Decolonising the Mind

If you have ever read the book Decolonising the mind by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, you might have a fair idea of his criticism of the use of colonial language in various African art forms such as African literature. If you have not you should read it because it is an insightful critical view into how colonialism has played an effective role in downplaying the African culture and ourselves as carriers of culture.

Colonialism theoretically ended on the day Ghanaian independence was demanded, did it not? So why is there a constant reflection into the past when the British ruled Ghana and how does it even affect us now?  A lot I would say!  The past four years has been a personal journey of discovering and rediscovering myself. It has been a journey of continually finding out who I am in relation to my African roots and identifying myself in answering the questions, who am I? and where am I from? This journey has found me in many intellectual gatherings, made me ask several rhetorical questions and enlightened me continually on valuing my traditional roots.

The White Man’s Burden of bringing Colonies to Civilisation

It has also taught me how much of my mind is emancipated and which parts continuously pays homage to the colonial masters that do not theoretically exist. This reminds me of the story about the horse that was chained for a couple of days and set free but continued to stay in the same place. When and where did my colonisation start? In school, in the Ghanaian education system that places little emphasis on the native language and places a higher emphasis on English. It started when we were asked not to speak our own mother tongues in school. It started when I had to cut all of my hair and make it short because it was a waste of time and stood in the way of seriousness. It continued when corporal punishment was meted out to students who spoke their own MOTHER TONGUES in school. Then I was unconsciously being mentally indoctrinated with the values of placing another country’s culture over my own. It continued on radio where one radio station is held in high esteem because they offer their programs in English with presenters who have British or American accents though they were born and raised in Ghana. It was when I got laughed at for being too “local” for listening to radio stations that transmitted in my mother tongue.  It was when I was praised for speaking fluent English but never got applauded for being able to read in my native language. It is the wearing of three-piece suits in the scorching sun because it is the only definition of smartness that is accepted in my country. It is simply found in the everyday downplaying of everything originally Ghanaian and glorifying another’s culture.

In my opinion, the current form of colonialism (British rule) is subtle and ubiquitous. It is always looking to make my roots feel inferior, to encourage me to seek out products and things that would make me talk, feel or look everything but what I am meant to be. It is detrimental. This “detrimentality” for example associates intelligence with speaking a British accented-English, therefore once a student cannot confidently express themselves in English, they are labelled dumb.  We are measuring the value of our human capital not on smartness or intelligence but on the ability to rattle a language in an accent that is not ours.

Why are we not proud that we can read and write our own mother tongues?  I celebrate my father, for the many ways he tried to immerse and educate us into the Akan and Kwahu cultures. Thanks to my father I can read and write in Asante Twi and Kwahu Twi and thanks to him I was not given a British or Bible name which I am now so grateful for. It was not always like this especially if you are constantly asked what or where your English (“slave”) name is. He did his best, what about me? 

A few days ago, I tried to put my son to sleep, and I often sing Lullabies to him in English and German. On that day I said why not try something new in my own language, shockingly I realized I knew no lullaby in my own native language. I know one in Ga but not in my native tongue! It made me sad, I wondered, what would I be passing on to my son culturally, was my fathers’ efforts in vain?

How can a people find themselves when they abhor everything that is theirs? There are several varying arguments concerning the adoption of English as a Ghanaian language, one says that it is now our language and should be used as such. Where does our culture fit in there? How does singing “dashing through the snow” bring me any closer to my Akan culture? I was singing about snow even when I knew not what it was. My opinion is this: until I am not asked to write an exam to prove my English skills internationally and as far as I am not classified as a native English speaker, English is not my language.

Non Native forever

My simple question is why must the native language suffer over English? Why does our current family and educational values place our Mother Tongues as second class to English?

The subject of language is only an aspect of the colonisation of culture. On the other hand, I think certain countries like Ghana have a harder time recovering from the sentiments of colonisation. It is often seen as a positive thing to downplay our own to live up to the expectations of a foreign culture. Let me cite India’s as the best example, India is a country that severely suffered from the British division and colonization but today their language and culture is being transferred in all forms across the world through their people. It is also unfair to do such a comparison as we are totally different people with different histories, but why is our culture so downplayed especially by its people?

What is killing our culture?

I think one of the things is the adoption of religions that sees everything traditional as evil and not acceptable. I think it is us not believing in and holding our traditions with value and not passing them on. It is the introduction of English first to our offspring and later our mother tongues. It is the educational system that does not allow our relationships with our cultures to be nurtured. It is the refusal to support our own in every form of art, science inventions because we have been told we are not good enough. It is allowing others to tell our stories in ways that best suits them and us buying these stories to support these storytellers.

The only way forward would be a continual emancipation of our minds from this form of colonialism and placing our traditional values above others and just being proud of who we are and where we come from no matter what the world says!

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