Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Taban lo Liyong, and Henry Owuor-Anyumba


Born Ngugi: 1938, Kamirithu

Liyong: 1939, Gulu, Uganda

Owuor-Anyumba: 1933, Seme, in central Nyanza Province, Kenya

Relevant Work "On the Abolition of the English Department"


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biographies Edit

Ngugi wa Thiong'o (James Ngugi) Edit

  • Born in British-ruled Kenya in 1938
  • Works include novels, short stories, nonfiction, essays, plays and children's books.
  • He was imprisoned in 1977 for his politically motivated I Will Marry When I Want.

Taban lo Liyong Edit

  • Born in British-ruled Uganda in 1939
  • Received B.A. from the Ugandan National Teachers College (1962), then in 1968 he was the first African graduate of the writers' workshop at the University of Iowa.

Henry Owuor-Anyumba Edit

  • Born in British-ruled Kenya in 1932
  • Received a degree in education from the University of East Africa
  • Received a BA from Cambridge University
  • Taught at Nairobi University until his death in 1992

"On the Abolition of the English Department" Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

Published in 1968, "On the Abolition of the English Department" aims to shed the British colonial rule even amidst its language and literature departments. The piece "depicts English not as a neutral or natural subject but as an instrument of imperialism," and promotes the study of "indigenous national languages," (1993).[1] "Originally a university memorandum, it today is seen as an important inaugural statement of postcolonial literary criticism" (1993).[1] The original intent and the resulting inclusion of the memorandum in a literary anthology signifies the timeliness and execution of the authors.

Key Words and Terms Edit

Literary excellence - the authors' implication for the term denotes representative works which mirror one's society (1999).[1]

The 3.1.1 - a design for undergraduate coursework that goes as such: 1st year--three subjects; 2nd and 3rd years--literature only. This is opposed by the authors.

Key Quotations Edit

"Hence then, is our main question: If there is need for a 'study of the historic continuity of a single culture,' why can't this be African? Why can't African literature be at the centre so that we can view other cultures in relationship to it" (1996)?

"The primary duty of any literature department is to illuminate the spirit animating a people, to show how it meets new challenges, and to investigate possible areas of development and involvement" (1997).

"The question of literary excellence implies a value judgment as to what is literary and what is excellence, and from whose point of view" (1999).

"For any group it is better to study representative works which mirror their society rather than to study a few isolated 'classics', either of their own or of a foreign culture" (1999).

"Therefore, after we have examined ourselves, we radiate outward and discover peoples and worlds around us" (1999-2000).

Discussion Edit

Anti-imperialism Edit

"On the Abolition of the English Department" is concerned with how literary education and institutions have helped implement cultural imperialism in Africa by centralizing British literature. To remedy some of the effects of imperialism in the colonial/neocolonial phase, which are the chosen content of the literature syllabus and the machinery for determining the choice of texts and their interpretation, the text provides a simple set of proposals for African universities, including the centralization of African literature. The suggested proposals are first, the abolishing of the English Department; second, the construction of a Department of African Literature and Language be set in its place, and with that, the inclusion of foreign studies; third, study neglected topics such as African oral tradition; and fourth, offering courses studying modern African literature, including Caribbean and African American literature (1994-1997).[1]

Generalized Education Edit

The authors oppose the 3.1.1 because they believe undergraduates “should be exposed to as many general ideas as possible. Any specialization should come in a graduate school where more specialized courses can be offered” (1999). Similarly to how the authors aim to diversify language/literacy education, they also want to diversify undergraduate curriculum to be more generalized. 

Oral Tradition Edit

The oral tradition is described as a “primary root,” which is “rich and many-sided” (1997).[1] The importance of the oral tradition is in its ability to cause pleasure and meaning. While the pleasure side is derived from the capacity of tale, dance, song, myth, etc. to provide aesthetic enjoyment; the meaning side serves social purposes and comments on society (1998).[1] Interestingly, the authors refer to this as oral literature and mix it in with their conversation with other literature studies. This identifies another way for why English literature lacks in comparison to literatures more relevant to African culture.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

"Since the 1980s postcolonial and cultural critics have questioned the nationalistic character of such struggles for independence, arguing that nationalism participates in the logic of imperialism and that it rests on a fictive construct, an 'imagined community,' without an essential core. Set amid debates over decolonization and Afrocentrism, 'On the Abolition of the English Department' provides a glimpse into the political effects of literature and the seemingly neutral institutions of education" (1994).[1]

Related Works Edit

  • Said, Edward. Orientalism
  • Thiong'o, Ngugi wa. Education for a National Culture (1981).
  • Thiong'o, Ngugi wa. Barrel o fa Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya (1983).
  • Thiong'o, Ngugi wa. Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986).
  • Liyong, Taban lo. The Last Word: Cultural Synthesism (1969).
  • Sicherman, Carol. "Revolutionizing the Literature Curriculum at the University of East Africa: Literature at the Soul of the Nation," Research in African Literatures 29.3 (1998).
  • Sicherman, Caroll (editor). Ngugi wa Thiong'o: The Making of a Rebel: A Source Book in Kenyan Literature and Resistance (1989).
  • 2013 NPR interview of Ngugi wa Thiong'o w/ Michel Martin.

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.