By Ayi Kwei Armah
Summary by Denis Mpagaze
Armah, a Ghanaian writer, currently lives in Senegal. From “The Beautiful ones…. to “Fragments,” Why are you so Blest?” Two thousand seasons, “The Heals and Osiris Rising”, he consistently uses the medium of prose fiction to interrogate the complexity and enormity of African’s problems. To him, colonialism was a “post conquest European strategy for keeping African’s useably underdeveloped and dependent.
In “The Beautyful Ones, Armah is deeply moved by the sudden collapse of democratic experiment inaugurated at independence in many African nations. Kwame Nkrumah’s project of developing Ghana along the path socialism sooner suffered a systemic setback and the 1966 unmilitary camp finally aborted the dream. Armah in the novel presents sober and pessimistic valuation of Ghana’s (Africa’s) prospect fro progress against the backdrop of instability, poverty, corruption, crude accumulation and annihilate consumption.
The Beautyful Ones – depicts with bewildering harshness, the post – independence Ghanaian society. The temporal setting coincides with the twilight of Kwame Nkrumah’s administration. The work was in part motivated. The man looked down on his glistering offence, shame dwarfed him. He took the old ticket from the pocket and wiped the moisture off, then conductor laughed at him a crackling laugh “…So country man, you don’t have a handkerchief two…” “ get out!” then the conductor shouted his farewell to him “ or were you waiting to shit in the bus? …”
He moved slowly past the front of the bus as he walked by the driver, the driver coughed (pg 07). On the way to his office he met the box printed “KCC RECEPTACLE FOR DISPOSAL OF WASTE, KEEP YOUR COUNTRY CLEAN BY KEEPING YOUR CITY CLEAN. We are told that a lot of money was used to install these but words are no longer decipherable because of the heap of rubbish poured nearby. As the man reached the place he took debris of old tickets from the pocket and threw them to the same heap.
The man continued his walk on the way while half – asleep. He was nearly smashed by the tax as the tax driver scorned him “…Uncircumcised baboon…” Moron of a frog. If your time has come, search for someone else to take your worthless life…” (pg 09).
At the office
At the office, man found a night clerk fallen asleep; when he woke up he informed the man all the problems occurred over the night namely; the death of control telephone at Kajokrom and other lines.(pg 14- 6). The night clerk had not also completed some of his responsibility as logging the date
and by the author’s disappointed with the sudden collapse of the socialist democratic ideal inaugurated at independence in 1957, although the problem was not peculiar to Ghana. The February 24, 1966 comp led by colonial Kotoka and major Africa finally sacked the administration of Nkrumah. But the new order pushed the society further away from the precinet of “Uhuru”. It only achieved in the nation, “ a change of embezzlers and a change of hunters and the hunted”.
Man goes to work.
The novel begins with the man going to work at dawn in a decrepit old bus. At the end of the bus journey, all passengers climbed onto the road sleepy and tired. For dirtying the bus with saliva, at the very back of the seat, the bus conductor insults the man “…you blood fucking son of a bitch! Articles of no commercial value! You think the bus belongs to your grandfather?...” (pg 6).
Since the man was very a sleep, he work up and looked at his accuser and understanding nothing. The conductor continued hurling accusation to him” …. Are you a child? You vomit your surely spit all over the place why? You don’t have a bedroom?”. “… and singing some documents where the man was obliged to accomplish them.
In the office came a messenger despaired of getting his won lottery as he says
“…I hope some officials at the lottery place will take some of my hundred cedi as a bribe and allow me to have the rest ….” (pg 19).
While the man in office, came Amakwa, a timber contractor in need of getting his timber transported from the bush. He needed to bribe the booking clerk but he was not in the office. When he asked the man to take the position of booking clerk, the man said that…“I have my job: the booking clerk has his job. I don’t interfere with him”… (pg 29).
Amakwa took two notes to bride the man but the man declaimed the offer. “…. Take that one for yourself and give the other one to your friend…” (pg 30).
A man returns home
At the bus stand, the man met Komson and Estella on the way to Night Disco. At the bus stand there were merchandise women selling slices of bread. One woman asked Komson to buy more bread for his girl friend but Komson declined that he has no girls. This surprised woman as she says..“Have you ever seen a big man without girls…” (pg 37).
After the gossip with a woman, Koomson turned to salute the man and told his visit to a man’s family on Sunday.
Soon the bus arrived and the waiting people slide towards it, but the conductor walks away down the road. In a few moments the waiters can hear the sound of his urine hitting the clean – your – city can. Then after the conductor went to sellers and returned while eating a shiny loaf of bread. With in a full mouth the conductor shouted abuse at those who had climbed inside “…get down! Get down! Have you paid and you are sitting inside?” (pg 39).
The man got in the bus choosing a seat by a window. On the way there was a hot smell of caked shit, rubbish, crushed tomatoes and rotten vegetables. The smell made people spit so much. Across the aisle on the seat opposite, an old man is sleeping and his mouth is open to the air rushing in the night with many particles. (pg 40).
The journey is over and the man got down entering his home in the hall. He explained his meeting with Koomson on the way and told his wife …“. I shook hands with his wife, and I can smell her still. Her hand was wet with the stuff perfume” … This unpleased Oyo as she says… “ Mmmm, life has treated her well…” (pg 42) Sardonically man says… “These were the socialists of Africa fat, perfumed, soft with the ancestral, softeners of chiefs who had sold their people and able celestially happy with fruits of the trade. (pg 131).He also told his visit by Koomson on Sunday.
The man also told his wife how he declined the offer from Amakwa. But rather than being commended, his wife sarcastically refers to him as “Chichi dodo”, a bird that hates excrement but feeds on maggot (pg 45).
To escape further insults, the man fixed on visiting the Teacher. His conversations with a teacher in chapters 5,6 and 7 provide historical insights into the disappointment, with independence.
The man retold what had occurred at his home. Oyo and her mother that were no longer listening to him rather his excellency Joseph Koomson, minister Plenipotentiary, member of the presidential commission, Hero of socialist labour (pg 56)
He also explained how Koomson has fooled them claiming that he would buy them a fishing boat. So they are using this boat to hit man on the head writes Armah (pg 57).
