ngũgĩ wa thiong’o
The popu lar African proverb that until the lions have their storytellers, the
story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter, applies to the two connected
binaries of the colonizer and the colonized, the oppressor and the op-
pressed. Telling tales is part of the whole realm of a people, any people,
naming the world. To name is also to claim a par tic u lar relationship to the
named. Language is a vast system of naming the world, which expresses
that community’s total relationship to their environment, their economic
activities, their po litical and social relations, and ultimately their view of
themselves in the world.
Oppressors and their oppressing system understand that it is not enough
for them to seize people’s land, impose their rule, but they go further and
control the culture and the value system of the conquered. Economic and
po liti cal control are incomplete without cultural control. The entire edifice
of economic, po litical, and cultural control remains shaky without control
of the mind of the conquered. Hence, in history, the conqueror has always
felt it imperative to control the mind of the conquered. The easiest route to
that conquest is language. Colonization of a people’s naming system is an
integral part of an oppressing system.
The story of Hawaiian is the strug gle of many marginalized languages in
the world today, which have been buried under or sidelined by conscious
laws and education programs. Prior to conquest and annexation, Hawaiian
had been the root center of Hawaiian being. But from 1898 to 1978, it was
pushed to the margins through laws banning it and educational programs
that forcibly put En glish at the center. But Hawaiian orature survived the
onslaught: so also some of the writings in the language.
Re sis tance to oppression includes reclaiming a people’s land, politics,
and culture, for economic and po litical liberation can never be complete
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