8.1 East African Poetry & Drama: Do you understand the history of Anti-colonial Drama in East Africa?

Chapter 8

Anti-colonial Drama in East Africa

8.1  Write a brief history of events that led to  Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.



After East African countries had attained independence, some writers sought to write plays and poetry about the events and personalities that had denounced and fought against colonialism. The texts also condemned colonialism and its effects. Some of these writers include Ebrahim Hussein who wrote about Kinjeketile in his play Kinjeketile  and Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo who wrote on the famous Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi in Kenya. This lesson discusses the historicity of these personalities and the events that surround their resistance to colonialism. Then it goes on to give a literary analysis of one of the two texts.




We shall discuss the two personalities but will only analyse one text i.e. Kinjeketile. It is upon you the student to read The Trials of Dedan Kimathi and form your own opinion.



The Resistance to Colonialism in Kenya

The following discussion is meant to open your understanding of the events that led to the Mau Mau uprising which provided the subject matter of the play The Trials of Dedan Kimathi. By now you should be aware that Dedan Kimathi the lead character in the text was a very senior person in the ranks of the African army that fought for Kenya’s independence. Infact he was a Field Marshal in The Land and Freedom Defence Army which is better known as Mau Mau.

The struggle for land and freedom in Kenya did not start with the armed struggle engineered by Kimathi. It started with board room diplomacies between a few learnt Kenyans and the whitemen and took a gradual process such that by the time Kimathi and other fighters came to the scene, all methods of negotiation and diplomacy had failed. The struggle started with the resistance against the following repressive laws and requirements imposed by the Colonial government against Africans:

  1. Land belonging to Africans had been forcefully taken from them and they were forced to stay in infertile and congested places.
  2. In 1915, the Kenya colonial government passed the Crown Lands Ordinances; a law which said that Kenyan Africans must be taken to European farmers to work for them whether they like it or not. Also African men were to pay hut tax for each of their women: even if one had 30 or 40 wives, he was forced to pay taxes for every house for them.
  3. The Kenya Colonial Government appointed Headmen and Chiefs among the loyal Africans. These ones in turn molested their fellow Africans by:
  • Forcefully taking people’s property
  • Demanding offers of sheep, goats, chicken e.t.c to appease them.
  • Forcing mature girls to work for them especially in household chores like cutting firewood, fetching water. All these were done without pay or recognition.


Africans formed organized associations like Kikuyu Central Association, Kenya Association Union and others which were used to protest against this inhuman treatment of their fellow Africans.  Personalities who fought such ideological and boardroom wars included Harry Thuku with the Kikuyu Central Association and Kenyatta with the Kenya African Union.  But when the colonial regime outlawed such associations and ruled out freedom of Assembly, in early 1850’s the war moved from a political movements to a guerrilla forest organized military movement.  This gave rise to Kenya Lands and Freedom Defence Army which was later baptized Mau Mau.  It gave rise to such guerilla warfare experts such as Dedan Kimathi, General China, Stanley Mathenge and General Kago.  One of the fighters in this war Waruhiu Itote in his book Mau Mau in Action comments:

“Our fight was not a single, organized campaign, carried out by a trained discipline and well equipped army.  It was often disorganized and fragmented.  People worked and fought independently, but all were driven by the same spirit and the same needs.”  Pg 5


The needs Itote talks of are those of freedom and liberation.  During the war, there was always suspicion due to collaborations with the colonial master.  Government spies had been planted among the fighters and they leaked secrets of the defense movement to the government leading to arrests and killing of many loyal Mau Mau fighters. We see such betrayal captured in The Trials of Dedan Kemathi when Wambararia, Kimathi’s brother, deserts the army and betrays him.

The settlers and white farmers had African assistants who they called Nyapara’s.  These had the task of supervising the African workers on white farms.  They were treated with some dignity and were entitled to a raft of privileges such as:

  1. Full-creamed milk
  2. A salary of 30-45/= per month especially in Nakuru District where many white settlers owned large farms.
  3. Could easily access Mzungu’s house
  4. Sometimes his house could be near Mzungu’s house away from ordinary settler
  5. Was not allowed to work and his hut tax was waivered


During the war, these assistants were easy targeted by the Mau Mau for betraying the African cause.  Many of them turned to being homeguards.  Home guard was a defence army formed to counter Mau Mau activism by Africans loyal to the colonialist.  They enjoyed privileges such as those of Nyapara’s and were allowed to carry guns and use them against Mau Mau.  It is this clash that sometimes makes historians argue that Mau Mau was an intra-tribe clash among the Kikuyu’s in which Kikuyu’s pro-colonial administration and Kikuyu’s anti-colonial administration went for each others necks.

