Europhonism, Universities, and the Magic Fountain (Excerpt)28 January 2010
written by Republic Report New York 41 views View Comments By Ngugi wa Thiong’o…
Language, which is the carrier of culture, is the ultimate and the most primal means of imagination. Now we know that empire builders have always known that, and in trying to shape how the dominated imagined their future they clearly saw the importance of de-linking the elites of the dominated communities from their languages and literally transplanting the minds in the languages of the imperial center, and where the traditional elite resisted the transplant because they were too rooted in their languages and cultures, the empire builders simply manufactured a new elite through a massive cultural surgery carried out in the theatres of their new schools and colleges.
The aim, realized or not, was to turn them into beings for others, even in their conception of themselves. Examples abound, and we do not even have to go to the special case of plantation slavery, where whole communities were de-linked from the languages of their original homes. We can also cite Colonial British India, because the centrality in the making of modern Britain became a social laboratory with the result later transplanted to other colonies.When I was doing research for my novel, some of the action takes place in India, in Africa, in the New World, New York also. I did some research on Madras because my character went for education in Madras University. That was the first setting of the British India Company, I believe. Now one of the early governors of that particular area was somebody called Elihu Yale, and the money that he made in Madras that went into the foundation of Yale University, so Yale University is somewhat connected with colonial India. And so, because of the centrality of India in that whole situation, the words of Thomas Babbington McCauley, who as a member of the Supreme Council of India, helped reform the colonies and nuclear system as well as the penal code have a special significance for us today.
You remember that in the famous minute on Indian education he had visions of the English language producing, “a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, opinions, in morals, and intellect” Here we can note that this was not for the aesthetic pleasure of disinterested cultural engineering, but rather the hope was that this class of persons “may be interpreters between us and the people we govern.” Exactly 87 years later McCauley’s words were to be repeated in colonial Kenya by then British governor Sir Philip Mitchell, in outlining a policy for English language dominance in African education literally as a moral crusade to supplement the armed crusade against the Mau Mau guerrilla army. He saw this new language education as bringing about “a civilized state in which the values and standards are to be the values and standards of Britain in which everyone whatever his origins has an interest and a part”In both instances, McCauley’s India in 19th century and Mitchell’s Kenya in 20th century, the context was colonial and the aim was clear, but just as in the military realm the colonial powers had carved out a native army, simultinously alienated from the people whence they came and collaborative with the forces of their own conquest, the same would be true in the realm of the mind.
Create from the governed an intellect both alienated and collaborative, you create a being not for itself, but being for others, and therefore in some ways against its own being. The Horton-Asquith model had a whole colonial tradition and theory behind it, and the model was inherited almost unaltered in the era of independence. It was the products of the McCauley system of education who spread out to fill the vacant places of white judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, lawmakers, governors, military leaders, and heads of departments of education in most parts of Africa, and what an inheritance for Africa.The result is really a paradox. Systems of education entrusted by the new nations to research ideas of emancipating and modernizing Africa and for which process the new nations invest a good percentage of GNP now brings up brilliant intellects in every field of modern learning, and yet they cannot put even a summary of what they have acquired in their native African languages.
Their is no doubt that these colleges, particularly in their haydays, have produced remarkable scholarships. African scholars whose first degrees were often acquired in the colleges of the Horton-Asquith model in major universities in Africa and abroad, but they are clearly alienated intellects, exiles at home and abroad, or rather exiles in search of a place they can truly claim as their own.In the sense of the collective social body they become beings for others, but not beings for themselves, or at the very least beings against themselves, against the very soil that gave birth to them. African language communities pay for intellects which cannot put a single idea, even about Angriculture, or health, or business, or democracy, or finance, into the very languages which gave them birth.
This paradox of African scholarship in general is best mirrored in the particular case of the production of African literature. Because English was so central to all aspects of learning in the new colleges the English departments were very prestigious, and quite frankly it is difficult to quite express in words the tremendous prestige with which a good performance in English was held. Students of English were the elite of the elite, and a first class degree in English was the simply the first among equals. We can now see the implications of the Horton-Asquith model. A people can be deprived of wealth and even power, but one of the worst deprivations is a means of achieving all that, articulating it, and therefore developing a vision and a strategy for fighting it out.
