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To my grandfather, Emile Najeeb Mahfood (1922-2002), whose stories of his youth in Kingston,

Jamaica, inspired me with an interest in the world beyond mine, and to my father, Phillip Emile

Mahfood (1947-2004), whose collection of stamps from the British Commonwealth led me to question

how England, and by extension the West, managed to colonize the earth, to Dr. Simone Turbeville,

whose passion for literature ignited my own, to Dr. Joya Uraizee, who gave me my first introduction to

postcolonial literature and to Ngugi, to Dr. Stephen Casmier, who introduced me to Farah and Armah,

and to Dr. Toby Benis, who introduced to me the idea of diasporic literature. I would be remiss were I

not to add to this dedication a special acknowledgment to my wife, Dr. Stephanie Mahfood, and my

children, Alexander and Eva Ruth, for their patience with me during the many long hours of my

drafting this document.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: THE GROWTH OF ESCHATOLOGIES The Articulation of the Eschaton


The African Sense of Time


The Effect of Time on the Community


The Pace of Change


The Arrival of the Eschaton


Adapting to the Future Dimension


Conclusion – Subversive Eschatology


CHAPTER 2: POSTCOLONIAL CHANGE AS RELIGIOUS PHENOMENA The Eschatological Expression of Radical African Writers


The Relationship between the Individual and the Community


Humanity’s Relationship with God


The Use of Symbols




Conclusion – Subversive Culture




Devil on the Cross








Blood in the Sun: Secrets


Variations on the Theme of African Dictatorship: Close Sesame






Two Thousand Seasons


The Healers











Chapter One: The Growth of Eschatologies

Radical African writers use teleological eschatology as a political weapon. Taken separately, the term teleological refers to the end of a goal-oriented process while the term eschatology is a belief or doctrine concerning final things. In Abrahamic eschatology, teleology is at the forefront, evidenced by the fact that the age to come is divided into the two areas of interest that interpret humanity’s social reality. The first culminates in a future end of an individual’s personal history, and the second culminates in a future end of humankind’s collective history. Judaism has within itself the concept of Olam Haba, or “the world to come,” in which the bodies will be raised and the souls will unite with God (Kohler). Christianity interprets the separation of the soul from the body as leading to a particular judgment that places the individual for eternity either in heaven or in hell while the end of all things is signaled by the resurrection of all the dead for a general judgment (Auer and Ratzinger). Islam, articulating its understanding of teleological eschatology in suras 18 (which discusses the resurrection of the individual body) and 36 (which discusses the judgment of mankind) of the Holy Qur’an, also adheres to this dual understanding of the end in which each individual has a personal end and all souls can expect a final end. In all three divisions of the Abrahamic tradition, then, the eschatological vision is future-oriented, an event that happens at the end of linear time or history, culminating in eternity, or a timeless state.

A. The Articulation of the Eschaton

The idea that eschatology denoted the end of a process endured until the early twentieth-century when a growing canon in Abrahamic eschatological thought developed through a handful of Christian and Jewish theologians with a renewed interest in the eschaton. 1 These eschatologists included Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann, who developed the concept of a dialectic eschatology, Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer, who developed the concept of a consistent eschatology, C.H. Dodd and Rudolf Otto, who developed the concept of a realized eschatology, Thomas J. J. Altizer, among others, who developed the concept of a death of God eschatology, and Walter Benjamin, who developed the concept of a messianic eschatology. Dodd, in particular, developed the concept in practical terms so that it might be a useful tool in addressing the lived experience of both the individual and the

1 There was no parallel growth in Islamic eschatological thought in this period, and Muslim theologians have traditionally adopted the Christian eschatological precept of an apocalyptic, end-time occurrence that results in a resurrection of the dead and future life to come in heaven or hell as described within suras 18 and 36.


community. In The Parables of the Kingdom (1935), Dodd even coined the term ‘realized eschatology’ “as the impact upon this world of the ‘powers of the world to come’ in a series of events, unprecedented and unrepeatable, now in actual process” (35). What this meant was that it became possible for humanity’s reality to be interpreted as a process in the present moment, an always-already happening transformation, that is, of the individual’s role within the community. As a result of the shifting understanding of humanity’s relation to the eschaton, eschatology began to be considered part of the development of a historical process rather than merely the summation of it. Johann Auer and Joseph Ratzinger took exception to this in Dogmatic Theology: Eschatology, Death and Eternal Life (1988) because they perceived that the eschatological moment could not exist within historical time, being as it is concerned with events that happen when a person or community moves beyond the timeline. The articulation of a realized eschatology, they argued, is what led to the politicization of the kingdom of God by Marxists seeking to further their social agendas. The writers on whom this criticism would have been most directly focused included not only Dodd, but also Jürgen Moltmann, who wrote Theology of Hope (1967) after being strongly influenced by the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope (1959), and especially Gustavo Gutierrez, who wrote A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation (1971). In focusing on the material nature of humanity’s social relationships, Gutierrez exalted class struggle in his rejection of capitalism – a theology of liberation, the argument proposes, should use the idea of a realized eschatology to address the social inequities within the human community. The kingdom of God as a material reality became something that could and should be achieved on earth if the message of Christ’s hope were to have any meaning for humanity’s lived experience. These greater complexities in eschatological thought were initiated in Judeo-Christianity, then, and spread throughout the Abrahamic tradition in their journey via the missionary routes to Africa. Auer and Ratzinger have provided in their book Dogmatic Theology a review of eschatological evolution throughout the twentieth-century that has proven helpful in understanding how eschatology came to be useful to Marxism. The authors start with Karl Barth, a theologian of the Swiss Reformed Church, whose commentary The Epistle to the Romans, published in 1919, argued that “a Christianity which is not wholly eschatology and nothing but eschatology has absolutely nothing to do with Christ” (Auer 47). At the time Barth was writing, Christian eschatology was primarily concerned with the end of things on earth, with the achievement of the beatific vision, or an immediate knowledge of God, and with an aspiration of humanity’s material substance to the spiritual realm. It was a primarily teleological course of study in that it relied upon a model of linear time, either an individual’s personal