Oyo tried to use philosophical ideas to persuade a man to take corruption so that their children look like Koomson’s... “Life was like a lot of roads, long roads, short roads, wide and narrows, steep and level, all sorts of roads”… This was the point at which she told me that those who wanted to get far had to learn to drive fast…” Koomson had learnt to drive so faster. (pg 58).
At teacher’s home, they talked of Koffi Billy who once worked in Transportation Company. He was cut his right leg away beneath the knee and he was told by his boss that he deserved it because he had been playing. He was dismissed from the job without any compensation. Because of frustration Koffi Billy engaged with sister Maanan to smoke wee (Marijuana) (pg 69).
The teacher alienated himself from his home since he knew that he could not take care of his family. He decided to live alone, listening to music and reading (pg 94).
Armah writes there were men dying from the loss of hope and others were finding gaudy ways to enjoy power they did not have...“these man who were to lead us out of our despair, they came like man already grown fat and cynical with the eating of centuries of power they had never struggled for, old before they had even been born into power, and ready only for the grave…” (pg 81).
They also remembered when they fought for independence by referring to the speech by Etse on (pg 86) …. We do not serve ourselves if we remain like insects, fascinated by the white people’s power…! The speech emphasized unite as he said “Alone, I can nothing I have nothing. We have power. But we will never see it work. Unless we choose to come together to make it work. Let us come together” ….pg 87.
However after attainment of independence the party men lived luxuries life, fucked women, and changed them like pants, asking only for blouses and perfumes from diplomatic bags and wigs of human hair. Armah writes that young juicy vaginas waiting for him, some hired place paid by the government”…. (pg 90).
One day a man had a journey to cape coast. Three different policemen had stopped their little bus and asked the driver for Kola(corrupt) since he had not license (pg 95).
There was also Zacharias Lagos a Nigerian working for a sawmill, and lived like a rich despite his small salary a month. Every evening a company truck brought home great lengths of healthy wood, which he sold all of it. When he was caught people called him a good, generous man, and cursed the jealous man who had informed on him (pg 95).
Also Abednego Yamoah who used to sell government petrol for himself, but so devilry, there is always some one else, a cleaner, to be jailed, never Abednego. The whole world says he is a good man, and the whole world asks why we are not like him (pg 96).
Armah captures his pessimism through the Teacher, a character who has a clear perception of the origin and nature of the nation’s crises…“Life has not changed. Only some people have been growing, becoming different, that is all. After a youth spent fighting the white man, why should not the president discover as he grows older that his real desire has been to like the white governor himself, to live above all blackness in the big old slave castle? (92)”.
Man from teacher’s home
When the man arrived home from teacher’s he found his wife a sleep. He then joined to the bed touching his wife. Genital parts of Oyo were so harder (pg 98) “… He put out his hand and touched the body in between the things just below the genitals…”
It is in the morning, the man goes to the bathroom. The door had rotten at the button and the smell of dead wood filled his nostrils and caressed the cavity of his mouth (pg 101). The hole leading the water out was again partly blocked with everybody’s sponge strands. The water underneath went out very slowly. After the bath, man entered his room, took a cup of tea. Then after he collected bus fare and the handkerchief off to the bus stationary.
A man to the office
At the stationary , he found a mess of some traveller’s vomit. He goes directly to his office. While in the office, the man was called by the nature (Toilet).Up stair toilets were losed. Only the senior service men have keys. He took some old stiff paper and went to the public toilet down stairs. (pg 105). There he saw writings on the wall
“… VAGINA SWEET,
MONEY SWEET PASS ALL,
WHO BORN FOOL SOCIALISM CHOP MAKE CHOP CONTREY BROKE
YOU BROKEN NOT SO?
PRAY FOR DETENTION JAIL A MAN CHOP FREE….” (pg 106).
When the man came back he had found Amakwa bribed the booking clerk. …“You, you are a very wicked man. You will never prosper…” says Amakwa to a man. (pg 107).
As the time continued, came a supervisor who was once before coming to the Railway Administration, a bursar at one of the Ghana national Secondary Schools. There he caused student to be fixed from school by the minister of education after writing the letter to probe the money embezzled by the bursar. (pg 109).
The family is in a great preparation for a visit by Koomson. Man arranges his old cushions and chairs while Oyo prepares food. Oyo needs drinks of high quality though financially they are poor.
In the kitchen Oyo had fed her children and asked her husband to take them to their grandmother and inform the old women to come to talk to the minister (Koomson). On the way to the old woman something cut a young child because he was bare feeted. As they arrived the old woman said to a crying child… “My poor husband! You have no shoes to wear, so your poor little feet get torn to pieces. Ei, my husband, you have no body to buy you shoes, so your little toes will all be destroyed. You must know you have nobody, you are an orphan, a complete orphan”… (pg 123).
Then the man came back home and completed his arrangements and ready to receive the minister. At the kitchen Oyo was making her hair so that she could become beautiful woman as Estella.…“Its only bush women who wear their hair natural….” Says Oyo. She continued burning saying “…. If I had a wig, there would be no trouble..” “… If you had a wig.. ‘I’d be in jail …” replied man. (pg 128).
Koomson in Man’ home
Koomson arrived with his car, companied with Estella. Koomson himself looked obviously larger than the chair he was occupying. Then man opened the beer and Koomson said “Cheers!” But the high voice of his wife cut the air to pieces…this local beer;.. Does not agree with my constitutions ….” She continued. “ Really, the only good drinks are European drinks. These make you ill…., “… you should have bought European drinks and not have wasted your money like this…”(pg 132). But she soon joined the drinks.
Koomson asked to be shown a toilet “..We don’t have a toilet here..” We have a place all right, only it isn’t anything high class. It isn’t a toilet, you see. Just a latrine …” said a man (pg 134).