We cannot of course blame it on colonialism, and believe me, I’ve done my share of blaming in many of my publications, but remember, we cannot accuse colonialism of failing to do what it was clearly not meant to do. Colonialism and colonial models were never meant to develop colonies for the benefit of the colonized.So we cannot accuse them of failing to do that, and that is why I think it is time that African scholarship and universities begin to question that kind of model and its legacy of language, policy, and practice.
I’ve said elsewhere how I find it contradictory in Africa today and elsewhere in the academies of the world to hear of scholars, and here I must say, I was very impressed by what is happening here, so let me not apply it to here, but anyway, I have sort of been alarmed of scholars of African realities but who do not know a word of the languages of the environment of which they are experts. And my question has been do you think that any university outside Africa, or outside the cultural African universities, or even within Africa itself, would give me a job as professor of French literature would give me a job if I confessed that I did not know a word of French?I’d be kicked out. I wouldn’t even be given an interview.
The schools in Africa and abroad are people by experts, whether African or not, whether sympathetic to the African cause or not, whether progressive or not, who do not have, to demonstrate, and acquaintance, let alone an expertise in any African language. They hold chairs and produce PHD’s without the requirements of an African language. But its difficult to blame it on these institutions abroad when they are merely taking the lead from the practice of African universities on their own soil.
The result is the marginalization of African languages in the academy at home. So African languages, this is the most amazing thing, African languages have no place in their own home. Imagine you go home and you do not find a bed in your own home. Where do you go to? It’s a most devastating situation. African languages have no place at home. They do not control their home base because their home base is ruled by tongues from Europe.
In this respect I find the words of Hounani K. Trask(?), she is a lady from Hawaii, she has a book called From A Native Daughter. In her book she argues that indigenous languages replaced by colonial ones result in the creation of dead languages, but what is dead or lost is not the language but the people who once spoke it and transmitted their mother tongues to succeeding generations. Everywhere it’s received European languages come shouting the often quoted words from Bhagavad Gita, “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.”Now we think of death too narrowly in terms of physical disappearance. Death comes in many forms. There is an equal diversity of cultural deaths, and we Africans already provide a good example of such a possibility. This is in terms of naming systems and other areas, over the last 400 years we’ve seen Africans in the west lose their names completely, so that our existence is in terms of Jones, James, Jones, James, etc. Now today every achievement in sports, academia, in the sciences and the arts, goes to reinforce the European naming systems and cultural personality.
Language of course is the most basic of naming systems, and with the loss of our languages will come the loss of our entire naming system, and every historical intervention, no matter how revolutionary, will then be within an European naming system, enhancing its capacities for ill or good. Thus, in whatever she or he does, they will be performing their being for the enrichment of the cultural personality of white Europe.For me then the question of languages goes to the heart of the very being and existence of the African, or for that matter any community deprived of its languages.
That’s why I now regard Europhonism as the most dangerous intellectual system for the development of Africa. Its logical development is the complete wiping off of African personality on the global cultural map and it becomes simply one of several branches in the European language system, and the only struggle is for the recombination of the equal worth of all the cultural branches of a European global whole.
Perhaps it is time that African scholars seriously took another look at the Blighdon vision. The Blighdon-Hayford model rejects the assumptions underlying the relationship of Africa to the world, which equates knowledge, modernity, modernization, civilization, progress, development, democracy, whatever the name, to the acquisition of European languages.
There are hundreds of languages in Africa and the world each of which is a unique store of memories and thoughts and experiences which are of benefit to human life. It is true that the current revolutions in information and technologies daily shrink the globe into McLuhan’s “global village,” but they also quite frankly open possibilities for expansion of the human community.Academic and other cultural institutions should be among the first to sensitize the world community to the existence and reality of knowledges in diverse languages of the world. There are of course practical difficulties in implementing policies that realize fully the plurality and diversity of languages.
There needs to be conscious effort by various disciplines to recognize the existence of knowledges in languages from places other than Europe, and find ways of tapping into the knowledges thereby contained and in the process help in a dialog among languages. Dialog between languages is definitely one way of giving back to the languages from which we draw sustenance, and there are moves in that direction.
In 1996 I attended a conference in Barcelona, Spain organized in part by the International Pen(?) which came with a declaration of universal linguistic rights based on the recommendation of the need for equality and dialog among languages. But for Africa the question goes beyond that of simply sensitizing the world and it goes back to the very heart of our being and existence…