Mau Mau was fought by recruiting fighters through oaths.  Many of the diehard fighters were asked to take oaths of allegiance to fight and protect black sovereignty and kill or expel the whites who had taken over land and take Africans to subjectivity.

Types of Oaths administered:

1)         The Warrior Oath – for fighter (spears and armory)

2)         Solidarity Oath – taken by holding a ball of soil (to fight and protect land)


The oaths, traditionally speaking, bound the warriors to one another and ensured that they would not run away from battle and dessert their fellow men. It is this oathing that sparked the declaration of a state of emergency in 1952 and the Mau Mau war started in earnest oathing was mainly encouraged by K.C.A. and K.A.U.




It is important to understand the situation that surrounded the creation of the text The Trials of Dedan Kimathi because such understanding will enable you effectively analyse the text. The history that I have outlined above will help you understand why Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo create a Dedan Kimathi who is a larger than life character.


 8.1.3 Explain the relationship between the history of Mau Mau resistance and the play The Trials of Dedan Kimathi

Summary of the text, The Trials of Dedan Kimathi

Many African theatre workers shared a strong feeling that African theatre needed to reject Western theatre traditions (especially passive audiences) and explore the indigenous heritage.  One direct outcome was to build alternative stages more attuned to an African theatrical tradition.  In Kenya, an interesting experimental open-air stage was built in Kamirithu.

An attempt to harness the African peasantry’s spirit of the collective performance was demonstrated with the historical epic The Trials of Dedan Kimathi by Ngugi and Mugo.  The play is about the ‘Mau Mau’ military campaign of resistance to British colonialism in Kenya in early 1950s (see discussion above).  During the research for the material to script the play, the authors visited villagers who revealed that Kimathi was clearly their beloved son, their respected leader and they talked of him as still being alive.

The playwrights create a Dedan Kimathi charged with mythical strength a hero who escapes death at the hands of the colonialists through a kind of spiritual metamorphosis into a revolutionary symbol.  The temptations offered by various characters, the colonial soldier, Shaw Henderson (first, in a liberal guise, later as a fascist torture) and capitalist stereotypes (European bankers, Asian traders, African entrepreneurs) fail to divert Kimathi from his commitment to the total liberation of Kenyan Masses. 13

The trajectory of the play is from heroic gathering of that power and commitment in Dedan Kimathi’s character to its transfer in the form of spiritual/political solidarity to the Kenyan masses (represented by the Woman, the Boy and the Girl).  This power of Dedan Kimathi’s spirit (the sense in which he is seen to be still alive) is meant to transfer to the audience as a way of igniting them in their struggle against neo-colonialism with the same flame which served in the struggle against overt imperialism.

 8.1.4 Write a brief history of events that led to the Maji Maji uprising in Tanganyika

The Historical Resistance to colonialism in Tanzania

In Tanganyika, Germans lured their entry into the land of Tanganyikans.  Once they had been welcomed, they took control of all that belonged to Tanganyikans.  They disorganized their socio-political and economical lives and forced them to submit to their rulership.  They introduced taxation which was paid through exchange of grains and livestock and these were easily found by the subdued Tanganyikans.  Then the Germans insisted that the tax be paid in form of coins (money); something that was so alien to Africans.  The German authorities used to send clerks and interpreters to various colonial African chiefs to collect tax.  It was so difficult for Africans to find these coins which were so rare.  They had to sell their property and labour to the German to get the coins which they eventually paid back to him, in form of tax.


At the same time, Germans employed some of the Africans who started harassing fellow Africans by virtue of their privileged positions. They did this by signing treaties with the native chiefs.  Under the stewardship of Karl Peters, a ruthless German administrator, the whitemen made swift but firm infiltrations into the hinterland of Tanganyika, conquered the natives and imposed their rule on them.  Karl Peters formed the German East African Company (Deutsche Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft), which he used to establish German authority in the land.