eschatology, which occurs at his or her death, or the greater humanity’s eschatology, which will occur at the end of all things. It, moreover, focused on the dissolution of the material world in the translation of the spirit into eternity. With Barth, however, “the word ‘eschatological’ no longer qualifies time. It qualifies, instead, existence. It interprets Christianity as an ever renewed act of encounter” (Auer 48). It opens the way, that is, for an eschatological vision that can be useful to one’s daily life as an always- already happening phenomenon. Under this interpretation, linear time, or future time, ceases to be a governing factor in a Christian’s understanding of the way God works in his or her life even though the personal end of the individual and of the world still looms as a reality for everyone. The shift in theological emphasis from a future-oriented eschatology to a present-oriented one altered the options Christendom had at its disposal to view humanity’s relationship with God. Following Barth to his logical conclusion, Rudolf Bultmann developed an existentialist philosophy which argued that Jesus’s eschatology dealt largely with decisions made by individuals in the present moment. In this sense, to be a Christian was synonymous with the idea of “existing eschatologically,” so that “at a stroke, the concept of eschatology is stripped of any temporal component” (Auer 48-9). This was problematic for Auer and Ratzinger because “it depends on displacing Christianity from its home in the midst of [temporal] reality and resettling it on the pinhead of the present moment. A faith which cannot come into conflict with history, and with experienced reality in general, no longer has anything to say to the historical process” (50). The dialectic created by the individual’s decision as an always-already occurrence in the present moment and God’s will for that individual to choose the good at every moment had the effect of making God wholly Other. Bultmann argued that this is entirely due to sin, which is a lack of orientation to the will of God that makes humanity unable to relate to him. A breach was thus created between God and humankind that opened a void that Marxism attempted to fill with its emphasis on social reconstruction in the present moment. If there is a breach between God and humanity, it makes sense that humanity ought to do its best to fulfill itself within that breach. That fulfillment, though, should grow organically within seekers of the Word who cultivate their understanding of it in the process. It should not be approached opportunistically by those who merely want to use the Word for their own ends. Auer and Ratzinger explain this Marxist encroachment into eschatology in writing that “[w]here Christianity has denied the world, the world will make a powerful comeback” (50). While eschatology opened the promise of a more just world in the life to come, Marxism offered that reality in this one. While Bultmann had strengthened Barthes’s proposition in his early work, he opened the door for other Christian theologians to develop it in various ways. In 1935, C. H. Dodd, in his book The


Parables of the Kingdom furthered the sense of Bultmann’s expression by coining the phrase ‘realized eschatology,’ by which he explained that Jesus “declared that the eternal order was present in the actual situation, and that this situation was the ‘harvest’ of history that had gone before” (Auer 55). Jesus, Dodd continued, had anticipated the coming of the kingdom of God during his lifetime and in his person and demonstrated through his parables the workings of God in the present moment. That the second coming has not yet happened does nothing to invalidate Jesus’ claim that he would return in the lifetime of his disciples (Matt. 24:34). In realized eschatology, Auer and Ratzinger find that “the dramatic character of Jesus’ proclamation does not stem from some particularly intense expectation of an imminent end, but from its claim to bring with it the presence of God” (55). That we engage in an ongoing relationship with God through the decisions of any given moment means that we have it within ourselves to develop an applied eschatology, or one that is useful in the context of our daily lives. An applied eschatology would further enable humanity to realize its ambitions for the kingdom of God here on earth, and these ambitions would not necessarily include material concerns like social equality and economic parity, but spiritual concerns like faith, hope, and love being a lived experience. Marxists, though, seized upon the opening that realized eschatology provided in order to force the discussion in the direction of the material concerns in preference to the spiritual. In the decades that followed, increasingly radical theologians continued to enter into an exploration of the nature of time in salvation history. Even though Oscar Cullman, in his 1946 publication of Christ in Time, in supporting the scriptural view of linear time tried to return to the historical process by arguing that God’s plan is part of our historical reality, the major books that followed continued the focus that Bultmann initiated and Dodd articulated. Jurgen Moltmann, in his Theology of Hope (1964), was the first post-Vatican II eschatologist to argue that the future age to come is something that is presently available to us all through the promise of the Resurrection. “The main point at issue in eschatology,” Auer and Ratzinger explain, and what Moltmann was after, was the desire to “put Christianity into practice by transforming the world, using the criterion of hope” (58). On the surface, this sounds rather innocuous, but Auer and Ratzinger see a danger in it because they believe that eschatology “is not the status of the present, or the significance of some special ‘moment,’ nor a past ‘midpoint of time,’ nor eternity itself. The time of the eschaton, and thus the all-important time for Christianity, is the future” (57). Johann-Bapist Metz's political theology (1965), James Cone’s black theology (1966), Ben Englebrecht’s theology of revolution (1969), and Gustavo Gutiérrez’s liberation theology (1971) were thus considered divergent opinions even before they helped establish a direct link between materialist Marxist ideology and spiritualist Christian eschatology. Auer and Ratzinger trace


the catalyst back Bultmann, after whose “abstractions theology had become realistic in a way long regarded as impossible. It had become a theology of action with consequences on a world scale” (58). The realm of politics in religion had until this point been primarily the concern of moral theology; now,

it was suddenly a significant part of eschatology, which is otherwise inherently apolitical. What this

shift accomplished, therefore, was the sudden availability of eschatology as a tool to advance social ends. Seeing how realized eschatology could be used as a political tool since it already reflected their own ideas of a living kingdom of heaven on earth to be found in society, African Marxists had to justify for their adherents why the hoped-for age to come had not yet arrived despite all their efforts. Class distinctions continued to exist, and neocolonial governments continued to service the needs of the West in advance of the needs of their own people. The process of exploiting the human and material resources of the former colonies in order to benefit the Western banking interests had continued long after colonial independence. The attempt by African Marxists to end such capitalist oppression was a long suffering struggle under neocolonial dictatorships, and it became important to find a way to strengthen popular resistance to increasing repression. Teleological eschatology is able to serve as the requisite tool to maintain the class struggle for the very simple reason that the good life of a realized eschatology is the fruit of the hoped-for age to come. Ngugi wa Thiong’o thus uses it in Matigari as the boy Muriuki signifies the birth of a new resistance, Nuruddin Farah uses it in Close Sesame as Deeriye maintains his hope even though he is twice thwarted in his efforts against oppression, and Ayi Kwei Armah uses it in The Healers as Damfo explains that the work of healing a people takes many generations and may not be accomplished in our lifetime. This makes Marxism an inherently an eschatological construct as African Marxists use the bait of a hoped-for age to come to inspire people to social action and to prevent their being discouraged by their not accomplishing the eschaton within their day – a day that is deferred, therefore, to an indefinite future time. The creation of a Marxist eschatology presupposes a Marxist theology, which seems a contradiction in terms, but a number of Marxist theologians arose in the 20 th century, the most well-known being Gutierrez. Another worth mentioning, in particular, however, is the Jewish person of Walter Benjamin,

