By: NDUTA WAWERU
“We need to listen to what our people want and write for them, and develop ways to distribute to them. This is why translation is very important.”
This is a quote by Ivorian writer Edwige Dro, who insists that translation in Africa is important so that we know each other’s stories and understand each other better.
It is what comes to mind when reading the latest Jalada Africa issue on Language. The issue is a three-part (and a bonus issue for early next year on the way) series that explored the concept of language in literature and the kind of spaces it occupy, especially when it comes to African literature. They come with short stories, poetry and essays that are not only insightful but looks at how the authors have taken language as a tool, a subject or metaphor to explore topics and issues across the continent.
The first part gets its name from Linda Musita’s story ‘Pronounce it Like a Poet’s Woman’, which is a play on words and pronunciation of some of the ‘problematic’ English words. Something that was also the centre of Mukoma wa Ngugi’s essay ‘Writing in African Languages: A question for our times,’ which appears in the third part of the issue. Mukoma tells of his struggle with some of the English tongue twisters, especially as a Gikuyu speaker. The essay further explores the ways in which English was “forced upon” children in early primary school, where they were punished by walking around with a tag written “I am an ass” for speaking in their indigenous languages.
As much as Mukoma implores Africans to invest in “our talents, imagination, time and money in our languages,” to prevent their demise, Ikhide Ikheloa proposes a new way to look at language. In his essay, ““Of African literature and the language and the politics of the stories” he believes that “one could take the English language and appropriate it for oneself and write with it as if one is writing in one’s indigenous language.”
Language in Africa comes with a complicated history, mainly because of colonisation. And this plays through a series of stories, like Richard Ali A Mutu’s Ebola++ (the title of the second part of the issue), Linda Yohannes’ Abiy’s Day, and Kola Tubosun’s ‘Class Sessions’. The use of language as a tool for imperialism is a common feature and creates a question of learning and unlearning the implications of such, as seen in Ciku Kimeria’s ‘Akelo Wich Kwot Kwom Jothurwa’, where it says “Am I enslaved but with delusions of being globally culturally connected?”
Another interesting piece in the issue is Jalaludeen Ibrahim Maradun’s review of Bala A. Funtua’s Gandun Dabbobi, a Hausa translation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The review, written in both English and Hausa, is interesting and the writer does a good job of showing how Fantua interplays elements in the book in Hausa.
As much as the projects were individual, the final product was a collaborative effort. The translation was both from indigenous language to English and vice versa, and authors and translators had to work together. It will be interesting for readers who can read in both languages the stories are told and feel the nuances that translation creates or deletes. This issue has been referred to as a risky undertaking, but from where I am sitting the risk has paid off.