{[ promptMessage ]}

Bookmark it

{[ promptMessage ]}

Wa Thiongo, N Introduction - Wa Thing'o Ngugi I997...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–16. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 1

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
Image of page 3

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 4
Image of page 5

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 6
Image of page 7

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 8
Image of page 9

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 10
Image of page 11

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 12
Image of page 13

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 14
Image of page 15

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 16
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: Wa Thing'o, Ngugi. I997. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics pf Language in African Literature, London: James Currey. A Statement In 1977 I published Petals of Blood and said farewell to the English language as a vehicle of my writing of plays, novels and short stories. All my subsequent creative writing has been written directly in Gikfiyi'flanguage: my novels Caitaani M fitharahaini and Matigari Ma Njiriiiingi, my plays Ngaahilea Ndeenda (written with Ngugi wa Mirii) and Main} Njugira, and my childrens’ books, N/amha Nene na Mhaathi i Mathagu, Bathitoora ya Njamha Nene and N}amha Nene na Cihii King’ang’i. I ‘ However, I continued writing explanatory prose in English. Thus Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary, Writers in Politics and Barrel of a Pen were all written in English. . This book, Decolonising the Mind, is my farewell to English as a vehicle for any of my writings. From now on it IS Gikfiyu and Kiswahili all the way. . I However, I hope that through the age old medium of translation I shall be able to continue dialogue with all. xiv Introduction This book is a summary of some of the issues in which I have been passionately involved for the last twenty years of my practice in fiction, theatre, criticism and in teaching literature. For those who have read my books Homecoming, Writers in Politics, Barrel of a Pen and even Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary there may be a feeling of déja‘ 014. Such a reaction will not be far from the truth. But the lectures on which this book is based have given me the chance to pull together in a connected and coherent form the main issues on the language question in literature which I have touched on here and there in my previous works and interviews. I hope though that the work has gained from the insights I have received from the reactions - friendly and hostile — of other people to the issues over the same years. This book is part of a continuing debate all over the continent about the destiny of Africa. The study of the African realities has for too long been seen in terms of tribes. Whatever happens in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi is because of Tribe A versus Trihe B. Whatever erupts in Zaire, Nigeria, Liberia, Zambia is because of the traditional enmity between Tribe D and Tribe C. A variation of the same stock interpretation is Moslem versus Christian or Catholic versus Protestant where a people does not easily fall into ‘tribes’. Even literature is sometimes evaluated in terms of the ‘tribal’ origins of the authors or the ‘tribal’ origins and composition of the characters in a given novel or play. This misleading stock interpretation of the African realities has been popularised by the western media which likes to deflect people from seeing that imperialism is still the root cause of many problems in Africa. Unfor- tunately some African intellectuals have fallen victims - a few incur- ably so —— to that scheme and they are unable to see the divide-and-rule colonial origins of explaining any differences of intellectual outlook or any political clashes in terms of the ethnic origins of the actors. No man or woman can choose their biological nationality. The conflicts between peoples cannot be explained in terms of that which is fixed (the invariables). Otherwise the problems between any two peoples 1 Decolonising the Mind ___________________._—__—————————-— would always be-the same at all times and places; and further, there would never be any solution to social conflicts except through a change in that which is permanently fixed, for example through genetic or biological transformation of the actors. My approach will be different. I shall look at the African realities as they are affected by the great struggle between the two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other. The imperialist tradition in Africa is today maintained by the international bourgeoisie using the multinational and of course the flag-waving native ruling classes. The economic and political dependance of this African neo—colonial bourgeoisie is reflected in its culture of apemanship and parrotry enforced on a restive population through police boots, barbed wire, a gowned clergy and judiciary; their ideas are spread by a corpus of state intellectuals, the academic and journalistic laureates of the neo—colonial establishment. The resistance tradition is being carried out by the working people (the peasantry and the proletariat) aided by patriotic students, intellectuals (academic and non-academic), soldiers and other progressive elements of the petty middle class. This resistance is reflected in their patriotic defence of the peasant/worker roots of national cultures, their defence of the democratic struggle in all the nationalities inhabiting the same territory. Any blow against imperial- ism, no matter the ethnic and regional origins of the blow, is a victory for all anti-imperialistic elements in all the nationalities. The sum total of all these blows no matter what their weight, size, scale, location in time and space makes the national heritage. For these patriotic defenders of the fighting cultures of African people, imperialism is not a slogan. It is real, it is palpable in content and form and in its methods and effects. Imperialism is the rule of consolidated finance capital and since 1884 this monopolistic parasitic capital has affected and continues to affect the lives even of the peasants in the remotest corners of our countries. If you are in doubt, just count how many African countries have now been mortgaged to IMF — the new International Ministry of Finance as Julius Nyerere once called it. Who pays for the mortgage? Every single producer of real wealth (use— value) in the country so mortgaged, which means every single worker and peasant. Imperialism is total: it has economic, political, military, cultural and psychological consequences for the people of the world today. It could