LITERACY AND ORALITY: BETWEEN ABROGATION AND APPROPRIATION IN NGUGI WA THIONG’O’S THE RIVER BETWEEN

Bawa Kammampoal

Abstract


Colonizers have used language as an instrument of socio-political and economic control during colonisation. This has enabled them in the process to establish power hierarchy based mostly on linguistic superiority by undermining native tongues. In recent years, theories of postcolonial discourses hold the view that colonialism has fundamentally affected modes of representation of colonised spaces. Through questioning and travestying western hegemonic discourses, writers from once colonised spaces have challenged and subverted the hegemonic power of the colonial language by inserting different strategies into their own language to suit socio-cultural contexts. For postcolonial literary artists, this consists in taking the language of the former imperial power, to unlearn its worldview and re-place it in a discourse fully adapted to ones’ own space and subsequently, produce new modes of representation in countering colonial canonical texts. In this sense, postcolonial discourse is crystallised by and replete with ‘abrogation’ and ‘appropriation’ in the canon of postcolonial studies. This suggests the writer’s use of linguistic structure of the borrowed language, the manipulation of its syntactical structure as well as its semantics, to convey stance against the colonizer. In its pronouncement, an effort is made to advocate for a critical rethinking of the legacies of colonial domination as well as its accompanying epistemologies. Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o uses elements of oral tradition (orality) or better indigenous poetics in his fictional works, mostly The River Between, to express the meanings, feelings and experiences of his Gikuyu people. Thus, orality as a means of communication and carrier of the culture of those people to whom it is a mother tongue, has social, cultural, and political aesthetic roles to play in the African worldview. To achieve this, Ngugi employs historically significant events, moments and stylistic features which are characteristics of oral tradition to emphasise important key concepts that help to reconstruct positive moral values in conflict with foreign ones in a fragmented Kenyan society. Though many controversies surround Ngugi’s writing and its medium of reception, this paper contends that his fictions written in his mother tongue or in English and/or translated into English, are part and parcel of his endeavour to appropriate the literary enterprise not only as a weapon of active physical revolt and textual indignation but also as against (post)colonial pathologies. Ngugi refashions the colonial English language to show that his country, Kenya, is not a mere passive entity in tolerating colonial legacies; but challenges western hegemonic power dimensions, dismantles them to the point of bringing them under its own terms and conditions. The conceptual frameworks that underpin the study are New historicism (New Culturalism) and postcolonial theory.

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literacy, orality, abrogation, appropriation, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s The River Between

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.46827/ejlll.v4i4.237

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