Review: Devil on the Cross

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Author: Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

Many who have taken the time to research about colonialism, imperialism and their subsequent impacts on the lives of the African – with imperialism still finding its way through the cracks purposely left open by the new leaders – will know how crippled these two phenomenon have left many Africans, and how much they still do, even though one has been “defeated” and the other we are told is not in existence. One could have read a countless number of books about these two phenomenon and their impacts on African lives, but they will surely find that none come into comparison with this work by Ngugi; and many who have read any of Ngugi’s work will agree that many of his work tend to leave that type of effect on people.

In this book Ngugi has once again achieved the feat that many African authors have been known to be good at; fictionalizing reality. He tells the story of the defeat of colonialism by the people of Kenya and its replacement by imperialism. The crucifixion of the “Devil of the Cross”, which the reader is introduced to very early in the book – chapter two, by “people dressed in rags” is a metaphor for the defeat of colonialism in Kenya by her people, and the subsequent taking down of the very same devil, after three days, by people “dressed in suits and ties” is a metaphor for the introduction of imperialism by money hungry people who were in leadership positions in Kenya and her capital.

The story is what can only be described as an African tale full of proverbs and fables told by a man who had a deep knowledge of his people. It is about a young woman, Wariinga, and her struggles as a young person in Kenya. The story begins almost tragically with young Wariinga, having been kicked out of her apartment, being fired for refusing to sleep with her boss, and breaking up with her young lover because he suspected that Warringa had slept with her boss to get the job to begin with, deciding she wanted to end her life. She made her way to town, where she planned to execute her intentions, but as she was about to “she heard a voice in her head: why are you trying to kill yourself again? Who instructed you that your work here on earth is finished? Who told you that your time is up?” and this was the turning point of her life.

A young man saved her from being killed by a bus driving towards her and, to some level, became the starting point of what turned out to become a journey that this young woman didn’t expect she would ever have to travel. After their encounter, the young man gave her an invitation to a “Devil’s feast” that was to be held the following day in Illmorog, Warringa’s home town; to which she was travelling that very same day. The feast was to celebrate “modern theft and robbery” and it was to be attended by modern thieves who would compete for seven positions to be given to the winners by an international delegate in their companies; so these thieves can be the front men in their companies while the delegates rake up all the profits.

On her way to her home town in “Matatu Matata Matamu Model T Ford,” she met other people – Mwaura, Gatuiria, Wangari, Muturi, and Mwireri – who also become central to the story. Some of these people were also heading to the feast – some to participate and others to just witness – while others didn’t even know of its existence. They ended up all going and the story that follows is one filled with lessons about Kenyan history, the history of the Mau Mau and the liberation of Kenya from colonialism and their fall into imperialism.

Ngugi was always known as a man who was critical of his government and those in power and this book was written while he was in detention after being detained by the end of 1977, the year his controversial play “I Will Marry When I Want” came out. Kenya, at the time this book was written, was a country fresh out of independence; having gained independence from Britain on Dec. 12, 1963. As a country fresh out of the clutches of colonialism, Kenya was a country still trying to find her feet, which proved to be a hard feat with corrupt leaders. The Kenyata government was filled with corruption and the wealth of the country was in the hands of a few politically connected individual while the ordinary citizens were living in horrible conditions. This book is Ngugi’s use of fiction to critically dissect those conditions and tell the stories of the ordinary people of Kenya.

Very few people can produce, with the same level of brilliance as Ngugi Wa Thiong’o did during those days, work of this nature. This is the work of a brilliant writer who knew his subject matter very well, and never deterred from his convictions.

 

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