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3 - Ngũgĩ in Eritrea

from Part I - Serenades & Beginnings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2019

Charles Cantalupo
Affiliation:
Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and African Studies at Penn State University.
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Summary

‘Farewell to English … for any of my writings. From now on

It is Gĩkũyũ and Kiswahili all the way’, Ngũgĩ

Famously stated in 1986, and he became

African languages’ greatest hero for literature,

Not knowing then ‘all the way’ would lead him to Eritrea,

Writing in African languages, in literature and

Orature, ‘all the way’ back, millennia; continual,

Written examples, unceasing, and where the colonial

Languages never became the norm in literature – thus

Different from most of Africa and still that way today.

Far more known then (and known more now, even after all this time)

Was the armed struggle of Eritrea for independence.

Nevertheless, Ngũgĩ wrote two decades after his ‘farewell’,

2006, after reading Eritreans translated:

‘Four thousand years … from the ancient stele in Belew Kelew to

Twentieth-century battlefields … into the twenty-first…’

Poets from there never gave ‘up writing in their … languages’.

Therefore, ‘their poetry thrives’. He knew because he went there twice.

Early December in 1998 he visited

For the first time as an introduction yet in connection

With a big conference he agreed to lead, ‘Against All Odds’:

Focused on African languages and literatures, named

With the same phrase often used to brand the Eritrean war

For independence, an all but hopeless, protracted struggle.

Ngũgĩ, of course, was adverse to hype and thought the phrase too much

Without the ‘languages’ part. He even said, when I asked him,

‘Heinemann's treated me rather well and has served African

Europhone writers well, too. But if the phrase applies to the

Struggle of African language writers it might not be an

Exaggeration’. In Eritrea, all the writers used

African languages – ‘with our fathers, the Italians

As the exception’, the joke said. Therefore, Ngũgĩ and ‘Eritrea’

Seemed like a match made in heaven … or better, Africa itself.

Zemhret Yohannes, the Eritrean leader in culture

Hosted his travel, and Kassahun Checole, the publisher,

Made the trip happen and flew with Ngũgĩ from America.

On this first visit, again the war between Eritrean

And Ethiopian armies stalked the Horn, but ‘che guerra?

Asked people in Eritrea's biggest city, Asmara.

Type
Chapter
Information
Ngugi
Reflections on his Life of Writing
, pp. 36 - 40
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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