In all societies and situations of human interaction all over the world, the primary means of communication is the verbal mode of the language. Mutual intelligibility, as one of the features of human language, is more prominent and commonplace when the verbal means of interaction is employed than others.
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If we see a polar relationship between communication through the uttering of sounds and the unspoken form coded in silences, courteous classification of context of use exists between the verbal and the silent. Silence is demanded on some occasions, situations or contexts; public functions and places and situations of religious worship or formal presentations. In the former, silence is demanded as a sign of reverence for the being that is the focus of the worship and to also allow other worshippers partake in the religious rites of worship in a manner that allows for a connection of his/her spirit to the whole exercise. In the latter context, silence is to allow the presenter or leader has the attention of the audience. In both instances, respect is a reason for the maintenance of silence. The respect carries with it some threat of rebuke or chastisement from some expected or unexpected areas. There is also compulsion or some force which could be overt or covertly implied in any case of violation depending on the particular context of the interaction. Within any context where silence is forcefully demanded, openly or in some other guises, a group has to keep its communicative ability — verbal or non-verbal — under control in other to fall in line with the expectation of the dominant other. The instances above are examples of the simplest levels of becoming silent because in them the silent one becomes so, out of the need for a good presentation of self in these public places coupled with the unspoken threat that may underlie the activity. The more complex variant of silence is the one imposed on the silent who, in this context, has been silenced. Within this social interactional pattern, which is, in itself, a whole paradigm of human relations, there is indeed a polar referential difference between the two classes, the oppressor and the oppressed. Silence here is forcefully imposed through various judicial and extra-judicial means; repressive acts, edits and positions that put the oppressed in the position of the silenced one. Here, silence has shifted from being a marker of conversational or interactional politeness to becoming a totem for the extent or nature of brutal oppression that a group of people suffers. The nature of the relationship between members of a community where a group dominates and enjoys the position of the superior against the inferior has been interpreted using the second paradigm of silence as explained above. It is a brutal process of ordering and othering the other.
Gender discourse has witnessed its own share, fair or otherwise, of the consideration of silence as a process of ordering the other gender by the dominant one. It is totally a case of us against them. Silence was then the hallmark of the “good” woman; the one that acts in accordance with the patriarchal expectation of silence. This is a feature of the early writings of Chinua Achebe where the women are silent. They are to be seen, not heard. Okonkwo, the protagonist in Things Fall Apart shot at and nearly killed his wife simply because his wife referred to his gun as one that never shoots. He also asked his wife, Nwoye’s mother if she was one of the Ndichie to be asking him how long Ikemefuna will be staying with them. She is to do as told. This is symbolic of the unspoken, ever present threat to violators of any form of forcefully demanded silence.
Oppressive contexts, like what apartheid presented to the blacks of South Africa during that period of highly dehumanising experiences, gives insight into the types of silences there are. “There are also more specific silences imposed by certain historical conjunctions”.
This is the class to which patriarchy-imposed silence falls. In South Africa, the imposition of silence goes beyond the confines of linguistic as a no-go territory”. It extends into other social, economic, religious and most especially, political occurrences and oppressive ideologies operational within the polity. Issues of inter-racial sexual relationship, marriage, miscegenation and some forms of knowledge and experience of the situation are also expected to enjoy the silence expected of and from the other. The historical reality of the South African situation is one that reeks of the need for silencing the other and constantly keeping it so. The form of racial discrimination and segregation suffered by the blacks is built on the foundation of their demanded dumbness and deafness about the realities of their existence. This is a case of historical silencing. Much as writers have taken up the gauntlet to represent and re-present the socio-political and historical realities of their people in a truly representative manner, some forms of silences have also crept into their works. The existence of a “larger, greyer areas: whole territories of historical consciousness silenced by the power establishment and invaded by the dominant discourse in order to make them inaccessible to other voices” points to areas that the superior colonial power or the powerful other ensure that the oppressed is kept away from. These become the playground on which the game of subjugation is vehemently fought, unfortunately, in a winner takes it all manners.
These are sections of human existence where the colonial master cannot afford to lose because the very structure of oppression rests on them. They define the institution of colonialism. In this form of situation, the silence of the oppressed is forced using the machinery and mercenary of the state. If voice is truthfully given to the real manner in which people suffer oppression and repression, the ruler and oppressor will lose the power sooner than he would have loved to.
Silence is not only found among the colonized or oppressed alone. It is also prevalent among the oppressor too but the difference between their type of silence lies in the informing background of their silences. For both of them, it is a psychological process. Silencing and getting silenced are both formed and felt in the psyche of the affected. The silence of the oppressor is felt in that he cannot openly criticize the wrong actions of the superior. He has to be silent about the inhuman and dehumanizing treatment he receives from the stables of the powerful other. On the part of the latter, he feels his own silence too, only that, his, is more psychical than physical because in silencing the other, he has successfully silenced his own conscience. This is the case of the colonizer especially in his days as a colonialist or oppressor. His conscience may prick him when he first landed on a colonial soil but as time goes on, he begins to achieve some success in silencing his conscience buoyed by the myriad of privileges available to him as a superior in the colony or in a patriarchal situation.
The colonizer in South Africa tried as much as possible to put a physical distance between himself and the colonized as a way of flaunting and pushing his superiority into the psyche of the colonized thereby instilling a wider psychological gap and fear. This physical gap manifested in the creation of different residential areas for whites and blacks. The blacks lived in the slum while the whites lived in choice areas. Ayanda, in Coconut refers to it as the great paradox — ninety percent blacks lives on ten percent of the land while ten percent white lives on ninety percent of the land. By this, the white black ratio in South Africa is put at 90:10.But with their fewer numbers, they occupy the larger percent of the fertile land. The blacks were silenced into accepting fate. Ayanda is a very bold and fearless character. So it is surprising that the author did not allow him more focus on the issue of the great paradox. More attention will be paid to the level of thematic thrust the issue enjoys with Matlwa latter in the study. The oppressor too is also silent about the fears that gnaw at his heart every day of his life on the colonial land — the fear that the oppressed group may rise in revolt and challenge the status quo. In other to silence this fear, the process must start from and be reinforced by silencing the oppressed and ensuring that they lack all it will take for them to rise in revolt. This is also the very foundation of the brutality and bestiality that characterize any oppressive human interaction. The fear in the colonizer’s mind must be reduced or resolved by instilling same in the oppressed.
Consequently, the degree and extent of the brutality and abject poverty that the oppressed suffers, especially ones leading to fatal ends and the apparent loss of the psychic linguistic faculty of the language of the colonial masters contributes to the silence. This inability to understand and speak the official language of the colony also foregrounds the silence; the painful severance of cultural roots and connections, and the apparent helplessness in the face of the dehumanizing othering system that has been heightened the severity of his pains and fears. In the expanded edition of his revolutionary book The Colonizer and the Colonized (1991), Memmi x-rays the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed in a colonial situation. He opines that in the psyche of the colonizer, the presence of the colonized reminds him of his illegitimacy. Consequently, he tries to legitimize this illegitimacy by extolling himself as much as possible while striving to cast down the colonized even below the ground. This makes him develop more oppressive tendencies on a daily basis. He tries more to increase the distance that colonization has placed.
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