Due to all these malpractices visited upon Africans, they decided to rebel and the rebellion in Tanganyika was done at different times in different places.  First was a revolt led by Abushiri bin Salim at the coastal region of Tanganyika.  They resisted because they simply wanted their freedom.  However, the Germans were powerful and they crushed them into submission.


The second and greatest opposition to German authority in the nineteenth century came from the Wahehe under their able leader Mkwawa and popularly known as the Hehe resistance. Mkwawa was such a powerful leader who had consolidated his power by exhorting ‘Hongo’ (some form of custom duty) from those who traded or travelled through his or in his empire before the coming of the white man.  When the Germans asked him to pay tax, he resisted and engaged them in a war that lasted about four years i.e. 1891 to 1894. Many Germans as well as Africans were killed in this war but eventually the Germans won. In October 1894 Mkwawa was found dead after shooting himself.  His head was taken to Germany.


But perhaps the best known resistance against the Tanganyika was the Maji Maji rebellion.  This was inspired by a prophesy by a certain Kinjikitile Ngwale who it was believed was sent by God to save the people from German oppression.

The Maji Maji was preceded by a movement called Jujila or Jwiywila which was a secret  communication from one individual to another. It had information to the effect that at Ngalambe a powerful Mganga and medicine which would make the white man more vulnerable had been found.  It was further added that ancestors had not died but they were being looked after by God who would show them to those who went to Ngalambe. The Jujila was soon followed by pilgrimages to Ngalambe.  Once at Ngalambe, Kinjikitile put the pilgrims in war groups called ‘Litapo’ and they performed a military training jig called ‘Likinda.’  After the Likinda, people were given medicine, a drop of water smeared on the body and a long list of prescriptions which they had to believe, observe and adhere to.  Among the prescriptions was that Maji Maji soldiers should not come into sexual contact with their wives, they should not eat cassava or simsim or pigeon peas. Kinjikitile Ngwale warned all who came to him to go back and work for the German and wait until when he would give signal for the commencement of the war.  Apparently, some people were so charged that they started the war without warning.  They became impatient and uprooted some shoots of cotton from a German farm hence sparking the war.


In other places like the Ungoni area, some of the Ngoni tribesmen doubted the water.  They started by testing it on a dog. They administered it on a dog and speared it. The dog died. Then they tried it on a young man called Mgayi; he also died.  However, the people still believed and hoped that it would work when used for the purpose of fighting the actual enemies, the German and anyone who sided with him.  So they went to war.  At first they managed to take a few settlement areas of the German.  They killed and scared the Akidas (German hand-helps or homeguards) to submission.  But the German administrator, Von Gotzen, having panicked at the success of the natives, ordered for reinforcement from Germany.  Mercenaries and weapons were brought and the German retaliated, killing thousands of natives especially by the cannon fire (which in the text is referred to as the Big fire, Moto Kubwa). The natives were subdued.


The German administrators were not satisfied by just subduing Africans; he went ahead and ordered the burning of all granaries of Africans and any grain stores.  All food crops were also destroyed.  This set in a famine that had never been witnessed in the history  of the tanganyikans and claimed many Africans  and the remaining ones become too weak and too disorganized to fight.  They were effectively under control and the German could now use them as he wished.

8.1.5 Explain the relationship between the History of Maji Maji and the play  Kinjeketile.

Literary analysis of Kinjeketile by Ebrahim Hussein



This is a fine example of a play written in an African language spoken in over five countries of the continent. It was originally written in and performed in Swahili in 1967. Kinjeketile alludes to the historical Maji Maji rebellion of 1905-1907 in Tanganyika against German colonialism but articulates larger issues that concern Africa. (see the preceding discussion)


The nationalist concern of dissolving ethnic differences towards a cause for the benefit of all is explored. The story deals with the way a religious leader Kinjeketile, calls for an intertribal unity by offering a revival of indigenous beliefs to counter German imperialism. Kinjeketile is an intriguing individual who is divided between loyalty to a traditional ancestral past and to a modern ideology of resistance to colonialism. He is weighed down after he saw African peasants die en masse by the German gun yet they had taken the water that was supposed to make them immune to the bullets. These doubts can be seen when he reflects,

‘ A man gives birth to a word. And the word … grows …it grows bigger and bigger. Finally it becomes bigger than the man who gave it birth.’