even lead to holocaust. The freedom for western finance capital and for the vast trans- national monopolies under its umbrella to continue stealing from the 2 In troduction ________—__———————————-—————'——_ countries and people of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Polynesia is today protected by conventional and nuclear weapons. Imperialism, led by the USA, presents the struggling peoples of the earth and all those calling for peace, democracy and socialism with the ultimatum: accept theft or death. The oppressed and the exploited of the earth maintain their defiance: liberty from theft. But the biggest weapon wielded and actually daily unleashed by imperialism against that collective defiance is the cultural bomb. The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non- achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than their own. It makes them identify with that which is decadent and reactionary, all those forces which would stop their own springs of life. It even plants serious doubts about the moral rightness of struggle. Possibilities of triumph or victory are seen as remote, ridiculous dreams. The intended results are despair, despondency and a collective death-wish. Amidst this wasteland which it has created, imperialism presents itself as the cure and demands that the dependant sing hymns of praise with the constant refrain: ‘Theft is holy’. Indeed, this refrain sums up the new creed of the nee-colonial bourgeoisie in many ‘independent’ African states. The classes fighting against imperialism even in its neo-colonial stage and form, have to confront this threat with the higher and more creative culture of resolute struggle. These classes have to wield even more firmly the weapons of the struggle cOntained in their cultures. They have to speak the united language of struggle contained in each of their languages. They must discover their various tongues to sing the song: ‘A people united can never be defeated’. The theme of this book is simple. It is taken from a poem by the Guyanese poet Martin Carter in which he sees ordinary men and women hungering and living in rooms without lights; all those men and women in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zaire, Ivory Coast, El Salvador, Chile, Phillippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Grenada, Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’, who have declared loud and clear that they do not sleep to dream, ‘but dream to change the world’. I hope that some of the issues in this book will find echoes in your hearts. The Language of African Literature I The language of African literature cannot be discussed meaningfully outside the context of those social forces which have made it both an issue demanding our attention and a problem calling for a resolution. On the one hand is imperialism in its colonial and nee—colonial phases continuously press-gauging the African hand to the plough to turn the soil over, and putting blinkers on him to make him View the path ahead only as determined for him by the master 'armed With the bible and the sword. In other words, imperialism continues to control the economy, politics, and cultures of Africa. But on the other, and pitted against it, are the ceaseless struggles of African people .to liberate their economy, politics and culture from that Euro—American-based stranglehold to usher a new era of true communal self-regulation and self—determination. It is an ever-continuing struggle to seize back their creative initiative in history through a real control of all the means of communal self-definition in time and space. The choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people’s definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe. Hence language has always been at the heart of the two contending social forces in the Africa of the twentieth century. The contention started a hundred years ago when in 1884 the capitalist powers of Europe sat in Berlin and carved an entire continent with a multiplicity of peoples, cultures, and languages into different colonies. It seems it is the fate of Africa to have her destiny always decided around conference tables in the metropolises of the western world: her submergence from self—governing communities into colo— nies was decided in Berlin; her more recent transmon into neo- colonies along the same boundaries was negotiated around the same tables in London, Paris, Brussels and Lisbon. The Berlin-drawn 4 * The Language of African Literature division under which Africa is still living was obviously economic and political, despite the claims of bible—wielding diplomats, but it was also cultural. Berlin in 1884 saw the division of Africa into the different languages of the European powers. African countries, as colonies and even today as neo-colonies, came to be defined and to define themselves in terms of the languages of Europe: English-speaking, French-speaking or Portuguese-speaking African countries.‘ Unfortunately writers who should have been mapping paths out of that linguistic encirclement of their continent also came to be defined and to define themselves in 'terms of "the languages of imperialist imposition. Even at their most radical and pro-African position in their sentiments and articulation of problems they still took it as axiomatic that the renaissance of African cultures lay in the languages of Europe. I should know! 11 In 1962 I was invited to that historic meeting of African writers at Makerere University College, Kampala, Uganda. The list of participants contained most of the names which have now become the subject of scholarly dissertations in universities all over the world. The title? ‘A Conference of African Writers of English Expression’.2 I was then a student of English at Makerere, an overseas college of the University of London. The main attraction for me was the certain possibility of meeting Chinua Achebe. I had with me a rough typescript of a novel in progress, Weep Not, Child, and I wanted him to read it. In the previous year, 1961, had completed The River Between, my first-ever attempt at a novel, and entered it for a writing competition organised by the East African Literature Bureau. I was keeping in step with the tradition of Peter Abrahams with his output of novels and autobiographies from Path of Thunder to Tell Freedom and followed by Chinua Achebe with his publication of Things Fall Apart in 1959. Or there were their counterparts in French colonies, the generation of Sédar Senghor and David Diop included in the 1947/48 Paris edition of Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie négre et malgache de langue frangaise. They all wrote in European languages as was the case with all the participants in that momentous encounter on Makerere hill in Kampala in 1962. Decolonising the Mind The title, ‘A Conference of African Writers of English Expression’, automatically excluded those who wrote in African languages. Now on looking back from the self-questioning heights of 1986, I can see this contained absurd anomalies. 