6390 CHAPTER 15
A RESISTANCE TO KEEP YOU ALIVE
The Berlin Conference (1884-1885) divided the African continent, making what we think of as Kenya a British colony. After Kenya became its protectorate, the British used “divide and rule” to play off the ethnic groups in the new country, thereby both creating and solidifying perceived differences among various groups and allowing the British to introduce a settler class – akin to the British landed upper middle classes-- to establish and export cash crops. British colonists benefited from colonial policies producing unequal legal rights, punitive labor laws, identity cards, and native reserves. To stifle African resentment at this ill treatment, Britain banned all African political groups, allowing only the formation of organizations concerned with “people’s welfare”. Disturbed at these injustices, Kenyans staged an uprising from1952 to 1960. The uprising enjoyed mixed public support and pitted a Gĩkũyũ-dominated anti-colonial group (the Mau Mau) against the British Army, auxiliaries and anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu. The Mau Mau rebellion set fracture points that endured into independence, creating long-standing divisions within the Kikuyu community. In response to demands for independence, the British grudgingly allowed formation of political parties. Two main parties – the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) – were established in 1960. Kenya achieved independence in 1964 but remained effectively a one-party state, ruled by the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and a Kikuyu-Lui alliance under Jomo Kenyatta from 1963 to 1978. Kenyatta’s successor-- Daniel Arap Moi-- held power until 2002. Pressured by the US to restore a multi-party system, Moi did so in 1991 but won the elections in 1992 and 1997, with political killings involved on both sides. Moi's involvement in corruption and human rights abuses led to his disbarment from running in the 2002 election, an election won by Mwai Kibaki. Widely reported electoral fraud continues.
Ngũgĩ’s life was caught up in the anti-colonial fight. His father had multiple wives and the family was divided during the Mau Mau rebellion, with brothers fighting on both sides and Ngũgĩ’s mother reportedly tortured at the Kamriithu homeguard post.1 Ngũgĩ attended schools in Uganda and England, publishing his first novel (1964) in English. His second novel takes the Mau Mau rebellion as its background. Ngugi later renounced English, Christianity and his given name, arguing that all three reflect colonial repression. The political aspect of Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) antagonized then Vice President Daniel Arap Moi, who ordered Ngũgĩ arrested. While in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Ngũgĩ wrote the first modern novel in Gĩkũyũ, Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ (Devil on the Cross) on prison-issued toilet paper. An Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, Ngũgĩ was forced to leave Kenya and live in exile, returning only after Arap Moi left office in 2002. Ngũgĩ now lives in California.
I am Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. "Ngũgĩ " means son of Thiong'o, which is my father’s name. I come from Kenya, East Africa. Kenya was a British settler colony from 1895-1963. There are two types of colonies in Africa. One is a settler type where a number of settlers came, particularly from Europe. There were other types of colonies, where there were no sizeable European settlers. An example of the latter would be Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana. An example of a settler colony would be South Africa, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya. These are interesting settlement patterns, and very different histories. What is common to all settler colonies, whether they are French (like the settler colony of Nigeria) or British (like Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa) or Portuguese ones (like Mozambique and Angola) is really the question of land, which is an issue in all the settler colonies. Another interesting feature is how these countries came to get their independence. In all the protected colonies -- like Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana -- independence was won through organization and negotiations. In all the settler colonies there was armed struggle. That is, where people fought to get their independence -- as in South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Angola, and Algeria -- they went through armed struggle because land is such a contentious issue. You can say America belongs to the setter colony type. America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, all are different types of settler colonies but all had Europeans who settled and worked the land in the colony.
Q. But Canadians didn’t have to fight to get their independence.
Yes. That’s true; that’s true. But in Africa this was common in all of them. Of course these are older settler types, an old settler system. What America went through when it fought for independence, Canada didn't have to, nor did New Zealand. But one can also argue that in such situations as Canada --even America, or New Zealand and Australia – the indigenous people, the original indigenous people were the one who were colonized really. Their colonial status was never really resolved. It’s true with New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and so on. Where it was actually resolved in one way or another, like in Africa, they went through a phase of armed struggle. This is because of the land; the land became a very contentious issue.