With the growing doubts in the validity of the revelation from Hongo, their spirit about the Maji, the leadership of the movement slips from the ideological control of Kinjeketile to the military organization of Kitunda the appointed army trainer.


History of the play

The historical source of the play was a programme of extensive research done among peasant communities by the author (Hussein) for Gwassa, G. K, a junior historian at the University of Dar es Salaam at the time the author was a student there. In fact the peasants contributed a lot to the creation of the play in that they gave from their memory and from their original music the songs, dances and even some pieces of dialogue. Kerr (1995), tells us that the play was popular with these peasants for a variety of reasons,

‘The plays popularity therefore derived from its analysis of the relationship between pan- ethnic unity, different modes of leadership and historical determinants, portrayed in an accessible theatre form with roots in popular memory and culture.’


What this means is that the play was received enthusiastically by the peasants who had suffered so much under the yoke of colonialism because it reminded them of what they had gone through, because it spoke to them in a language they can understand and because it drew a lot from their own culture. Thus the student group who performed it for the first time avoided performing it to elite audience in theatres and instead went to perform to proletariat and peasant audiences as Kerr (1995)confirms,

‘ This was particularly noticeable when they (student group) took the play to Nairobi, avoided the prestigious Kenya National Theatre, and instead performed in a community hall in a high- density area to a wild excited and very non- elite audience.’


Issues of Concern

This historical event has been used by the playwright to address issues of tribalism, poverty, neo colonialism, and misuse of religion, exploitation, superstition and the stereotyped role of the woman in the African societies. These forces have continued to eat into the nerves of the socio-economic and political institutions. To the Wamatumbi, ‘Maji’ is a symbol of unity and infallibility. To the larger society ‘Maji’ would symbolize a redemptive force to dechain us from the bondage of servitude brought about by the aforementioned forces.


In Kinjeketile, tribalism becomes a stepping stone for the German rule. As Kinjeketile puts it, they are a small, constricted, isolated band of people. (P.5) he therefore advises the Tanganyikans to abandon their tribal differences and unite for their common goal. To him unity is an emancipatory tool for a collective bargain for freedom. We see that disunity had made the communities go to war against the German while disorganized. They do not want to unite for they consider each other cowards. They fail to take Kitunda’s instructions seriously because he is Mmatumbi the tribe considered as women. One can look at the disaster that befalls Tanganyikans in the light of the Rwandan genocide. Thousands and thousands of Rwandese lost their lives because of the tribal acrimonies. The Tutsi and the Hutu tribes of Rwanda became hostile to each other and let weapons sort out their differences. Kinjeketile is therefore used by Hussein to show how deadly the ethnic affinities can be used to people’s undoing.


Secondly Hussein shows the root cause of tribalism and negative ethnicity. People have no time to work on their farms because they spend long hours toiling in Kinoo’s, (the white man) farm with lukewarm pay that goes to paying poll tax and hut tax.  The size of the farm keeps on increasing by day hence the work of these people. That means that they do not have time to work on their farms at home. Kinoo’s farm is increasing because he keeps grabbing the Africans land hence denying the labourers the king source of wealth, land. The expected result can then be seen. The Africans become so poor that they cannot afford food for their daily consumption and Bi. Bobali’s child dies after consuming poisonous roots.

Poverty has reduced some people to traitors, according to Kitunda when he argues and justifiable so that,

‘ …we are a hungry people, and hunger drives us to betray one another’ p.5

Poverty as portrayed by Hussein is a reflection of what happens in our contemporary society. Our leaders grab large tracts of land such that one person is said to own land equal to a whole province of the country while millions of others are squatters on unproductive plots of land.

In Kinjeketile, Hussein explores the theme of neo colonialism. In physical reality the colonial masters have left African countries, but psychologically they are controlling their activities from abroad. Africa is held captive to its own freedom. This is the kind of freedom that Kinjeketile refuses to be party to when he argues that it will be sheer futility to drive out the Germans and let in Seyyid Said to control our bodies and spirits. He doubts the good will in Hongo’s words when he says that they will be strong and drive out the red soil and then become the children of Seyyid Said. Kinjeketile is emphatic that the Tanganyikans cannot be strengthened by use of some dubious aid from outside’ (p.29). The playwright then is arguing that we can only rely on ourselves to solve our own problems instead of relying on some imaginary aid. Africa, this light, can be understood to have enough resources to solve its own problems without begging from outside.


