Greetings Brothers and Sisters,
I am new here and thought I could as well add a little ‘something’ about myself, before sending more posts or replying to posts. “PatriotWarrior” is my user name (my real one’s Kelly) and I am an Afrikan living in Germany; actually, or for that matter, I “live between” Afrika and Europe (excuse me for my lack of clarity in that, but I can’t find a better verb to express that), have lived here (for now) for some time now, have also lived in Afrika, do visit the Motherland periodically …
Allow me to commend the Brothers and Sisters in charge of these sites: to be honest, I’ve never come across such a massive network of real *Rootz* Rastafarian sites in cyberspace! Your sites are professional, very informative and extremely well-organised, with a clear and fixed centre. I hope I can also say: “Let Jah be praised!” … WELL DONE (and Thank You for all the rich information!)!
I thought of posting/reproducing this Steve Biko Memorial Lecture
(the fourth in the series) delivered by Kenyan Professor and writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o last fall, to remember the killing of Bantu Steve Biko (by racist S/Africa’s apartheid police machinery on 12 September 1977).
[NOTE: Ngugi wa Thiong’o changed his name -- i.e. officially -- from James
Ngugi some years ago]
The Lecture took place at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Here is an abridged (but not censored)
version of his ‘thought-provoking’ paper on Consciousness and African Renaissance - South Africa in the Black Imagination
... [just passing on the interesting info] ...
By Professor and writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o: A PEOPLE WITHOUT MEMORY ARE IN DANGER OF LOSING THEIR SOUL
When Vasco da Gama set foot at the Cape in 1498, it was part of the general period of what has come to be known as the European renaissance,
the founding moment of capitalist modernity and Western bourgeois ascendancy in the world. It was also the beginning of the wanton destruction of many city civilisations along the coasts of Africa, East Africa in particular.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela, at a meeting of the OAU in Tunis, recalls the destruction of Carthage by the generals of an earlier empire and says: “Where South Africa appears on the agenda again, let it be because we want to discuss what its contribution shall be to the making of the new African renaissance. Let it be because we want to discuss what materials it will supply for the rebuilding of the African city of Carthage.”
In a way, South Africa has already supplied such material by the men and women whose lives, actions and thoughts have made South Africa an integral part of the black self-imagination.
Steve Biko, whom we have come to honour, is among this great gallery whose work and devotion have impacted those beyond the native shores and make it possible for us to even talk about the possibilities of a new Africa out of the colonial ashes of these
He combines the cultural, the intellectual and the political in the same person. In one of his interviews reproduced in I Write as I Like,
Biko describes a confrontation with his jailers in which he asserts his right to resistance for as long as he is able:“If you guys want to do this your way,”
he tells his jailers, “you have got to handcuff me and bind my feet together, so that I can't respond. If you allow me to respond, I’m certainly going to respond! And I’m afraid you may have to kill me in the process, even If it’s not your intention.”
In April 1990, in an article celebrating the release of Nelson Mandela, I claimed that south Africa was a mirror of the emergence of the modern world. I was not saying anything new.
No less a figure than Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations
fame was to cite the discovery of America and that of a passage to the East Indies via the Cape of Good Hope as two of the greatest and most important events recorded in human history, a claim repeated in the 19th century by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto,
where they argue that the consequences of the twin events gave rise to commerce, to navigation, to industry -- an impulse never before known -- and, therefore, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.
Adam Smith was to wonder about the benefits or misfortunes that could follow those events, but we, having lived through the consequences of those events, know that the benefits went largely to Europe and America, or colonising nations, and the misfortunes to Africa, or colonised peoples.
Where Smith wondered about the possible benefits and misfortunes, Marx and Engels were clear that arising from the dialectically linked benefits and misfortunes of capitalist modernity was the creation of a world that reflected the West.
In making all nations on pain of extinction to partake of that modernity, “it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst ... In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”
The creation of a world after the image of the Western bourgeoisie was not without resistance, as seen in class and national struggles everywhere.“The discovery of America and that of a passage to the East Indies via the Cape of Good Hope are two of the most important events recorded in human history. The consequences gave rise to commerce, navigation and industry -- an impulse never before known. The benefits went largely to Europe and America, and the misfortunes to Africa.”
