Decolonising the Mind by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is a collection of essays that discusses the influence of colonization on African (and applicable to other decolonized nations’) literature, theater, and fiction. It proposes various ways in which decolonized nations, especially Kenya (and Africa) can take their literary works and arts back from the influence of the colonizer. The text also proposes the importance of African languages and there is a constant reference to Chinua Achebe.
A “misleading stock interpretation of the African realities has been popularized by the western media which likes to deflect people from seeing that imperialism is still the root cause of many problems in Africa” (1).
Thiong’o looks at the African realities as “they are affected by the great struggle between two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other” (2).
Discourse on Colonialism by Aime Cesaire is one of the most important texts in terms of the Negritude Movement and postcolonialism.
This work traces different definitions of colonization and how historical accounts have affected colonialism. Europe is the villain and there are accounts of the brutality of colonialism. European civilization has given rise to to problems: “the problem of the proletariat and the colonial problem” (9).
“What is serious is that ‘Europe’ is morally, spiritually indefensible” (10).
What is colonization? “To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law” (10). The decisive actors in colonization are: “the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the completion of its antagonistic economies” (10-11).
“Christianity=civilization, paganism=savagery” (11).
So Far From God by Ana Castillo is set in Tome, New Mexico and narrates the story of Sofi, her (on and off) husband, Domingo, and their three daughters, Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and the youngest, La Loca (who is an epileptic).
Themes: Family, female solidarity, Catholicism, magic realism (visions of hell and character of La Loca), violence against women, business, technology, and identity. An interesting thing is how Castillo uses really long chapter titles; like for Chapter 1, she writes, “An Account of the First Astonishing Occurrence in the Lives of a Woman Named Sofia and Her Four Fated Daughters; and the Equally Astonishing Return of Her Wayward Husband” (19).
The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji is set in Africa and is written in the style of a memoir. Vassanji himself was born in Nairobi in 1950 and educated in Tanzania. The gunny sack is bequeathed to the protagonist, Salim Juma, a Tanzanian Asian by his grandaunt, Ji Bai. The sack unravels the histories of the characters.
Themes: home, communities, diaspora, family relationships, and migrant life.
The gunny sack is described as,” It sits beside me, seductive companion, a Shehrazade postponing her eventual demise, spinning out yarns, telling tales that have no beginning or end, keeping awake night after night, imprisoned in this basement to which I thought I had escaped” (5).
Why are canonical works of literature, sometimes, not as wonderful as expected? Or is that one of the criteria for labeling a work ‘canonical’? Raja Rao‘s Kathapura is one such work. I had read the Introduction in an undergraduate class on Postcolonial Literature and how strangely the English language functions after independence and decolonization.”The telling has not been easy. One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought- movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word ‘alien,’ yet English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual make-up-like Sansrit or Persian was before-but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us writing in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have to grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will some day prove to be as as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.