a contemporary of the early 20 th -century eschatologists, who argued in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1939), published in his collection of essays entitled Illuminations, that history is eschatological rather than teleological, its end being a disruption rather than a goal. This disruption is necessarily salvific, though, for it ends the progress of the great disaster of humanity’s inhumanity by subverting it. To demonstrate this, Benjamin invokes the image of a painting entitled “Angelus Novus”


by Paul Klee in which an angel is caught in the motion of backing away from an object of contemplation. Benjamin reflects in Illuminations, This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. An eschatological event would naturally halt the angel’s backward movement, disrupting that progress as time is pulled back to its origin. Because the disruption would be an instance of salvation, Benjamin’s eschatology is messianic as some outside savior would arrive to finalize the historical experience – it is also subversive as a history intent on destroying the narratives that perpetuate the status quo would necessarily be rewriting itself rather than supporting the logical hegemonic trends within the status quo. This is what he means when he hesitates to combine the terms ‘teleology’ and ‘eschatology,’ treating them as dichotomous. John Parker writes in “The Dialectics of Allegoresis:

Historical Materialism in Benjamin's Illuminations” that for Benjamin, “human history as such cannot be redeemed, only preserved, reconstructed, until the moment of ultimate redemption when it will be filled by the Anointed” (Parker). In the process of awaiting a messiah, therefore, humanity must take action, for, as Benjamin argues in “Theses,” “every second of time [is] the strait gate through which [the] Messiah might enter.” An amelioration of the material conditions in society, furthermore, helps pave the way for the messiah, clearing a path for the hoped-for age to come. While no extant research linking the African Marxist writers Ngugi, Farah, and Armah to Abrahamic eschatologies seems to exist, one research presentation connecting Walter Benjamin to Ngugi does. Robert Spencer, in an abstract to a paper entitled “Optimism of the Intellect and Optimism of the Will: The Unseasonable Art of Ngugi wa Thiong'o,” presented at the University of Warwick’s February 2003 “Postcolonial Studies Workshop on the Oeuvre of Ngugi wa Thiong'o,” states that Ngugi’s “thought is akin to Walter Benjamin's advocacy of the unfinished struggle of those jilted and forgotten by history's official account” and that “Ngugi's unflinching socialism does not so much pre- empt the future as clear a path for it by unmasking the fallibility of the present, by disclosing the blemishes and flaws of its incompleteness.” This is language taken directly from Benjamin’s theses on history in which he articulates his messianic eschatology. Throughout the paper, Spencer does not,


unfortunately, carry the point to its natural conclusion, which is that Ngugi’s Matigari is a direct response to Benjamin’s eschatological vision or that Ngugi saw the larger point of Benjamin’s worldview and learned to wield teleological eschatology as a weapon in a field of realized eschatology. As a result of capitalist exploitation, realized eschatology cannot by itself find a suitable foundation for demonstrating the hoped-for age to come as a present reality within the land. For that to happen, the utopian ideal where every worker is a meaningful agent in the production of his or her own life and labor, where every worker has the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of his or her life and labor, would have to become a reality, an event that Ngugi fantasizes in Devil on the Cross when Wariinga joins the automotive workshop. As Gutierrez writes, “What really makes this utopian thought viable and highlights its wealth of possibilities is the revolutionary experience of our times [where] utopian thought is taking on, in line with the initial intention, its quality of being subversive to and a driving force of history” (232-3). That revolutionary experience is an ongoing process, which “is characterized by its relationship to present historical reality,” being both “a denunciation of the existing order” and “an annunciation, an annunciation of what is not yet, but will be; it is the forecast of a different order of things, a new society” (233). If Benjamin is right, therefore, that history is subversively eschatological rather than conservatively teleological, then he is arguing for a realized eschatology that plays itself out within the historical moments of our daily lives. A Marxist eschatology, moreover, would have to seek a disruption of the status quo in order to bring about the new society, ironically making itself goal- oriented, redeeming the term ‘teleological’ so that it supports the dynamic process rather than the status quo. Dodd’s vision of a realized eschatology taken from his reading of the New Testament qualifies this, for he writes that “[t]here is no hint [in the parables of Christ] that the Kingdom of God is Utopia. The restored kingdom of David, which was the Utopia of popular Jewish hopes in the time of Jesus, is all but expressly rejected, and no alternative Utopia is suggested” (167). That being the case, African Marxists have less of a reason to politicize the kingdom of heaven than to demythologize its opposite as it has been structured on earth. The way to do this is to engage the people in a future hope – in a new teleological vision that is also eschatological – that through class struggle they will achieve a world in which they can meaningfully live as agents in control of their own means of production.

B. The African Sense of Time

What Marxist writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nuruddin Farah, and Ayi Kwei Armah found of use in exploring this concept of eschatological writing, therefore, was not the ground of realized


eschatology that heralds the kingdom of God as part of the historical process but the figure of teleological eschatology, the eschatology long endorsed within the Abrahamic tradition that points to a hoped-for age to come, moving through it. A reason for this comes from John S. Mbiti, who in African Religions & Philosophy (1969) and again in New Testament Eschatology in an African Background: A Study of the Encounter between New Testament Theology and African Traditional Concepts (1971) writes that traditional African societies did not have a concept of the future tense, living wholly in the present as it receded into the past. Because indigenous African religion is anthropocentric, dealing primarily with social and somatic temporal concerns rather than spiritual concerns, no concept exists within the tradition of an eschatological age to come. Already present-oriented, the traditional African viewed social change as religious phenomena and was engaged in the active development of the community in which he or she lived. Finding the kingdom of God in the present moment, then, was a non-issue for the traditional African, who lived a kind of realized eschatology every day. What was foreign and useful, though, was the idea of a hoped-for age to come, a kingdom of God on earth that could be promised as a future reality to those who actively engaged in the reconstruction of a classless society by restoring to the people productive control over that society. This future-oriented vision is expressive of a very clear and definite distinction made between the spiritual and the physical worlds in Abrahamic thought. In the Abrahamic tradition, a brief separation of the spiritual and material worlds occurs that is meant to end the relationship between them. This culminates, furthermore, both in the resurrection of the body, which is a permanent restoration of the spirit with its material counterpart, and in its translation into heaven, into an existence that is not part of this earth. This movement of the materially embodied spirit away from this world, however, does not exist in traditional, indigenous African thought. According to John S. Mbiti in African Religions & Philosophy (1969), that is, “even life in the hereafter is conceived in materialistic and physical terms” (4), and those terms involve continuing relationships with the material world. While belief in an afterlife is found in every African society, Mbiti explains that this does not mean people hope for a better life to come but that making life better on this earth is the central concern of African religion. Because the afterlife deals with a separation of the body from its spirit in the Abrahamic tradition, it cannot be discussed in practical material terms. Material terms, however, are the only terms that are worthwhile in the traditional African consciousness because they affect man most intimately in his sphere of influence. In a world where “there is neither paradise to be hoped for nor hell to be feared in the hereafter,” Mbiti interprets, “the soul of man does not long for spiritual redemption, or for closer contact with God in the next world” (Philosophy 4). Unlike the Abrahamic world that proceeds into the