Thus, South Africa, as the site of concentration of both domination and resistance, was to mirror the worldwide struggles between capital and labour and between the colonising and the colonised.
If the struggle, often fought out with swords, between racialised capital and racialised labour, was about wealth and power, it was also a battle over image, often fought out with words, and when Biko asserts the right to write as he likes,
he is asserting the right to draw the image of himself, unfettered, a position reflective of Robert Sobukwe.
Images are very important. You have seen how we all like looking at ourselves in the mirror. We all like to have our photos taken. In many African societies, the shadow is thought to carry the soul of a person …
But here we are talking about the image of the world as a physical, economic, political, moral and intellectual universe of our being. This image resides in the memory. So also are dreams. So also our concept of life.
Colonialism tried to control the memory of the colonised, or rather, to borrow from the Caribbean thinker, Sylvia Wynter, it tried to “subject the colonised to its memory”,
to make the colonised see themselves through the hegemonic memory of the colonising centre.
Put another way, the colonising presence tried to mutilate the memory of the colonised and where that failed, it dismembered it, and then tried to re-member
it to the coloniser's memory: his way of defining the world, including his take on the nature of the relations between the coloniser and the colonised.
This relation was primarily economic, for nobody colonises another for the aesthetic joy of simply doing it. The colonised as worker, as peasant, produces for the other. His land and his labour benefit another.
This is of course effected through power, political power, but it is also accomplished through cultural subjugation, the control of the entire education system for instance, the ultimate goal being to establish psychic dominance on the part of the coloniser and psychic submission on the colonised.
Economic and political subjugation are obvious, for you cannot convince a person who has lost his land to forget the loss; the person who goes hungry, to forget his hunger; or the person who bears the whiplashes of an unjust system, to forget the pain.
But cultural subjugation is more dangerous, because it is more subtle and, its effects, long-lasting. Moreover, it can make a person who has lost his land, who feels the pangs of hunger, who carries flagellated flesh, to look at those experiences differently.
For instance, from the standpoint of pessimism: “Oh! There is nothing I can do about this,”
... failing to see in his history any positive lessons in his dealings with the present.
He (or she) has been drained of historical memory of a different world. The prophet who once warned, “fear not those who kill the body, but those who kill the spirit”
was right on the mark, and Steve Biko, with his Black Consciousness,
was working within that prophetic warning.
Consciousness distinguishes humans from the rest of nature. In humans, death is marked by the end of consciousness. In that sense, all humans [to the extent that they are human] have a consciousness. But in a situation of the coloniser and the colonised, the question of consciousness is vital; in fact, it becomes a theatre
of intense struggle!
The struggle of classes takes the form of the dominant trying to turn the dominated class not into a class for itself, but a class for the interests of another, the dominating.Ngugi wa Thiong'o: “It behoves us, the inheritors of the benefits of the sacrifices made during the liberation struggle, NEVER to forget.”
In race politics, the same can apply when the self-consciousness of a race is appropriated by another to serve the interests of a dominant race. Racism was a conscious class ideology
of imperialism. Colonialism and colonial relations, even when clearly economic and political, often came wrapped in race!Within the overall context of economic and political domination, race could and was and is often used as a means of diminishing the self-evaluation of the dominated.
In that context, racial self-assertion was a necessary first step in the reclamation of a positive self-awareness. A person without a consciousness of his Being in the World,
to use the Heideggardian phrase, is lost and can easily be guided by another to wherever the guide wants to take him, even to his own extinction!Black consciousness
then becomes the right
of black people to draw an image of themselves that negates and transcends the image of themselves that was drawn by those who would weaken them in their fight for, and assertion of, their natural humanity.
Or, in the Sobukwe era, the formulation to fight for the right to call our souls our own.
It seeks to draw the image of a possible world, different and transcending the one drawn by the West, by reconnecting itself to a different historical memory and dreams.
Memory is also the site of dreams, of desire. And when we say that a person has lost his or her memory, we are talking of a real loss of those traces that make individuals make sense of what is happening to or around them. Imprisonment and torture alters or breaks memory.If the site of dreams, desire, image, consciousness, is memory, where is the location of memory itself? What is the site of memory? …Memory lies in language. In incorporating the colonial world into the international capitalist order and relations with itself as the centre of that order and relations, the imperialist West also went about subjecting the rest of the world to its memory through a vast naming system.