When the old woman asked Koomson the issue of fishing boat he said socialism is doing bad since it prohibits people to have such things. In case of money Koomson said “… The money is not the difficult thing, after all, the commercial Bank is ours, and we can do anything …” (pg 136). But they bought a boat using Oyo and her mothers names.
Man & Oyo to Koomson home
Man and his wife went to Koomson on the issue of singing a boat project. At home a young girl in blue jeans and white T-shirt speaking English like white child welcomed them. The door was opened by servant girl of sixteen years. They got seated on sofas and asked to say what kind of drinks they would prefer (pg 147).
The end of the Novel
Pressure from the man’s family further depends his confusion. An attempt by his wife and his mother – in - law to get rich through a fishing boat partnership business fails. Koomson only fools them. But beyond the personal, the general despondency provides the enabling environment for a forceful overthrow of the government. Politicians of the old regime become birds of prey, hunted by the new rulers. Koomson escapes from the country with the active collaboration of the man. The humiliating process of his escape through the lavatory and the harbour underscores the vanity of irresponsible power.
The novel ends with the man returning home from the harbour. The camp has not really changed anything fundamentally in the life of the nation. Soldiers and police still extort Kola – euphenium for bribe – from travellers. The man is going back to his home “ the land of the silent ones” and his dull working environment.
a. “Corruption and bribery”
Corruption in Ghana is virtually accepted as a legitimate means of enrichment. However corruption in Ghana is being caused by bureaucracy, poorly paid workers and modernization. For example Amakwa approaches the man to get his timber transported from the bush for a reward. The man declines the offer and tells his wife at home. But rather than being commended, his wife sarcastically refers to him as a “ Chichidodo”, a bird that hates excrement but feeds on maggot. But another man in the same office takes it.
The state apparatus that is supposed to ensure that corruption is not practised in the society is also in the forefront of the practice. There is an incidence for example when a policeman receives bride from the bus driver in public.
There is also a messenger, who won the money in the lottery, he is sure that without giving bribes to some officials he will not get the money.
b. “Embezzlement of government fund”
Armah reveals to us the social life of Ghananians whereby government leaders like Koomson, Zacharias Lagos, Abednago Yamoah undergo luxuries life through government fund embezzlement. For example Koomson and his wife Estella through embezzlement of government funds are able to buy expensive things such as cars, furniture like Sofa and their daughter princes is also dressed expensively and behaves like the British.
Moover Koomson physique shows or verifies embezzlement of government fund. “… Koomson himself looked obviously larger than the chair he was occupying …” (pg 130 – 131). He is carved in the image of neo-colonial leaders who are fattened by the fruits of betrayal of their own people. As the man sardonically says of him and his likes “these were the socialists of Africa, fat, perfumed, soft with the ancestral softness of chiefs who had sold their people and are celestially happy with the fruits of the trade” (pg 131). Sending their children to kindrgatern in Europe is something usual to them (pg 92).
Going into private boat business with Oyo and her mother, Koomson is confident of raining 12,000 pounds. “… the money is not the difficult thing. After all, the Commercial Bank is ours and we can do anything ..” (pg 136) this is embezzlement.
Taking of Zacharia Lagos a Nigerian who working for a sawmill and liked like a rich despite his small salary a month. We are told that every evening a company truck brought home great lengths of healthy wood, which he sold of it.
In Ghana society has reached to the extend of praising those who embezzle government funds. For example when Abednago Yamoah used to sell government petrol for himself, the whole world says he is a good man and the whole world asks “ why we are not like him.”.. (pg 96).
(i) Alienation of the lucky ones from the mars. At these aspects the novelist talks of these government officials such as ministers were put on power by the mars, instead they are less pre occupied with problems of ordinary citizens. They have caused the condition in the society be more worse. They are more concerned with leisure and pleasures, making parties, going to night clubs and running after girls are represented by Koomson “… Young juicy vaginas waiting for him in some hired place paid by the government…” (pg 90).
(ii) Alienation of a person from the society.
The man is being insulted by a number of people in his society for not being in corruption. This is because corruption in Ghana society is accepted as a social norm. They believe that corruption to be as a means of getting rich quickly. For example Oyo and his mother poor scorns at him that he is nobody.
Also the teacher sees that in his society everyone who wants to be happy will soon get involved in corruption. Having seen this he sees that it is difficult to look after his parents and married, hence he runs away from his home and decides to like lonely life. For example when the man goes to him tonight he finds the teacher sleeping necked, reading and listening to music (pg 91).
(iii) Alienation of a person from himself. The teacher, Koffi Billy and sister Maanan are alienated from themselves by resorting to drug abuse (wee). For example through exploitation and neglect, in the government she is driven into insanity.
Another ill treated victim is Koffi – billy. He lost his leg accidentally yet no one cared for him, hence he commits suicide.
d. Lack of unity
The man is alone in his uprightness and this loneliness is a burden to him. He is not supported by anyone in the society even his own wife is against his character. The man fails even to explain why the hates bride while every one in the society is corrupt.
Hence the novelist shows us that, evils in the society cannot be fought single-handed. Therefore the man needs cooperation with his fellow members of the society who might in one hand or another hate corruption.
e. The role and position of women.
The novelist portrays a woman as a person who praises and embraces the western culture and despises her own culture. She likes to took very modern despite the means of achieving her to the modern world. For example Oyo burns her hear so that she can change her natural to be like a white man.
Estella and princes have tempted Koomson to embezzle government funds in order of facilitate alignment of the life style of Europeans. For Example prince’s wears jeans and Tshirt like Europeans. Oyo and her mother view a man as a coward simply because he refuses to take bribe and hence he fails to raise the standard of life for himself and his lover ones.
The situation of Estella to degrade Ghananian drinks and praises Europeans drinks shows how women abandon their culture and embraces foreign culture.
Women have also been portrayed as being among the suffering majority who take resolutions, which are in no way constructive. Maanam who symbolizes the millions of marginalized Ghananian after being disillusioned by the vision of the betrayal by their men, she resorts to take drugs as a means to postpone her despair, in the end she is a drunk to the extent.
