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Thursday, 8 May 2014

German University Honors Kenyan Writer Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

The University of Bayreuth in Southern Germany has awarded Kenyan writer and literary scholar Ngugi wa Thiong'o an honorary doctorate. The institution said it recognized Ngugi's "outstanding contribution to the profiling of African literatures, especially in African languages."

Ngugi wa Thiong'o studied at Uganda's prestigious Makerere University and Leeds in the United Kingdom. One of his novels, "Weep Not, Child" published in 1964, was the first novel by an East African author in English. He however decided to publish his works exclusively in his Kikuyu mother tongue.

In 1976 Ngugi and his fellow writer Ngugi wa Mirii were commissioned to write a play. They decided together which language would be appropriate for the piece. Later, Ngugi wa Thiong'o reflected," just the fact that we had to ask ourselves in what language we would write the drama, says a lot about how far removed we were from our homeland." The logical answer was to write the piece in Kikuyu.
The play in Kikuyu language, "Ngaahika Ndeenda" translated to "I will marry when I want," became an instant success. The play was banned by the government subsequently, Ngugi was arrested and detained for a year.

While in detention, it only strengthened his resolve to write in his native language. While in prison he wrote his first Kikuyu novel "Caitaani Mutharaba-ini" translated and published as "Devil on the cross." Ngugi wrote the entire book secretly on toilet paper. "Toilet paper in prison is meant to punish prisoners, so it is very coarse," the author explained some years later. "But what is bad for the body, can sometimes be very good writing material."

Ngugi's vision is that "works that are written in African languages such as Luo or Yoruba, be directly translated to other African languages without going through English." The writer believes doing so would mean that African languages are communicating directly with each other. He currently lives in the United States, where he teaches at the University of California.

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