Religion or misuse of it is another of the large issues that can be found in this text. Since the Wazaramo believe in Kolelo and the Maji brought by Kinjeketile is from Hongo the god of the Wamatumbi, then the Wazaramo’s cannot fight believing in the water. In fact they cannot join the Wamatumbi’s in fighting the red soil. What this tells us is that the religion in this society is a tool of disunity used to divide the people for it binds them against co operation even if it is for a common good. It takes Kinjeketile to persuade the two sides into believing that god is only one and is referred to using different names by different people. To the Wamatumbi he is hongo while to the Wazaramo he is kolelo. Religions have been causes of a lot of conflicts in our contemporary Africa. In parts of Nigeria and even Kenya, christians and moslems keep fighting and burning churches and mosques in the name of defending their different religious interests.

The subtheme of superstition is also explored under this theme of religion. Wamatumbi belief that Hongo, a spirit who lives in water, has given Kinjeketile Maji which when drank makes one bullet proof. They all drink he water and blindly troop to wards the Germans big gun assured of their infallibity. They become so disillusioned when they realize that they are not at all protected by the water for the bullets still kill them. They turn and blame Kinjeketile despite him having warned them against impatience.


Exploitation of the Africans by the white man is another theme. He brings this issue to the fore when he presents the peasants as having to work for Kinoo the white oppressor without any pay. He keeps grabbing their land while his brothers in oppression the administrators demand that these peasants pay poll tax among other taxes.

This falls squarely in line with what happens in our present societies where workers are subjected to all sorts of taxations while they earn very little. Such workers are overworked to sustain the few bourgeoisies who know nothing but to demand for increase in their pay, allowances and increase in anything that enters their pockets.

Related to the exploitation is the issue of brutality. The peasants and their families are treated with less regard to their human rights. They are overworked, they are mercilessly beaten when they try to resist, their daughters are raped for cheap pleasure and god knows what other brutality is inflicted upon this people. Due to this forced hard labour, the men cannot rise to the occasion and satisfy the sexual needs of their wives for after the days work at the Kinoo’s they are tired and so needs enough rest. One of the women is in agony because her husband, ‘…immediately flings himself on the bed and sleeps like a log.’ Pg11.

The Askari shamelessly grabs Chausiku from her hapless and helpless parents and takes her to the Nyapara who rapes her. Such a young unripe and innocent girl is introduced to sex through rape. To add an insult to an injury, her mother is fully aware that the brutes are raping her but she cannot help because she is weak and her husband has been beaten to unconsciousness. Kitunda seems to be absorbing the brunt of this brutality more than any body else. He is again beaten to unconsciousness when he protests against being beaten while on the farm. Perhaps the climax of brutality comes when the white man’s gun mauls thousands and thousands of the freedom fighters leading to the arrest of Kitunda and Kinjeketile who we are told are again whipped to unconsciousness.


Oppression is also another issue which can be discussed in the light of the above arguments on brutality.




While the subject matter of the play Kinjeketile is colonial resistance, its themes include need for unity, tribalism, misuse of religion, oppression, brutality and exploitation.




Show the relevance of themes we have discussed above to the contemporary East African situation.




The play has about twenty six characters that one can see their roles as being divided in three i.e. the oppressor, the sell outs and the oppressed. It is because of this oppression that the oppressed reject and dare the oppressor to a war.

The main representatives of the oppressed are Kinjeketile, Kitunda and their families. The sell outs include the Mnyapara and the Askari while the oppressors are represented by Kinoo who we actually don’t meet on stage but whose presence is heavily felt.



He is a Mmatumbi seer who keeps preparing traditional medicine in the house. We first meet him when he opens his house and dances in a trance to river Rufiji as if powerful forces are pulling him there. Being a seer his services include relaying messages from the gods of Mmatumbi to the living people and the means of getting this message is by meditating and disappearing into the river for some time. This is seen when he comes from the river with a message of water that will enable the Tanganyika’s fight the Red soil. This message with all its inadequacies he says comes from Hongo.


But being a wise and patient man, Kinjeketile understands the need for unity amongst the people facing the German in battle because he realizes that the message is dubitable. On the other hand he refuses to denounce that Maji is a lie because so far it has withstood the test as the best unifying factor. Kinjeketile’s argument is that if what the Tanganyikans need is unity and the water provides that unity, then it cannot be a lie. He knows the power of his word and that is why he cannot denounce Maji

‘…the moment I say that people in the north south east and west will stop fighting. They will fall into hopeless despair. They’ll give up’ ( p.53.)


