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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Symbols & Motifs


The role that theatre and performance play throughout Ngũgĩ’s text is tied to how he views the nature of pre-colonial African societies and to his vision of how African peoples can emancipate themselves in the face of Western imperialism. Ngũgĩ, finds all of the key elements of theatre in pre-colonial societies and particularly in the months-long celebration that signaled the handing over of political leadership from the older to the younger generation. It is because one can find all the elements of theatre in pre-colonial societies that Ngũgĩ writes: “[D]rama has its origins in human struggles with nature and with others” (36). Later, he adds, “[T]heatre is not a building. People make theatre. Their life is the very stuff of drama” (42).

In Ngũgĩ’s era, theatre serves to recapture those pre-colonial traditions amid the European cultural hegemony that threatens them. On the most basic level, theatre does so by reflecting those cultural and ceremonial traditions back to the local audiences. Yet Ngũgĩ takes the power of theatre a step further by directly incorporating it into community organization and unification efforts. This is seen most dramatically when Ngũgĩ opens his rehearsals up to the public, allowing everyday community members the chance to observe and even collaborate in the creative process.