Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1938 – Present)

#ThrowBlackThursday

I REALIZED THE OPPRESSER ALWAYS, THE FIRST THING THEY DO, IS TAKE AWAY THE LANGUAGE OF THE OPPRESSED.

Ngũgĩ was born on January 5th, 1938, in Kamiriithu near Limuru in Kiambu district, Kenya. He is of Kikuyu descent. Ngũgĩ grew to witness the Mau Mau Uprising A.K.A The Kenya Emergency. An 8-year-long war, beginning in 1952, between the Kenya Land Freedom Army (KLFA) & the white european colonizers. The KLFA mostly consisted of the Kikuyu people, Meru people & the Embu people, as well as many others. Ngũgĩ ‘s half-brother Mwangi was an active member of the KLFA. Ngũgĩ’s mother was tortured in the Kikuyu Home Guard, sanctioned by the colonial government. It was named after the British Home Guard, formed by the colonizers in response to the revolutionary push during the Kenya Emergency. 30% of the Kikuyu Home Guard members were press-ganged into joining & it was purposefully intended to be divisive as it had the appearance of a Kikuyu led initiative. He was baptized James Ngugi & attended Alliance High School, later enrolling as a student in Makerere University College, Kampala, Uganda. 
In May 1964, Ngũgĩ debuted his first novel; Weep Not, Child. It was the 1st novel in English to be published by a writer from East Africa. It followed the life of a Kikuyu family & their story in the struggle for Kenyan independence during the state of emergency & the Mau  Mau uprising. Later in the year, Ngũgĩ scored a scholarship to the University of Leeds, so he travelled to England to bag an MA. There, Ngũgĩ wrote his second novel; The River Between, currently on Kenya’s national secondary school syllabus. Ngũgĩ never completed his thesis at Leeds. It was on Caribbean literature. In 1967, Ngũgĩ published A Grain of Wheat. It marked a change of his ideology  & teaching, with Ngũgĩ renouncing Christianity & embracing Fanonist Marxism. He began to write in his native tongue; Gikuyu, & Swahili. In this same year, he began to teach at The University of Nairobi as a professor of English literature, where he initiated the conversation to change the name of the English literature department to just literature. Aimed to reflect studying other literature in other languages. Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) co-written with Ngũgĩ wa Mirii in Kikuyu in 1977,  was the play that earned Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o the title of political prisoner. The play provoked the then Kenyan Vice-President Daniel arap Moi, who immediately ordered Thiong’o’s arrest, subsequently leading to Ngũgĩ spending roughly a year in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. There he had an epiphany. The 1st thing the oppressor does is tear the people away from their spoken language, from then Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o decided to stop writing his plays & other works in English all together. He wrote his 1st modern novel; Devil on the Cross, in Gikuyu, on prison-issued toilet paper. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was released in December 1978. Unfortunately, his teaching job as a professor at the Nairobi University wasn’t waiting for him. Thiong’o & his family were forced into exile soon after. Due to his writing about the injustices of the dictatorial government at the time. He returned to Kenya with his family on August 8 2004 as part of a month-long East African tour. On August 11, robbers broke into his high-security apartment assaulting Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o & sexually assaulting his wife; Njeeri. They also stole various valuable items. 
The attack was rumored to be politically motivated. 
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o & his family fled back to the US after the unfortunate incident. Some other notable works of his is a co-written play; The Black Hermit & his prison diary; Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. 
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o sought to liberate the theatrical process  from what he deemed “the general bourgeois education system”. He encouraged spontaneity & audience participation during performances. He sought to avoid the “process of alienation [that] produces a gallery of active stars & an undifferentiated mass of grateful admirers”.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o inspires. 

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WhoToldYou

Pan African media house interested in everyone Negro. A positive space for ALL conversations about ALL our shared Negro experiences.

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