31 August 2015

Zimbabwe: Seeking Renaissance Through Language

Ngugi waThiong'o is one of Africa's literary gurus who have resisted the lull of foreign lands to corrode their convictions about the need for Africa to reclaim its space in a world that for long denied its people their humanity. Although his Marxist-socialist inclinations have somewhat evolved, Ngugi has

remained resolute in defending the African space, including its indigenous languages that he said are both a vehicle for communication and carrier of culture.

Thus in "Something Torn and New: African Renaissance, Ngugi compares linguicide with genocide. "Genocide involves conscious acts of physical massacre; linguicide, conscious acts of language liquidation. This is precisely the fate of African languages in the Diaspora. . . If history is replete with the death of languages, there have also been cases where languages have been resurrected from the dead. Israel, for instance needed the resurrection of Hebrew to reconnect with the ancient memory," says Ngugi.

Ngugi's contention is that the continent's relationship to the world has thus far been that of a donor to the West. Africa, he says, has given her human beings, her resources, and even her spiritual products. The quest for affirming a new African lies therefore, in his languages, which are essential in the decolonisation of his mind as well as for the African renaissance.

In "Something New and Torn: African Renaissance," Ngugi highlights how the colonisation of Africa and the Atlantic slave trade left most people of African descent with a nagging sense of inferiority.

In reading the book, one gets the sense that Ngugi strongly believes that over the past six centuries or so, the West succeeded in stripping the continent of its culture, natural resources, inhabitants and spirituality. White people, he says have succeeded in spreading the belief that Africans were Godless savages and that blackness is a mark of inferiority.

The 172-page book is one of the many non-fiction texts by Ngugi waThiong'o, but is a bit different in that it traces the trajectory of the post-Berlin disintegration of Africa and its aftermath. The narrative calls for the re-membering of Africa as a way of ensuring that the continent extricates itself from the dark ages it was plunged into by European colonialism.

The writer posits that Europe's industrial capitalist base is a result of the plunder of African resources including slaves, which were the main commodity in the mercantile phase of capitalism on the sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations in the Caribbean and American mainlands. He argues that separating Africans from their native language played a critical role in not only their exploitation, but in continued capitulation of being relegated to second-class status.

It is the author's view that as long as black people continue paying homage to foreign European languages, their quest for wholeness and thirst for knowledge of self will remain a flirting illusion. However, some critics may accuse Ngugi of being a dreamer, whose views have become archaic in the globalised world of technological advancement. A good example is that the bulk of black children in America do not bother to master English and one cannot expect such people to even think they would want to study Swahili.

While the situation of black children in America is seemingly beyond redemption, in "Something Torn and New: African Renaissance", the artiste passionately persuades the reader to embark on a journey of the restoration of dignity to the black through the rigorous study of lost languages and a cultural roots renaissance.

The book yearns for a blueprint to achieve an African Renaissance. What Ngugi advocates is not new, but a "process (that) started in some of Wole Soyinka's plays being translated into Yoruba." Many other works by Europhone African writers have also been translated into Swahili. Many of the renowned writer's critics point to his apparent hypocrisy. He became prominent as a writer after writing in English and only started writing in his Gikuyu after achieving fame.

The value of the book is in its suitability to all ages. The language is succinctly clear and simple and students and researchers will find the text a priceless tool.

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