8.2 East African Poetry & Drama: Can you give a Literary analysis of Kinjeketile by Ebrahim Hussein?

Chapter 8

 8.2 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.


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