Decolonizing The Mind – Summary and Response

Ngugi’s “Decolonizing The Mind” is an essay on language and how it communicates the culture of it’s users. Ngugi begins his essay by telling the reader about his life growing up in Kenya. He states they all spoke “Gikuyu”, and all told many stories about animals or humans. The over-arching theme of these stories were about the “apparent” weak outwitting the  strong, or how a disaster forces co-operation (998). He continues to describe what makes a good story-teller. A good story teller, according to Ngugi, is one that is able to use language to make the same story seem interesting, and make stories told by others more exciting (998). Ngugi then goes on to describe the intruding colonization that occurred. Rapidly, everything he knew about his life was suppressed, and replacing it was the English language. English became to dominate language to learn, and anyone caught speaking Gikuyu was lashed. The only way to continue in education was to earn a credit in English, no matter how well you did elsewhere.

Ngugi describes language as the carrier of culture. Written, spoken, and “real life” or body-language is all used in harmony to define different cultures. Language conveys a culture’s standards and values, something that can’t be picked up by someone who doesn’t understand the language. When English was imposed into Ngugi’s culture, textbooks and teachings made his culture look inferior. The use of language can be used to convey complex messages, as in with the stories told, or used to control, as seen with colonization. Language is an extremely powerful tool that defines the human race, and it’s use can create amazing literature/media, or can be used to manipulate and control.

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9 responses to “Decolonizing The Mind – Summary and Response

  1. vivek thacker

    not up to mark please update it

  2. ur friend

    according to Ngugi, language is more than just a means of communication; it is the essence of our being, the very core of our soul as an African people, “the medium of our memories, the link between space and time, the basis of our dreams”.

    Ngugi’s insistence on using his mother tongue as the principal medium of his writing is not simply a reaction against Anglicisation; it is more about resurrecting the African soul from centuries of slavery and colonialism that left it spiritually empty, economically disenfranchised and politically marginalised. Ngugi believes that when you erase a people’s language, you erase their memory. And people without memories are rudderless, unconnected to their own histories and culture, mimics who have placed their memories in a “psychic tomb” in the mistaken belief that if they master their coloniser’s language, they will own it.

    Since he began writing in the 1960s, Ngugi has always resisted colonial labels and Christian doctrine. In 1976, he changed his name from James Ngugi to Ngugi wa Thiong’o. He stopped writing in English in 1981 after the publication of the highly acclaimed social critique, Decolonising the Mind, which he described as “my farewell to English as a vehicle for any of my writings”. Six years later, his novel, Matigari, written in Gikuyu, was published. His latest offering, Wizard of the Crow, or Murogi wa Kagogo, which he launched last month in Kenya, has been variously described as “a masterpiece”, “the crowning glory of his life” and “an epic farce” that pokes fun at the excesses and idiocies of dictatorships in Africa.

    Ngugi is convinced that by adopting foreign languages lock, stock and barrel, Africans are committing a “linguicide”, which, in effect, has killed off their memories as a people, as a culture and as a society. 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. Ngugi calls this phenomenon a “death wish” that occurs in societies which have never fully acknowledged their loss—like a trauma victim who resorts to drugs to kill the pain.

    Because post-colonial Africa has never properly buried slavery or colonialism, it is committing psychic suicide by producing an entire class of African bourgeoisie who view their own languages as “shameful”, “inelegant”, “incapable of expressing scientific or intellectual thought”, and too crude to be exported to other lands. So they end up writing their stories in foreign languages, adding to the vast pool of literature written in English and French, rather than contributing to the growth of literature in African languages.

    Ngugi is not promoting the use of African languages to the exclusion of others. On the contrary, he believes multilingual societies are better placed to deal with the complexities of this world. What he is against is the exclusive use of foreign languages on the continent, which has, in effect, made many previously multilingual societies in Africa proficient in only one language—and a foreign one (English or French) at that. He derides Kenyan parents for discouraging their children from speaking in their mother tongues, which, he says, has resulted in a linguistic famine in African societies.

    As Ngugi departs for the University of California, where he is a distinguished professor of English and comparative literature, he leaves behind a bittersweet taste in our mouths, and we feel that perhaps it is time for him to return home for good to help us understand what we did not understand when he left: that the battle for the survival of our languages, our culture and our memories is, in the final analysis, a battle for the survival of our souls.

  3. OKWARE WYCLIFFE

    Once these great ideas are incorporated into the systems of learning, then African societies and nations will grow to A GREATER EXTENT.

  4. As a bilingual person, I can appreciate the loss of memory aspect that is cited as part of Ngugi’s work. I grew up speaking French with a francophone family of Canadian origin. The anglophone culture in Canada and the US has succeeded in creating the lie that French as spoken in Canada is a patois, not a real a language.
    It is in fact a real language not because it can express anything it wants but because it is simply not much different from Continental French in the same way that North American English is not that different from British English—some vocabulary and much accent, yes, but not in its structure as it generates plurality, time, possession, etc..
    I read someplace that the definition of a dialect is “a language without an army and a navy.” Francophones in Canada are is colonized group and so they has no navy or army of their own. By the previous definition, French as spoken in Canada is a dialect. Norwegian which is spoken by the same number of people is a language because of its army and navy, its freedom from colonial status.
    From this colonizing of language flows loss of memory and shame. Familiar territory.

  5. Miluya Lawi

    for real t is interesting and true.

  6. Reblogged this on African Literature Reviews and commented:
    An educative evaluation on the role of Language in the presentation of literature. From the book “Decolonizing the mind”-by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

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