future, the traditional African world exists primarily in the embodied present and disappears into the ancestral past. Without an eschatological sense, a people necessarily live a material existence unhindered by the knowledge of the eventual passing away of this world. Their lives, then, are subsumed by the social realities within the world and by the events most immediate to their daily existences. Okot P’Bitek writes that “African religions are not so much concerned about the beginning and the end of the world, they are rather more concerned with the good life here and now, with health and prosperity, with success in life, happy and productive marriage, etc; they deal with the causes of diseases, with failures and other obstacles in the path of self realization and fulfilment [sic]” (62-3). In short, African religions are concerned about people living within the times they occupy and with the social realities of those times in context with the evolving needs of the community. History, in this case, would have meaning only in its relevance to the present moment, and futurity would have no meaning beyond the consequential nature of social events. Any spiritual observances, therefore, would necessarily be tied to material circumstances, which explains the totems and fetishes that bind African religions with natural phenomena. The idea of the eventual passing away of this world and of the individual who lives within it is different from the traditional African viewpoint in the sense that the passing of an individual or group in the African system is not a near future event but a near past event. Once an African dies, he or she moves into the realm of ancestors, so people are always looking backwards to the realm of the recently departed which lies in the past. Mbiti writes that the traditional African concern with past and present time means that no room is available for a savior of the people to step into the historical reality of African existence and bridge the chasm that separates the material and spiritual worlds, thus transforming humanity from a finite existence to an eternal one (Philosophy 5). This is the message that Christianity brought with it, a message that at its most fundamental shifted the African balance of time from the present looking back to the past to the present looking into the future. Prior to the coming of Christianity, Mbiti writes that time in the African context was a “two- dimensional phenomenon, with a long past, a present and virtually no future” whereas the linearity of “an indefinite past, present and infinite future” that arose out of Western thought “is practically foreign to African thinking” (Philosophy 16). The reason for this might be found in the writings of Marshall McLuhan who argues in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) that the nature of print created sequential, linear, and predictable patterns in Western consciousness that affected the literate mind’s developing sense of cause and effect. The invention of writing and later the rapidity of print


presupposed an extensive future because it offered the concept of asynchronous and infinite communication. The African, who had no scripted or printed texts that would have altered general social consciousness, could not interpret his or her individual or social vision beyond the immediacy of orality or the past into which the spoken word fled. Walter J. Ong adds in Orality and Literacy (1982) that literacy itself transforms consciousness from the recursive and context-bound nature of orality into the geographic and temporal boundlessness of futurity. The firm grounding of Africans in orality and the lack of texts in other social spheres affected their religions, which had no historical anchors or eschatological promises. The African interpretation of religious phenomena necessarily had to fit the context of present social realities and could not easily conform to some transformative future reality. Mbiti explains that “the future is virtually absent because events which lie in it have not taken place, [sic] they have not been realized and cannot, therefore, constitute time” (Philosophy 16). In positing this viewpoint, Mbiti seems to negate the idea of a people’s planning for posterity, which is a general human attribute, so he qualifies this by adding, “if, however, future events are certain to occur, or if they fall within the inevitable rhythm of nature, they at best constitute only potential time, not actual time” (italics his, 17). The future may be unfolded by present events, but the alacrity with which those events take place quickly shuffles them into the repository of past action, and this clarifies Mbiti’s distinction between actual time, which is the present moving into the past, and potential time, which is how the present might act itself out. Time, then, “moves ‘backward’ rather than ‘forward’; and people set their minds not on future things, but chiefly on what has taken place” (17). An eschatological sense, therefore, would also have to be backward-looking in the sense that the age to come would have had to have already happened and always be already happening (a kind of already-realized eschatology), and the transformation of African social realities would make sense only in the context of the present-changing moment. Introducing the African to the concept of a future age to come at his or her death would have made less sense than demonstrating the clear and present realities of transformation and change within the hearts of members of the community. Social and material change is ultimately what would receive notice because of its immediate impact on the routines and rituals within the social structure. While there were many significant events in the African past that could have sparked this transformation in consciousness, it was not until the arrival of the Abrahamic tradition that a catalyst was found by which to do so. The Europeans especially contributed to the transformation in the social realities of the African communities, which were deeply affected by the conflicting technologies and worldviews that came with them, the greatest of which being teleological eschatology.

