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The Danger of Self-Seduction

Translation is a crucial aspect of global communication, as it enables information to be disseminated across linguistic and cultural boundaries. However, translations can also be used to perpetuate neocolonial power dynamics. Self-seductive translation is a phenomenon that often encourages the overlooking of power inequality and neocolonial domination. This type of translation involves selectively translating certain aspects of a text to reinforce dominant power structures. Even the literary masterpieces of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka are not immune to this issue. Various aspects of their works, such as characters, words, and themes, have been affected by self-seductive tendencies in translation, resulting in the loss of their original socio-cultural essence.

In Things Fall Apart, for example, Achebe used the term egwugwu to describe the masked spirits that embody the ancestral lineage of the village, which are regarded with immense respect in Igbo culture. Unfortunately, some translations did not effectively communicate the complexity and importance of these figures, instead referring to them as “gods” or “idols,” which fails to fully capture their true meaning na’ala Igbo (within the Igbo tradition). Similar issues are also present in the translation of the Yoruba term Egungun in Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, which is wrongly translated as ghosts, but this fails to grasp the cultural meaning and significance of the term. In Yoruba culture, Egungun represents the ancestral masquerades or the spirits of ancestors who have returned to the physical world to offer blessings, guidance, or protection and serves as a symbol of the living dead. Perhaps this misinterpretation may have been influenced by the notion of monotheism and the assumption that all non-monotheistic religions are inherently “primitive” or “superstitious.” Soyinka's The Interpreters also suffers from this self-seduction; while some translations focus on the African context of the text, others emphasize the European context.

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