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Decolonizing The Mind: African Literature

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Decolonizing the mind is the fruit of a long debate about which language African literature should be written in, which continues today. The writer argues that the assumption of the language of the colonizer meant accepting his vision of the world; “Language was the most important vehicle through which power fascinated and trapped the soul.” For him, any language has a double component, as a means of communication but also as a vehicle of one’s own culture. It is a crucial element of one’s identity. Thus, “Political and economic control can not be total or effective without the domination of minds.

Controlling the culture of a people is to master their tools of self-definition in relation to others. “But the book also talks about Imperialism and the forms of resistance and provides a lot of information and important reflections to know in greater depth the work and thought of this man who was born in Limuru in 1938, in the bosom of an extended peasant family that was related in gikuyu, and which is one of the indisputable references not only of the letters (African), but also as a committed artist.A grain of wheat 1967, gives Ngugi Wa Thiong’O a break in his understanding of the novel. Faced with his two previous works of linear argumentation, the writer wanted to explore the possibilities of a more complex form, which It supposed a crossing of voices and jumps in the time, impressed by the masterful handling of different narrative techniques of In the Castle of My Skin of George Lamming.

With a flashback technique linked to a way of assembling the narrative through which the story of one of the characters is complemented, resized and recounted from the perspective of another, the novel develops over four days that culminate with the Uhuru (independence of Kenya, December 12, 1963), which was held in the Nairobi stadium, before people from all over the country and from all over the world. But, A grain of wheat is also a story that presents in a masterly way a moving and profound tapestry of personal stories, with all their complexity, that converge in the collective struggle against the brutality of the colonizersSubsequently, in 1976, as he tells in the second conference of Decolonizing the mind, he was the promoter of the “Community Educational and Cultural Center of Kamiriithu”, whose focus was on the theater, which was “a part of daily rhythms and seasonal community, “and it was the theater that” forced him to return to the gikuyu and, consequently, led me to what I call “an epistemological rupture” with my past.”

The work they represented was Ngaahika Ndeenda (translated into English as I Will Marry When I Want) in which introducing elements such as dance and singing, was inspired in the struggle for land and freedom but he did not forget to denounce an independence for which thousands of Kenyans had died and which Ngugi called “kidnapped”: “(the work) spoke of the transformation of Kenya from a colony dominated by the British interests to a neocolony with the doors open to the broader imperialist interests, from Japan to America. But the work also reflected the contemporary social conditions of workers in multinational companies or plantations. ”

The public, the people, identified with the characters and the theater became what it had always been: a collective party. And, of course, that did not likeThe government (under Jomo Kenyatta) banned the performances and the writer was arrested in 1977 (year of publication of his next novel Petals of Blood) and spent all 1978 in the Kamiti maximum security prison, in cell 16 as political prisoner, with the number K-6.77 as the only sign of identity. There he decided that he would not write in English again. The community experience and the play written and interpreted in Gikuyu had given him the necessary impetus to take the next step: he would do the same with the novel. But not only did he face the language dilemma, he also had time to reflect on the way to use it.He decided that his new work would have a clearer narrative line but with a more powerful narrative element.

Using the hard prison toilet paper, he wrote Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ (The Devil on the Cross, Txalaparta 1994), a novel full of symbolisms and parables, in which songs, stories and the voice of the “Tañedor de Gicaandi” are mixed, in the best oral tradition in Africa tells the extraordinary story of five people who climb a matatu to go from Nairobi to Illmorog, guests, without knowing the reason, to a strange celebration: a festival of the devil, a competition to choose seven experts in robberies and thefts. A new version of mythical Faust, which told the “story of men who had sold their souls and the nation to the foreign devil of imperialism.”

Its distribution across the country was a challenge (“In December 1980 three reprints had been made and fifteen thousand copies published, with no English novel they had done so well in Kenya in the same period”) and was translated into Swahili (the lingua franca of Kenya) with the title Shetani Msalabini.After the year in prison his release from prison, but the government of Daniel Arap Moi prevented him from returning to work at the University, the writer saw how all his books were banned, harassed him and ended up forcing his exile. From there he wrote Matigari (Colegio de México, 2007) which was published in his native land in 1986, and which has a very curious and illustrative story behind it.

Matigari is the story of a hero. As was the case with Kamiriithu’s play, the name and story of the protagonist of the novel passed from mouth to mouth and was the center of conversations in many places, so President Moi thought it was a character real, so he ordered nothing less than his arrest. The police soon discovered, however, that Matigari was only the character in a book. Moi, then, ordered that the book be stopped in its place.Since the publication of Descolonizar la mente, the last of his works written in English (in 1977 he had stopped writing novel, poetry or theater in the colonial language, but without doing or himself with the essays), Ngugi is one of the clearest examples of writers who practice self-translation (category in which they enter from Samuel Beckett to Milan Kundera). He also did with The Witch of the Raven (Debolsillo, 2015) a work in which, using an overflowing imagination, describes the practices of the dictator of the imaginary Aboriginal Free Republic (in which the public enemy number one for the dictatorship is a woman). In which an egotist governs without a hint of mercy a people (tyrannized but not subdued) who has to resort to extraordinary ways to cope with so much barbarism and unreason.

The privatization, the NGOs, the former colonies, the washes of the face of the dictatorial regimes to be able to continue, the international organizations, the own compatriots affected by “blanquitis” … the whirlwind of criticism does not stop, each one more brilliant, at each which is more accurate. A text, sometimes hilarious and sometimes dark, but always satirical and ironic that shows, as one of its protagonists says, that “shit is still shit, even if it changes its name”.It is difficult to separate the figure of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o from the literary part of his social and political activism. Both are linked in an indissoluble way by being a writer who understands writing as a means to change, as a form of struggle for national, democratic and human liberation (“This is what this book about the linguistic policy of African literature, “he writes in relation to Decolonizing the mind).

For this he did not hesitate to denounce both imperialism under brutal British colonialism and its violent and inhuman methods, as well as the voracious capitalist system that annihilates the human being by covering the earth with evicted, impoverished, trampled and invisible beings, and who comes masked after the neocolonialism and the successive postcolonial governments of his country that pretended in his case, as in that of many other intellectuals, writers and thinkers, to drown his voice and make him disappear. They did not succeed. He remained firm, writing in Gikuyu and translating himself but, above all, writing about “the condemned of the earth” for which he continues to demand justice, unmasking all the thieves and usurpers, local and international, dreaming of a world based in a relationship of human qualities, and fighting, always fighting.

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Decolonizing The Mind: African Literature. (2020, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from
“Decolonizing The Mind: African Literature.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2020,
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