Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Book Most Translated Short Story in African History?

Fredrick Ngugi Sep 7, 2016 at 09:31am

September 07, 2016 at 09:31 am | History

Fredrick Ngugi

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

September 07, 2016 at 09:31 am | History

Kenya's most celebrated author Professor Ngugi Wa Thiong'o. Kalamu

A story by Kenya’s award-winning author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o on human evolution is the most-translated short story in African history, Quartz reports.

According to Pan-African publishers Jalada Africa, “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright” by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has been translated into 54 different languages.

Jalada Africa Managing Editor Moses Kilolo says that the piece, which was originally done in Kikuyu (a Kenyan language), holds the record for the most-translated, stand-alone short piece of fiction in history.

“We’ve asked around from people who have studied and practiced literary translations for a while, and there is no mention of a work of short fiction with as much translations,” Moses said.

Conflicting Proofs  

While the book’s publisher says Thiong’o’s work is the most-translated piece in African history, questions exist as to the validity of this claim, especially since most translation databases focus on books rather than short stories.

The UNESCO Index Translationum, a body established in 1932 to record translated works, has biographical information on books but not stories, according to Quartz.

While some sources consider “Things Fall Apart” by the late-Chinua Achebe to be the most-translated African work, others consider the Bible as the most-translated book.

Other records indicate that “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and “Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi are the most-translated stories.

The Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright

Originally titled “Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ,” Thiong’o’s work tells the story of how humans discovered the seamless coordination of their two legs with other parts of the body to be able to walk upright.

The story follows the unfolding of the contest between the upper body and the legs until all the body parts enter into a symbiotic relationship to work together, setting off what he calls an “upright revolution.”

“The project (translation) will empower Africa by making Africans own their resources from languages – making dreams with our languages – to other natural resources – making things with them, consuming some, exchanging some,” Thiong’o explained to the Guardian.

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