Moreover women have been portrayed as being dynamic and they act according to situations. The man’s wife who was former on opposition with her husband who rejected bribes, supported her husband’s only following the situation, which corruption supporters face after the camp d’etat.
The author therefore gives women in this society a position which shows that, they are very convening and that they can at times see the truth, only that they can not act appropriately.
Ghana society is occupied with classes of haves and have-nots. The have class is characterized by people who live luxurious life. They have their own residential are like the Sikofo Estate using cosmetics and changing girls as parts are something usual to them.
However the class of have-nots is characterized by people who standard of living is pathetic. We see for example, a mother sucking her child’s wet congested nostrils”. … under a dying lamp a child is disturbed by a long cough coming from somewhere deep in the centre of the infant body. At the end of it his mother puts her mouth to the wet congested nostrils and sucks them free. The mess she lets fall gently by the roadside and with her bare foot she rubs it softly into the earth…” (pg 41).
Also people under this class are paid lowly the situation, which leads to alienation. For example teacher having seen that he is not able to taking care of his family he resolves to alienation. Man’s children are walking bare footed as the young boy is cut by something when on the way to his grandmother.
However the teacher a character who has a clear perception of the origin and nature of the nation’s classes.”.. Life has not changed. Only some people have been growing, becoming different, that is all. After a youth spent fighting the white man, why should not the president discover, as he grows older that his real desire has been to be like the white governor himself, to live above all blackness in the big old slave castle? ..” (pg 92).
g. Lack of awareness
(i) Family conflict
Man’s family fall under conflict because of poverty. He lives in poverty with his family to extend that he faces hostility from members of his family since; he fails to provide them with good life. Having failed to provide his family with the things they want, he is viewed as a worthless person who does not even deserve to be respected. His mother in law keeps pouring scorns on him every now.
(ii) Personal conflicts
Man is very nervous every time because he sees the reality but he finds no solution for the problems that exist in the society. He is just passive and submissive in various confrontations his reply is always”... I don’t know...” while he has a lot of contracting ideas in his mind.
Maanan resorts to take drugs to the case of her frustrations. She is later driven to insanity.
Koffi Billy also lost hope of getting good life because of aggressive government. Hence his decision was to hang himself.
The teacher is living under frustration; he compares the situation before and after independence. His findings were that, in order for any person to give his loved ones the things they want must involve himself in corruption. However his idealism makes him passive and just maintains his hope that one day he will meet the loved one.
(iii) Political conflict
This conflict arouse among members of the first government and those who won out comp d’etat. I was found that the first government was leading the country to a bad end. Therefore some leaders of the first government were killed and put in power new leadership hoping that the new government would do away with evils. However the new government seemed to be in many ways the same as the previous one.
1. Passive resistance leads to more frustration.
This means people are supposed to express their dissatisfactions openly with the hope of impacting awareness to others and hence to mobilize majority support and emerge was against evils. The man, Maanan, Koffi Billy and the Teacher who see the reality and take impossible resolutions rather than speaking out openly an organizing the masses to oppose the corrupt government, they are not regarded as revolutionaries, they are not regarded as revolutionaries. Hence their passive resistance contributed a lot to their frustration.
2. Poverty is a source of misunderstandings in any society.
There is a lot of misunderstandings in the family of Man, he is not in good atmosphere with his wife and his mother in law, because, the two cannot be provided with what they want by man. Though they think he would be able to get the required things if he involves himself in corruption he remains poor hence misunderstandings.
3. Classes are inevitable where there is no equal change of access to people’s rights.
Following the betrayal of masses by leaders, the masses found themselves having, narrow chances of access to basic human needs like education while their leaders have access to everything. For example luxurious life lead by Koomson ands Estella, sending their children to Europe and speaking English as white child.
PHILOSOPHY & IDIOLOGY
Political independence has not resulted in the much freedom and transformation. The elite who take over power from colonialists rather than dismantling colonial structures of social injustice and oppression namely presence them for opportunistic ends. Thus, post independence years in many ex – colonies of Africa are characterised by indices of underdevelopment; economic dependency, huge local and foreign debts, ethno – religious violence, mass unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, electoral fraud, corruption, inadequate or dysfunctional infrastructures and so on. Neo-colonialism concentrates political and economic power not in the hands of the people but in the hands of minority elite whose loyalty seems to be more towards the advanced nations of Europe / America and Breton woods institutions.
Ayi Kwei Armah is on writer who has grappled with the trajectory of he continents history. He offers deep philosophical reflections on “the trouble with Africa”, then and now. He consistently engages what he calls the pet assumption of the west, “ Africa is inferior; the west is superior while not sparing the misrule of indigenous elite.
Further Ayikwei identifies several factors responsible for underdevelopment. First is the adoption of a socio – political formation that is not totally, but dependent on Europe and America.
Second is an exploitative economic system superintended by the so-called developed nations of the world, with collaboration of African ruling elite. Linked with this is the character of the elite parochial, self – centred, committed to accumulation of material possession rather than general well being. The fourth is bureaucracy that is ironically a log in the wheel of genuine development, marked by inefficiency, inconsistency, nepotism and slothfulness. The last factor is a Western oriented educational system that is not properly connected with indigenous value system, and hence generating alienation.
The title “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born” is iron. This means, it does not portray direct meaning, rather shows that in our societies beautiful ones are being born every day. But they are being destroyed by their societies in engaging themselves in fulth. The word it self “beautiful” is wrongly misspelled to symbolize evils in the society.
Every time those who were thought to be the beautiful ones they then indulge in corruption and black mail. They earn themselves luxurious things, style of life, big salaries, high respect and good houses. Hence the masses are left & suffer poverty as wearing of rags, being illiterate and hardly get sufficient social services.
According to Armah, the blame is to the leaders. Hence good leaders have not yet come or been elected. There fore the author has used the title to summarize what are in the novel.
(b) Plot structure
The plot of this novel starts with an incident in the decrepit old bus. Later it shifts to other incidents. Some incidents are closely connected while others are not connected, but they all contribute to the moulding of the whole story. The incidents or organized in such a way that the story is straight forward (chronological order) with some flashbacks.
