The 82-year-old Kenyan writer and activist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a recurring candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, received the 31st International Catalunya Award on Thursday in a ceremony in which he had a virtual intervention as pandemic. The author has wanted to accept the award, has said from a screen, on behalf of his mother who taught him Kikuyo, the Kenyan language for which he has fought hard, and has taken the opportunity to claim that and other minority (or minority) languages threatened by the “imperialist” languages. He has emotionally remembered the Kikuya lullabies his mother used to sing to him. “Thank you for the recognition of an African language”, he highlighted.
Ngugi, author of novels, essays – among them the influential Decolonizing the mind– and some extraordinary, moving memoirs in several volumes, he is a well-known writer in Catalonia, where he has traveled on several occasions, and has a good part of his work published in Catalan. The prize, which was announced, is endowed with 80,000 euros and a sculpture created by Antoni Tàpies.
The African author, from humble peasant extraction, and his family suffered British colonization (although paradoxically it was what gave him the opportunity to study Ngugi) and the violence of decolonization during the Mau-Mau revolt. Life did not go any better for the writer during the post-colonial era, during which he was imprisoned, and he and his wife harassed, for denouncing the corruption of the black political elite that came to power in their country. In prison, from which he left to go into exile, he wrote one of his novels –The devil on the cross- on pieces of toilet paper.
The delivery ceremony has mixed face-to-face and virtual interventions. “I believe that languages, beyond the number of speakers, have to be related not with hierarchy, but with solidarity and networking,” defended the writer, who describes himself as a “warrior of the language.”
After an intense day, the president of the Generalitat, Quim Torra, took the opportunity to denounce the persecution that, in his opinion, freedom of expression is suffering in Spain. Torra thanked Ngugi for his love for his language and for doing “his job so well”, both as a “writer” and as a “fighter.” Among others, the editor of Raig Verd, Laura Huerga, who has published part of the Kenyan author’s work in Catalan (Rayo Verde and De Bolsillo publish it in Spanish), also participated in the ceremony.