In Kenya the 1952-62 armed struggle was through an organization called the Mau Mau. Independence came in 1963. The reason I'm mentioning this is because I was born in 1938 on the verge of the Second World War and I grew up and went to school through the first of the struggle. I meant to bring my book, called Dreams in a Time of War. It tells of that childhood, through having dreams. It is relevant to this group because we are talking about war on all sides. In World War II some of my brothers fought for the British in places in East Africa but also in the Middle East, Asia, and so on. Yet when they came back they could not get jobs. It was their European counter-parts -- the ones who settled -- who got jobs. The armed struggle itself against the colonial rule, I have talked about in my book, where I tell how my own family was torn between brothers who fought in the mountains, in the guerilla army, and others of my brothers who were on the side of the British. I came from a large, polygamous family, a family of five wives. My mother was the fifth wife of my father, so it was a large household. In a war some members of the family fought on different sides. This touches on a fundamental issue in ethics --loyalty toward biology and loyalty to ideology or beliefs. My family, all of us really, are caught in between. This is the atmosphere in which I grew up and went to school, during the war against the British. In Dreams in a Time of War I've talked about those tensions that come in a family. My biological brother is fighting against the British and my other half brother is fighting with the British. I have another half brother who works in a factory near home; he lives in a particular house for the workers. Both brothers who were fighting each other didn’t know that each one of them was going to visit their relative, this third brother, but at different times. On one occasion they both decided to visit their half brother. The workers quarters has a main gate. At the entrance of the gate these two rival brothers come face to face with each others. They looked at each other and just ran away from each other in opposite directions. This is because they know that as fighters, it is war. In a war it raises ethical questions as to why and with whom are you fighting. Should I do this, or that? Or some other option?
Another episode from the book is when I have gone through school and have done my exams. I am waiting for results to go to a prestigious high school, prestigious for Africans. Schools in Kenya were segregated. Some schools for Europeans only, for Asians only, for Africans only, etc. One school was famous because it was very competitive. It’s like University High School as the only high school in Irvine or the entire Orange County. The best. I do the exams. Then on the day I have to sit the exams, I got to the train station but I'm not allowed to board the train. Why? Because people of my community – many Africans in Kenya – could not travel from point A to point B without a pass. It was like going from Los Angeles or San Diego, you have to have a pass or a travel visa. That kind of situation. That kind of a law. I didn’t have one. This is the only chance I have because it is so competitive. This is my only chance. I've never been on a train before. Some of the students from ____, I saw them standing on the platform. The train goes and I'm literally crying. As much as I have been trained that as a man you don't weep or cry, I am standing there with tears going down my face. Then another ethical issue comes up. A railroad official, British or European, with an assistant who is an African, came up to me. How, I don't know, but he came to know my situation. He told me not to cry. “Let’s see what we can do.”
He waited for the right train. There are passenger trains with nice coaches and so on, but these went away. The other trains are only for carrying goods, only goods. I don’t know who he talks to but I am smuggled into the car that has all the workers’ tools. Jackets with sweat. Tools. Things like that. So I'm there. That’s how I got to high school, smuggled in a cargo train.
Writing continuously raises those ethical dilemmas. Everyone has to face them in some kind of an encounter. In my life I have gone through so many things! We can't go over everything right now. Let me give you one more example of these ethical problems one faces all the time. This story shows one way I had to decide what to do. In December, 1977 I was professor of literature at the University of Nairobi of Kenya, where I come from. I chair the department. I had published three novels and I was working on getting known nationally and internationally. The U.S. and the University of Nairobi had generated a group to work in the community theater. This theater in the community was in our own language. English was our dominant language in Kenya but that is not my language. My language is Gĩkũyũ and Swahili. If you really want to work with the people, you have to use the language they use and yet this was not the norm. We went to work in a village in the Gĩkũyũ language. We produced a play, which you can now find translated into English, called "I'll Marry When I Want." The play opened in November with a troupe in the village; the troupe was made up of the working people in the plantation nearby and in the factories in the nearby villages. Working in all languages is very exciting. Working with the language of the community, it is really great. It opened space for me mentally. We were all happy. We think we are doing a good thing. But lo and behold, the newly independent African government thinks to the contrary. They say what we are doing to the village wasn't very nice especially performing in an African language. So the play was stopped. On December, 31, 1977, at midnight before the New Year, I was surrounded by armed police. They came to the village. I was taken to maximum security prison. There was no trial. I have recorded someone's experiences in my prison diary called "Detained." The key thing was that I was not put on trial. I was only questioned by the police. It was punitive. In a maximum security they wanted you to confess but since you didn’t know what you were accused of you didn’t know what to confess. I remembered when the judicial review came. There were high court judges with books of law all piled up all around. I go and I sit down and the first question was from them. "Can you tell us why you have been detained? Tell us what you did to the government that brought you here."
