Brigham Young University.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Introduction: Temp/orality in Law and East African Literature11
1. Catching History by the Tail: Colonial Non-Fiction, Atavism, and the Crisis of Modernity in Kenya43
2. A Song Whose Time Has Come: Northern Uganda, Apocalyptic Futures, and the Oral Jurisprudence of Okot p’Bitek88
3. Between Formal and Infinite Time: Labor Law and Revolutionary Futures in Kenyan Popular Performance121
4. Time Heals All Regimes: Temporality, Somali Oral Law, and the Illegality of African Dictatorships161
Conclusion: Temp/orality and Law in the End Times196
Referenced Cases221