compiled by Florence Madzikatire.
The ensuing article serves to discuss the importance of language in defining east African literature. It first of all defines the term language then goes on to map the geophysical aspect of east Africa. Thirdly the article will discuss the importance of literature in defining east African literature. To give the essay balance, the article also looks at other important aspects in defining east African literature such as the content, author nationality as well as the intended audience. It should be noted that in this article, examples are drawn from literary texts studied on the course and further illustrations are extracted from secondary sources.
Language can be defined as the tool used to communicate. It brings out the thoughts, hopes, fears as well as aspirations of an individual. Language include verbal and nonverbal means of communication. According to some scholars such as ngugi, suggests that language has a dual character. It is used for communication and it is also a carrier of culture. Therefore, it can be concluded that these two are a product of each other.
East African literature can be described as literary works done by people from the eastern side of Africa this is from the horn of Africa to the Comoros Islands including Madagasca. This include countries like Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda , Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia among others. Most prominent east African writers include Ngugi Wa Thio’go,
To begin with, language is significant in defining east African literature because it is the language used to write the literature. It should be noted here that this is according to Ngugi Wa Thio’go .He states that African literature should be literature by Africans for Africans in an African language. This shows that language plays a pivotal role in defining East Africa, thus if the literary work is written in an east African language, it qualifies to be east African literature.
Moreover, language is significant in defining east African literature because it symbolizes freedom. Scholars like Mashingaidze Gomo is of the view that if a group of people are able to tell their story in their own language, then that particular people are empowered. This means that they are not enslaved by the burden of the language of the colonizer or any other foreign language. Thus language here plays a critical role in showing the independence of that nation or group of people.
Language is also important in defining east African literature because it represents the place in which it is spoken or used. For it to be called east African literature, the language used to write it should be the language of the eastern Africa. This includes languages such as gikuyu in Kenya. This is illustrated in novels written by Ngugi in his native language which were later translated into English language. These novels include Devil on the cross, Matigari and Petals of blood.
As part of language, culture is also a determining factor in the definition of east African literature. Scholars like Ngugi explains that language is part of culture and vice versa. Therefore this means that language and culture are product of each other hence for a text to be called east African literature, it has to exhibit the cultures of that geographical space. For instance, the text I Will Marry When I Want highlights the tradition of African story telling through songs and pantomimes. The names such as Kiguunda, Wangeki and Gathoma are also in the African language.
Moreover, language is significant in determining east African literature because it enables the teller of the story to express himself or herself clearly. In his book decolonizing the mind, Ngugi wa Thiogo notes that African literature should not be defined by the imperialist language. This means that literature in French, Portuguese or English cannot be said to be African literature.
Language is also very crucial in defining east African literature because it preserves and communicates the cultures of that country or geographical space. A foreign language limits one when it comes to expression. There are some expressions in African languages which cannot be translated to English and if they can be translated, they will not mean the exact same thing (Gomo 2010). Mashingaidze Gomo goes on to say that the story of Africa is to be told in the African language and according to the African. This view is also supported by Ngugi.
According to Kachele(2019) language is important in defining literature because itis the medium of Literature (the road, carrier, or vehicle) through which literature is conveyed either as oral or written one. Language makes it possible for the message to reach its audience or audiences.
Kachele goes on to state that language is important in defining literature because language and literature depend on each other. They are inseparable. When one says east African, already images of the eastern side of Africa has already been planted in the mind together with its language and culture. This means that language cannot be viewed in isolation. It has to be attached to the spaces and places where it originates from.
However, other aspects can be used to define east African literature. One of these can be the nationality of the writer. It can be a criteria for defining the east African literature when one looks at where the writer or the author of the literature was born. For instance, the play I will marry when I want can be classified as east African literature due to the fact that the author, Ngugi Wa Thion’go is from Kenya, an east African country.
Another criteria apart from language which can be used in defining east African literature is the intended audience. Here one looks at to whom the writer has directed their art. If they are speaking to the people from east African origin and residents, then the literary work may be said to be east African literature. When the writer wrote their work of art, if they had people of eastern Africa in mind, then their work can be used as a definition of east African literature.
Other important way of determining whether a text is African literature or not is the content of the text. The content of an east African literature should be that of the eastern part of Africa. This include the reference to the physical places, culture and experience of the countries. This point of view is also supported by Ngugi(1986) who argues that literature should be written by African people, for African people, about African people and in an African language.
Moreover, the perspective from which the work of art is written can also be used rather than language in defining east African literature. This includes the cultures, the beliefs as well as the values of that particular region. If these norms are communicated, then the literature can be classified as east African literature. For example, the book I Will Marry When I Want communicates the cultures of story telling through songs.
In conclusion, it should be noted that language is important when defining east African literature. I t makes it easy to classify literature written in vernacular languages to be east African literature. Language is embedded with the cultures and norms of the people. However, as noted in the essay, there are some other important aspects which needs to be considered when determining if one is an east African literature text. These include the author’s nationality, the contents as well as the intended audience.