It planted its memory on our landscape by renaming it. Egoli,
or whatever was the original name of this city, becomes Johannesburg.
The great East African lake known by the Luo people as Namlolwe
becomes Lake Victoria.
They also planted their memory on our bodies. Ngugi
becomes James. Noliwe
Our names get stuck with their names! Thus our bodies, in terms of their self-definition, become forever branded by their memory. The name-mark pointing to my body defines my identity; … “James?”
And I answer: “Yes, I am.”And, most important, they planted their memory on our intellect through language. Language and the culture it carries is the most crucial part of that naming system by which Europe subjected the colonised to its memory.
The more educated in the culture of the coloniser, the more severe the subjection, with devastating
results for the colonial subject as a whole. Writers, artists, musicians, intellectuals, workers in ideas, are the keepers of memory of a community.
What fate awaits a community when its keepers of memory have been subjected to the West's linguistic means of production and storage of memory - English, French and Portuguese … - so that those who should have been keepers of the sacred word can now only see themselves and the different possibilities for the community within the linguistic boundaries of Memory Incorporated?
We have languages but our keepers of memory feel that they cannot store knowledge and emotions in African languages. It is like having a granary but at harvest, you store your produce in somebody else’s granary.
The result is that 90% of intellectual production in Africa is stored in European languages, a continuation of the colonial project
where not even a single treaty between Europe and Africa exists in any African language! We do not exist in these languages!!
The relationship between African and European languages as producers and storages of memory have been at the heart of the struggle for a sovereign consciousness.
In his book, Long Walk to Freedom,
Mandela describes an event in his school, Healdtown, that for him was “like a comet streaking across the night sky!”
It was a visit by Xhosa
artist Krune Mqhayi. Performing on the stage in his native Xhosa dress and holding an assegai
(traditional spear), he tells his mesmerised audience:“The Assegai stands for what is glorious and true in African history: It is a symbol of the African as a warrior and the African as an artist, and contrasts this to skilful but soul-less Europe …
“What I am talking to you about is not ... the overlapping of one culture over another. What I am talking about is the brutal clash between what is indigenous and good and what is foreign and bad! ... We cannot allow these foreigners who do not care for our culture to take over our nation!! I predict that, one day, the forces of African society will achieve a momentous victory over the interloper!!!!”...
The performance profoundly impacted the then 16-year-old Mandela’s previous assumptions about white and black power: “I could hardly believe my ears. His boldness in speaking of such delicate matters in the presence of white Dr. Wellington, and other whites, seemed utterly astonishing to us! Yet, at the same time, it aroused and motivated us, and began to alter my perception of men like Dr. Wellington, whom I had considered as my benefactor.”
But Mqhayi's performance with its unapologetic celebration of being both Xhosa and African does something more: it shows that there is no such thing as an “Abstract African” and it makes the young Mandela accept his own Xhosa-Being
as the real condition of his African-Being,
and not the other way round.
Mqhayi wrote in Xhosa, and in the Bantu World
of 20 July 1935, the same year of the event narrated by Mandela, Guybon B. Sinxo, another South African intellectual, wrote a commissioned piece on Mqhayi in which, among other tributes, he describes Mqhayi's book, Ityila Lama Wele,
as being next only to the Bible in greatness.
And of Mqhayi, who learnt under the feet of Xhosa elders, he writes: “Today ... that same boy who, at a time when most of the educated Africans in the Cape were -- like the Europeans controlling Native Education -- looking down upon Xhosa, stood up for our language and by pen and word of mouth, created a renaissance in our literature.”
What stands out, on looking back, is not only this wholehearted tribute of two intellectuals, but the fact that the term renaissance
is used in 1935 in reference to the work of an African intellectual who wrote in an African language and whose performance in that language had such a profound impact on the Healdtown students.
Are there echoes of this renaissance when, years later in 1994, Mandela exhorts Africa to believe in itself(?):“We know it is a matter of fact that we have it in ourselves as Africans to change all this. We must, in action, say that there is no obstacle big enough to stop us from bringing about a new African Renaissance.”
