Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Memories of Who We Are

“Memory is what makes us who we are,” says Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o – a frequent contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature – in this video about how colonizers sought to erase the memories of the natives by severing their linguistic connections.

The colonizers played the game of “power-politics” by tampering with the memories of the natives and instead planting new ones – those of the colonizer: “You literally erase the memory of who they are.” As an example of this, places were renamed in terms of the invasive presence, e.g. New York and New England.

“Everybody’s language is the keeper of their memory.” Wa Thiong’o argues that language is empowerment, which is furthermore emphasised by the fact that one of the first things that the colonizers did was to cut off the African slaves’ linguistic connection to Africa. The tradition of African people writing in their own language has always been present, and he finds it absurd that even today many native Africans think that African literature is literature written in English or French. Moving the original African languages to the periphery, he finds, is a result of “a globalization of inequality of power between languages.” This discrepancy of power-relationships is constant, but there is a tendency to not wanting to acknowledge this. To move on, however, it is essential to remember and own up to reality: “Words – no matter what they mean – can never erase the actual material reality.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (b. 1938) is a Kenyan writer. He grew up during the colonial period in Kenya, and his dream of a free Africa has shaped his oeuvre, which is written both in English and in Kikuyu. In 1977 he began a new form of theatre ‘Ngaahika Ndeenda’, which sought to liberate the theatrical process from what he considered “the general bourgeois education system.” Despite its success, the authoritarian Kenyan regime shut it down and he was subsequently imprisoned for more than a year. Adopted as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, however, he was released and left for the U.S., where he still resides. Among his work, which includes novels, plays short stories and essays, are ‘Weep Not, Child’ (1964), ‘Petals of Blood’ (1977), ‘Wizard of the Crow’ (2006), ‘Dreams in a Time of War’ (2010) and ‘In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir’ (2015). Wa Thiong’o has also taught at Yale University, New York University and the University of California, Irvine. Moreover, he is the founder and editor of the Kikuyu-language journal Mũtĩiri.

Learn more about Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o here:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was interviewed by Kim Skotte in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2015.

Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Ed Atkins

    Something is Missing

    Ed Atkins is considered one of the most unsettling contemporary artists – as well as one of the most exciting. In this video, the young British artist shares how he works from written texts, and why melancholy is at the centre of his animated digital videos.

  • Louisa Gagliardi

    Longing for Something Else

    “Art is amazing because it’s in a way unnecessary, but extremely necessary as a testimony of its time.” Let us introduce you to a rising star of painting, Louisa Gagliardi, who creates her surreal work digitally and adds layers of paint to the printed image.

  • Hannah Levy

    A Design Purgatory

    “I wonder if the reason why people want to touch it is that they’re in some way attracted to it, or if they’re repulsed by it.” Meet the young artist Hannah Levy, who primarily makes sculptures combining curving steel forms with cast silicone.

  • Dora Budor

    Acting Things

    “I want to use art as a field where I can explore parallel scenarios.” Dora Budor makes complex sculptures and interactive installations inspired by cinematic metaverse and scientific research. Join us as we visit the young Croatian artist in her studio.

  • Ian Cheng

    A Portal to Infinity

    Watch Ian Cheng, a rising star on the art scene, talk about his trilogy of animated live simulation works – ‘Emissaries’ – which work like a never-ending video game in real time: “It was a process that was on-going as life is on-going.”

  • Yona Friedman

    Advice to the Young

    What piece of advice would a renowned 94-year-old architect offer young architects? Find out in this short video, where Yona Friedman argues that architects must always adapt to the context and work for the average user.

  • Jan Gehl

    How to Build a Good City

    “We now know that first, we form the cities, but then the cities form us.” Meet the 81-year-old Danish architect Jan Gehl, who for more than fifty years has focused on improving the quality of urban life by helping people “re-conquer the city.”

  • Marina Abramović & Ulay

    A Living Door of the Museum

    Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.