Why Ngugi’s Word?

Horses, like all animals, cannot communicate with us in our language.  When they are afraid, they have no words to tell us.  When something hurts, again, no words to tell us.  When we push them too far in a way that we think makes most sense, a horse cannot say, “Hey there, idiot.  If you just ask me this way, I’ll do what you want.”

Good horsemen / horsewomen are cognizant of this and are constantly making an effort to listen to the horse. 

Ngugi is a Kenyan writer who I have spent time studying in my master’s program in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse.  In a class that both my husband and I took called Global Englishes, we became very interested in the culture of language–that is, how one’s identity is so intertwined in language.  For our combined final project, we looked at the language choices in African writers–specifically the differences between Ngugi and Achebe.  My husband took interest in Achebe’s notion that to publish his work initially in the lingua franca that is English meant that  he would gain a wider audience than those writers who publish first in their native tongue.  I studied Ngugi’s feelings toward language and became so engrossed in his writing ideologies.  In my reseeach, I read  passages where he recounted heart-wrenching childhood memories in the English colonized communities of his village.  He spoke of being forced to speak only English within a certain perimeter of school, and if this expectation was broken, children were physically beaten by colonial headmasters.   His native tongue of Gikuyu was to be only spoken in the field or around community gatherings such as the nightly storytelling around the fire.  

In a passage from Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi writes, “Language as culture is thus mediating between me and my own self; between my own self and other selves; between me and nature.  Language is mediating in my very being.”  I love this passage in that it argues for the language of one’s identity.  He believed that to write and publish first in English is to also alienate himself from all that is his culture, his identity.

So what does this have to do with horses? 

Everything, I think.

Predominately in the racing world, horses are taught to obey the hard hand of humans.  They are taught to respond–move, go forward, submit–through fear.  Everything seems to be rushed.  From the impersonal and rough grooming to forcing a horse onto a trailer with smacks from a chain lead, horses are broken down and told to do one thing after the other.  It seems that the higher the stakes, the more impersonal, and often more coersive, the interactions between human and horse become. 

Ngugi racing as Miss Spygon in 2007

My interest then is in listening to the wisdom of the horse’s native tongue.  They cannot translate feelings, knowledge, or training ideas into English, so we as humans need to do a better job of learning their language. 

And so it’s Ngugi’s Word that I have to learn.  However malnutritioned she is in her training and overall confidence in the new world I am showing her, she still has the natural instinct of a horse.  And that is worth listening to.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Valourbörn
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 03:52:50

    “…she still has the natural instinct of a horse. And that is worth listening to.” This is a beautiful quote, one with which I whole-heartedly agree. This is a wonderfully touching backstory for your blog!


    • ngugiottb
      Mar 24, 2013 @ 18:21:08

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. But more importantly, I’m glad you agree. It makes me happy to learn of more people valuing what animals have to say.


  2. Tilt-A-World | Ngugi's Word
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 04:28:18

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