Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: “Europe and the West must also be decolonised”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: “Europe and the West must also be decolonised”


My name, my full name
is Ngugi wa Thiong’o. It simply means Ngugi
son of Thiong. So my name is Ngugi, but we ask which Ngugi,
because there are many Ngugis. Then is Ngugi wa Thiong’o,
son of Thiong. So Thiong is my father’s name. I began to write in 1960… Well, sixties, you know… There were really few
african writers, you know. But now there are very many,
the younger generation: very many writers. Including from my own family. There is one problem
right now in African literature: that this literature is written largely
in European languages. So even those writers
of our generation: we wrote in English,
French or Portuguese. And that trend continues to the present. So the struggle that there is now also is a struggle for African writing
in African languages is trying to assert itself. For me it is literature written by African people in African languages. Just like Spanish literature
is written in Spanish but you cannot tell me there is
Spanish literature written in Zulu. You can’t say that Spanish literature
is only that literature which is written in French, right? Or French literature
is written in Chinese. I like to call it now
europhone African literature. Europhone, just like
you talk about francophone, anglophone and so on. What I wrote in English:
“A Grain of Wheat”, “Petals of Blood”, “Weep Not, Child”,
“The River Between”, all those are part
of europhone African literature. But it is different from literature
written by Africans in African languages. Language is part of the identity
of any given literature, ok? The literature of African diaspora has been very important
for the development of African literature on the continent, of the development
of African writing on the continent. For instance, when I went to study post-graduate work in England. I chose to do the work
not on European writers but on Caribbean writers on the work of George Lamming and other Caribbean writers
who were writing at the time. There is a very important thing for me to have been able
to connect African literature, Caribbean literature
and in the proccess also discover African American literature. And collectively that literature became very vey important
when in 1969, in 1968 I returned to Kenya to teach and began to challenge the dominance
of English literature department as then organised. Because in those days
the study of our literature meant the study
of English literature or the study
of European literature and in Nairobi University
we changed all that. We said in Africa,
African literature or literature written by African people
must be at the center. You start with the African literature
at the center and then radiate outwards
to other literatures, not as it was before
where English is literature. French literature is the center. We said no, African literature
is the center of our universe but then we can add
other literatures to it. In 1967… In 1977-78, for a year, I was put in
a maximum security prison in Kenya for writing my first play
in Kikuyu language That was… I was in a maximum security prison
for a year. And during that year
of maximum security that’s when I decided to stop, to be writing my novels
and fiction and drama and poetry in Kikuyu language,
my mother tongue. And I wrote my first novel in Kikuyu called “Devil on the Cross” in Kikuyu, on toilet paper, in prison. So I used literature
as a way of connecting to the world outside. So in the same way
when I was now in exile I used my writing in Kikuyu
as a way of connecting to Kenya, yes. So my mother tongue, Kikuyu,
was very very important for my survival in prison and it was very very important
for my survival in exile. Every person,
whether in Africa or Europe, has a right to their mother tongue
or to the language of their culture. It doesn’t matter if that language
is spoken by only five people those five people have a right
to their language and to the intellectual production
of ideas in their language. But those languages
can then relate to other languages through translation or through adding other languages
to what one already has. The problem with Africa and the former colonies as a whole is that the whole intellectual community operate within European languages and the entire
intellectual production of ideas is in foreign languages or is in European languages. And majority of African people, working people, the farmers, the majority
speak African languages. So African languages they are there. African languages are spoken
by the majority of the people but the intellectual production or rather the language of power are happened to be European languages. “The Upright Revolution”,
I wrote it in Kikuyu first. It is called
“Ituika Ria Murungaru”. That story has now been translated into 83 languages in the world. Most of them actually African. So here is a story which written in one African language but now is available
in several African languages, but also available in several
European and Asian languages. There were things which were beginning
to happen in postindependent era that we could not really
quite understand and it is Fanon
who gave us a vocabulary by which to understand
what was happening in the postcolonial era. Before Fanon we saw things
in kind of black and white. Fanon made us understand
about the connection between economic independence,
political independence and cultural independence. That you could actually become
politically independent but no necessarily
economically independent. And even if you become independent
there can also be economic class differences within the newly independent country. “Decolonising the mind”
is very very important for any… for African and the formerly colonised world,
very very important. Or for anybody, for any matter, because even Europe
needs to decolonise itself because Europe, the West we have is a Europe which grew out of slave trade, grew out of colonising other people
and so on. So Europe also and the West
also need to decolonise. Many European cities London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, were built on profits made out of the African body, out of the enslaved African. The labour of the African people is what have built
many of the modern European cities. So Modernity in Europe
is rooted in African enslavement. That Euro… People of Europe have moved,
have occupied more of other people’s land than any other continent, right? European people are in New Zealand, European people are in Australia,
in America, in Latin America, everywhere. So the European people
are the ones who have moved more. into other continents historically than people
from any other continent, okay? So if you compare that
with the few immigrants from Africa and Asia and so on, they are minuscular by comparison,
right? Many governments, authoritarian
governments supress writers because they want to suppress the capacity of people
to imagine different futures. Because imagination, the capacity to picture
a different world the capacity to picture
different possibilities is very very important
for the human, right? And literature is very important
in that respect but authoritarian regimes
want to limit the capacity of to imagine
different futures So in that sense literature
becomes very very important. And not only literature,
all works of art becomes very important because this capacity to fire the imagination and to see the present we can not just accept
the present conditions. So you need other energies that come and imagine
a different world I think Africans have a chance
to imagine that different world. Africa, Asia, Latin America. If you want to understand
the present world, the literature you want to read
is literature from Africa and from Asia and from Latin America. That is really what… It is what captures really
the reality of the world is the one which authors begin to imagine
different possibilities here.

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