Ngugi Harps on Importance of African Languages

By Aja Musu Bah Daffeh

Mboka Festival, in collaboration with Global Hands and De Montfort University Leicester, concluded a two day program on the 14th January, 2017 at the Manduar Development Hub. The theme of the event was “Logic of the system” and prominent personalities invited to the event gave speeches on key areas.

Speaking at the ceremony, the world’s renowned writer from Kenya, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, as his first time to The Gambia, said ever since he wrote his book called “Decolonizing the Mind” way back in 1984, calling on African Intellectuals to start producing ideas in African language instead of English, French or Portuguese, he had faced everything from hostility to polite applause at the possibility but no real change in practice.

The renown African intellectual said he has seen African and international organisations give prizes to promote African Literature on condition that Africans do not write in an African Language as the submissions must be in European languages only. “When you come to think of it, the assumption that Africans can be Africans only by the grace of European tongues is quite offensive,” said Ngugi.

Ngugi continued that in Kenya, some students and teachers admonish those who speak English with an accent affected by their African languages of birth. He said hierarchy as a conception of being is more clearly reflected in relationship between languages, adding that what is wrong in the world or even within the African countries is not the existence of many languages and cultures but their relation on the notion that one language is inherently better than others or that for one language to be, others must cease to be.

Ngugi said all languages in the world, big or small, have a lot to contribute to our common human culture and the enrichment of all our lives. He said we see in a way we enjoy literature and music of the different languages and each language has its unique musicality, so therefore relations between languages and hence cultures is a good thing.

He noted that languages and culture can relate and should relate in terms of network and not hierarchy and it cannot be overstated that translation has played a great role in human history. He said without translation, there would be no global Christianity and no global Islam, thus describing translation as the language of languages.

Ngugi said if any work written in several languages within a nation can be translated into all the other languages within the same nation then it would mean the many languages would share a common set of symbols and images.

Ngugi  was born in 1938 and has produced many works including novels, plays, short stories and essays, ranging from literary and social criticism to Literature.