In his confrontation with Kitunda who is all eager to blow the war trumpet he tells him, ‘Give me time to think. Have the patience to wait.’

He understands that the people need to learn the ways of the white man and train men in military skills before they face him in war.

‘ …we must learn how to fight, how to use guns. We must be soldiers.’ P.18.

His responsibility as a leader is seen when he commissions Kitunda to train an army in skills that will enable them win. But above all he preaches the need for unity and self reliance in this war. He knows the power of strength from within that can only be acquired by unity when says,

‘…we will be strong: but not by being strengthened by some dubious aid from outside. We will be strong because this strength comes from us- our own strength. With this we will fight and we will win. Have patience.’ Pp28-29


Kinjeketile also shows the power of religion in a desperate situation. He makes the people believe in the power of Maji because they are convinced it is a bullet proof aid from their spirits. . Thus they believe that what comes from the gods cannot be wrong and so if the mediator between them and the gods says that they unite and fight as one, they cannot object. They seem to be ready to go to war even without the weapons because their gods have willed that no German bullet will penetrate them. Religion thus becomes the opium of the masses. Politicians and church leaders in our contemporary society use the religion to enrich themselves as can be seen in Mulwa’s Redemption.  The arch swindlers gather the poor people who are urged to contribute generously and receive blessings in return. When Kitunda kneels to touch Kinjeketile’s garment, the people blindly follow suit.

The theme of revenge or the quest for it by Kitunda is highlighted by Kinjeketile. He admonishes Kitunda not to go to war to revenge the atrocities that have been inflicted on him especially when he is beaten on the farm as well as when his daughter is raped.



He is a Mmatumbi who like the rest is forced to work on Kinoo farm. His wife tells us that he and others work so hard yet their wives lack food in the house to offer them.

‘…our men work a lot….when my husband comes from the plantation, I have no food to give him.’


We meet him coming from the farm with the rest of the men. He has been beaten thoroughly in the course of the day by the Mnyapala. He is cursing and swearing to his attacker.

Kitunda is a keen and observant character.  He knows that for the people to fight the white man they have to be armed with weapons similar to his. That is why he advises the people to steal guns from the askaris and seize them if need be and do every thing to see that they have got guns. Due to his keenness he prescribes the key factor of their betrayal is hunger because the sell outs want to fend themselves without undergoing as much suffering.


Kitunda plays a leadership role in the text. The responsibility to build and train an army falls on him and he does it with a fair amount of success as he tells us;

‘…day by day we are growing stronger. Yesterday and the day before yesterday and today our brothers have come to join us. Soon we will be ready….’


He is a pragmatic leader who can work with people from different tribes and with varied behaviour; some civil others resistant. This is evident for he bonds a Mrufiji with Mngoni, Mzaramo with Mmakonde and others. In case of anything going wrong any where he is charged with the dynamics of coming up with a solution and effecting that solution in practice. A case in point is when Kinjeketile disappears and he is at the forefront in the organization of a search party.


In himself, Kitunda is a realistic man although we see him naïve at first. When Kinjeketile possessed with Hongo announces that he has Maji, it is Kitunda who first trusts him allowing others to blindly trust the Maji. Later on when he realizes that the Maji does not work he urges the people to go on fighting regardless of the water. A war has been started and it must be seen to its logical conclusion so he reasons.

Kitunda helps reveal to Kinjeketile that the forces that inspired him might be wrong. Through their conversation, he questions the source of Maji and the motivation to go to war.

‘ ….how do you that it was Hongo and not another spirit? If this is Hongo, then why does he say that we will be the children of Seyyid said after winning the war? (P.28.)


As we have seen earlier Kitunda has personal reasons for taking part in the war. His daughter is dragged away to be raped by the askari’s yet he cannot defend her. Through this incident, we can clearly see the oppression of the people as being physical and psychological as well. The raped lady is traumatized together with her defenseless father and this then makes the people to rise up in arms and say enough is enough.