The author has used the purely literacy language as manifested by the following
(i) Figures of speech.
The author has used figures of speech to create imagery. These are metaphors.
A GRAIN WHEAT
Ngungi wa Thiong’o has used flashbacks in his work to tease his readers. I am among readers who enjoyed the book and here under I would like to share with you what I enjoyed. I have tried to ignore flashbacks.
The whole story in the novel centres on Mugo as the central character. And the story is devided in three aras namely; Pre – colonial , colonial and post colonial.
Pre – colonial
This was the era before independence. The novelists shows Thabai Ridge Profile as the Rung’ei Trading Centre. The place where people used to gather for their basic needs. Because there were many shops of Africans and Indians. African shops are made of tin-roofed and Indian shops are made of corrugated iron sheets. Even the iron snake uses to stop there before it goes to Kisumu and Kampala (pg 62).
Every Sundays, people gather at Rung’ei station because two trains from Kampala and Mombasa meet there. The place then changed to be meeting place of young. Love affairs often hatches there. Girls normally wash their clothes and plant their on Saturday and go to the station on Sundays. The train becomes an obsession if one misses it sorrow seized one’s heart for the rest of the week (pg 63).
From the station they normally go to dance in Kinenia forest where the dances usually end in fights. Men from Thabai always with and take girls from other groups. This leads to all girls loving men of Thabai. (pg 63).
Gikonyo is among young people who go to the station every Sunday. He is immigrant from Elburgon. He came still a child strapped on his mother’s back. His father Waruhim who worked as a squatter on European farms married to new wife and ordered Gikonyo’s mother to leave his home claming that her though did not yield worth.
At Thabai Wangari sends her son to school though he does not stay long because of school fees. But she has lent a little carpentry, which he uses to earn his daily life. (pg 64) The ambition of Gikonyo was to own a piece of land where he could settle his mother. The ambition increases much when he sees or hear of Mumbi. Mumbi is said to be the most beautiful girl in all ridges compared to Wangu Makeri.
Mumbi is the daughter of Mbugua and a sister to Kishika and Kiriuki. Wanjiku is her mother. Kariuki attended school and loves books as in the evening reads books using the light from the wood fire.
Gikonyo loves Kariuki and Mumbe. And when he goes to Mumbi he uses to go with sweets. He tells fanny stories to Kariuki and rarely speaks when Mumbi comes (pg 67). Other boys who love Mumbi are Karanja and Richard son Rev. Jackson. Richard is at last year at Siriana Secondary school and would later go to Uganda or England to complete his learning. Richard often stole from home at night to go and see Mumbi at Thabai still Mumbi has refused him. So Gikonyo asked himself “… she has refused such a man, what chance have I ? …” (pg 67).
One day Mumbi takes a Panga to Gikonyo to fix it with a new wooden handle because the old one was burnt. Gikonyo promises her to fix it freely. As the continue changes gossip come Karanja, Kishika and Gitongo. This situation leads Gikongo unhappy. Soon Mumbi decides to live where Karanja see her off. “….come my faithfull …” Mumbi told Karanja.
Karanja and Mumbi leave in the darkness. Then Gikonyo changes suddenly and becomes envious of Karanja. When Karanja came back everyone noticed that he is quite and thoughtful.
“He! Man! The man sitting next to him, have you fallen in love with that girl? “…. Everybody laughes except Gikonyo (pg 71)
The following day Gikonyo sends the Panga to Mumbis home after fixing it with new handle. He is happy because Mumbi is present. As they start talking, suddenly enter Kihika and Karanja. As usually Kihika is a politician whenever he is politics only. They join political debate, Kihika, Mumbi, Karanja and Gikongo.
Kihika begun politics since his childhood whereby he was chased from Mahiga. When he was young he was sent to making school under the advice of Reverend Jackson Kigonda. Jackson was a friend of Mbugua and he used to hate politics to the extent of calling it a sin (pg 74). We are told that he was the first group of Christian to be killed in Rung’ei by Pangas.
When at school Kihika was against his leader Muniu when he called circumcision for women a heather custom. The punishment to Kihika was to be unhiped ten times and finally was to say thanks. Since there Kihika run from school and left for ever.
There at Mumbis home, Kihika is serious preaching unity through his fellow Karanja is seen supporting whites since they have fire weapons (pg 77). While on political talks, come Mumbi’s friends; Wambuku and Njeri.
“ At the sight of Wambuku, Kihika’s face brightenes….” Writes Ngugi. Suddenly Njeri shoutes…” the coming of the train hence all of them leave conversation and go to the station. Gikonyo and Mumbi slowdown and remain behind while others run faster. Karanja is the leading.
Gikonyo and Mumbi start walking side by side and stop to the forest. Mumbi leans against a tree trunk and start saying ….. “ you have put a lot of hard work into fixing, the mother was so pleased ..” Gikonyo seems to be happy as her says..” I mean it was small piece of work and I liked doing it…” (pg 79).
Then the author writes that in the forest Gikonyo held Mumbi and gradually fall her to the ground. The long grass covered them. “…. Mumbi breathered hard but could not dare to speak. One by one, Gikonyo removed her clothes as if performing a dark ritual in the wood. Now her body gleamed in the sun. He eyes were soft, and will and submissive and defiant. Gikonyo passed his hands through her hair and over her breasts, slowly coaxing and something stiffness from her body, until she lay in his hands, suddenly Gikonyo found himself suspended in a void…..” (pg 80).
Karanja has arrived to the station and he does not see Mumbi hence he is unhappy. But Kihika continues with political speech” in Kenya we want a time sacrifice. But first we have to be ready and carry the cross. I die for you, you die for me, we become a sacrifice for one another”… (pg 83).
They soon Karanja, Kihika and others except Gikonyo and Mumbi reach to Kinenia forest. They dance two by two. Kihika with Wambuku, the girl who is not beautiful except when she laughs (pg 84). She real wants love with Kihika as she says “….you will not go away from me. You will not leave me alone…” she even persuade Kihika leave liberation struggle as she says ..” you have got land, Kihika . Mbugua’s land is also your’s. In any case, the land in the rift valley didn’t belong to our tribe….”.
