Delivering Ngugi`s grand dream
Harare – “The future of African literature lies in African languages. African languages quite frankly are the new frontier and we must go there and explore. It is like a virgin territory that has not been explored yet and wonderful things will happen to us,” Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in a 2018 interview.
The statement by the Kenyan seer was a continuation of his longstanding position that African languages should speak to each other through translation.
His seminal Matigari, published in 1986, was written in Kikuyu and later translated to English.
Ngugi’s work has found intellectual reciprocity over the years as writers who subscribe to his philosophy have been translating his works for wider access.
This is the inspiring serum which has seen Zimbabwean lingual scholar John Mambambo start Ngugi’s epochal Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature from English to ChiShona.
He spoke to The Southern Times Arts about how he embarked on the audacious journey to translate one of the most impactful intellectual arguments ever published into his indigenous language.
“I started translating the book at a time when I had just started my PhD studies as well, so I had to split my time between translating and doing my research. I had to shelve the project for almost two years after starting it as research was demanding more of my time. So, if I had focused on the translation alone, I could have completed the project within a year,” he said.
Six years after being granted permission by Ngugi to translate the body of work – which carries four essays on “The Language of African Literature”, “The Language of African Theatre”, “The Language of African Fiction” and “The Quest for Relevance” – Mambambo is hard at work.
He wants the translation to be contextual, beyond converting words from one language to another.
“I approached Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o in 2015 and I was granted the rights to translate the work towards the end of that year,” he said.
The process has been interspersed with research on his PhD in Language, Linguistics and Literature with the University of South Africa.
The goal is as simple as it is important: Mambambo wants the priceless wisdom in Ngugi’s work to be demystified and accessible to the proverbial ordinary man.
“If we have more key texts in indigenous languages, they will be more accessible on the grassroots level: my uncle and my grandmother in the rural area can now easily read Decolonising the Mind with a deep understanding now that it’s in a language that they understand,” said Mambambo.
His working title for the translation is Kutapanura Pfungwa Dzakatapwa: Chiremerera Chemitauro yeUvaranomwe hwemuAfurika.
The translation itself is complete but the work is being peer reviewed before imminent publication by the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS) at the University of Western Cape.
When Mambambo reached out to Ngugi, he was hopeful that the great writer would back the project. But the extent to which he got support was beyond his wildest expectations.
In correspondence between the two, Ngugi describes the translation as the book`s homecoming.
“…although the book has been translated into other languages, mostly European, your translation is the first into an African language. In doing so, you have restored the text to where it should have started: in an African language. Yours make it a kind of homecoming,” Ngugi wrote to Mambambo.
This will be Mambambo’s second major translation after bringing Kwesi Kwa Prah`s African Languages for the Mass Education of Africans closer to home in 2015.