If Language Counters that ‘Single Story’

One of Our Oldies….Enjoy!

Nsibidi 15th Century writing sytem consisting of Used among the Ekoi, Efik, Igbo...













Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story. (Chimamanda Adichie)

Adinkra Symbols~ Ghana (switchworks-Jackie)

I have always been of the opinion that the main ingredients that fashion the concept of a narrative this day in age are Media and the technology of Language. Yes language is an ancient, yet continuously relevant technology that is fundamental to human existence. I’m certain that it comes as no surprise when I state the claim that the African Narrative in Western media and culture leaves much to be desired. Western media remains one of the “few” monarchies left, so much so that what ever is broadcast seems unequivocal, hence creating the single story Chimamanda Adichie speaks of.

With the ability to persuade the mass about world ‘truths’ and events, comes great responsibility. The issue then is how much responsibility does western media take for the stories and ‘truths’ it relays concerning the African experience? We live in the year 2011 where sophisticated technologies keep emerging to make life ‘easier’, and to make narrating our own stories less arduous. The West has decided on how Africa is portrayed, but how has Africa decided to portray Herself in this digital age? We can utilize the constantly emerging technologies to tell our story and/or, we can make use of the basic fundamental technology  which has shaped our identity since our beginning of our existence, Language. If you chip away that which is fundamental, you’re building your house on sand.

Why should Africans bother changing the Western narrative of themselves, when they are not convinced about the value of their stories and culture. You grow up with parents who don’t teach you your native language, they tell you that speaking Patois or Pidgin will ruin your English, then your teachers will flog the living day light out of you if you speak Igbo or Kinyarwanda in school. How  many Shakespeare books have been translated to Wolof ? how many Jane Austin books have been translated to Yoruba? How many Western books have been translated to enrich African culture? Yet we write our stories in Western languages to enrich Western culture, and prohibit our children from speaking our language in our schools. Language is part of identity erasing African language is erasing African identity. Without our identity how can we oppose the identity we are given by our former colonizers, the West?

If we are to preserve our identity as a people we must preserve our language or look back years from now with regret, asking ourselves these very questions “How did we arrive at this acceptance of ‘the fatalistic logic of the unassailable position of English in our literature,’ in our culture and in our politics? [. . .] How did we, as African writers, come to be so feeble in our claims on other languages, particularly the languages of our colonization?” Ngugi Wa Thiong ‘ O

The West continues to persuade the world about our experience through their single story. The enslaved African’s colonial mentality continues to unconsciously or consciously perpetrate our single story. So I guess if language conquers that single story, it is in the African’s interest to make at least a modest contribution to promoting and valuing that which is part of our identity, our language.

I thought I’d leave you with a short list of some literature written in African languages. If you understand or are learning any of these languages, you will probably appreciate these works:

Novels in African Languages

Omenuko by  Peter Nwana~ Igbo Novel

Caitaani Mutharaba-ini by Ngugi Wa Thiong ‘ O~ Kikuyu Novel

Mandabi by Sada Niang~ Wolof Novel

Siku Njema by Ken Walibora~Swahili Novel

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3 Responses to If Language Counters that ‘Single Story’

  1. is ur boy... says:

    That Chimamanda TED presentation was brilliant… i am yet to develop text on a similar subject juxtaposing ‘the danger of a single story’- Chimamanda and ‘Two sets of notes’- M.K Asante. the analogous relationship hits home on the ‘story’. Bernard Akoi-Jackson, an emerging artist from Ghana, makes it a point to employ local languages in his works. He always finds a way to fit them comfortably within the context of contemporariness… They always bring their own into the works [the texts]. The story, if told by whoever experienced it, is somewhat credible, authentic and original, but if it must be told and they are not telling it, someone definitely will and more so from a re-arranged viewpoint… interesting article…


  2. MediAfritiQ says:

    Thats exactly right someone else will tell our stories, and we will remain subject to the very colonialism we physically freed ourselves from. What about freeing our minds, although economics and playing in the world economy comes to play, it is important to remember that no one values that which doesn’t even value Itself.
    Medasi or as our people say in Igbo Imela IUB !

    • is ur boy... says:

      i like that… “… the very colonialism we physically freed ourselves from.”