Education as Alienation
African authors have re-written history through their narratives, allowing all who read their books to understand that the colonizers did not stop at inhabiting the land of the Africans, but they attempted and often times succeeded at inhabiting their minds. Through the process of colonial education, many Africans fell prey to the European education system, which often did more harm than good. By looking closer at particular literary and theory texts such as, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind, Sembene Ousmane’s God’s Bits of Wood, and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, it is evident that the role education plays in colonization is crucial. “Educating” the Africans, to the colonizers, meant stripping these once well adjusted people of their identities, and filling their minds with doubt and dislike for their own culture. One significant theoretical text that reflects on the ramifications of European education is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind. Ngũgĩ’s firsthand experience with the English schooling he received in Kenya allows his readers to obtain a fair opinion of colonial education as told by an African.
Decolonising the Mind sets out to undo or at least lessen the effects colonialism has on the minds of Africans. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o begins his discourse on the effects of education by labeling it a “bourgeois education system” (Ngũgĩ 56). The European education system had control and power because of its attitude of exclusivity. The system consisted of a “process of weakening people, of making them feel they cannot do this or that – oh, it must take such brains!” (Ngũgĩ 56). Thus, it is not surprising that when certain Africans were selected to study in the missionary schools, they slowly began to view themselves above many of their fellow, “uneducated” Africans. According to Ngũgĩ, these educated few become “more and more alienated from themselves and from their natural and social environment” (57). To educate not only meant to familiarize Africans with European literature and arithmetic, but to civilize them, and make them less African and, ideally more European. Education, in its attempt to civilize the “savage” Africans, also made the people “feel their inadequacies, their weaknesses and the incapacities in the face of reality…” (56). Ngũgĩ believes that the European education system forces Africans to alienate themselves from their community and even see inadequacies in themselves or in their countrymen. Through various characters in the texts God’s Bits of Wood and Nervous Conditions, one sees numerous literary examples that support Ngũgĩ’s claim that alienation and inadequacy are often the effects of the colonial education system.
Sembene Ousmane’s novel, God’s Bits of Wood, is set in the hostile timeframe of 1947-48, during the Dakar-Niger strike. While this fictional story chronicles the real life hardships and struggles that many Africans underwent during the railway strike, the novel also shows the role the French education system plays during this time period. Within the story of the strike, Ousmane tells a second story of the alienation and the feelings of inadequacy, discussed by Ngũgĩ, which begins to arise within the mindset of the younger, colonially influenced Africans. The characters of N’Deye Touti and Tiémoko in God’s Bits of Wood both exemplify the negative effects of the European education system in Decolonising the Mind.