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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

English, An African Tongue

The East African has an interesting interview with Helon Habila, Nigerian author and winner of the first Caine Prize for African writing. The answers he gives could well be those provided by any Indian author writing in English. Some excerpts:

Is English our language?

Ngugi wa Thiongo said you can't write in English; that you can't honestly express African experience in a foreign language. But we are still writing in English.

So time has answered his question. Nobody needs to go back and tell him he was wrong.

But how African is African literature when it is written in English?

English has gone beyond the English people. It is the language we use to communicate. No one novel or writer can give you all the answers.

Some non-African writers such as V.S. Naipaul have described African literature as thin. Do you agree?

J.M Coetzee is also on record as saying that African writers are merely interpreters of Africa to foreigners. My view is that we are interpreting because we were misrepresented. Colonialism is not an easy experience. People have to come out of it and begin to see the world afresh, which takes time.

What Naipaul implied was that African literature is not serious

He is a very cynical person. He has said the same about India, but it does not mean he is right. I don't think African literature is thin. Africans are looked down upon. The international media is very harsh on Africa. But African writers are trying to show a different picture.


  • " im with naipaul strangely on the subject of trinidad tobago/africa .if the words come out in a sort of a thick diffusion of sorts aided by a generous expanse of lips, with umpteen pauses that stretch a mile, im just waiting there for my african friends to finish their line .there is no language i love playing with as much as english.period.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:55 PM  

  • Someone told me last night how Ngugi, a panellist at an International Writers' Conference, was addressed by a member of the audience in Zulu. Ngugi complained that he did not speak Zulu.

    By Blogger Natasha, at 5:01 AM  

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