Thursday, July 25, 2013


Author: Samwel Ndandala

When Ngugi wa Thiongo renounced English, Christianity, his Christian name (he was baptized as James Ngugi) and started writing in his native Gikuyu and Swahili, I thought it was a little extreme given his radical fanonist convictions. I thought it was impractical. But in his book Decolonising the mind he argues, and I should say convincingly, that language is a carrier of culture and a society’s collective memory. ‘Because erasure of memory is a condition for successful assimilation, the burial of African languages by Africans themselves ensured that the assimilation process into colonial culture was complete’. That is powerful. I related to this deep insight this week. Let me explain.

At 1957Hrs on a Friday evening I jumped into a train (the Swiss have weird departure times). With Shaaban Robert’s autobiographical ‘Maisha Yangu’ in my hands, I was heading home after a fruitful day at work. On my way my phone rings. I am happy that mom is calling, but it is when I pick the phone that I realize how inept I am. Because I want my conversation with mama to not be understood by those around me, I make a deliberate effort to use Kiswahili all the way, not a single English word. This opens my eyes.

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