C. The Effect of Time on the Community

What dominates the traditional African understanding of the individual, the community, and the universe, on the one hand, is a two-dimensional concept of man’s relationship with God in the context of an empirical response to past and present time. Past-time, according to Mbiti, is divided into two parts—the Zamani, which is the distant past, and the Sasa, which is the near past (Philosophy 27). Both of these parts have a strong relation to present-time, but the latter is more closely tied to the present since it is a part of the lived experience of the person. The way it works is that one lives through the Sasa, engaging his or her social reality through a communal role defined by his or her relationship to others within the community. The person grows through the various stages of childhood, child-bearer or child-sire, elder, and recently departed, and each stage represents some transformation in his or her relationship to others. As long as there is someone alive who can remember the one who has departed, that person remains within the immediate past concept of the Sasa period and is considered to still have an influence on the social realities of the community. The moment the last person has died who can remember the departed, the departed no longer enjoys the benefits of influencing the social reality and moves, consequently, into the Zamani period, or distant past. At that point, the memory of the departed, unless he or she was someone who had such an influence over the community that myths are made to perpetuate his or her role within the community, disappears into irretrievable past-time. The future, then, takes place only in the past, and it is within this past that the oral tradition seeks its understanding of itself. Because nothing has been written down and the memories die with the last person who lived through them, no historical presence can inform changing social realities or provide a clear vision of an age to come. No age to come, in fact, exists —only an age to look back upon in its relation to the present time. What dominates the Christian understanding of the individual, the community, and the universe, on the other hand, is a three-dimensional concept of man’s relationship with God in the context of a rational response to past, present, and future time. Because of the literate consciousness, the future tense does not have to be experienced by the rationally-based culture of the European for it to have meaning. In the empirically-based culture of the traditional African, however, something does have to be experienced for it to have meaning. What the Europeans brought to the Africans was a way for them to think about future time, a way for them to engage in a transformative present and future. This opened the possibility for the traditional African of maintaining an ethical and spiritual relationship with God,


which had, under traditional African religion, been lacking. The reason for the difference lies in the fact that under the two-dimensional concept of time “man’s acts of worship and turning to God [were] pragmatic and utilitarian rather than spiritual or mystical” (Philosophy 5). The traditional African turned to the gods not for the purpose of strengthening the union between the individual and the creator but for the more immediate purpose of seeking to ensure the crops did not fail or the livestock was fertile. Ndabaningi Sithole, in African Nationalism (1969), argues that this development in the African’s ability to respond to the spiritual and mystical was a saving grace, and it came about not only through evangelization but also through education in the idea of a broader social context that the Africans experienced when plugged into the matrix of European commerce. A form of cultural intertextuality thus emerged linking otherwise disparate tribes to one another as tribal boundaries were suddenly opened and peoples from a variety of tribes were mobilized into a cohesive workforce and interacted with one another on a level that would not have been available to them otherwise. Sithole explains, furthermore, that the Christian church “provided opportunities for many Africans to develop their latent qualities; it has discouraged tribal hatred and encouraged universal brotherhood instead” (94). Not only was an opportunity for a mystical dimension opened to the traditional African, but that dimension could be grounded in the historical reality of Christ’s presence on earth—as an immutable fact testified within thousands of identical copies of the Gospel that were part of every young African’s mission school education. These books personified the Creator as human, as a living part of the African’s social reality who demonstrated the temporal reality of human resurrection as an event that is always-already happening. In a way, then, the concept of Christianity appealed to the traditional African’s sense of the immediate present by its emphasis on social responsibility and brotherly love in spite of the fact that from the African vantage point, the message that was preached by the European was not the message that was practiced. The reality of Christ’s existence, moreover, had captured in an instant the historical presence as a documentable fact—a written story that cannot be adapted to match changing social realities but that can be interpreted in light of present events—and the indefinite future return against which humanity must prepare itself.

D. The Pace of Change

The chief difficulty of the two-dimensional sense of time experienced by the African was that it was highly resistant to fast-paced changes in the social reality. When a culture measures its future in


terms of its past, there is little or no room left for a radical new concept to awaken its development beyond the traditional background. “Modern change,” Mbiti argues, “tries to plant a form of culture which is shallow at least on the African soil. It is a culture of the alphabet and comics, of pop music and the transistor radio, of television and magazines with pictures of semi-naked women, of individualism and economic competition, of mass production and ever accelerating speed of life” (Philosophy 221). Lying within this new culture is a whole new world of cultural semiotics, of ways and means to make sense of the new forms of consumption. “Men and women are forced to live in two half cultures which do not unite to form a single culture” (221), and the insidious nature of this is that “those who bring the foreign culture give it to Africans only in part while withholding the other part. Africans also receive part of that culture and reject the other part; and they kick away part of their traditional cultures while retaining the other part” (221). This is a haphazard and unstable method of living, for suddenly the social realities presented by the Europeans become no longer consonant with the social realities to which the African had grown accustomed. The attempt to live in both worlds at once and to find some method to make sense of both worlds led the African into an uncertainty concerning his or her own role in either world. No longer could the African be a shaper or producer of social intercourse except in the new contexts as provided by the European. What the African needed was a tool by which he or she could re-establish autonomy over his or her existence, and the Europeans provided one in the shape of the future dimension of time. The future dimension of time provided the ability to see oneself teleologically, as purposeful beyond the immediate time and space of one’s environment. It was a tool that would help the African to interpret his or her role in the changing world, but possession of the tool was not the same as possession of the skills by which it could effectively be used, and those skills would have to await the transformation in consciousness for which Ong says literacy is so essential. When the Western concept of three-dimensional time was imposed upon the Africans, it was the equivalent of replacing a pair of eyeglasses with a prism since it did so much to fragment the African sense of self and community. Mbiti argues that the future dimension of time was “perhaps the most dynamic and dangerous discovery of African peoples in the twentieth century. Their hopes are stirred up and set on the future. They work for progress, they wait for an immediate realization of their hopes, and they create new myths of the future. It is here that we find the key to understanding African political, economic and ecclesiastical instability” (Philosophy 221). By working toward a goal that is achievable only in the eschatological age to come, the African’s expectations for a better life in the present are constantly thwarted. The future dimension of time gave to the African a sense of realizing


