35 pages 1 hour read

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1986

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Chapter 1Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 1 Summary: “The Language of African Literature”

Divided into nine subsections, Ngũgĩ begins by outlining the framework he thinks is necessary for understanding the true content and stakes of the relationship between language and African literature. He argues that African literature is as defined by the legacy of imperialism as it is by resistance to it, which he characterizes as  “the ceaseless struggles of African people to liberate their economy, politics and culture from that Euro-American-based stranglehold to usher a new era of true communal self-regulation and self-determination” (4).

Ngũgĩ provides further historical background, which he deems necessary for understanding what is at stake in these investigations into the relationship between language and the self-emancipation of African peoples from imperial power. Ngũgĩ writes that it was the nature of European colonization and neo-colonization to proceed in a twofold manner: violent subjugation followed by educational indoctrination. Or as the author puts it, “the night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard” (9).

The Berlin Conference of 1884—which is sometimes called the Congo or West Africa Conference—set the agenda of European colonization on the African continent, which began with the usurpation of land and resources by force. This event was followed by the so called “civilizing” mission of educating Indigenous African peoples in the thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and behaviors that were deemed to be “civilized” (read: European).