Something Torn and New

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S omething Torn and New

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Something Torn and New
An African Renaissance

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

A MEMBER OF THE PERSEUS BOOKS GROUP
NEW YORK

Copyright © 2009 by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Published by BasicCivitas Books,
A Member of the Perseus Books Group
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of
America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission except in
the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles
and reviews. For information, address BasicCivitas, 387
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Designed by Timm Bryson
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 1938–
Something torn and new : an African renaissance / Ngugi
wa Thiong’o.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-465-00946-6 (alk. paper)
1. Africa—Civilization. 2. Decolonization—Africa. I.
Title.
DT14.N48 2008
325.6—dc22
2008044278
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Ntongela Masilela,
Haunani-Kay Trask, Michael Neill,
Tim Reiss, and Pat Hilden
And in memory of the late Ngũgĩ wa Mĩriĩ,
Apollo Njonjo, Kĩmani Roki, and Ime Ikiddeh

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C ONTENTS

Preface ix
CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

Dismembering Practices:
Planting European
Memory in Africa 
Re-Membering Visions 
Memory, Restoration, and
African Renaissance 
From Color to Social
Consciousness: South Africa
in the Black Imagination 
Acknowledgments 133
Notes 135
Index 149
vii

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P REFACE

When in 2002 I accepted Professor Henry Louis (“Skip”)
Gates’s invitation to give the 2006 McMillan-Stewart Lectures at Harvard, I had no particular subject in mind. The germ of the theme of memory and renaissance that now runs
through this book was originally expressed in the 2003 Biko
Memorial Lecture (currently Chapter 4), that I gave at the
University of Cape Town, South Africa. I took up the same
theme in my acceptance speech for the Honorary PhD of Philosophy and Literature awarded me by the Albert Sisulu University in South Africa in 2004. At the time, it was becoming clear to me that the question of memory may not only explain what ails contemporary Africa but may also contain the seeds of communal renewal and self-confidence.

This idea eventually crystallized into a phrase, Re-membering Africa, which became the title of the Nairobi-based Ford
Foundation lecture that I gave at the University of Nairobi at ix

x

PREFACE

Kenya and the University of Dar-es-Salaam at Tanzania in
July 2004, to mark my return to Kenya after twenty-two years in exile. An account of the lecture occupied the front page of English- and Kiswahili-language newspapers with sensational
headlines like “Africa Is Headed by Wrong Heads, Ngũgĩ Says.” I gave the lecture for the last time at my alma mater, Makerere University at Kampala, on August 10, 2004. That evening, at
midnight, after I had returned to Nairobi, Kenya, hired gunmen broke into my apartment two blocks from the Central Police Station and brutally attacked my wife and me. These
men stole the computer that contained the lecture, the only
major item taken. We narrowly escaped death. By this time,
the theme of the Harvard lectures had become quite apparent to me. The first three chapters of this book originated as the
McMillan-Stewart Lectures, which I delivered at the Dubois
Institute of African and African-American Studies in...
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