Item Post Navigation Display

Heroism and Betrayal in Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat.

Heroism and Betrayal in Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat.
            A Grain of Wheat is a 1967 publication by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer. His  other celebrated works includes Weep not Child, The River Between and Petals of Blood. Most  of his works centres on colonization and decolonization.
            A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o tells of Kenyan’s struggle for independence and the Mau Mau uprising. In this novel Ngugi presents heroism on one hand and betrayals  on the other, this is why he chooses to use numerous characters .Ngugi’s use of characterization is very powerful. Each character has a role to perform in the novel either to ensure  Kenyan’s independence or downfall.
            The main hero is Kihika (though dead). Ngugi is able to reveal the the character of Kihika through flashbacks upon flashbacks and flashback between flashback. Some chapters in the novel are entitled with some characters name but none is titled with Kihika’s name, it is through these other characters flashback that we are able to see who Kihika is. Kihika is a freedom fighter who is zealous about liberating his people from the hands of the colonialists. As a revolutionary character, the spirit of revolution started in him right from when he was a child. Kihika has always seen himself as a tool for the redemption of his nation and this awakening is sharpened by ‘’The Bible’’ which is  which is ironically an agent of colonization. It is ironical that the bible, the same tool which the colonial masters used to capture and draw the people’s heart away from their culture and gods is the same tool which Kihika is capitalizing on to fight them:
         ‘And the Lord spoke unto Moses,
           Go to Pharoah and say unto him,
           Thus saith the Lord,
           Let my people go,
                                               Exodus 8.1
     (verses underlined in Kihika’s  personal Bible)’’(35).
The underlined verses above clearly shows us that Kihika believes he has been chosen to redeem his people.
Kihika so much  believes in fighting for kenyan’s  independence, he is willing to do anything for his country and he wants others to do the same. ‘‘A day comes when brother shall give up brother, a mother her son, when you and I have heard the call of the nation’’(16).This tells us Kihika is a good patriot and one who has the good will of the nation at hand.  He is a man marked and labelled for the deliverance of his people. He kills D.O Robinson and takes over Mahee prison, becoming a hero to the people. His greatest triumph is the capture of Mahee, a big police garrison. People came to know Kihika as the white man. This, to some critics is ‘‘terrorism’’, but Kihika may be a terrorist or a figure of terror to the white man, he is Kenyan’s hero.  The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics as quoted in Sophia Akhuemokhan says ‘‘One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter’’ (50 ).  He leads the Mau Mau uprising and controls them. His life and deeds are legendary and part of Uhuru is intended to celebrate and worship him.
Kihika is a true hero who fights with words, actions and dies for the independence of Kenyan.As the bible verse from which the title is extracted from ‘‘ thou fool,that which thou soweth(a garin of wheat) is not quickened except it dies’’,this tells us Kihika hasto die for the revolution to be quickened. It is  just sad that he is betrayed by one of his own people, Mugo. Ngugi uses the character of Kihika to symbolise Jomo Kenyatta, who fought for the independence of Kenya. This brings us to ‘‘history’’ which is also a key concept in Postcolonialism.
            Mugo is the one who betrayed Kihika, though some critics argue that he is a hero but the fact is that no action or explanations justifies what he did to Kihika, Mugo has always been jealous of Kihika since he attended that meeting at Rungei Market in the early 1920’s.His hatred towards Kihika fuels Mugo’s jealousy towards him:
Mugo felt a constriction in his throat. He could not clap for the words did not touch him. What right had such a young boy, probably younger than Mugo, to talk like that? What arrogance? Kihika has spoken of blood as if he was drawing water in a river. Mugo reflected, a revulsion starting in his stomach at the sight  and smell of blood . I hate him, he heard himself say and frightened, he looked at Mumbi, wondering what she was thinking(16).
     Haunted by his past, his greatest fear is that he is a no body so he decides to make people recognise him by all means. ‘’He turned to the soil. He would labour sweat and through success and wealth, force society to recognize him’’(9).
Mugo has neither friends nor foes. Then, the opportunity for Mugo to take his revenge on Kihika came. Kihika himself walks into Mugo’s apartment and asks him to join in the revolution. Kihika says, ‘‘You are self  made man. You are a man, you have suffered.   We need such a  man to organize an underground movement in the new village’’ (208). However, what Kihika doesn’t know is that Mugo is not ready to sacrifice anything for Kenya. The only thing Mugo cares about is himself. Kihika fixes an appointment with Mugo believing he will help. Mugo however is not ready to help. He feels Kihika should not drag him into the mess he, Kihika has created. Akhuemokan intones that all ‘‘Mugo asks is to live his quiet bachelor life and till the soil. To his thinking, it is mischievous twist of fate that the villagers should pick upon him a champion’’(40). Mugo finds out there is a price on Kihika’s head and so he goes to the district officer and tells him about Kihika.   ‘‘I know ’’, he said quietly, I know where Kihika can be found tonight’’(216). And so Mugo betrays Kihika. Kihika is caught and hanged in public. It is ironical however that it is this same Mugo that is called upon to join the party a deliver a speech on Uhuru day.