"But I wanted you to tell me why I am detained!” I was very cross. I don’t know what I said. I suspect I said something not very nice. The point is that after being there for some time, you always question yourself. Should you tell a lie and invent something so you can get out, although they didn’t say “If you say this you are gonna get out.” You don’t know what you actually will do. You don’t know what can save you or not. You are always confronted with those questions. “If they ask me to lie, would I actually lie to get free? What would I do?” Every single day; every single night, you ask yourself another important question. “Do I succumb? What do I do to survive?”
You can do two things. One, you can moan and think about "Aaww this is terrible!" Especially if you are an intellectual and you are used to writing and you have no books. No pen. You don’t have a name. You have to sit there! "Aww this is terrible!" That won't help. Or you can start to find forms of resistance that keep you mentally alive. With me, I chose to write in Gĩkũyũ language. I wrote the first book in my language, translated as Devil on a Cross. This book was written on toilet paper. I can show you in my office. That is a decision that nobody can teach you. You have to dig deep in yourself and find a form of resistance that can keep you mentally and spiritually alive. For me it was writing and writing in my own language. Both are important. I was put in prison because I wrote in my own language. I worked with Gĩkũyũ people and without getting paid. We just volunteered. We had to drive from the University of Nairobi and then go 1000 kilometers into the village and then walk there. So you feel good about yourself. You are volunteering services, doing things. You are helping them or they are helping you, in this case.
I started thinking about the language issue very seriously, about the relationship between European languages or colonial languages versus non-European languages. I wrestled with these thoughts in prison and I came to this conclusion. There is a close relationship between the colonial and the African languages. Languages also were colonized. People, particularly educated people, have been brought up to think there is a great distance between themselves and their own languages. There is nothing as terrible as that, to be made to feel uncomfortable about your own language. Then you’re already a prisoner in your mind. That’s what I think, anyway. I have become a prisoner. I came to think it is normal, that you become a prisoner of the English language – or whatever language the colonial language is – and you think, “Oh, it is normal to become a prisoner.” Then you look at your own language and ask, “What is that language? I don’t know.” Or, “I don’t care. It's not useful." Whereas in reality, if you know your language very well, then add to it other language, including English or a number of European languages. That is empowerment. You are more empowered because not only do you know your own language very well but you are also a master of another language. In that sense you are more empowered. But the colonial system is a way of making people think the other way around. They don’t see having more than one language as empowerment but rather as something uncomfortable. They become uncomfortable about their own power. Their own empowerment. They become uncomfortable about it. I talked about this and looked at the colonial relationship between languages and looked at India, French-African languages, Portuguese-African languages and so on. The result of all this thinking is in my book, The Colonizing the Mind. It talks about some of these issues. In prison, we weren't allowed to write. We don’t have pens. We don’t have paper. That’s why I had to use whatever we got freely or very limited, and that was toilet paper.
Q. What did you write with if you didn’t have a pen?
You had to say you were going to write to the tribunal about your case. You must say you are going to write a confession to the tribunal. Then the authorities will give you a pen so you can write confessions. I would say, "I'm writing confessions. Give me a pen." But I was writing my literary work, on toilet paper. Writing was important to me but more important was the question of resistance which came as I was writing in a language that was my own. That was the best that came from the time of incarceration. So I am defying that imprisonment, in my own way, by actually in prison, even though guarded there, by writing that language, using material given by the state, including pen and paper. So you see there how the act of writing was itself a defiance. You feel good about it. You are writing, guarded by them as it were. So writing in an African language, Gĩkũyũ, became very vital. Not only because I was in prison because of putting on plays in Gĩkũyũ but also it was vital because from that whole confrontation came my ability to look at the relationship between languages in a new way. There was also no book that was novel-length written in my language. Ever. So I was writing a novel-length book in Gĩkũyũ for the first time. All these things you draw upon constitute an inner strength called formal resistance.
Q. I'm fascinated with what you're saying. I am reminded of stories about Anwar Sadat when he was imprisoned by the British for his anti-colonial activity. He said it was important for him to put his mind someplace else. He said you can at least be free in your mind even though you were incarcerated. I'm intrigued by the response you have to language; one could see quite easily how you could come to the point where refusing to write in the oppressor’s language was an important expression of both resistance and the inner freedom Sadat talks about. Yet that was not the route you chose to take. You chose to go to multiple languages. I assume you're fluent in more than just two or three languages.
