Prof Ngugi asks the media to help preserve African languages for survival of future generations


Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o with Lucas Wafula (Left) from East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) and Editors Guild Vice Chair Samuel Maina (Right) during the promotion of his new book Kenda Mũiyũru at The Stanley hotel in Nairobi . PHOTO/COURTESY


Colonialists contributed to the decline in the use of African languages as part of their strategy to conquer Africa, renowned Kenyan author Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o has said.

Prof Ngugi said negativity about African languages was internalized and normalized by the colonialists resulting in foreign languages being referred to as national languages.

The professor of English and comparative literature in the United States who was speaking during the promotion of his new book Kenda Mũiyũru at The Stanley hotel in Nairobi on Tuesday asked the media to sensitize the public on the importance of preserving vernacular languages.

He described Kenda Mũiyũru as the first epic (long narrative in verse) in Kikuyu language that rese

“Beating children for speaking African languages is child abuse and the media should propagate the importance of preserving vernacular languages,’ he said.

He decried the ‘dying’ of the first language among new-born saying most of them are now speaking second languages. He said the book tells the story of the nine daughters of Kikuyu and Mumbi.

Prof Ngugi’s call for the revitalization and preservation of vernacular languages come at a time the United Nations (UN) has said ‘hundreds of ancestral languages have gone silent in recent generations, taking with them the culture, knowledge and traditions of the people who spoke them.

To preserve and revitalize those that remain, the United Nations has officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Prof Ngugi who revealed that he started his writing career as a journalist when he used to write a column for the Sunday Nation in 1960s known as “AS I SEE IT”, said colonialists ‘programmed’ the killing of African languages.

“Discouraging African children not to speak their mother-tongues was auditioning people to adapt the language of the colonizers’. If you don’t know your mother-tongue, that is enslavement,” he emphasized.

He said parents in Kenya should encourage their children to speak their mother-tongue, followed by Kiswahili then English and other foreign languages.

Cultural performance by the Kwakwaka Dancers during a High-level Event to launch the International Year of Indigenous Languages. PHOTO/UN/MANUEL ELIAS

Prof Ngugi supported the government decision to introduce local languages in the curriculum but added that adequate resources should be provided to support the initiative.

“I appreciate the Education ministry for finally launching local languages as part of syllabus but I want them to provide the required resources to support this programme,” he said.

He praised the founder of East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), Dr Henry Chakava, saying he was a great man who defied  many odds to publish works of African writers.

“Chakava was threatened and even hurt for deciding to publish my book “The Devil on The Cross”, but he defied his tormentors and went ahead to publish the book that was first written in Kikuyu language,” he said.

UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés has underscored the close connection between indigenous languages and ancestral culture and knowledge.

“They are much more than tools for communication, they are channels for human legacies to be handed down,” she said.

UN General Assembly President notes that each indigenous language has an incalculable value for humankind and referred to them as treasures laden with history, values, literature, spirituality, perspectives and knowledge, developed and garnered over millennium.

Cultural performance during a High-level Event to launch the International Year of Indigenous Languages. PHOTO/UN/MANUEL ELIAS

 “When a language dies,” she spelled out “it takes with it all of the memory bound up inside it”.

She emphasized that indigenous languages are symbols of their people’s identity, “vectors for values, ways of life and expressions of their connections with earth”.

Indigenous languages also open the door to ancestral practices and knowledge, such as in agriculture, biology, astronomy, medicine and meteorology. Although there are still 4,000 in existence across the globe, many are on the brink of extinction.

“This International Year must serve as a platform from which we can reverse the alarming trend of the extinction of indigenous languages”, to recover and preserve them, including by implementing education systems that favor the use of a Mother tongue, Ms. Espinosa stated.


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