            In A Grain of Wheat, the character, Gikonyo is driven to also deny an oath he has taken as that is the only way he can leave detention. Gikonyo has justified his betrayal of his compatriots in the prison by idealising Mumbi, to whom he wishes to return to. ‘’He only wanted to see his Mumbi and take up the thread of life where he had left it’’ (125).  This singular act by Gikonyo is betrayal and it illustrates the haunting consequence of colonization, he returns home only to find Mumbi carrying another man’s child.  This is sad and heartbreaking. It is ironical that he gave up his oath for the sake of Mumbi who has slept with another man. Gikonyo’s character symbolize Africans who sold out their country and people to the whites only to discover it is not worth it. He goes through pain and he is sad, he confides and tells Mugo what is disturbing him.  Gikonyo attempts to retrace his steps and work towards fighting for independence. He urges Mugo to join him and the others in moving the party forward. This is where decolonization comes in. Obviously, there can be no return from colonization; decolonization simply shifts the forced relationship from exploitation to the painful struggle for independence and liberation. This novel therefore attempts at recreating a broken society.
            Mumbi, Gikonyo’s wife also lets another man sleep with her, not only does he sleeps with Karanja, she even bears the child. Gikonyo comes home, sees another child on Mumbi’s back and he is devastated. This act of adultery and betrayal is not justified by any logical reasoning.
What else is there to tell you? That I remember being full of submissive gratitude?  That I laughed-even welcome Karanja’s cold lips on my face? I was in a strange world, and it was like as if I was mad. And need I tell you more? I let Karanja make love to me (164).
            She lets Karanja make love to her because he told her her husband was coming back home. Should we call this gratitude? No it is betrayal. Mumbi betrayed her husband’s trust, knowing fully well that Karanja is her husband’s friend. This tells us that Africans are quick to neglect their roots and embrace the white man when the going isn’t well and until when we learn to embrace our roots we will always remain colonized.
            Karanja is also another character who betrays a lot of people in the novel. First, he chooses the whites over the blacks. He works for the whites and whishes the whites will never go away. He believes the white man has come to stay and will never leave. He enjoys the power this affords him and he uses this to prey on innocent Kenyans even right from when he was working at the library
 But on the whole Karanja would rather endure the humiliation rather than lose the  good name he had built up for himself among the white people. He lived on that  name and the power it brought him. At Githima, people believed that a complaint from him can make one lose his job. Karanja knew their fears(40).
Karanja loves the whites so much and he never wants them to go. At a point the blacks  taken into detention. So when Karanja sees an opportunity to remain home, he clutches it at the expense of his people.  He sells the party and its oath secrets just to remain near Mumbi.He chooses to be chief and political watch dog for the whites.  ‘‘And it was soon after Kihika’s arrest that Karanja became a homeguard’’(167).
Gikonyo comes homes and sees that Karanja is the chief, he is furious and angry that Karanja has betrayed them all. Karanja uses his position as the home chief to oppress his own people.  The position gives him power, power to oppress, save, imprison and kill. It is with this same position he seduces Mumbi with.
            Gikonyo, Mumbi, Karanja and Mugo are all guilty of betrayal. Ngugi uses these character to symbolise Africans who sold their land, rights and people to the whites but at the end they realises that they have been colonized, so they live in oppression. Gikonyo, Mumbi, Karanja and Mugo carry heavy burden in their hearts, but later they realise they have done wrong and they retrace their steps. This process is decolonization, the characters go through decolonization of minds and this leads to political liberation and liberation of the mind. Mugo confess his sins in front of a large audience on Uhuru day.  According to David Cook, inevitably he abandons this brave project when he discovers that his Uhuru speech is to be the occasion for the public accusation of Karanja for the crime Mugo himself had in fact committed(96).
            Mugo decides to confess his sins, and his singular act by Mugo makes the other characters to also retrace their steps. Karanja decides to leave and never come back. Gikonyo on the other hand praises Mugo’s courage:
He was a brave man,inside’’ he said. He stood before much honour,praises were heaped On him. He would have become a chief. Tell me another person who would have espoused his soul for all the eyes to peck at’’ He paused and let his eyes linger on Mumbi. Then he looked away and said,’ ’remember that few people in that meeting are fit to lift a stone against that man. Not unless I-we-too- in turn open our hearts naked for the world to look at (254).
He also forgives Mumbi and desires a reconciliation.

No comments