Since the 1994 call, Thabo Mbeki – (i.e. S/Africa’s current president) – has further elaborated on this theme and his 1996 address, “I am an African”,
with its poetic suggestiveness, its depiction of this “African” as containing in himself multitudes, a truly renaissance persona, has justifiably become a classic.“In incorporating the colonial world into the international capitalist order, the West went about subjecting the rest of the world to its memory through a vast naming system. It planted its memory on our landscape by renaming it. It also planted its memory on our bodies. Our names get stuck with their names. Thus our bodies became forever branded by their memory. And, most important, they planted their memory on our intellect through language.”
Clearly, the African Renaissance seems to be an idea whose time has come, to witness the number of books, articles and conferences which it has generated. The discussions have been rich in their economic, political and even cultural exploration of meaning and implications of the idea.
However, the shortcomings in the recent academic discussions, as opposed to those of the time of Mqhayi, have been a virtual silence over the relationship between language and renaissance. Language, though often seen as a product and reflection of economic, political and cultural order, is itself a material force of the highest order.
That is why we must ask: is an African Renaissance possible when we, the keepers of memory, have to work outside our own linguistic memory? … Working within the prison house of European linguistic memory? … Often drawing from our own experiences and history to enrich the already very rich European memory?
Some could raise the objection that Africans who use foreign languages do so in an original manner and that their expression contains something specific to their race.
But what the African can never express, until he abandons the use of foreign languages, is the peculiar genius of his own languages .. . all these reasons - and more - lead me into affirming that the development of our languages is the prerequisite for a real African Renaissance.
Nadine Gordimer was to express similar sentiments in her contribution to a UNESCO symposium in Harare in 1992. In the paper called “Turning the Page: African Writers in the 21st Century”,
she of course acknowledges - and rightly so - the brilliance of what has already been produced by African writers in acquired European tongues, and then adds:“But we writers cannot speak of taking up the challenge of a new century for African literature unless writing in African languages becomes the major component of the continent’s literature. Without this, one cannot speak of an African literature. It must be the basis of the cultural cross-currents that will both buffer and stimulate that literature.”
European renaissance involved not only exploration of new frontiers of thought but also a reconnection with their memory with roots in ancient Greece and Rome. In practice, it meant a disengagement from the tyranny of hegemonic Latin and discovery of their own tongues.
But it also meant a massive and sustained translation and transfer of knowledge from Latin and Greek into the emerging European vernaculars, including English.
There was also a lot of inter-vernacular translation of current intellectual production among the then emerging European languages, for instance from French into English and vice-versa. The African keepers of memory could do worse than usefully borrow a leaf from that experience. Thabo Mbeki's contribution to the debate in fact comes as a challenge to the African intelligentsia, the keepers of memory, to “add to the strengthening of the movement for Africa's renaissance”.
The challenge to the intelligentsia is as it should be. No renaissance can come out of state legislation and admonitions. States and governments can and should and must provide an enabling democratic environment, and resources. In this respect, South Africa has to be commended for coming up with a very enlightened language policy.
Most governments tend to hide their heads in the sand and pretend that African languages do not exist, or else try to force a retrograde policy of mono-lingualism. Governments can help by policies that make African languages part of the languages of social mobility and power, currently a monopoly of European languages.
But renaissance, as rebirth and flowering, can only spring from the wealth of imagination of the people and, above all, from its keepers of memory. We must produce knowledge in African languages and then use translation as a means of conversation in and among African languages.
We must also translate from European and Asian languages into our own, for our languages must not stay isolated from the mainstream of progressive human thought in the languages and cultures of the globe.
But how can we turn our present predicament, where a lot of knowledge produced by sons and daughters of Africa is already stored in European linguistic granaries?
These works, like stolen gems,
must be retrieved and returned to the languages and cultures that inspired them in the first instance. The task of restoration is at the heart of the renaissance project. The problem and the process on a worldwide scale are what we (at the International Centre for Writing and Translation -- [of which Professor Ngugi is the first director] -- at the University of California, Irvine) have dubbed the Restoration Project.
What is it? The Restoration Project
involves the support for models of translations for works written in dominant languages by people who draw from languages and cultures other than the dominant one in which the works were first written. We call it a project of restoration
because, in putting works back into the original languages (or into other marginalised languages as well), it would be helping in restoring the work to its original language and culture, without interfering in its existence in the dominant memory; almost like rescuing “the original mental text” from exile.
