Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Kenyan writer (1938-)

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (5 January 1938-) is a Kenyan author of fiction and nonfiction. He used to publish in the English language but now primarily writes in his native language of Gikuyu. He often writes on topics regarding colonialism, language, and theatre.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o in 2007



Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986)

  • 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.
  • 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 Hsun, Pablo Neruda, H.C. Anderson, Kim Chi Ha, Marx, Lenin, Albert Einstein, Galileo, Aeschylus, Aristotle and Plato in African languages? And why not create literary monuments in our own languages?...No these questions were not asked. What seemed to worry us more was this: after all the literary gymnastics of preying on our languages to add life and vigour to English and other foreign languages, would the result be accepted as good English or good French? Will the owner of the language criticise our usage?
  • Colonialism imposed its control of the social production of wealth through military conquest and subsequent political dictatorship. But its most important area of domination was the mental universe of the colonised, the control, through culture, of how people perceived themselves and their relationship to the world. Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. To control a people's culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.
  • But African languages refused to die. They would not simply go to the way of Latin to become the fossils for linguistic archaeology to dig up, classify, and argue about the international conferences.
  • What is the difference between a politician who says Africa cannot do without imperialism and the writer who says Africa cannot do without European languages?
  • The European missionary believed too much in his mission of conquest not to communicate it in the languages most readily available to the people: the African writer believes too much in 'African literature' to write it in those ethnic, divisive and underdeveloped languages of the peasantry!
  • Africa actually enriches Europe: but Africa is made to believe that it needs Europe to rescue it from poverty. Africa's natural and human resources continue to develop Europe and America: but Africa is made to feel grateful for aid from the same quarters that still sit on the back of the continent.

Quotes about

  • I like a writer like Ngugi, who lashes out, because he knows what is good and bad in writing.
    • Buchi Emecheta In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock (1992)
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