“African languages refused to die,” wrote Ngugi wa Thiong’o two decades ago in his seminal volume Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, evoking the vitality and defiance with which Africans have met the specter of linguistic annihilation. At the core of Ngugi’s own aesthetic lies an analogous pairing of vigor and resistance, sustained by his commitment, also declared in that book, to composing his works in African languages (specifically, Kikuyu and Kiswahili) rather than in English. More generally, he has written that “the real language of humankind” is the “language of struggle,” and in Wizard of the Crow, the satiric political allegory that is his most ambitious novel to date, the turmoil convulsing the fictional state of Aburiria is cast as a fight for the voice of the nation. “We want our voice back,” shout the demonstrators gathered to oppose Aburiria’s reigning despot, known only as the Ruler. The country’s chief antigovernment faction, the Movement for the Voice of the People, identifies itself primarily not with justice or even self-determination but with a much more fundamental power: speech.
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