an eventual dream based upon present labors. As time passes, the African expects that his or her life will be materially transformed. It is for this reason that Mbiti explains that “Africa wants desperately to be involved in this future dimension” and for this reason that the “emphasis is shifting from the Zamani and Sasa to the Sasa and Future” (221). Mbiti is even proud to be “part of the historical moment when this great change-over is being wrought” (221), yet he understands that “somewhere [there] lies a deep illusion” (221). This illusion can be explained in terms of Marshall McLuhan’s amputation effect of new technologies. While new technologies amplify and extend the human body in space and time, they have the equal and opposite effect of amputating the replaced parts and skills. Amplification of the foot via the automobile, for instance, amputates the runner’s foot speed over time. In the case of sudden technological change, a momentum is built that exceeds the human ability to cope with it. Mbiti articulates this phenomenon in writing that “[t]he speed of casting off the scales of traditional life is much greater than the speed of wearing the garments of this future dimension of life. The illusion lies in the fact that these two entirely different processes are made or look identical” (221). In short, traditions are being destroyed at a faster rate than new ones are being integrated into the social structure. The result of this, Mbiti explains, does not bode well for the future of the African in the short term, for “this lack of distinction between the two types of process remains in all spheres of modern African life, and so long as it remains, the situation will continue to be unstable if not dangerous” (221). The incessant and rapid change that Africa is undergoing because of the colonial impact continues and perpetuates the problem because the changes are dissociated from any indigenous meaning. For change to have meaning, it must first address the social realities of a given people and grow organically from within their community. Only through organic growth can a community reconcile itself with the meaning and effects of change as it relates to the social structure. Change imposed too swiftly from the outside forces the community to conform too rapidly to external stimuli and leaves greater destruction than growth in its wake. Mbiti explains this destruction by demonstrating how 20 th -century “Africa is caught up in a world revolution which is so dynamic that it has almost got out of human control” (Philosophy 216). It is not just Africa that is entangled by this global phenomenon; rather, “it is a revolution of man as a whole, and therefore no people or country can remain unaffected by this new rhythm of human history” (216). While Europe and North America have had several hundred years of progressive involvement with, and development of, industrial and print-based technologies, Mbiti explains that “in Africa we are nearly all in the first generation of the change which took only a few decades for its way to be paved” (216). No opportunity was afforded the African to become accustomed to the impact this revolution was having on the world—the same


revolution that two generations of European Romanticists had the leisure time to explore in imaginative literature and in theoretical essays—the same revolution that Europe encountered in its role as a producer of change rather than as a consumer of it. “Without warning and without physical or psychological preparation, Africa has been invaded by a world revolution,” and this, Mbiti asserts, has brought about “a new and rapid rhythm [which] is beating from the drums of science and technology, modern communications and mass media, schools and universities, cities and towns. Nothing can halt this rhythm or slow down its rapid tempo” (216). There is nothing for the African to do to counter this phenomenon, so the best that can be done is for the African to engage it in the hopes that he or she can contribute to the direction toward which this revolution is heading. “The man of Africa must get up and dance,” Mbiti concludes, “for better or for worse, on the arena of world drama. His image of himself and of the universe is disrupted and must make room for the changing ‘universal’ and not simply ‘tribal’ man” (216). The disruption caused by this world revolution has equally attracted and repelled the African who must rediscover his or her role within a social reality that no longer bears any resemblance to that of his ancestors. Africa, as a result of the threat of subsumption into the European paradigm, has struggled to maintain its original sense of cultural identity. Ngugi wa Thiong’o explains in “Toward a National Culture,” which appeared in his collection of essays entitled Homecoming (1972), that culture is “a way of life fashioned by a people in their collective endeavour to live and come to terms with their total environment” (4). The total environment is a social as well as geophysical construct, which “is the sum of [a people’s] art, their science and all their social institutions, including their system of beliefs and rituals” (4). Africans have roles in their communities, not jobs, and these roles are inclusive of every aspect of communal life. Unlike the assembly line fragmentation of European society, African culture engages the individual as integral to the whole society so that every person shares in every communal accomplishment. Organic growth occurs “in the course of this creative struggle and progress through history, [when] there evolves a body of material and spiritual values which endow that society with a unique ethos” (4). Means of expression such as dance, storytelling, and the like serve the dual purpose of reifying societal values amongst the younger generations who will take responsibility for them. It is for this reason that culture is discussed in terms of human activity, for activities “derived from a people’s way of life [which] will change as that way of life is altered, modified, or developed through the ages” (4). When the traditional activities no longer express the people’s way of life, the culture that they once honored becomes a relic of the past. For that to have happened so quickly and in only a


generation is naturally disconcerting, especially if the new social realities have not lived up to their original promises and seem more filled with the vices of the founding culture than with its virtues.

E. The Arrival of the Eschaton

Teleological eschatology arrived in Africa in the 19 th -century with the early Christian missionaries who preached the eschaton in a way that was dissonant with the already established ontological systems shared by the African peoples. In promising a hoped-for age-to-come in which the kingdom of God would reign on Earth, early missionaries did not address the immediate social needs of the people as a living reality. They spoke of change in a society that did not actively seek it and had already considered itself fairly well-balanced. Although the eschatology preached by the missionaries was not very relevant to 19 th -century Africans, it was useful to Marxist theorists who needed a new weapon to inspire the people to social reconstruction. African Marxists like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nuruddin Farah, and Ayi Kwei Armah understand the use value of a realized eschatology, which demonstrates an active transformation in the present lives of people and their response to the communities in which they live, and they saw an incredible tool in the form of teleological eschatology, which provides a vision of a future beyond the reach of those living within the present for which they might strive without disappointment of not achieving immediate results. The combination of these eschatological structures meets with the Marxist goal of a socially active present working towards a future classless society. Two things, then, are really being pursued through the use of these eschatologies. The first is a change in the content of the dialogue from a society that is inauthentic in its social engagement to a society that is governed authentically by and for its people. The second is a change in the methods through which that dialogue occurs from one based on transmission theory (where information is conveyed to stakeholders who have no part in the decision-making process) to one based on transaction theory (where dialogue occurs among stakeholders and affects the decision making process). While the Marxist is concerned with the transformation of oppressive social structures in order to modify the ways in which humans are able to interact, Ngugi, Farah, and Armah have added value to the African method by their working through the politics they perceive within the eschatological vision that will enable them to demythologize its opposite. The Abrahamic tradition has oriented itself to recognizing the eschaton as the culmination of history while acknowledging its active presence in humanity’s relationship with God. The new world that Abrahamic eschatology seeks, according to Auer and Ratzinger, is one designed “to marry