No, I wrote in English for the most part. In prison I wrote in Gĩkũyũ. I made the decision after that prison experience that all my novels and plays were to be written in Gĩkũyũ language. They’re available in English. I have done some translation myself; other works have been translated by somebody else. My reason is like this. There is nothing wrong with any language. Any other language is as good as any other language.
Colonizing the Mind deals with this issue of languages. When I go to India, or anywhere outside the developed world, or even places like Ireland among indigenous intellectuals, even here in American, the most questions I get on Colonizing the Mind concern my arguments about languages and the power relation. I am very interested in power relationship between languages. What is wrong isn't the languages but rather power relationship between languages. If you look at the world today, you look at the United Nation, the official languages are about five European languages and another one outside the European languages, which is Chinese. All the other are Russian, English, French, Spanish, not German.2 They are different languages. The tendency has been whether, here in America or in Africa or some other places, to confuse education with mastery of the dominant language. The people who come from non-dominant languages sometimes feel uncomfortable about their language. They confuse being educated with simply having a mastery of the dominant language. Sometimes they go a step further and see that they must distance themselves from the language of their community. They don’t see what they are doing. They are denying themselves a legitimate base of their power.
There is what you call the language of power. It is a language which enables you to negotiate your way into university. You use it in the market place of power so obviously whatever is the language of power, whether it is English or French or another language, you have to master it because it is the language of power. Without it you won’t survive in that market place so it is your advantage to master it very well. But the false equation has been that the mastery of the language of power must necessarily go with distancing one’s self from the language of one’s community. The assumption is that the two are mutually exclusively. That’s not true. They complement each other so you become much more powerful than ever before. If English is the language of power and you want to come to University of California Irvine (UCI) you have to master English. You can’t say you want to come to UCI and don’t master the language. You must master English to survive. But here’s the false equation: thinking that when you elevate one language in order for that language to be and to remain the language of power then other languages must be denied their legitimate place in that society. That’s the problem, not the other way around.
Q. So you’re in favor of multiple languages not one exclusive language.
Yeah. I’m not a believer of that. It’s practical. My children like the idea that they work in English but can turn around and speak to us in Gĩkũyũ language. One daughter is in Spain now. She is chattering in Gĩkũyũ and then reverts to Spanish or whatever language she is speaking. I like that. Let me put it in another way. If you think of languages, think of treasure. I'm sure all of you like to read novels like Treasure Island. Books with stories of how children get lost somewhere and look for treasure. I think of languages like that. You are in a room or a house with several rooms. Each room has treasure, and each room has a key. Language is a key to a treasure house. The more languages you have, the more keys you have, the more easily you can open doors and see what’s behind. The one who does not have that key can only stare. If I am in a Spanish-speaking environment I must learn Spanish to know what people are saying. If I don’t, I'm completely shut off the moment they start speaking Spanish.
Q. Have you ever done any writing with a mixture of languages, in both English and Gĩkũyũ ?
No. There are some people who come from a three or two language situation. What you find in Kenya is that we have a three language situation. Every person speaks their own mother's tongue and then Swahili as the lingual franca, then English. So I mix Gĩkũyũ and English. In my family we do this all the time. We are speaking in English and then switch to Swahili. I like using several languages but it’s not good to mix them that way. Someone who knows Swahili can follow what I said as one sentence, one unit of speak. But someone else who doesn't know Swahili would understand some of it and then all of sudden he or she is cast off. So while you can have a conversation with three languages – you just mix them up -- I don’t like it as a concept. I think it's a bad thing, but I do it.
Q. Why did your government find your writing Gĩkũyũ threatening?
It’s a colonial thing. It’s an African government but it followed colonial thinking. That’s why we need decolonization of the mind. I can reconstruct how the colonial thinking goes like this. You have been brought up to think there is something negative about your language. Even an African government makes a policy not necessarily to ban the language but at least not to encourage its use. Now there are more governments that are more open to African languages. It varies from place to place. But the insistence comes from the mind. The policy makers are people who have been to school, who have been educated, and taught to use the colonial language. The problem of mental colonization is not among the working people. Mental colonization takes place in school. The people who come from the university are the ones making the policy. They internalized the negativity toward or indifference to African languages. When they come to make policy they see how important languages are. They’ve got to normalize the situation of African languages and learn that avoiding African languages can be in the way of progress.
