Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature (Heinemann Educational, 1986), by Kenyan novelist and post-colonial theorist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, is a collection of essays about language and its constructive role in national culture, history, and identity. The book, which advocates for linguistic decolonization, is one of Ngũgĩ’s best-known and most-cited non-fiction publications, helping to cement him as a preeminent voice theorizing the “language debate” in post-colonial studies.
Ngũgĩ describes the book as “a summary of some of the issues in which I have been passionately involved for the last twenty years of my practice in fiction, theatre, criticism, and in teaching of literature…” Decolonising the Mind is split into four essays: “The Language of African Literature,” “The Language of African Theatre,” “The Language of African Fiction,” and “The Quest for Relevance.” Several of the book’s chapters originated as lectures, and apparently this format gave Ngũgĩ “the chance to pull together in a connected and coherent form the main issues on the language question in literature….” The book offers a distinctly anti-imperialist perspective on the “continuing debate…about the destiny of Africa” and language’s role in both combatting and perpetrating imperialism and the conditions of neocolonialism in African nations. The book is also Ngũgĩ’s “farewell to English,” and it addresses the “language problem” for African authors. Ngũgĩ focuses on questions about the African writer’s linguistic medium (should one write in one’s indigenous language, or a hegemonic language like French or English?), the writer’s intended audience, and the writer’s purpose in writing.
Decolonising the Mind is a meld of autobiography, post-colonial theory, pedagogy, African history, and literary criticism. Ngũgĩ dedicated Decolonising the Mind “to all those who write in African languages, and to all those who over the years have maintained the dignity of the literature, culture, philosophy, and other treasures carried by African languages.”