Bi. Kitunda

We meet her at first a very inquisitive lady, sending her daughter to the Kinjeketile’s to spy what they are cooking in these lean times. She had also spied on Kinjeketile when he had mysteriously disappeared down the river in the middle of the night. This observation makes her conclude that Kinjeketile is up to something. This then acts as foreshadowing of the events that later unfold.

She critically surveys nature and comes up with startling comments on the prevailing conditions. She observes that Bi. Bobali’s child must have died of poison after consuming poisonous roots and that if men do not work, then there is going to be famine. In deed it comes to pass.


Like her husband, she tries to rescue her daughter from the hands of the askaris but she is beaten and shoved over. Torn between her daughter who is beyond rescue and her husband who has passed out after being beaten, she opts for her husband and tries to resuscitate him. She abuses the men around and calls them ‘women’ and ‘yes men’ who cannot rise to defend their own. In a way then she charges these men who later own take part in the war.

Through her we know that the men in this society are almost incapacitated and fear protecting their women folk from sexual abuse by agents of the colonialists.



She is a young virgin girl brutally assaulted sexually by the human dogs in the form of the askaris, the agents of doom. This poignant incident gives her father the bitter ness that propels him to war.

Her meeting with the snake at the Kinjeketile is a bad omen both to the society in general and to her in particular and we see it happening later own. There is blood bath and she is sexually molested.

She represents the thousands of girls who were defiled by the callous ambassadors of the oppressors (Askaris) or even the oppressors themselves during colonialism in Africa. Her presentation can be equated to that of the character, the Bitch in Austin Bukenya’s A People’s Bachelor. The Bitch was sexually assaulted by the colonial governor at a tender age and this affected her to the extent that she lost interest in sex hence simply doing it for fun.



He represents the self proclaimed henchmen of the white oppressor. His tasks of duty as a collaborator include beating his fellow Africans on Kinoo’s farm when they stand up to stretch themselves (they are supposed to work without getting tired), soliciting cheap pleasure from women and in return exempting their relatives from the days work among other inhuman activities. He beats Kitunda on the farm and he accompanies the mnyapale to Kitunda’s to take Chausiku for defilement.

Summarily then, his work is to bootlick the master and in turn make sure that the other Africans do the same if not better than him. The sad part of his collaboration and all the injustice he does to his own people is that he gains nothing from it. Neither his situation nor his status in the society does improve. In fact he becomes an enemy of the people.

He is a representative of the social misfits in the society who should be done away with just the way a dentist uproots a stinking tooth from a mouth.


8.1.4 Show the contemporary relevance of the two texts in the present East African situations.

It can therefore be argued that literature, arising from the society must inevitably attend to the historical processes of that society.  Ebrahim Hussein in his play Kinjeketile and Ngugi and Micere Mugo in The Trials of Dedan Kimathi sought to recreate this history in a literary manner but without distorting the facts. They sought to restore the pride of place of these historical figures by looking at them as the true heroes of East African’s independence.  To do this, they portrayed these historical figures from the point of view of the peasants who had suffered under the colonial yoke.

In Decolonizing the Mind Ngugi asserts that,

Trials of Dedan Kimathi was a call for revolutionary theatre depicting the masses in the only historically correct perspective positively, heroically and as the true makers of history.


It is important to note at this point that the two plays were written after extensive researches conducted among the peasants who knew these heroes of the fight for independence.

The role played by these historical figures in the fight for liberation had been distorted by Europeans and their African sympathizers.  They had sought to portray them as terrorists who had resisted civilization of Africa at large and East Africa in particular.

One may be tempted to think that if these plays are such didactic and meant to serve the aforementioned functions, then their aesthetic, quality is wanting.  An analysis of the plays as we shall see reveals otherwise.




Read carefully the play, The trials of Dedan Kimathi and analyse it the way that I have analysed Kinjeketile.


Further Reading


Waruhiu Itote:  (1979) Mau Mau in Action, Nairobi:  Transafrica

Kanogo, T. (1987).  Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, Nairobi: E.A.E.P.

Kinambo I.N. and Temu A.T. (eds) (1969) A History of Tanzania, Nairobi: East African

Publishing House,

Gwassa GCK (1969) The German Intervention and African Resistance in Tanzania.

Mapunda O.B. and G. P Mpangara; (1968) The Maji Maji War in Ungoni, Dar es Salaam: East African Publishing House.

Wachanga, H. K, (1975), The Swords of Kirinyaga



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