Galleries more

Videos more

Dictionary more

LALIT Open Symposium on Decolonization - Mauritian Kreol and Decolonizing the Self by Soufia Bham


My relationship with Kreol has always been fraught.  The first words I remember speaking were in English in a household where English is a common thread that connects us. Yet, we are Mauritians. I was born here. I was raised here. This is my country. Why do I not speak the language it speaks to me, with confidence?

Why do I feel unable to express my deepest fears, most intimate thoughts in it. Those are questions I’ve been asking myself for years. In 2015, I found the perfect opportunity to engage at a deeper level with this discomfort. Having found a strange call to arms from a Panafrican literature collective, I found myself attempting to translate Ngugi Wa Thiong’Os Upright Revolution into Kreol. I knew next to nothing about Ngugi’s work nor his insistence on writing in Kikuyu - his mother tongue. Yet this call to translate this short story into as many African languages as possible resonated with me. Part of me had rationalised my sense of inadequacy towards Kreol in terms of exposure. After all, how was I to feel confident in a language that was considered “uncivilised” and “uncouth” during my middle school days? How was I to express myself in it when from the onset, it’s ability to express complexity, nuance and axioms was always questioned throughout my youth? So I translated The upright revolution into Revolision diboute or Kifer bann imin mars dibout? with a help of a friend who proofread the work until it was ready for publication. It wasn’t perfect but it was something I could hold on to in the process of taking ownership of this language that has felt so foreign in my mouth. Kreol is my mother tongue as much as English is my first language. This encounter with Kreol and serendipitously with the works of Ngugi Wa Thiong’O pushed me to explore the process of decolonising language and through it, ourselves. It is through our language, the words we speak, think, dream in that we imagine our reality and what a better way to colonise people than to rob them of the ability to master the tools to imagine themselves.

To imagine ourselves means to create art, literature, film, poetry, music that correspond to our reality. Yet, when we speak of African literature, we speak of texts written within the confines of Anglophony, Francophony, Lusophony and other colonial languages. As Ngugi points out in one of his speeches, would we call a text written in Yoruba by a Frenchman a piece of French literature? Of course not. Then why do we still define African literature through texts that are not written in African languages. To take it further, why do we call Mauritian literature texts that are not written in Kreol? To imagine and define ourselves, our truths, our experiences and struggles and the tools we need to dismantle the master’s house, to quote Audre Lorde, we need to speak them in the mother tongue, Kreol.

What does decolonisation mean?

Decolonisation is the process of critically examining our perception of reality in light of the understanding that we have of the mechanisms of colonisation and of neocolonial structures. It is the act of questioning constructs, norms and ideas that we have that keep us within the mainstream narrative. Decolonisation is the act of unlearning a history that is written from the perspective of the oppressor and of re-learning history contextualised within the systems and tools of oppression. Decolonisation is, in a way, an act of reparation to ourselves.

It is an essential aspect for us to be able to see ourselves and understand where we come from and how we move forward. In essence, it is central to the disestablishment of the new forms in which countries like ours are exploited beyond independence movements. It is necessary for us not just to write our own history but to complete and proofread the versions of history which are presented to us at each point. Decolonisation is unavoidable if we want the next 50 years to not look like the last 50 - a precarious balancing act.

What does it mean to decolonise ourselves?

In line with this understanding of decolonisation, what does it mean to decolonise myself, or ourselves? To me, it means recognising instruments of neocolonial power and making conscious decisions to resist them. Whether it is in relation to what we consume, create or accept as representation. In decolonising the mind, Ngugi Wa Thiong’O emphasizes that the language we choose to speak, think and create in is central to how we define ourselves in relation to the natural, social and  the wider universe. With this in mind, we need to recognise Kreol Morisien as our mother tongue, the tongue of our independence and the tongue of resistance to colonial hegemony. This further means engaging with colonial languages critically. Recognising that they will not be the tools that will abet our self-determination as a country and as Mauritians. To choose Kreol Morisien is to question, what language do we think in, dream in, truly express ourselves in? The point is to experiment with Kreol Morisien, to embrace it and surely, to destigmatize its use. Kreol in schools as a side enterprise is not good enough. We need to restore our ability to reconcile our imagination with the language. To feel it as ours and to use it as much as we can. The bottom line is to enrich our understanding of ourselves by enriching Mauritian literature, reading it, critiquing it and giving ourselves the ability to do all of this with the confidence of someone speaking in the language of our roots. My personal hope is to enable myself to take risks and actually give this presentation in Kreol.

 Soufia Bham