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From Kenya to the world: Keeping the books going

Peter Ngila @peterngilanjeri 

Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes primarily in Gikuyu, yet he is an award-winning, world renowned Kenyan writer and academician. It was defiance that pushed him to write in Gikuyu. This was after he was arrested for publishing the play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) that focused on inequalities and injustices in Kenyan society.

While in prison, Ngugi abandoned English as a literary language and committed himself to writing in Gikuyu. “I decided to write in the very language which was part of my incarceration. However, there was something else that happened when I was in prison: I started thinking more deeply…about how the colonists always impose their language on the colonies.

So I decided that, Western readers would know me only through translations,” he said in a past interview. His work include, Caitani Mutharabaini (Devil on the cross), Murogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow), Matigari ma Njirungi, and his recent novel Kenda Muiyuru, among others.

Another renowned author, Ken Walibora, writes in Kiswahili. His books Siku Njema and Kufa Kuzikana, are currently being translated into English, French and Arabic. Better job “Whenever my work is translated to a different language that I’m not conversant with I only hopes the translator does a good job. But I  usually don’t dictate the direction the translator would decide to take,” Walibora says.

Lilliane Oloo, a member of the East African Interpreters and Translators Association, says there is a lot of awakening towards translation of literary works. “Translation is currently being used to restore the country’s culture and language in a civilised world,” she says.

Oloo, an English and Translation Studies lecturer at St Paul’s University says, it is easier to find books translated from an indigenous language to a Western language than the other way round. That means the big languages such as, English, gain from the cultures of the indigenous people.

It’s impossible to talk about translation in the country without involving Jalada Africa, a pan African writers’ caucus. They managed to have Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s short story, The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright (originally written in Kikuyu) translated into over 30 African languages. Jalada also published an anthology, titled

The Language Issue, which was translated into short stories and poems in different languages. While translating, Oloo says it depends on the techniques, the subject matter, the audience and the languages at play. “In Western languages such as French (which I’m fluent in), the adjective comes before the noun, while it’s the opposite with Kenyan languages such as Dholuo,” she says.

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