Time went on and Gikonyo marries to Mumbi. He is very happy as he says …” Before I was nothing. Now I was a man, during our short period of married life, Mumbi made me feel it was all important….(pg 86). He continues saying…” I took the woman in my arms,do you know a banana stem? I peeled off layer after layer, and I put out my trembling hands, to reach the Kiana coiled inside, everyday I found a new Mumbi. Together we plunged into he forest. And I was not afraid of the dackness…” (pg 86).
This era is accompanied by struggling for independence.
One day leaders of the party held a meeting at Rungei whereby Kihika was selected to speak. “.. This is not 1920, what we now want in action, a blow which will tell…. Read his speech on page 15. After the speech he went to the forest with his man. (pg16) but Karanja remained without taking oath Instead he joined he home guard and worked as librarian (pg 31).
From there, things on Thambai become more than worse. People woke up and found themselves ringed round with black and white soldiers. Gunfire smoked in the sky, people held their stomach, some looked themselves in latrines, shopkeepers in their sacks. Gitogo deaf and dumb who lived with his old mother used to bring her food was he also shot dead (pg 6). He continues ruing when something hit him the back.
Thousands of people including Mungo and Gikonyo were detained Mungo had no parents. They dead long time ago and he was left to his widow aunt known Waitherero. Waitherero treated Mungo badly.
When Kihika joined the forest, his father Mbugua said “what has come into his head? Don’t I have enough land to last him all his life?…” Wambui his mother also wept. (pg 89).
Kihika and his men continued the battle whereby they succeeded to attack one of the garrison. They broke it and let the prisoners out into the night and set fire on the garrison. Then they run back to the forest with fresh suppliers of men and guns to continue the war.
The colonial administration suspected Kihika to be involved with the event, hence a price was put on his head that anybody who brought Kihika, dead or alive would receive a huge sum of money. (pg 169).
And people who were in other detention camps were tortured to the maximum (pg 115). They were given small shares the situation which led Mugo one day to organize a boycott. The response to boycott was the death of eleven men (pg 117).
One day Kihika shot Robson a colonial officer; another chief Muruithia the name was also shot by one of forest fighter. The chief did not die and he was taken to Timoro hospital. A week later two men carrying a basketful of food went to visit the sick chief. There, they shot him dead and jumped through the window and went back to the forest (pg 129). From there, Karanja became a chief.
During his regime, Karanja led other home guards into the forest to hunt down the freedom fighters. Even the few remaining fit men were taken to detention camps (pg 129).
In detention camps, men who had taken the oath were persuaded to confess so that they be left freed to go home and meet their children and wives. Hence Mugo who hadn’t taken the oath he was left free.
And those who had remained at home; they were taken to dig trenches under the supervision of soldiers and home guards. They used to beat any body that slowed down in any way. They worked for very long hour with very low wages. Women were allowed out two hours before sunset to go and look for food.
The D.O used to permit soldiers to pick women and carry of their tents (pg 126). One day a home guard came and whip Wambuku a situation where Mugo came to help her. In terror Mugo pushed forward and held the whip before the home guard could hit a women a fifth time. More home guards gathered the seen and whips descended on Mugo’s body. Then he was taken to the cell where he was tortured severely hence detained.
Wambuku died on the trench and her body was thrown it into the grave dug a few yards from the trench. Other two women died and another hole was dug by trench. Children and old people were not allowed to work but they were sitting aside and see their daughters, mothers and children bear whips (pg 127).
Let us see the death of Kihika. We are told that the price was put on his head. The day Kihika shot dead the D.O, he went to Mugo and informed the issue. So because Mugo disliked to be included in any affairs. He thought that if he engaged with Kihika, the soldiers would kill him… “Why should Kihika drag me into a struggle and problems I have not created? Why ? ……. I am not his brother…” I have not done ham to anybody . I only looked after my little shamba and crops. And now I must spend my life in prison because of the folly of one man ..” (pg 169). Kihika left the place and promised to meet with Mugo at Rungei market on Sunday.
As Mugo remembered there was a price on Kihika’s head, he went to the DO and reported that he saw Kihika. The D.O shot saliva into the dark face of Mugo. Mugo moved back a step and lifted his left hand to rub off the saliva (pg 173) as the D O says “….. many people have already given us false information concerning this terrorist. Hear? Because they want the reward, we shall hang you here, outside do you here? ….”
Hence Kihika was then captured alone at the edge of the Kinenia forest and hanged in public one Sunday at Rungei market.
During the operation of trench Mumbi used to attend while her husband in detentation. Her mother, Kariuki had nothing to eat. Karanja the man whom people knew that he might be the one betrayed Kihika used to bring some food to Mumbi (pg 127) “…… take this maize flour and bread or else you will die. I did not betray Kihika, I did not …..” said Karanja when Mumbi rejected the flour.
Karanja helped Mumbi in various matters including education affairs when Kariuki passed KAPE he gave the letter to the boy and went to school. Karanja also helped them to build a house because it was passed the order that all houses within the place they were, must be removed and the land remained in the hand of whitepeople.
But Karanja used to tell Mumbi that those were detained would never come back (pg 128) …” One day Karanja brought a list of those who are going to come from detention camps. The name of Gikonyo was there. That I laughed even welcomed Karanja’s cold lips on my face …” (pg 131) “….. I let Karanja make love to me…”.
Karanja from detention
After six years of detention Karanja came home and found his wife with a child, a child of Karanja. He went to ripport his arrival to the chief (Karanja). Gikonyo was shaken with better incomprehension being commended by his friend to enter the office.
…..Listen carefully you have now come back into a normal life in the village. People here obey the law, hear? No meetings at night, no story about Gandhi and unity and all that the white man is here to stay (pg 130).
Gikonyo unexpectedly stood up, and without knowing he was doing, started for the door, Karanja let him go up to the door and then shouted “stop” Gikonyo stopped, as if paralysed by the voice and turned round waiting…” 103.