1, a student, could qualify for the meeting on the basis of only two published short stories, ‘The Fig Tree (Mugumo)’ in a student journal, Penpoint, and ‘The Return’ in a new journal, Transition. But neither Shabaan Robert, then the greatest living East African poet with several works of poetry and prose to his credit in Kiswahili, nor Chief Fagunwa, the great Nigerian writer with several published titles in Yoruba, could possibly qualify. The discussions on the novel, the short story, poetry, and drama were based on extracts from works in English and hence they excluded the main body of work in Swahili, Zulu, Yoruba, Arabic, Amharic and other African languages. Yet, despite this exclusion of writers and literature in African languages, no sooner were the introductory preliminaries over than this Conference of ‘African Writers of English Expression’ sat down to the first item on the agenda:.‘What is African Literature?’ The debate which followed was animated: Was it literature about Africa or about the African experience? Was it literature written by Africans? What about a non—African who wrote about Africa: did his work qualify as African literature? What if an African set his work in Greenland: did that qualify as African literature? Or were African languages the criteria? OK: what about Arabic, was it not foreign to Africa? What about French and English, which had become African languages? What if an European wrote about Europe in an African language? If . . . if . . . if . . . this or that, except the issue: the domination of our languages and cultures by those of imperialist Europe: in any case there was no Fagunwa or Shabaan Robert or any writer in‘ African languages to bring the conference down from the realms of evasive abstractions. The question was never seriously asked: did what we wrote qualify as African literature? The whole area of literature and audience, and hence of language as a determinant of both the national and class audience, did not really figure: the debate was more about the subject matter and the racial origins and geographical habitation of the writer. English, like French and Portuguese, was assumed to be the natural language of literary and even political mediation between African people in the same nation and between nations in Africa and other continents. In some instances these European languages were seen as having a capacity to unite African peoples against divisive tendencies 6 The Language of Alrican Literature inherent in the multiplicity of African languages within the same geographic state. Thus Ezekiel Mphahlele later could write, in a letter to Transition number 11, that English and French have become the common language with which to present a nationalist front against white oppressors, and even ‘where the whiteman has already retreated, as in the independent states, these two languages are still a unifying force’.3 In the literary sphere they were often seen as coming to save African languages against themselves. Writing a foreword to Birago Diop’s book Contes d’Amadou KaumhagSédar Senghor commends him for using French to rescue the spirit and style of old African fables and tales. ‘However while rendering them into French he renews them with an art which, while it respects the genius of the French language, that language of gentleness and honesty, preserves at the same time all the virtues of the negro-african languages." English, French and Portuguese had come to our rescue and we accepted the unsolicited gift with gratitude. Thus in 1964, Chinua Achebe, in a speech entitled ‘The African Writer and the English Language’, said: Is it right that a man should abanddn his mother tongue for someone else’s? It looks like a dreadful betrayal and produces a guilty feeling. But for me there is no other choice. I have been given the language and I intend to use it.5 See the paradox: the possibility of using mother-tongues provokes a tone of levity in phrases like ‘a dreadful betrayal’ and ‘a guilty feeling’; but that of foreign languages produces a categorical positive embrace, what Achebe himself, ten years later, was to describe as this ‘fatalistic logic of the unassailable position of English in our literature’.6 The fact is that all of us who opted for, European languages — the conference participants and the generation that followed them — accepted that fatalistic logic to a greater or lesser degree. We were guided by it and the only question which preoccupied us was how best to make the borrowed tongues carry the weight of our African experience by, for instance, making them ‘prey’ on African proverbs and other pecularities of African speech and folklore. For this task, Achebe (Things Fall Apart; Arrow of God), Amos Tutuola (The Palm— 'wine Drinkard; My life in the Bush of Ghosts), and Gabriel Okara (The Voice) were often held as providing the three alternative models. The lengths to which we were prepared to go in our mission of enriching foreign languages by injecting Senghorian ‘black blood’ into their rusty joints, is best exemplified by Gabriel Okara in an article reprinted in Transition: Decolonising the Mind "As a writer who believes in the utilization of African ideas, African philosophy and African folklore and imagery to the fullest extent possible, I am of the opinion the only way to use them effectively is to translate them almost literally from the African language native to the writer into whatever European language he is using as medium of expression. I have endeavoured in my words to keep as close as possible to’ the vernacular expressions. For, from a word, a group of words, a sentence and even a name in any African language, one can glean the social norms, attitudes and values of a people. In order to capture the vivid images of African speech, I had to eschew the habit of expressing my thoughts first in English. It was difficult at first, but I had to learn. I had to study each Ijaw expression I used and to discover the probable situation in which it was used in order to bring out the nearest meaning in English. I found it a fascinating exercise] Why, we may ask, should an African writer, or any writer, become so “obsessed by taking from his mother-tongue to enrich other tongues? Why should he see it as his particular mission? We never asked ourselves: how can we enrich our languages? How can we ‘prey’ on the rich humanist and democratic heritage in the struggles of other peoples in other times and other places to enrich our own? Why not have Balzac, Tolstoy, Sholokov, Brecht, Lu...
View Full Document

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern