One minute with Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Tongue tied

I regret to have been tongue tied on Monday the 10th of September, 2012. This was the day when I had a chance to meet some one I adored in my youth time, some one whose writings inspired me to love literature since I was  a school boy.   I sat among the audience that had come to listen to a great African novelist and author of several literature books. I was with a friend who had joined me before the begin of the session but had no idea who this Professor of comparative literature was. None the less the theme of the evening was “The portrait of an African dictator” based on the book “Wizard of the Crow” written by  Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The hall of the adjacent stage at the Berliner Festspiele house on Schaperstrasse 24 looked like a haunted theater venue with a jar of water, three empty glasses and three microphones placed on a wooden table. Three old fashioned antique chairs for the panel stood  in the middle of the stage behind the table to face the public. The background of the stage was a designers’ menu as the sound technician kept on switching the microphones from one speaker to another from the back bench. At exactly 21.00 hrs European Time, came in the two members of the panel with the guest of honor through the side door entrance and sat at the table, the house  applauded with a clap of hands. A brief welcome introduction with the background information of the author was given before the stage was set for a literary evening to analyse his book that was selected for the International Literature Festival in Berlin this year.

Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o was asked to explain why he chose to write his books in the native language and later translate them into English language. He stood firm to defend his thesis on the equivalence of all world languages as a means of communication and regretted that only colonial languages were imposed on us as languages of power, education , judiciary and commerce. He did not believe in African literature written in colonial language and asked the audience to imagine German literature being written in Zulu Language to see the comparison. The lady who sat in front of me with a mobile phone that kept on ringing with a loud beep was technically bankrupt. She fumbled  to switch off the gadget and in the process did not register that Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o promptly juxtaposed the sound of her phone to describe not only an African dictator but many different characters that included dictators like Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, and even the host country Germany as history has recorded.

As passages of the “Wizard of the Crow” were being read in German language, Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o amused the public by saying the German version of the novel appears to be more exciting than the original version. The couple that decided to leave the hall from the back bench with their loud shoe steps might not have realized that the Professor was comparing a global world where capital transfers to maximize profits without boarders is a global problem with a subservient consequences. The colonial languages are the vehicles used to extend this dictatorship as they become the forms of power, education, commerce and judiciary.

I was happy to have attended this presentation but my regrets came when I could not articulate my self in Swahili language as the Professor greeted me at the end of the official program. I had gone to get his signatory on a copy of the “Wizard of the Crow” and “A Grain of Wheat” which I had purchased at the book store within. How soon could I have forgotten that inside this theater room, a Professor of African literature was imparting in us the essence of Language that included Swahili as a lingua franca in East Africa….,, I promised to him I would come back with some journalists for the next day presentation. I never appeared for that session but I had to console myself and remembered that “Laughter” was the best therapy with which the author had based his book that I was going to read: If Professor Ngugi wa Thiongó sat in a detention room without trial at Kamiti Maximum security center in Kenya for a whole year looking at the same wall, dressed in the same clothes, eating the same food, then the answer to this boredom could only be “The Wizard of the Crow”.

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