Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature

ISBN: 0852555016
ISBN 13: 9780852555019
By: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

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African Literature Favorites Language Linguistics Nonfiction Politics Postcolonial Postcolonialism Theory To Read

About this book

Ngugi describes this book as 'a summary of some of the issues in which I have been passionately involved for the last twenty years of my practice in fiction, theatre, criticism and in teaching of literature.' East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda): EAEP

Reader's Thoughts

Steven Salaita

I'm not as high on this volume as many of my colleagues. Ngugi is a fantastic writer and thinker, no doubt, but I just can't get over his continued writing in English after he swore it off so famously here.


great ideas. amazing insights. a few poignant autobiographical moments. a little polemical. simply written. easy to read.




Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o's 'Decolonising the Mind' is certainly a seminal text, not just as regards to the study of African literature, as opposed to Afro-European literature, but as regards to other concerns as well, such as the politics of language, education, drama in a post-colonial state and so on, that have since become standard discussions in the study of post-colonial theory and novels. However, there were some points that I did not agree with (which is usually the result when an author tends to be too critical), and some that I was personally inspired by (the authenticity of Ngũgĩ's arguments), although I will refrain myself from summarising any part of the novel since a reviewer has already done an excellent job at doing just that. In many ways, 'Decolonising the Mind' is itself a summary of another of Ngũgĩ's work, 'Writers in Politics: A Re-engagement with Issues of Literature and Society'. I do believe that Ngũgĩ, overall, did write a heartfelt and an outstanding commentary concerning the many conflicting situations and aspects that emerge in his analysis. This book is a must-read for any English literature student, and should be included among other works by writers such as Fanon, Achebe and so on.Most of the points Ngũgĩ discusses I can personally relate to, since Malta was also the site of struggle from a colonialist power for the majority of its history, arguably all of it. As a result, the Maltese language was considered to be an inferior language, 'La lingua della cucina', in comparison with Italian, and, later on, with English. The language question that arose in the early years of the twentieth-century in Malta consisted of whether the study of English or of Italian was the most beneficial to Maltese students, the Maltese language being opportunistically 'black-listed' in the heated, sometimes ridiculous, debates that took place in Maltese parliaments. However, as things stand today, English and Maltese complement each other, and the Maltese language has never been so alive. 'Decolonising the Mind', in the variety of issues that it tackles, is more relevant today than ever, especially as regards to post-colonial theory. As it is not riddled with Jargonese, it is an enjoyable read in its own right.

Allie Reznik

A memoir/manual, in many ways, for "national, democratic, and human liberation." Absolutely love.

Gopala Krishna Koduri

Excellent read! Highly recommend it to anyone interested in the cultural and political situation of Africa at large, and other colonized (and eventually freed) nations to a certain extent.


God bless this man. Wow. Real review to come.

Darshan Elena

this book changed my outlook on life and its possibilities. without a doubt, this is one of the most transformative books ever written. i wish it were standard reading for students, alongside of or instead of shakespeare.


Le manifeste d'un auteur kenyan qui décide d'abandonner l'anglais pour ne plus écrire qu'en kikuyu, sa langue maternelle. Le témoignage est très intéressant quant à la réappropriation de sa propre culture et montre bien comment la colonisation, au-delà du façonnage des pays colonisés à l'exploitation économique, a aussi largement façonné les esprits à un référentiel culturel jugé supérieur. Si j'ai trouvé le témoignage sur le cheminement personnel très intéressant (de l'étudiant modelé par le système éducatif à la culture anglo-saxonne à l'émergence d'un auteur afro-saxon qui va finalement retrouver ses racines en africanisant son travail par l'adoption de sa langue maternelle), le message du titre me laisse plus perplexe: la décolonisation totale de son esprit ne nécessiterait-elle quelque part d'aller jusqu'à ne plus écrire?

Annie Xie

Definitely thought-provoking and gives me something to think about in terms of language, anti-colonialist struggles, and the future or even definition of "African literature". I absolutely agree that literature in African languages should be written, should be read, and should be taught, but I don't quite make the leap with Ngugi in seeing English-language African literature as perpetuating colonization and imperialism. "We African writers are bound by our calling to do for our languages what Spencer, Milton and Shakespeare did for English; what Pushkin and Tolstoy did for Russian; indeed what all writers in world history have done for their languages by meeting the challenge of creating a literature in them, which process later opens the languages for philosophy, science, technology and all other areas of human creative endeavors."The above quote exemplifies a lot of what I find confusing. Why do African writers have this obligation to create a literature for their native languages? It's not that Kikuyu literature shouldn't exist and the language shouldn't be embraced (Ngugi details public humiliation and punishment in schools for children caught speaking Kikuyu instead of English, and it's terrible) but African languages do not and should not require the creation of literature and the adoption of novels in order for them to be viewed with equality and respect, for Africans to "decolonise the mind".

Jessica Jang Jang

I just love Ngugi, period.


Decolonizing the Mind is integral, I think, to understanding anti-colonialist struggles. The western world understands colonialism in terms of the most visible aspects of a nation, namely its leadership. People fail to recognize the long-term effects of colonialism such as widespread poverty. Decolonizing the Mind reminds us of another of these aftereffects, specifically, the domination of language by the Western World. In a sense, the language barrier has enabled social apartheid where legal separation was considered anachronistic. By dominating African languages, and asserting the superiority of European ones over them, Western nations did (and African administrations still do) perpetuate a system where educated whites rise to the highest social strata while native Africans are resigned to the working classes and peasantry. This domination of language has effectively prevented any native African from rising into intellectual ranks, because, as Ngũgĩ puts it, the use European languages splits African soul in two, forcing him to relinquish his roots if he wishes to climb the social ladder.


An amazing book by a Kenyan author on understanding the psychology of exploitation and oppression by colonialism and imperialism. Its focus is on the exploitation of Africans by Europeans through the domination of culture, but its lessons are applicable to the struggles of all people.It's a must read. I learned about it from a Palestinian activist visiting the United States.

Ananda Esteva

Everyone should read this!


I took a class with this author. He's extremely intelligent and presents an interesting argument about the politics of language. In this critical theory text, he addresses the way the colonial process works on the cultural level (as opposed to the material, political, or even physical level). He encourages the use of African languages (rather than the language of former colonizers) in African literature. He also explains how his personal experiences informed his opinions on the politics of language, which I found interesting and rather persuasive.

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