• Akosua Biraa

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

and claims

fact on the rooftops?

perfect beauty?

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!



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