Karanja a man who took the oath with Gikonyo to fight the white man was now talking to him about the power of white man. A man with whom he used to play the guitar, who often came to the workshop for gossip, was now shouting at him.
As Gikonyo on the way to home had only one intention to kill Mumbi. When he reached at home the door was closed “…. Open the door. Open the door you who auction your bodies on the market…..” suddenly the door opened and he fell on the floor and hit his head against the hearthstones.
After the country had attained her independence, all colonialists were to leave. Mr Burton was one of the earliest settlers, who encouraged by the British Government to settle in Kenya after the railway to Uganda was finished. His children were born in Kenya, went to school there, the boys to the prince of Wales school and girls to Kenya High School and when home to England for their University education.
Since it was the end of him to stay in Kenya, Mr Burton wanted to sell the land he loved and go home to Britain (pg 53) Therefore Gikonyo and his men already contacted Mr. Burton and made preliminary arrangements and Mr. Burton wanted cash so, Gikonyo had gone to see the M.P to Nairobi to find out if he could recommended them get government loan. The M.P promised them to go for the answer.
Gikonyo the allocated day of seeing the M.P when arrived he boarded the bus from Rung’ei to Nairobi. The bus was called A DILIGENT CHILD. Before the reached to Nairobi, two African policemen stopped the bus. One come in and counted the number of passengers. The bus had two pass angers extra. Then the cashier took the two policemen outside and waved the driver to go on. He drove a few yards and stopped. Soon the, cashier came running and get into the bus. “ They just wanted a few shillings for tea”. He said and people in the bus laughed. (pg 54).
He reached to Nairobi city directly to the office of M.P a crowd of people waited outside the office of M.P because he was not in. but people were used to broken appointments and broken promises. Sometimes they would keep on coming, day after day, without seing their representatives (pg 54).
When the MP came it was Gikonyo’s turn “…… now about these loans. They are difficult to get, but I am trying my best within a few days. I may have good news fro you….” So he told him he would inform. “These days people had organized the day to remember all freedom fighter” says M.P
Its about these Uhuru celebration at Rung’ei. Please thank the branch and elders for inviting me, but on that day all the members of parliament have been invited to various functions here. So apologise to the people for me and say I can’t come”. Said the MP to Gikonyo. Soon the MP bought the plot for himself. (Mjanja kuwahi).
All the eight ridges at Thabai were talking about Mugo to address the meeting during Uhuru celebration to honour freedom fighter. It had been arranged that during celebration, the betrayer of Kihika would be killed. And the majority knew Karanja as the betrayer so he was to die on that day.
But Mugo rejected to lead the celebration despite persuasion from elders. While people were in preparation for Uhuru, Mumbi had been chased away by Gikonyo. Therefore while Mumbi at home elders used here to go to persuade Mugo to address the meeting. Mumbi was seen confused. She never forget what general R.Said that Karanja would be killed for his part in Kihika’s death. Should this be done in the name of her brother? (pg 158).
So what she did it was for her to inform Karanja not to attend the meeting then she went to persuade Mugo to address the meeting. Mugo told Mumbi that he was he who betrayed Kihika and he would love the same to her (pg 161).
All this time Karanja was leaving and Githima. So Mwaura went to persuade Karanja to attende the celebration. During the day of celebration there were different sports and games. Among people who run for races Karanja and Gikonyo were there. Fortunately Gikonyo fell down and broke his leg. He was sent to Timoro hospital.
General R. was there to address the mass. Rev. King’ori prayed to open the meeting (pg 182). After addressing meeting the General asked the betrayer to come in front! Mugo came to the platform and said, “ You asked for fudas! You asked for the man stands before you, now Kishika came to me by night. He put his life into my hands and I sold it to the white man. And this thing has eaten into my life all these years” (pg 193). Some people didn’t believe. The multitude didn’t believe their eyes hence they all departed and it was the end of the meeting.
Karanja who was sitting aside looking that, he left for bithma by using Narrow escape bus. All his journey was a companied by heavy rainfall. On the way he met Mumbi going to see Gikongo to hospital and he asked to see child.
At the hospital Gikongo had lost his desire to kill Mumbi as he said “ will you go back to the house, light the fire and see things don’t decay?….” (213). She consented hence Gikongo was so happy as he says “ I will change the woman figure” He then caved a three leg stool for his wife. Soon Mumbi, the child and Gikongo make life new and worked hard as today they have bought a lorry and other good things (S1).
A GRAIN OF WHEAT
This title comes from 1Corintias 15 verse 36 – 38 which says “.. Thou food, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. But God givent it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body”.
A grain of wheat has to die and be buried in order that later it will germinate into a new powerful plant which will give rise to more grains. Similarly, Jesus Christ, according to the Christian belief, died in order to bring about man’s liberation from sins.
The Kenyan society – people were struggling for liberation. There had to be a savior who had to die and be a sacrifice for the people’s liberation. These were Waingaki, Kihika and Harry Thuku.
1. Betrayal (Main theme)
Betrayal has been being a barrier to development in our societies. As the provelist Ngugi has been discussed this theme deeply through various aspects with connection to characteristics namely: Mugo, Karanja, Gikonyo, the M.P and other African leaders.
(a) The MP betrayed the cooperative group led by Gikonyo. He bought the farm of Mr. Burton instead of helping them to get loan from the government.
(b) Mugo betrayed Kihika the leader of the people hence he betrayed the society.
(c) Karanja betrayed the society by collaborating with the white colonialists.
(d) Mumbi betrayed Gikonyo her husband by having a child with Karanja.
(e) Gikonyo betrayed the society by denouncing the oath and came to see his wife Mumbi.
(f) The Africans leaders betrayed the masses after independence. The leaders enjoyed the lion’s share of the national cake.
(a) Alienation of a person from the society.
Mugo was lonely since his child hood. He did not have any stand in his society and he did not want to involve himself in various matters. The society wanted him to be their Moses but he failed to understand and in the end he was alienated.
Karanja created a war between himself and the society. He confessed the oath and became a collaborator by becoming a home guard and later a chief in favour of the white man. His main intention was to get Mumbi.
