Response to Decolonizing the Mind

In “Decolonising the Mind” Ngugi Wa Thiong’o makes the call to African writers to begin writing literature in their own languages, and to make sure that literature is connected to their people’s revolutionary struggles for independence from their colonial regimes. He begins with the historical meeting he was invited to with his fellow African writers in Kampala, Uganda. In this conference, writers who wrote their stories in African languages were automatically neglected.

He also continues to point out about how English and other European languages are assumed, until today, to be the natural languages and unifying forces in both literature and political views among African people. For instance, to explain his point, Ngugi uses Chinua Achebe, one of the major African writers, who embraces the use of an English Language in his works. Ngugi quotes “For me (Achebe) there is no other choice, I have been given the language and I intend to use it” (Achebe, 62).

Finally, Ngugi concludes that writing in African languages is a necessary step toward cultural identity and liberation from centuries of European exploitation. Firstly, I support Ngungi’s claim that an educational system that focuses and embraces only foreign works, such as language and culture is destructive: “Thus language and literature were taking us further and further from ourselves to other selves, from our world to other worlds”(266). Obviously, there is a need to create a literature that embraces the real African experience starting from the perspective of the locals, not the intruders.

The local language is an integral part of conveying that experience, this is simply because much of the local tradition is preserved in that language. For example, Ngugi insists that stories and songs are effectively passed down from one generation to the next through oral (story-telling), and the fact that both the story teller and the listener are interested and involved in the conversation. Therefore, the benefits of embracing and working in the local language and within the local traditions bring the entire community together.

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Secondly, I support Ngugi’s view that colonialism has deemed African languages unworthy of use – both by the colonizers and the colonized. He explains how a “cultural bomb” was dropped on Africa so the minds and consequently the resources of Africans were controlled. In my view, not only colonizers understand that it is not enough to take over Africa with guns alone, but they also need to take over the mind of its people through language and the fine education they offer through that language.

This is seen in the schools where European languages are idolized, in the streets where African languages become synonymous with the language of the peasantry, and at the prison cells were those African writers who choose to stay true to their mother tongue are held. I strongly agree about Ngugi’s choice to write only in Gikuyu rather than English language: “I believe that my writing in the Gikuyu language, a Kenyan language, an African language, is part and parcel of the anti-imperialist struggles of Kenyan and African peoples” (267).

He reminds me my native country, Kenya, and Kamba is my mother tongue, so if I choose to write in Kamba as Ngugi did, I will not be doing something abnormal. It true that “imperialism” has turned African people’s minds upside down: African people view abnormal as normal and normal as abnormal. For example, Europe and America became rich and continue to get rich from using both Africa’s natural and human resources, but African people are made to believe that they cannot become poverty free without European and American intervention.

Therefore, Ngugi’s decision to abandon English completely in his writings and embrace Gikuyu in attempt to align himself with the people (Gikuyu-speaking population) is one step toward cultural identity and independence from European exploitation. I also agree with Ngugi that colonization is not simply a process of physical force rather “the bullet is the means of physical subjugation, and Language is the means of the spiritual subjugation”(265).

In Kenya, colonization propagated English as the language of education; as a result, oral literature in Kenyan indigenous languages gradually faded away. This is devastating to African literature because, as Ngugi writes, “language carries culture and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world”(267).

This means that Language as culture, it expresses and carries the culture of people; therefore, it becomes the storehouse of its images, ideas, wisdom, experience and history. It ties me to my people and becomes part of who I am. And finally, language as culture, it shapes how I look at the world and myself. Lastly but not least, I think “Decolonising the Mind” is an integral to understanding an anti-colonialist struggles. Europe and America view colonialism in terms of the most visible aspects of a nation, namely its leadership.

People fail to see and recognize the long-term effects of colonialism, such as the widespread poverty. Decolonizing the Mind reminds me of another aftereffect, specifically, the domination of language by the Western World. In a sense, the language barrier enables social apartheid where legal separation is considered anachronistic. By dominating African languages, and asserting the superiority of European ones over them, Western nations, including some African nations, do perpetuate a system where educated whites rise to the highest.

As a result, native Africans resign to the working classes and peasantry. This domination of language effectively prevents any native African from rising into intellectual ranks because, as Ngugi puts it, the use of European languages splits African soul in two, forcing him to give up his roots if he wishes to climb the social ladder. Work Cited Currey, James. “The Language of African Literature” Decolonising the Mind: The politics ofLanguage in African Literature. London: 1981. 263-267

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