Ngugi wa thiongo and chinue achebe on the politics of language and literature in africa

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Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Chinue Achebe on the Politics of Language and Literature in Africa
Most African literature is oral. It includes stories, riddles, proverbs and sayings. In Decolonizing the Mind, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o discusses the importance of oral literature to his childhood. He says "I can vividly recall those evenings of storytelling around the fire side. It was mostly the grown ups tellingthe children but everybody was interested and involved. We children would retell the stories the following day to other children who worked in the fields."The stories main characters were usually animals. Ngugi said "Hare being small, weak, but full of innovative wit, was our hero. We identified with him as he struggled against the brutes of prey like lyon, leopard and hyena. His victories wereour victories and we learnt that the apparently weak can outwit the strong. Accordiong to Ngugi's way of seeing, you can't study African literatures without studying the particular cultures and oral traditions from which Africans draw their plots, styles and metaphors. So where does all of this leave us in a discussion of current African literature? It leads to an ongoing debate—what is Africanliterature? Ngugi sees a structural problem however. He says that in a given discussion over this subject we may seesome of the following questions: "Are we talking of literature about Africa or the African experience? Was it literature written by Africans? What about a non-African who wrote about Africa? What if an African set his work in Greenland—does this qualify?" These are good questions, but,Ngugi explains, they were raised at the conference of African Writers of English Expression which included only English writing African authors because those that wrote in African languages were not invited. This blindness to the indigenous voice of Africans is a direct result, according to Ngugi, of colonization. Ngugi explains that during colonization, missionaries and colonial administratorscontrolled publishing houses and the educational context of novels. This means that only texts with religious stories or carefully selected stories which would not tempt young Africans to question their own condition were propogated. Africans were controlled by forcing them to speak European languages—they attempted to teach children (future generations) that speaking English is good and that nativelanguages are bad by using negative reinforcement. This is a process recognized by the great Martiniquen writer, Franz Fanon. Language was twisted into a mechanism that separated children from their own history because their own heritage were shared only at home, relying on orature in their native language. At school, they are told that the only way to advance is to memorize the textbook historyin the colonizer's language. By removing their native language from their education they are separated from their history which is replaced by European history in European languages. This puts the lives of Africans more firmly in the control of the colonists. Ngugi argues that colonization was not simply a process of physical force. Rather, "the bullet was the means of physical subjugation.Language was the means of the spiritual subjugation." In Kenya, colonization propogated English as the language of education and as a result, orature in Kenyan indigenous languages whithered away. This was 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 perceiveourselves and our place in the world." Therefore, how can the African experience be expressed properly in another language? The issue of which language should be used to compose a truly African contemporary literature is thus one replete with contradictions. Ngugi argues that writing in African languages is a necessary step toward cultural identity and independence from centuries of European...
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