‘This book, Decolonising the Mind, is my farewell to English as a vehicle for any of my writings. From now on it is Gikuyu and Kiswahili all the way.’ This unapologetic declaration is archetypal Ngugi Wa Thiongo, who is in my view, the most influential contemporary African Literature writer.
Decolonising the Mind is admittedly a highly academic work, which would ordinarily not be my idea of recreational reading. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed this book, which primarily interrogates the politics of language in African literature, theatre and fiction. As scholarly as it may be, it turned out to be a quite engaging and relevant read.
Through a handful of essays, the eminent writer shares his views on the continuous and systemic precedence of European languages and (by import) cultures to the inexorable stagnation of African languages and cultures. Lamenting this unfortunate state of affairs Wa Thiongo observes:
“African children who encountered literature in colonial schools and universities were thus experiencing the world as defined and reflected in the European experience of history. Their entire way of looking at the world, even the world of the immediate environment, was Eurocentric. Europe was the centre of the universe.”
Despite its historical framing, the preceding excerpt, as is the book in general, is as true today as it will ever be. Take a look around you if you do not agree. Granted this is a highly political piece of literature, it is nonetheless a worthwhile exposition of the relationship between language, imperialism and the continued marginalization of African languages and cultures.
“The call for the rediscovery and the resumption of our language is a call for a regenerative re-connection with the millions of revolutionary tongues in Africa…It is a call for the rediscovery of the real language of humankind: the language of struggle. It is the universal language underlying all speech and words of our history. Struggle. Struggle makes history. Struggle makes us. In struggle is our history, our language and our being.”