perspectives, so that person and community, present and future, are seen in their unity” (12). The unitive nature of eschatological inquiry meets in this idea of the present and future time that joins the realized and teleological. If a realized eschatology interprets humanity’s social reality as a process in the present moment, an always-already happening social transformation brought about by the individual’s role within the community, and a teleological eschatology interprets humanity’s social reality as culminating in a future end of both an individual’s personal history and of humankind’s collective history, then the present and future can merge on the spiritual plane even if, according to Auer and Ratzinger, they cannot merge on the material plane. While it can be argued that traditional African communities were spiritually alive in a realized eschatology, John S. Mbiti explains that virtually none had a teleological eschatological sense. For that to have been a focus in traditional African life, African societies would have had to have had a strong sense of themselves as moving toward specific soteriological (an idea that deals with God’s ultimate plan for the salvation of humanity) goals. Mbiti has argued that such a worldview was utterly alien to the African people whose search for meaning was within its past and not within its future. The African emphasis on the material world, moreover, would necessarily cause them to marry the realized and teleological perspectives in a material in addition to spiritual sense. While African Marxists use both realized and teleological eschatology in their narrative fiction, the latter is, therefore, really the central innovation, and it provides a tool by which to mobilize people to work within their communities, not necessarily for a new spiritual world, but for a new material world to come. The Gospel narrative that Ngugi develops in Matigari, one that relies upon both a realized and a teleological eschatology, for instance, provides us with a new dimension in understanding how the politicization of eschatological constructs (that is, the demythologization of the kingdom of heaven as it is manifest on earth) can be used to further the ends of Marxism. While Ngugi purports to have shrugged off the Western ideological construct of Christianity, he actually seeks to use its eschatological visions to transform the Western socio-economic construct of Marxism into a liberatory African socialism. Ngugi’s embrace of eschatology is not because he is a man of great religious conviction; in fact, he has made it very clear in Decolonizing the Mind (1986) that he is not bound by any religion. This does not mean, however, that he is not a man of great faith; he would have to be to have continued his work with such passion and conviction, making it more accessible to his people by publishing in his own languages and encouraging his works to be dramatized and read aloud. Because the African people themselves have great faith, Ngugi, like any powerful griot, or storyteller, is able to draw upon the experience and learning of his audience to engage in narrative reasoning on the world of


possibilities for the people were they to open their minds to it. In that sense, Ngugi is also a man of great faith in the ability of the African people to build their own healing structures. He, like Armah and Farah, works toward that end using his best tools, even if the primary tool in his arsenal, teleological eschatology, is something he regards as having derived from a misplaced system, namely, Christianity, a Western import that supports the capitalist infrastructure. Teleological eschatology as derived from the realized eschatological vision of a people’s being in control of its own means of production transforms, in Ngugi’s hands, the Christian presence in Africa; not only is it no longer married to the Western structures that brought it, but it is also fully acculturated to the service of the people. Ngugi’s use of Christian symbols is a sincere attempt to meet his people where they are in retelling popular Gospel narratives that they would recognize as being addressed more specifically to them as stakeholders within their own communities, as individuals with as much a material stake in their productive roles as they perceive themselves to have a spiritual one. The effort is not wasted if, to paraphrase Farah, famines and droughts are brought to an end in the days when dictatorships no longer exploit the material resources of a people, leaving them bereft of the means to stand independently. Governments that do not exist by and for the people can be nothing other than dictatorships, and these must be replaced through continuous engagement of revolutionary activity in the expectation of the people’s liberation in the hoped-for age to come. As Armah stresses, it is the living who need attention, not the dead, and the way to ensure this attention is to focus on ameliorating the social conditions that cause rifts within the community and restoring the social reciprocity without which exploitation is a likely occurrence. In a sense, then, radical eschatologies of the kind proposed by these three writers have within them the potential to create a new faith in a lived experience of social reciprocity and authentic human relationships, and it is that vision which is held out for the people to seek in the hoped-for age to come. Strengthening people’s faith in their communities, therefore, is the real work of an African Marxist; otherwise, there can be no claim that social reconstruction is fruitful. The work radical writers do in building these communities of faith, it could be argued, is an active response to divine revelation. Such responses are never misplaced when the structure of the faith on which it is based reinforces the structure of the society or the way that society has developed various institutions to facilitate the pursuit of its livelihood. The problem that European-exported Christianity and Arabian-exported Islam poses for Marxists and many other African intellectuals, however, has always been that neither ever supported the rights or structures of the indigenous people over the rights or structures of the colonialists; both were systems that matched the needs of a group other than the people who were made


to practice it. For that reason, as it was preached by the Christians and Muslims, the Abrahamic tradition did not have anything to do with the Africans, and the Africans yearned for their indigenous religions and continued to practice them in conjunction with Christianity and Islam. Faith in themselves in relation to their communities has contributed to the survival of the African consciousness, and it is into this consciousness that radical eschatology seeks admittance.

G. Adapting to the Future Dimension

With the future dimension, Africans had to adopt the semiotics of print-based linearity that would provide them with sequential and predictable patterns of thought and would enable them to engage in linear cause and effect modalities. Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers write in The Global Village that the invention of writing and later of print caused Western man to amplify his visual sense beyond the other senses, which brought about the systematic parsing of the world into isolated and predictable parts. Life for the African, however, had never been compartmentalized into categorical units. Religious life was the same as social life, to the extent that Mbiti invokes Africans as “notoriously religious” and argues that that though “each people has its own religious system with a set of beliefs and practices…religion permeates into all the departments of life so fully that it is not easy or possible always to isolate it” (Philosophy 1). A life in which religion homogeneously dominates both the spiritual and material consciousness of a people is one that is not only unmapped, however, but also unmappable because there are no borders delineating various realities of a cosmopolitan group. Not only that, but experiencing all social change as religious phenomena hinders distinctions being made between a people’s faith and its socio-economic realities. This focus on religion as the measure of humanity’s relationship to its environment is reminiscent of the state of humanity that Benedict Anderson articulates in Imagined Communities, where the religious community has homogenized the people before innovations like the quantification and parsing of calendar time along with the rise of print-capitalism, which is the combination of the technology that enables printing to occur and the rising consumer market that consumes the products of the presses, transform human consciousness into imagining itself as an inclusive community (24-5), or nation of like peoples. What is more is that Walter J. Ong’s idea of a transformation in consciousness brought about by technologies, namely the technology of writing, presupposes a developmental impact. Were the temporal linearity perceived by McLuhan, Anderson, and Ong to positively impact the traditional African, then he or she would have no choice but to follow the developmental model of the West under its hegemony.

