“Decolonizing the Mind” by Ngugi WA Thiong`o


“Decolonizingthe Mind” by Ngugi WA Thiong`o

Decolonizingthe Mind by Ngugi WA Thiong`o

Bornin 1938, Ngugi Wa Thiong`o is a Kenyan novelist that currentlyspecializes in writing in his native Gikuyu language. He is arenowned modern African author of many literary works includingplays, novels, essays, and short stories that cover an array oftopics ranging from children works to social criticism. He is famousfor publications such as “Weep Not, Child”, “A Grain of Wheat”,“The River Between”, and “Secret lives and Other Stories”among other works (Williams, 1999). In 1977, he established theKamirithu Community Education and Cultural Center, which was aninstitution that supported African theater. In the center, Ngugiencouraged uncensored political communication of his play “I WillMarry When I Want”. However, this did not align well with thepolitical regime of the time, resulting in his detention (Williams,1999). Upon his release, he was denied his career as a universityprofessor and constantly harassed by a dictatorial government,forcing him to exile in the U.S. In “Decolonizingthe Mind”, Ngugiwrites a number of non-fiction essays concerning language and itsproductive role in identity, history, and culture.

Howthe British as Colonizers of Kenya Sought To Achieve Dominance

ThroughDecolonizing the Mind, Ngugi offers his perception to the discourseof language choice in a post-colonial state. He asserts that Africacan only overcome western control over its culture and resources byreplacing the European languages with native ones. According toNgugi, language is a communication means and carrier of culture andthe only room that people can have their traditions and truly becomeindependent (Ngugi, 1986). He argues that the British were able tocontrol his native country and other African colonies because, theymanaged to devalue native dance, speech, and traditions whilereplacing them with European practices. Therefore, the Britishimposed English language on the locals as a means of eroding theharmony of their traditions, religions, history, culture, education,and dance among others (Ngugi, 1986). In the operation, the Britishmanaged to alter the perception of the native children concerningtheir customs, which were propagated as uncultured and barbaric.

Ngugielaborates that many colonial children in Africa were forced to learnEuropean languages as a way of the settlers imposing their control.He adds that the African continent is under the notion that itrequires Europe to relieve it from poverty. All the same, the realityremains that Africa continues to enrich the West through its humanand innate resources. He examines the colony of Kenya, on how thecolonizers set up schools that deprecated local languages in favor ofEnglish (Betts, 2014). As a result, English was not used to liberatepeople from their impoverished conditions, but it was applied as ameans of separating the school children from their history andculture. The schools taught scholars to criticize their nativecustoms and culture as they strove to gain the favor of thecolonizers and become civilized.

In“Decolonizing the Mind” the author encourages writers from Africato narrate the appropriate stories that represent the nativelanguages and cultures of their people. He argues that it is up tothese artists to narrate the appropriate tales, to help preserve thetraditions and languages that existed before colonization erodedthem. He is of the view that when writers from his content write inPortuguese, English or French, they are promoting their oppressors’languages. Ngugi is not advocating for people to stop using languagessuch as English, but he wants diversity of languages to be promotedparticularly native African languages as a means of safeguardingAfrican culture and customs (Betts, 2014).

Promotingthe Worth of Everything British Including Speaking of English

Theauthor explains that language is used as harmony to identifydifferent cultures. He narrates that language communicates the valuesand standards of culture, an aspect that a person who does notcomprehend a language can rarely understand. He drops a line thatwhen English was imposed on his refinement, instructional learningand educational activity, as well as textbooks made the Britishculture look advanced to his local culture (Al Farabi, 2014).Therefore, depicting the European education, religion, culture, andpractices as a better way of civilization through the use of theEnglish language, the colonizers managed to portray their language assuperior. In the process, they managed to alienate young schoolchildren from their native culture. Practices such as Englishspeaking and the Christian religion were often rewarded while locallanguages and faiths were condemned. As such, the colonizers managedto promote everything British like English speaking as a form ofcivilization while criticizing the local customs. The colonizerssucceeded in accomplishing this by introducing formal education intheir colonies, as well as religious institutions that promoted theirculture while simultaneously denouncing the local practices (Betts,2014).

Changeof a Language and Its Influences on People

Ngugiwrites that in his community, children were educated by their parentsand elders through oral stories. He recalls the power of creativityduring his childhood, when he learned about his surrounding usingGikuyu. He explains that he was able to appreciate the beauty, magic,and the surroundings of his society. However, the introduction ofEnglish shattered this unique view of the universe. The compulsoryutilization of English in formal education contributed to studentsdemonizing and despising their language and traditions (Al Farabi,2014). The children could turn against each other as they reportedthose that broke the law of speaking in a native language. Accordingto Ngugi, they were taught to become traitors of their communities.Hence, as the writer and others grew up, they started to accept theessentiality of English language in their society.

Englishbecame a measure of intelligence, whereby a person that excelled inthe language could join the renowned secondary schools and colleges.Thus, English became the enabler to higher opportunities in societywhile the lack of the language denounced one to the peasantry groupthat is usually disconnected from power and knowledge. He explainsthat when people find themselves in a situation whereby theirwritten, spoken, and immediate environment language clash, suchindividuals are likely to be detached from their home language. Hewrites “This resulted in the dissociation of the sensibility ofthat child from his natural and social environment, what we mightcall colonial alienation (Ngugi, 1986).”

Examplesfrom Ngugi

Forexample, Ngugi uses his personal experiences to show how as a studentin Kenya, he was required to converse in English as opposed to hisvernacular language. He explains that speaking in English wasrewarded with applause, tickets to higher realms, prizes, andprestige. Contrarily, a learner caught speaking in a native languagewas punished with humiliating name tags and even cash fines. He addsthat performing well on English tests opened massive opportunities tojoin the best schools and colleges in the country while failure inthe language mostly marked the end of one’s education regardless ofhow exemplary they were in other subjects (Ngugi, 1986). A child thatis exposed to this experience is usually disposed from the languageconversed at home and the one taught at school. Ngugi’s viewpointis that the best way for one to learn about their environment andsociety is through the language and culture they encounter in theiratmosphere.


Ngugiemphasizes that as a carrier of culture, language cannot be separatedfrom the way of life. Language articulates, develops, and transmitsitself through culture from one generation to the other. Images ofthe world of a given community are propagated using orature orwritten literature. Hence, the language is a communication means ofdifferent people’s traditions and practices. As such, by thecolonizers imposing languages on native languages they are disturbingthe harmony of culture and language. In the process, the colonizerselevate their culture and language to superior status whiledestroying the art, education, culture, religion, history, andorature of native people. The “Decolonizing of the Mind” textsuggests that the freedom to choose a language, which one expresseshis artistic ideas should be encouraged as opposed to the impositionof a language that one might not have adequate command. Language is apowerful tool for authority and knowledge, which if wielded properlycan benefit all. Our modern world is highly diverse and embracingmulticulturalism is the ideal step to undertake. Ngugi’s“Decolonizing of the Mind” has encouraged people to reexamine theinfluence of European languages in African colonies and the need topromote native languages as part of Africa identities as opposed toviewing them as uncivilized traditions as the colonizers portrayedthem.


AlFarabi, R. (2014). Decolonizing the mind of the oppressed: a criticalanalysis of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Paulo Freire. ScholarlyResearch Journal,3(8). 65-73.

Betts,R. F. (2004). Decolonization.New York: Psychology Press.

Ngugi,W. T. O. (1986). Decolonizing the mind. London:James Currey.

Williams,P. (1999). NgugiWa Thiong`o.Manchester: Manchester University Press.