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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On the Abolition of English Department

On the Abolition of English Department

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Comment on HOD’s paper at University of Nairobi.

Issue: Developments in arts faculty and relation to English dept.

1. place of modern languages like French

2. Place of English

3. Emergence of Dept of Linguistics and languages

Suggestion: Dept of Linguistics and Languages closely related to English

Possibility of Dept of African literature and Culture

Important questions raised – values, direction, orientation

The suggestions question the role and status of an English Dept in an African situation and environment. “The English Dept has had a long history at this College and has built up a strong syllabus which by its study of the historic continuity of a single culture throughout the period of emergence of the modern west, makes it an important companion to History and to Philosophy and Religious Studies. However, it is bound to become less ‘British’, more open to other writing in English and also to continental writing, for comparative purposes.”

Assumption: the English tradition and the emergence of the modern west is the central root of our consciousness and cultural heritage. Africa becomes an extension of the west, an attitude.

There is assumed centrality of the dept into which other cultures can be admitted from time to time as fit subjects for study, and other satellite depts can spring depending on time and money. E.g. African writing in English syllabus

Imp question: If there is need for a ‘study of the historic continuity of a single culture’, why can’t this be African? Why can’t African literature be at the centre so that we can view other cultures in relationship to it?

Primacy of English literature and culture is rejected.

The aim- to orientate ourselves towards placing Kenya, East Africa, then Africa in the centre. Rest consider to understand ourselves

Suggestions: Abolish English dept

Begin dept of African literature and language.

Duty of literature dept: to illuminate the spirit animating a people, show how it meets challenges, innovate possible areas of development and involvement

Sources of influence

  1. English French, Portuguese
  2. Swahili, Arabic, and Asian
  3. African tradition – stuff gown on, base

Oral Tradition

Living littered tradition- can be found in political rallies, churches and night clubs.

Art forms are interlinked in traditional practice are interlinked.

social purpose of tale, dance, song, myth

Dance – symbolic expression system of social reality reflecting and influencing cultural and personality systems of which it is a part

Oral tradition comments on society

Multidisciplinary approach to oral literature: Literature, music, Linguistics, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Psychology, Religion, Philosophy,

Study can give fresh approaches

Oral tradition can supplement Modern African Literature.


Question of literary excellence

Abolish English dept and establish Dept of African literature and language.

Establish centrality of Africa


Photo taken from'o

1 comment:

JoseAngel said...

I agree that Africans need to develop a non-colonialist approach to their own culture. But one should be careful with placing oneself at the centre of anything—especially in a context of nationalist pride. It is healthier to relativize and realize nobody is at the centre of anything, except through an optical illusion. Also, the African experience, the real one, is not "Africa-minus-English": the African present, and future, should begin with a recognition of history, not a negation of history, and English has a role in that. So by all means, do create departments of African studies but do not suppress the English department.