By David G Maillu
I was in England, the motherland of the English language. Accompanied by an African friend, I had gone to pay a visit to an editor working for my British publisher, Macmillan. For a moment we discussed the problems of Africans writing in foreign languages over a cup of tea served by the editor’s wife. The editor did most of the listening as I did most of the talking, stressing on frustrations of Africans communicating in English, which is a foreign language.
When the editor thought I had said everything he wanted to hear, he cut me short by addressing both of us Africans, saying bluntly, “You people have given us a cultural technical knockout.”
“Why?” I asked and he replied, “To be frank with you, we’ve begun to I fear Africans awfully. If I now want to tell my wife a secret I will be forced to call her privately aside and tell her to make sure you’ll not hear it. Since you came I have caught you severally switching from English to your African language and talking exclusively while I watch and understand nothing. You’ve gone through the same educational curriculum as my wife and I have. Metaphorically speaking, you Africans know everything about us while we remain blind about your world and languages. Who is now superior to whom?”
I am reacting to Professor Egara Kabaji’s article on Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s claim that the imposition of colonial master’s language on us colonized our minds. Ngugi has a point; but that point is insignificant.
To start with, Ngugi has earned his fortune and has been rocketed into to his present status through the use of the colonizer’s language. He has hardly earned much from his Kikuyu language as beautiful as it may be. ANgugi speaking English and Kikuyu is superior to a Ngugi speaking only Kikuyu. And in the international market English fetches extraordinary price compared to Kikuyu. Please, at one stage we should stop romanticizing our traditional values; a gecko can’t be a crocodile because they look alike.
Fortunes can be hidden among rocks of misfortunes. It is colonialism that shook the foundation and imagination of the African into action to be what we are today. Everything comes at a cost; truly, we have bought the present cultural change with the currency of loosing some important cultural foundations. This is best expressed by the proverb that says he who hides his genitals does not get a child.
English language as a colonial tool shouldn’t be seen outside the cultural context of the cultural evolution of humanity. In this part of the world English is the language we use in addressing social issues, prospecting for business, international communication, interpreting foreign values and synthesizing them with our values. It is the language that tells us who we are today in the world. It is the most important commercial tool we have today. For millenniums those mother tongues have always been there and they never took us anywhere far. We have always been black and that blackness has had no material value. It is English language that has brought the magic. English has brought a cultural revolution; cultures are no static but changing. We needed a crisis in order to start moving. That crisis was being colonized and given another more language.
English doesn’t belong any more to English people. It belong to us. It is our language and copyright. The British lost it with its cultural values to their enemies forever. If there is any lethal weapon the British gave to its enemies, that weapon is the English language, which is mightier than the atomic bomb. It can be used to undermine and destroy the British too.
But the iron is, on the other hand, if there is any invaluable contribution the British did to the human race, it is English language. Without English today the world would be a different place. Was the British colonialism, therefore, a design by fate to benefit the world? Can you imagine what Kenya would be if the British didn’t colonize it? By being colonized, did we lose more than we gained; or did we gain more than we lost? Indirectly, your enemy is the best motivator of your achievements. We love more when our love is threatened. He who doesn’t know pain doesn’t know happiness, and food is tastier to you when you are hungry.
I didn’t answer him because the answer was obvious. However, this is what has become of the once-upon-a-time slave to the once-upon-a-time master. The slave is now the master because he has mastered the ways of the master. The master has no hiding place.
Every blow given responds with equal impact, says a scientific expression. It is not any more a debatable matter that the colonized is now engaged in a systematic process of colonizing his former colonizer. The colonized has snatched the colonizers idiom, language and culture which, the colonized will use to synthesize his cultural values and, in given time, those values collectively will be greater than those of the colonizer. That is, down the road, the colonizer will eventually emerge as the loser and the colonized as the winner.
The parable of the colonizer’s loss is held by the adoption of his languages which will add another feather to the hat of the colonized. It is so because Nature is a good balance of compensation.
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The union of Europe today in having a common currency and parliament is the birth of the pains of the European Second World War. Once upon-a-time European criminals were sentenced by being thrown out of Europe and exported to America and Australia. America today is superior to European countries. While the chased learns more how to run faster, the chaser learns how soon he can get tired from chasing.
As we talk today, the most ambitious continent in seeking knowledge is Africa. Every single country in Africa has many learners in all Whiteman’s countries. They study and absorb everything good worth absorbing, at a time when citizens of the Whiteman’s world are lying on their laurels. The Blackman is multiplying his intellectual capacity by stealing and emptying for himself Whiteman’s secrets of success. It is a plus for the Blackman but a minus for the complacent Whiteman.
The eventual return of all the learners to Africa from every corner of the world bearing the harvest of all the secrets of the world obviously will, in given time, revolutionize the Blackman’s world and make it superior to the Whiteman’s. The victim uses the heat of the enemy to weld and shape his own weapons. This is a chapter of a lesson for writers.