Pata majibu ya maswali yako yote kuhusu maisha ya chuoni na changamoto zake

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Being African Guest Post
Eunice Tossy  

5 Books that have helped me in my decolonization journey as an African

When you are on the verge of a paradigm shift, when you feel there is something great going on in your mind that you must follow through to find out where it leads, what you automatically do is seek as much information as you can on that subject. You become very curious, restless and thirsty for knowledge. For me, it was at this moment that I started reading books. Before, I used to think it was very boring. But when I read the first book on my awakening and paradigm shifting journey, I was hooked. Books turned from being very boring to being extra interesting.

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And there’s one very special memory one creates about awakening: you remember the people that introduced new concepts to you, showed you that you could look at things with a different set of eyes or even recommended you books or documentaries or movies. And these books or movies that work your mind and alter it so much also become a cherished memory. When you far advanced in the journey, you look back and remember that evening, the first in your entire life maybe, when you sat up for hours in the night reading a book, moving from page to page for hours as your curiosity and interest peaked with every chapter you read. You remember how you even got a pen or highlighter to highlight some parts of it. Or how you sat through a two-and-a-half-hour movie, absorbing every line of the script and digesting every cue and message, seeing it more as educational entertainment, rather than just mere comedy. Those memories are fond. You never forget who or what changed you so much, for the better. You are forever grateful you came across them and took the great stride to pay attention.

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Let me recall some of those books that ‘helped me wake up’ as an African.

  1. Matigari. This is a book by renowned Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o. How I came across it, I heard someone who had read it talk about it in a way that suggested it touched him so much, or was very relevant in its main theme. It is a fiction book, and at that time, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of books, I could do fiction. I already enjoyed some of the class readers and set books I did in high school so I thought why not try this. Matigari is a kikuyu word which means ‘remains’, and in this context, referred to ‘remains’ of a bullet, or the bullet casing. It captivated me. It recounts the adventure of a freedom fighter returning to the civil life after spending much of the time in the forest, with weapons, fighting. He had many questions on what he found – he had a completely different picture of what he expected to find in the town and village after spending so long fighting. As I read through, as I walked with the main character in his puzzled state, I realized that I too was confused like him, so we walked together trying to find the answers. The resonance was so high; I don’t think I’d experienced such before. I loved it. I sought more.
  2. Things Fall Apart. I had heard of this book many times before but had never thought of reading it. But Matigari inspired in me a liking for the African setting of the 19th and 20th centuries. I was curious to know and understand what happened before and during colonization, and the aftermath of it – how it affected us, the scar it left. Things Fall Apart dealt with exactly that. From it I got the devastation and frustration of a man watching everything he had known to be the true identity and way of life of his people fall apart, almost instantaneously. And there was nothing he could do about it. I felt that deeply.
  3. The Destruction of Black Civilization. This is the first truly historical book that deals with the subject of African history. You find that its content is a great departure from what you were presented by the history textbooks at school. To use a metaphor, when it comes to African history, school textbooks can be said to be presenting it like the blind man who touched an elephant’s trunk and said that an elephant is like a tree. They give a limited and somewhat biased view. Certainly the elephant is not like a tree. The Destruction Of Black Civilization shows you the elephant in 3D and allows you to touch every part of its body. Everyone who read it would recommend it to you. And it’s not just the history part that I loved about it, it also immersed itself in suggesting solutions for our contemporary issues and the way forward.

This book made me very proud of my identity and fall in love with history, African history in particular, which before I thought was nothing. Later I would go on to read more African history books like it.

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4. Something Torn and New, When one reads a book by some author that induces a paradigm shift in them, they usually seek more of such material, usually from the same author. This book is also by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and deals with the scar of colonialism that I mentioned earlier. Short, well written, heavy. I loved its message about our collective memory as a people, a concept of re-membering our past memory to our present, re-membering our heads which hold our memories to our bodies. It also introduced me to African mythology and the idea that other civilizations could have borrowed much from us.

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5. Stolen Legacy. I landed here principally to learn more about how Africans apparently educated the rest of the world in math, religion, art and other forms of knowledge, the idea I was infected with by Something Torn and New. Even today in the mainstream this book by George G. M. James is controversial, but the controversy is in essence mere denial – those things people won’t accept but can’t debunk. You realize you have come a long way when you find yourself at loggerheads with the ‘authorities’ in the various fields, or with the mainstream version of events. Stolen Legacy took me exactly there. And when you realize and decide that you can have a stand that is different from the mainstream one, then you are becoming woke. You are getting ready for a very interesting journey ahead.

Let me end my list there. There are more and more books that I read after these – the reading pace only accelerated, but these books are what I remember very fondly when I look back at where I started. Everyone has a unique story to tell about their experience. That’s mine.

I’m forever grateful to the authors who penned them down, to those friends, known or unknown who recommended them to me (anyone who recommends a nice book to me  is automatically a dear friend), and to fate for bringing all of us together for that mind-changing experience.


Gachewa Ra

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