It’s not un-analogous to the time when the West moved from Latin to the vernacular. Dante started writing in the vulgate as the language of the people. This made a powerful statement that you don’t have to be an educated person to count. You don’t have to go through the socialization processes that elites go through in order to understand and communicate. So putting the Bible, for example, in Italian or French opposed to Latin, meant even an ordinary person can understand it. That is a very powerful statement towards equality, isn't it?
Q. As you think about the resistance to colonialism, do you find there are ways to resist that are immoral or dishonorable?
I've done some things where you can say neatly that “This was moral; this way is immoral,” and so on. I presume these situations arise with some of the ethical questions one confronts every day. When you are in other situations – such as a war situation – if you don’t believe in killing anybody, things get more complicated. What happens when you confront another human being on the other side of the fence, so to speak. What do you do? You are confronted with the same question, "Do I kill or not kill? If I don’t kill I will get killed." Those human questions are still there no matter what you do. That is why people have their own psychic wounds even when they are left victorious.
Q. So your response to that, I am guessing, would be your earlier statement. You have to dig down deep within yourself to find out what can keep you mentally and spiritually alive. Maybe sometimes it is better to even be killed yourself than to live with the knowledge that you have killed somebody. Is that right?.
Yeah. One has to find one’s own path. I maybe wrong here but the question of morality sometime has no easy answer. As a novelist you write about characters who find themselves and who have to make decisions one way or another. Some of those decisions do not necessarily end up benefitting them. If you think of literature, literature really is the dramatizing of the moral questions we face every day, in different kinds of situations. I want to be very clear. I don’t think I can say there is one moral route. We always want to assume that. For example, during wars people make rules. So you weren't allowed to kill women or children. Even though it is a war situation, if you killed women and children – for any reason – you lost all respect. You have done something terrible. One German writer addressed this. Soldiers are praised for one's killings done in war. Everyone says, "You've done great." But if the same soldier kills during the period of peace, he is baffled by the fact that he is now being tried for having done something very, very bad. But he just did exactly the same thing he had been doing before and for which he was given metals! The war resumes the following day and now he’s supposed to kill again. He has been tried for something he did during a peaceful period – yesterday – then the war resumes the following day and it’s back to killing again.
Q. Let me ask you then about contemporary war. You talked about not hurting women or children during war. Yet we find rape being used increasingly as an instrument of ethnic cleansing in war. What about the increasing frequency of having child soldiers? These children are being deliberately recruited, brutalized, trained as killers and they’re nine, ten, eleven years old. At the same time, we find rape being used increasingly as an instrument of ethnic cleansing in war.
Yes. It's terrible. This isn't how we used to think of wars. We didn’t think of wars in terms of rape, in terms of killing the defenseless. But then the question is: Is war ever really moral? People seem less horrified when one soldier and another solider fight and kill each other than when someone who isn't armed gets killed. That’s a different moral calculus. It involves different questions and ways of thinking. These are problems writers deal with all the time. You put characters if different situation and the characters go through moral crises to answer certain questions one way or another.
Q. Were you involved as a freedom fighter for your country?
I actually didn’t fight myself.
Q. But in your own way you fought. You can fight not just with a gun but with a pen, in your case.
I agree. I was once falsely accused. They had a sweep and I became a part of that. It happened to me when I was waiting to go to college. The policeman was armed to the teeth, saying he had to restrain me cause I resisted arrest. All I did was ask for a lawyer. I have been taught at home and at school – I went to a very Christian school, a missionary school – that the idea of lying was something you don’t do. You don’t lie. I'm sure people lie here and there, but not a very serious lie. I was taken to a courtroom under the false accusation that I had resisted arrest and as a result some very important prisoners escaped. They said I was fighting, which was absolutely not true. I was more scared than anything else. There was a lot of pressure in the courtroom for me to say, "Yes." In which case, I would be fined a couple of dollars and be free. “If you just say yes we will reduce the sentence.” That kind of thing. In the end one has to say no but the temptation is there. You feel, maybe, maybe, maybe and then another, don't, don’t , don’t so the two are fighting all the time.
