I agree with Ngugi Wa Thiong'o to the effect that there is the need for expression of African Literature in its native language. The need for whatever is to be termed as African Literature to be documented in the African language the literature is derived from or representative of. As I understand, Ngugi indicates that the utterances or communication, by means of writing, if representative or descriptive of a particular African culture, they should be made or done in the language of that culture otherwise that communication risks losing or not capturing every essential feature of that culture meant to be brought out in the writing.
In essence, he defines vividly the relationship between language and culture to be intimate and inseparable. That the culture is derived from the communication between individuals in a society and this continuous communication is what creates norms and moral and spiritual values which is what encompasses culture. Thus, the concept of African Literature which attempts to capture this culture and experiences within that society can only be accurately conveyed through the already established means of communication for that society (Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, 285). In such case, African culture and African experiences can only be legitimately and accurately be conveyed through their corresponding African Language.
Through this, we understand that Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is not simply advocating for the growth and recognition of African Languages within the larger sphere, but also seeks the truest expression of culture and literature in the most accurate means possible. This is thus described as his search for authenticity (Helland, 4). The need for use of an African Language for African Literature seems quite obvious as it is the most direct and authentic expression of the literature but the same is challenged on the international sphere and by the systems in place in these African countries.
This problem is one that stems from the adoption of the African's colonizers languages as their own and allowing these languages to dominate in the African sphere. The languages thus became prevalent and dominant and conformity to these languages was deemed necessary for any person to have any progress in Africa, despite the language being an adopted language. However, adoption and use of these foreign languages are not what ails African Literature, instead, it is the rigidness of these languages as they are reluctant to absorb and adapt to African culture and communication which would thus enable them to convey African Literature.
These languages are ill-equipped to handle the modalities and complexities of African culture and thus are not a suitable to be used as the primary mode of expression of African Literature. Instead, for the authentic expression of African Literature, the same must employ the means that is native to that African culture. The African Language thus becomes a vehicle for authenticity and if necessary, the work may be later translated into other languages but based off the African language and not expressed in other languages then be interpreted into its African concept and context (Hevesiova, 5). The African Language will already be an appropriate vessel for the same
However, within his definition of African literature, Ngugi Wa Thiongo fails to account for some factors that may be considered essential for the construction of literature. To begin with, he defines the literature as based on the language and culture derived from the African history and experiences. In a sense, he states that this literature, in a bid to be authentic must be communicated through the African languages and be based solely on African experiences.
This creates a problem for the African writer who wishes to express an African experience that includes interaction with other non-African persons or persons who are not part of the immediate society i.e. foreigners. In such a situation, where the writer wishes to express the experience as authentically as possible, including the use of foreign terminology as derived from the experience, Ngugi contests this by stating that the writer should find a word in the native African language, otherwise the person would be shifting from African to Afro-European literature. This is a sense goes against the element of authenticity he advocates for.
Similarly, he is very particular about the failure of colonialist languages to give inclusion and acceptance to the native African Languages for the use in literature. In an example, he states that English, being a living language, should evolve and have a place for African Languages thus enriching itself and becoming acceptable to Africans (Ngugi WA Thiong'o, 289). However, with regard to the native languages and their use in African literature, he seems to be interested only in maintaining their purity and enhancing their use so as to help people free themselves from neo-colonialism. He gives no room for accommodation of foreign languages in the African Language setup and shuns their use completely in African Literature.
In addition, he also undermines the writer's freedom to choose the language they wish to use. As writing is an art form that allows expression through the written form of any language the writer chooses, a writer who chooses to write African literature using any other language is immediately deprived of that choice based on Ngugi's definition. He dismisses any literary work done in a non-African language immediately without evaluating its worth or expression of African culture. He deems it inept from an aesthetic standpoint with no measure of its expressionism or literary value.
Through his very definitive propositions on the use of language and the nature and position of African literature, Ngugi Wa Thiongo made some inferences on the use of language. First among these is that he stated that the choice of language was and is a measure of one's devotion to their African society. As he has consistently put across, the colonial languages are a threat to Africanism and undermine the social values and bonds created by the native African Languages. Simply put, he understands the African culture to be concurrent with the African languages and thus suggests that a person cannot state to be keeping to the African culture if they are expressing their African culture in a colonial language. He believes that the colonial languages are not capable of conveying the authentic expression of African culture. Thus, a person who constantly relies on the colonial language, both in speech and writing, is losing or has lost touch with their African culture.
Secondly, Ngugi believes that there should be more facilitation for the growth of native languages, such as through education, for their chance at recognition in the international sphere. From this, we infer that there is a situation of the dominance of colonial languages in the very cracks of African culture and education. From the mindset of education and formal employment, Ngugi uses the example of Kenya whereby without an understanding of English, one is not allowed to advance in their education despite being good at other subjects. It is a situation that ends up leaving many Africans devoid of formal employment and a means of self-betterment. He thus suggests that the solution would be to have education taught through the use of colonial languages alongside the use of native languages. An example he gives is the pursuance given to Swahili which is now globally recognized and he suggests that the same be adopted for the other native languages for their integration into the formal world and not just be left behind as a relic or evidence of a culture that is slowly being forgotten.
Hevesiova, Simona. "The Individual and the Nation in Ngugi WA Thiong'o'S Early Writing." Ars Aeterna 6.2 (2014): n. page. Web.
Helland, Kristin. "Chapter WRITING IN GIKUYU: NGUGI WA THIONG ' O' S SEARCH FOR AFRICAN AUTHENTICITY." Academia. Edu. N.P., 2013. Web. 15 May 2018.
Ngugi WA Thiong'o. Decolonizing the Mind. Oxford: Currey, 2011. Print.
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