One of the most humiliating experiences was to be caught speaking Gikuyu in the vicinity of the school. The culprit was given corporal punishment – three to five strokes of cane on bare buttocks – or was made to carry a metal plate around the neck with inscriptions such as I AM STUPID or I AM A DONKEY – Ngugi wa Thiong’o
The Burning Spear, in ‘This Man’, and Bunny Livingstone Wailer, in ‘Roots Radics Rockers Reggae’, echo Marcus Mossiah Garvey’s famous quote “a people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without their roots.”
Garvey, a proponent of pan- Africanism, is an inspiration to a lot of reggae musicians who regard Africa as their home. Prior to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the thinking was that a united Africa would be able to overcome the challenges that the continent had inherited from the colonial governments.
Over the years, the talk of unity has dominated different fora yet there is little to suggest that Africa will be united too soon. At the recent Africa Union (AU) summit in Rwanda, there was talk of integration. The borders are temporary and we are one people who should move freely.
In 2063, it will be 100 years since the OAU (now AU) was formed and that is why Agenda 2063 is significant. I believe there are a lot of people who know that a united Africa will be a force that will guarantee Africa’s development.
However, the criticism is that those who support a united Africa ignore the differences, for instance tribes or languages, in the continent. But, as Garvey would tell you, we are one people who were only told that we are different by the colonialists.
In Rwanda, the Batutsi and Bahutu never knew of their differences until the arrival of the colonialists. They used the divide-and-rule tactic for their own benefit. The 1994 genocide has its roots in this divisive tactic.
When Rwandans were rebuilding their country, the government used several ways – including culture – to remind the people that they were one. Almost every Rwandan knows how to speak Kinyarwanda.
In the past week, I saw a video clip of a Rwandan athlete being interviewed in English; the athlete struggles to express himself and a lot of people I know are circulating it and making fun out of the athlete.
The first question I asked one of the people circulating the video clip is whether they can express themselves in Kinyarwanda or indeed French, the colonial language.
I concluded, without remorse, that Malawi is a sick nation with some of its inhabitants believing that English is a measure of intelligence. I find English to be a measure of our stupidity as a people because we have no idea about our roots, our language and our people.
We are a country brainwashed that English is a dominant language and, therefore, that everyone must know English but not Kinyarwanda, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Yao.
I have overheard a number of friends who are happy that their children do not know any local language. My son, despite his German name, knows some basic Lomwe and Yao despite the fact that he is a Chewa with some traces of Yao.
The fact is that we are glorifying English and it is not surprising that we are abandoning our local languages and soon we will lose such languages. Several years ago, I went up the Ipulukutu hills in Chitipa where I found my people, yes my people, speaking Lambya. I stood there watching them speak and I had no slightest idea what they were talking about.
Today, I am yet to learn Lomwe, Ngonde or Tonga. Not that I glorify English as others do but there is no local school in Malawi that I can think of to teach me these languages.
Reflecting on Ngugi’s experience, I am not surprised that there are a lot of Malawians who were told to dislike their own languages. These are the people who should be called donkeys because they are depriving their children of their roots.
Most of the people strive to have an English accent yet they were raised in Lomwe or Yao homes. Don’t we have pride like the Nigerians do? We are ashamed to have that Lomwe or Yao accent. The fact that we grow up disliking our languages, how can we like ourselves as a people. Ngugi sums it up well: “The effect of the cultural bomb [use of English in Africa] is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environments, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves.”
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