Things are complex during war. I would never say that all lies at all times are immoral because there are situations where we have to lie. There are situations where if you don’t lie it’s immoral and situations where it becomes more immoral for you to lie. If you are hiding a person who is in danger do you think it is more immoral to say "Yes I know where he is. He's hidden there. Can you see?" In that case, I'm telling the truth but it’s immoral. When it comes to morality there are really no easy answers. It’s not mechanical, like a robot. You use your own judgment. Maybe we should bring in the question of judgment, the question of morality. You have to make that split second decision. How do you make that decision? On what basis do you make that decision? That is why I'm a writer. It is impossible for me to write without these questions. This is why we write novel after novel. Because there are questions you try to raise and you think you have answered them with one novel, then you find, no, once you finished you have a new set of questions. So everything you finished gives rise to another set of questions. Then you want to write something else hoping that you come to grips with that question and it goes on.
Different writers have different approaches, obviously. People work very differently. When I meet with others writers I'm always curious how they work. How do they set about writing? Different writers have different approaches. The ideal thing is to be able to explore. Some of the best novels or poems are the ones where the moral questions arise out of the very actions and feelings and emotions of all the characters. Many readers are sensitive to anything they feel smacks of moral preaching. The best works are ones with imagination. Plato's Republic writes about all these ideas but at one point Plato uses a parable or a myth to explain certain complex, moral issues, like the "Allegory of The Cave." In Christianity, the Bible has Jesus preaching, then he tells a story. Those stories become interesting in their own right. So every writer tries to strive for a story or an image that becomes its own statement. That’s why we still enjoy these fables, or any story: because they work at the level of image and they let the image moral speak.
When I’ve written a story there is a satisfaction I can never get from my more academic explorations. It's very different from writing "Decolonizing the Mind." I liked that analysis very much but it doesn’t give me the completeness I got from some of my very simple stories.
Q. When you personally have had to go into yourself and dig down deep to see how you feel about something, is there any principle that guides you or is it just how you feel at the moment? Do you simply have a strong sense that this is the right thing to do?
There is a mix. Things aren’t always one or the other. Some may be just emotion or just reason, but the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Some may be interwoven judgments. Judgment isn't simply a mathematical equation or theorem, where you say if X is true then what follows is Y. Reason comes into it but so do emotions. Feeling, intuition, intuitiveness, imagination, these all come into writing. Imagination is in everything. A scientist accumulates data. But there’s also that imaginative leap where you feel now you've discovered something, this is new! Even if it is an idea, there’s still the whole Eureka moment.
Q. You talk about stories. You talked about how we learn morals and deep truth better through stories, and you mentioned Plato and Jesus. Do you find something spiritual or sacred or religious that communicates to you in your own life?
Spirituality to me is what is human. What makes us different from animals is the way we come to a moral decision. You can get angry at a lion for killing somebody but you don’t feel it has been immoral. You can probably kill it but you don’t judge it in terms of immorality because morality has to do with choices we make. If you can't make a choice, if you are programmed to do one thing rather than another then there's no moral dimension to your existence. If you are programmed to have no fear then the question of your being brave or a coward does not arise. You can go through a forest full of danger but do you call that bravery if you are programmed to go? But if you are scared of going through that forest and yet you make a choice to go and rescue the other people on the other side, then that brings a moral dimension to that decision. You are showing bravery – or cowardice – because of the moral judgment you bring to it. That whole area is what I call the spiritual dimension.
Now let me come to religion because it is quite important. All religions respond to this spiritual dimension of the human. They’re trying to get at the spirituality and find ways of enhancing it or giving it meaning. Unfortunately, what most happens with most religious is that they end up with ritual. To show that you are really thinking, you have to drink the water before and then meditate. Or some such thing. Although initially the ritualistic acts are a means of expressing something else, this ritual itself becomes more important and it becomes the actual expression of the spiritual. The reason you find so many religious people fighting each other is because they each say my ritual of drinking water and your way of drinking become two different rituals. We both are trying to get there but we’re arguing about the means of getting there. Then both of us hold to our own way. We say, “To be spiritual you have to drink the water the way I say so.” Then you start fighting but in the end what they’re fighting about are rituals. A particular ritual becomes symbolic of an expression of where you are going in terms of spirituality. That is how I look at religion. All societies have a higher being. That higher being is an expression of this spirituality. But people fight cause they think that their god can favor one person over another. “God favors me! I spoke to him last night in a dream. What you say he told you he did not tell to me.” So we start fighting, you and I. But really spirituality is what is important. People can learn from all these different rituals if they want, but not the rituals themselves. That's my little bit about spirituality.
This is according to Nicholls, Brendon. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, gender, and the ethics of postcolonial reading. 2010: 89.
2 The official languages of the UN are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Two are non-Western, 3 if you count Russian.