Castle of my Skin
Updated: Jun 19
deprived of the use of his language
Nyaangwĩcũ is danced on one leg
cut off from his people
‘an impulse’, ‘an unrehearsed’ act
of ‘personal’ generosity
to cut all links with this homeland
neo-slaves, are openly announcing
the theft and robbery of the nation
home even more divided
an instrument of colonial policy
leg, ear, tusk, tail, side, trunk, belly and
words beat all fictional exaggeration
alienation takes two interlinked forms
full-time prostitutes and petty criminals
museum-type fossils paraded as African culture
the modern novel in European languages
effected through politics
how do you saterise their utterances
fact on the rooftops?
even as it is given birth
by that very toil and turmoil
depend on our ability to invoke
the idiom of African culture
written language of a child’s upbringing
bring it back to life
movements of an awakened peasantry
and working class
Bring me the crown
At long last, it has found its rightful owner!
Is good, very good!
This piece is composed solely out of phrases taken randomly from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s (1981/1986) “Decolonising the Mind: The politics of language in African literature”. This book is a must read for all activists, decolonial theorists and others interested in post-independence political struggles.
The author’s discussions on decolonizing the mind (especially through the use of African languages for writing literature) are not just rhetorical, as wa Thiong’o subsequently stopped writing in English and instead turned to his mother-tongue, Gikuyu. He did so to speak—more directly—to his people, as his preliminary and most important audience. He also wrote in Kiswahili, an official language in Kenya.
I bought this book absolutely years ago and really enjoyed reading it, back then, alongside other writing by Ngugi wa Thiong’o such as “Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary“ (1981), “Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-colonial Kenya” (1983), and “Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms” (1993).
I am ashamed to say that I could never quite get into reading much of wa Thiong’o’s fictional work, aside from two plays “The Trial of Dedan Kimathi”, co-authored with Githae Mithere (1989) and “The Black Hermit” (1989), as well as a book of short stories - “Secret Lives and Other Short Stories” (1975). I put this down to a lack of affinity with his novel writing style. That’s my sorry excuse and I am sticking to it!