(b) Alienation of African culture.
The African traditions were alienated from the European culture. Example the conflict with teacher Mumin and Kihika, was because of circumcision. The already pacified Christians considered circumcision as a seen.
(c) Self alienation
Mugo does not know his real self as he was feared by the sound of his own voice. The sense of guilt of betraying Kihika kept lingering in his mind to the extent of bringing a genuine case of self-alienation. He had no hope and desperate, everything repeated it self. The day ahead would just look like yesterday and the day before.
(d) Land alienation
Europeans took the fertile land and leave Africans with unfertile land. Hence Africans were forced to go and work in plantations of the white settlers instead to their land.
3. Building the future.
The Kenyans after being tired of colonialism, they decided to fight from independence. Gikonyo and his cooperative group intended to make their future life better through various activities. However all the attempts to build the future were blocked buy the leaders.
The novelist presents exploiters in two groups European exploiters and Africa exploiters. Europeans confiscated all the fertile land and caused Africans to remain landless hence they are forced to work in white man plantations and paid low wages. For example they took Gikonyo’s land when he was in detention camps
The African elites ie. Who had authority and economic power just stopped into the shoes left behind by colonialists. A good examples in the MP.
Oppression being restriction of people’s freedom by those in power. People have been oppressed through various aspects namely; economically, politically and socially. For example Africans were forced out of their land and their houses were set fire without any compensation. Africans were also forced to work on white man plantation, they were not allowed to get education because of their poverty. Refer Gikonyo who was chased because his mother had no school fees.
Further African were used as slavery of white man. For example Karanja is sent by Dr. Lynd to buy meat for her dog. Also when Mugo went to report to the D.O on the issue of Kihika he was humiliated by being spated of saliva on his face. Waiyaki was buried alive as a lesson to those who were against white man. Kihika when tried to fight for African culture (circumcision for women) he was chased from school forever.
Africans were beaten and put in detention camps without trial. Refer to Gikonyo, Mugo and Harry Thuku. And African who remained at home were forced to pay tax. Also whites like Thomson and Dr. Lynd harassed Kenyans. Karanja’s harassed his fellow Kenyans.
6. Role and Position of women
Women in this society play the role of taking care of their families in absence of their husbands. For example white, Gikonyo was in detention camps she took care of Gikonyo’s mother and the house.
Women have been portrayed as the link between Maumau fighter in the forest and those in villages. For example Wambui took the pistol to the freedom fighters that went to fight in the forest.
Women have been portrayed as people who value education in the society despite their poverty. For example Mumbi used to dig trenches to find money to pay school fees for their children and young brother Kariuki. She also leant to read and write thus why he wrote a letter to rescue Karanja on the issue of killing him during Uhuru celebration.
Women were humiliated, sexually abused and degraded by their husbands and soldiers. For example in digging tranches, soldiers were allowed to take women and slept with them in their tents. Mumbi was beated by her husband and stopped to sleep with her. General R’s mother was being beaten by her husband, Dr Lynd was raped by Lt Koinandu.
Women also were portrayed as people with great sympathy. This being shown by Wambuku, Kihika’s mother now she wept when Kihika went to the forest fight for the Whites. On this issue Nyeri also wept because Kihika was his boy friend. Mumbi cried when Gikonyo was detained.
Many conflicts have been pointed out by the author at various stages of development, during, pre and post independence. It is during the colonial era when great social, political and economic conflicts aroser and some continued up to the post – independence.
(a) Political conflict
Taking people to concentration camps during the state of emergence lied to political conflicts between colonialists and the Africans. Thus why European killed Kihika and Waiyaki while Africans killed Dr. Thomson and other betrayers to Africans.
(b) Social conflict
The introduction of the European culture made traditionalists to be in conflicts with the brain washed elites. This led to the dead of Rev. Kigondo the father of Richard.
Alienation of a person from others also led to social conflicts. For example Gikonyo was taken to concentration camp leaving behind his wife Mumbi and when he came back found her with a child who took advantage of Gikonyo’s absense. Gikonyo therefore became in social conflicts with Mumbi and Karanja.
Dehumanisation of the people by the colonial government, Africans were demolished from and fertile land forced to live in unfertile land. This led to social conflict.
(c) Economic conflict
Europeans introduced an exploitative system of production whereby Kenyans were exploited. Kenyans had to pay tax, Kenyan’s were lowly paid for the hard labour. Hence the conflict between Africans and Europeans arose following a war to fight for their rights.
Most of people who are taking corruption are government leaders who were honoured by the government to fight corruption. For example the novelist shows when the two policemen took bribe from the bus conductor on the way to Nairobi.
Also MP corrupted his people (Gikonyo and his men on Burton’s farm).
Ngungi uses a “A grain of wheat” symbolically to show us that in order for the Kenyans to get their freedom from the colonialists they would be ready to die for their country. Waiyaki, Kihika, Harry Thuku are among the freedom fighters that sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Kenya. Colonialists at Kibwezi bury Waiyaki alive with his head facing the center of the earth so that it will be a warning to other Kenyans never to challenge the power of the white man.
Kihika is caught and hanged by the neck at Rung’ei. Wambui risks her life by hiding a pistol in her grain to escape from the White man.
The author has put forward a number of messages. These include: -
1. Courage is vital in any fight against an enermy. For example Kihika says “what we went in Kenya are women and men who will not run before the sword” (pg 89).
2. Unity is very important in the liberation struggle. Thus why Kihika united with other men to fight for independence and hence they attained it.
3. It is important to forgive past events even if they are unforgettable. Example Mumbi and Gikonyo forgive each other’s guilt and they reconcile. As a result, they are living in harmony and prosperity.
4. We should be aware of traitors in our efforts to build a better society. For example betrayals by Mugo’s Karanja and the MP.
5. Hardworking is the source of prosperity; Example Gikonyo was respected and admired as he soon was recognized as a very big businessman.
6. Women should not be looked down on as they can play important roles in the society. Example Mumbi, Wami and Wambui were talking about the duties they have as contribution to the building of the nation.