Postcolonial Identity and Postcolonial Education

Heather Sofield, English 119, Brown University, 1999

Part 7 of "Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post -Colonial State"

Returning to my earlier question, what is the role of education then in discovering this new, stronger, kind of identity? Dangarembga's novel most clearly illustrates the impact of education. Tambu learned almost entirely in "white" schools - created and administered by whites. In such a surrounding, recognizing the importance of education in the formation of identity, it is not surprising that Tambu changed in such a drastic way. Eager to learn, and benefit her family, she was receptive to the influences surrounding her. When we are young, and even as we grow older, we are ready to believe what people tell us. Tambu entered the mission school with a strong sense of self but quickly learned that white people were more beautiful and therefore more deserving of love and respect than were Africans. She is educated to abandon her identity.

In 1972, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o presented a co-authored argument for the abolition of the English Department and the creation of a new department devoted to the study of African languages and literatures. Some of his arguments have great relevance when considered in relation to a concept of identity in a post-colonial state and might be the answer to this question.

Thiong'o first considers reasons why English language and literature has been studied instead of African, and then calls to question the real importance of the former discipline. He advocates a more centralized worldview, through which African states refuse to accept the attitude that they are essentially still colonies - existing under, or peripheral to, the Western world. A more centralized conceptualization of national identity is necessary.

The aim, in short, should be to orientate ourselves towards placing Kenya, East Africa, and then Africa in the centre. All other things are to be considered in their relevance to our situation, and their contributions towards understanding ourselves.

He identifies the most important role of education as its ability to serve as a "means of knowledge about ourselves. Therefore, after we have examined ourselves, we radiate outwards and discover peoples and worlds around us." As America is the center of the map for an American, and England for a Briton, so should Africa be the center to Africans, not "existing as an appendix or satellite of other countries and literatures." (Thiong'o, p.441)

So perhaps a change in perspective and direction in African education systems is necessary. It is certainly the direction advocated by many post-colonial theorists and writers. Such a change would serve to strengthen a sense of nationalism and self-worth while also building a secure foundation from which an individual may begin to negotiate the complicated issues of foreign culture and influence and then forge his/her own identity. The difficulty in discovering identity in a post-colonial state can be attributable to a certain lack of self-confidence -- either in an individual or a nation, subconscious or conscious. How can one hold on to one's cultural legacy with pride if it appears to have no value or potential? But if people appreciate those attributes for their true value, they have also discovered the very source of strength required for reconciliation. With these tools to aid in the journey, the crossroads can be navigated successfully and the subsequent path might lead to a brighter, more positive, but certainly stronger, future.

Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post-Colonial State

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