Or, to use the metaphor of a harvest stored in somebody else’s granary, it would be like the owners of the harvest retrieving their produce and restoring it (back) in their granaries.
Conceived as a global project, it would affect quite a number of cultures in Asia, Africa, Europe and the islands, and it would help in redrawing the cultural power map
of the world. For it is like reversing the brain-drain by ensuring that the products of that brain-drain go back to build the local base. The success of such restoration would have to be a creative partnership of the writer, the translator and publisher and, of course, the state, which would provide an enabling economic and political environment.
In such a situation, and given the place that, say English occupies in the world today, no matter what we think of the process by which it came to occupy that position, we can challenge it to enable and not disable, use it to enable conversation among languages where, given the shortage of people who know two marginalised languages sufficiently for them to translate directly, we can use English or French as a medium to enable without disabling. For us in Africa, this can be a model for practical steps in realising the goals of the African Renaissance.
We have, for instance, three Nobel Prize winners in Literature, Soyinka, Gordimer and Mafouz. Why shouldn’t their works be made available in the languages and cultures of the continent which nourished their imagination?
Why shouldn’t the work of Biko be available in African languages? What about Nkrumah’s, Nyerere’s, Mandela’s, Machel’s, Neto’s, Cheikh Anta Diop’s?
What of all the African intellectuals? What of all the works of Diasporan Africans in the Caribbean and Americas, Sonia Sanchez’s, for instance? What of the works of the two other black Nobel winners, Derek Walcott and Toni Morrison?
If we can think of scouting European museums, asking and even demanding the return of our stolen precious works of art, why not also the restoration of the precious works of written thought?
All this calls for a very different attitude and relationship to our languages on the part of African governments and the African intelligentsia. Some governments have begun to come up with positive policies on African languages, the prime example once again being South Africa. There are few countries, Ethiopia for instance, where writing and intellectual production in African languages has always been taken as the norm.
An African government’s attitude to culture in general, and to African languages in particular, is important, for, as Gordimer has rightly observed, “in the 20th century of political struggles, state money has gone into guns, not books! As for literacy, as long as people can read state decrees and the graffiti that defies them, that has been regarded as sufficient proficiency.”“Ninety percent of intellectual production in Africa is stored in European languages, a continuation of the colonial project where not even a single treaty between Europe and Africa exists in any African language! We do not exist in these languages!! Is an African ‘Renaissance’ possible when we, the keepers of memory, have to work outside our own linguistic memory?”
That, of course, is decidedly not the best recipe for a renaissance. The state can provide an enabling environment, but ultimately the work of intellectual rejuvenation must come from the keepers of memory and here, too, there have also been encouraging signs.
This brings us back to the words of the great African sage who, as he stood in Tunis hearing in his mind the words of the Roman general who sentenced the African city of Carthage to death, refused to moan about ‘the death and past loss’, but instead, he lets its memory carry him on new waves of optimism.“All human civilisation rests on the foundation of the ruins such as those of the African city of Carthage,”
Mandela said, recalling no doubt all the ruins wrought on the psyche of the continent by the more contemporary empires of European modernity. Then he issues the call:“One epoch with its historic task has come to an end. Surely another must commence with its own challenges. Africa cries out for a New Birth. Carthage awaits the restoration of its glory!”
Surely with his life, Nelson Mandela has earned the right to issue that Call to the Youth of Africa.
Biko would have understood that call! His life and thought, as that of Chris Hani, Robert Sobukwe, Ruth First, all the political prisoners and many others, remind us that whatever has been gained, including independence and national liberation, did not come of themselves. They were results of struggle and sacrifice, and it behoves us, the inheritors of any and every benefit of those sacrifices, never to forget:“A people without memory are in danger of losing their soul!”
Is the task in front of us - that of the recovery of the African historical memory and dreams - too difficult a task? There is no way out of this! Keepers of African memory must do for their languages what others in history have done for theirs.As we set about disengaging from the hegemonic tyranny of bourgeois Western memory and reconnecting with that contained in the living matter of our mother languages, let the words of Thabo Mbeki echo determination in our hearts and not waver in our resolve:“Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say: ‘Nothing can stop us now!’”