Adopting the European worldview, in that case, means not only accepting the changing social realities wrought by the European presence, but also accepting the compartmentalization of social and religious existence. By becoming educated through the Western lens, the African was faced with having to adopt the Western paradigm as the collective consciousness began to change from the worldview governed by orality to the worldview governed by literacy. The transition happened so swiftly that African peoples became divided from one another as part of the community moved to embrace the new technologies and part of the community deliberately and consciously sought to maintain what Europe called its tribal traditions. This upheaval in communal existence resulted in many Africans feeling that something of value had been taken from them that could not be replaced with European promises of civilization. P’Bitek states the case clearly in writing that analyzing the social ills of Africa in terms of tribalism obfuscates the issue. He suggests, in fact, that the term ‘tribe’ never be used at all because of its insulting connotations (14). Traditional African peoples had been living in a functionally viable community before the advent of Europe, and it was not the tribe that they lost when Europe came upon them; what African peoples had lost, rather, was the cohesion of a world that had made sense to them, and they were not able to reconstruct a new vision of the world using the tools brought by the Europeans since it was those very tools that had caused the disruption. The divergence of Christian eschatological hope from Marxist eschatological hope is most apparent in the expectations either group has as a basis for hope, and it comes down to an abstract hope in the ultimate transcendence of humankind versus a concrete hope in material and social reciprocity. For eschatology to be a lived experience, it has to be an eschatology for the living, not for the dead. Since the living are concerned with both the spiritual and the material conditions of their lives in relation to the way in which social relationships are transformative of human community, politicizing both sets of conditions is problematic. This is not to mean that a realized eschatology is impractical for Christian living as C. H. Dodd has demonstrated, but it is to say that the move from teleological concerns into those of the present moment offered the opportunity for the frailties and prejudices of human politics to enter the kingdom of God. This eventuality is a great concern for Auer and Ratzinger, who argue that “[t]he transformation of eschatology into political utopianism involves the emasculation of Christian hope,” for “[t]he mystery of God is invoked in order to justify political irrationalism” and “[w]here it is regarded as being, rather, the building-site where the house of politics is under construction, a rank impossibility is taken as the foundation for all human reality. The upshot can only be the violent self- destruction of nature and humanity alike” (59). The kingdom of God, accordingly, is not and should not be construed as a political manifestation because politics has the potential to set God on the auction


block for various factions to rend for their own purposes. For this reason, Auer and Ratzinger insist, politics is best discussed in terms of moral theology, which deals with human relationships. Discussing politics in terms of moral theology, though, does nothing for the African Marxist by way of preparing for the new age if in that new age the present political struggles will cease upon the emergence of a completely new and completely whole society.

H. Conclusion – Subversive Eschatology

If history is subversive, as Ngugi claims, and history is nothing more than the articulation of the past in a fixed, interpretive form, then an eschatology that functionally engages that history as a lived experience is also subversive. This sense of the past, Ngugi adds in “The Writer and his Past,” haunts the novelist, whose “work is often an attempt to come to terms with ‘the thing that has been’, a struggle, as it were, to sensitively register his encounter with history, his people’s history” (39). In re- narrating the past, the writer is engaged in a reconstruction of the people and the culture about which he or she is writing, creating a new canon of definitions and meanings. This is not, however, done in a vacuum but with the full weight of the social reality bearing down upon it. That literature is shaped by political and economic forces is a keynote of Ngugi’s Homecoming, and he points out that African literature has “grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism” (xv). The African and European presence, in fact, can define itself only in terms of one another, which, as described in terms of Hegel’s master/slave dialectic, is a self-defeating and unhealthy relationship. The terms of this relationship have been in a state of flux, nonetheless, as Marxist African writers continue to engage in the restoration of the memories of their pasts against this new background of hope in the restoration of the people on the arrival on earth of the kingdom of God.

Chapter Two: Postcolonial Change as a Religious Phenomenon

The social expression of radical African writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nuruddin Farah, and Ayi Kwei Armah is primarily an eschatological one that contrasts the African vision of the age to come with that of the Abrahamic tradition. All three of these writers began producing their works during the height of discussion by dogmatic theologians concerning the advent of realized eschatology and its possibilities for the politicization of the kingdom of God. Ayi Kwei Armah’s first publication appeared contemporaneously with Ngugi wa Thiongo’s, much of it (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Fragments (1969), Why are We so Blest? (1972)) published before Homecoming made its appearance in 1972 but following Weep Not, Child (1964), The River Between (1965) and A Grain of Wheat (1967). Armah’s next two books left the exploration of the corruption in modern Ghana for a mythologizing of the past in Two Thousand Seasons (1973) and The Healers (1978), each of which demonstrates the struggles of African peoples against encroachment by whites who foment ethnic tension and pit blacks against each other. Nuruddin Farah’s first work came after Ngugi’s 1977 transformation into radical Marxist (brought about by his detention without trial), beginning with the publication of Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship: Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), Sardines (1981) and Close Sesame (1983) and followed by a second trilogy comprised of Maps (1986), Gifts (1992) and Secrets (1998). Each author follows Ngugi in his insistence that Africans have it within themselves to re-establish social harmony and that doing so requires the shrugging off of the neocolonial power structure in a hoped-for age-to-come. All three, therefore, explore teleological eschatology, a process that is the central characteristic of the African Marxist. This is important because it restores the Africans’ faith in their place in society and seeks to provide a structure within which Africans can thrive once the neocolonial structures are dismantled.

A. The Eschatological Expression of Radical African Writers

Because indigenous African religions are anthropocentric and not theocentric, anything that affects an African’s place in his environment is experienced as an inherently religious phenomenon. John S. Mbiti, in African Religions and Philosophy, maintains, in fact, that not only do “African peoples experience modern changes as a religious phenomenon,” but they also “respond to it in search of a stability which is fundamentally coloured by a religious yearning or outlook” (263). The ways in which African religions were originally envisioned by African peoples, therefore, were representative of the


social structures of African cultures, and these structures continue to correspond to the social framework on which African gods have been erected, shaped, and transformed over time. For an African writer to sound the horn of justice in the call for the authentic amelioration of social ills, then, he or she must address the African audience at its point of greatest vulnerability, which lies in the juncture uniting the concepts of social change and religious expression. Radical African writers are able to engage their audiences most efficaciously when they write in terms of religion, and this phenomenon is the link between Marxism and the Abrahamic tradition in the African context. During the colonial period, which began from Europe as early as 1570 with the establishment of a Portuguese colony in modern Angola and lasted until the latter half of the 20 th -century, African social structures were altered by the repositioning of power hierarchies as were the African religious structures and the ability of the people to maintain an understanding of their relationship with their gods. African gods were subject to a Western hermeneutical process, moreover, that altered their original character, according to Ngugi in the article in Writers in Politics (1997) entitled “Standing on our Grounds,” and this misrepresentation of African gods through the Western lens was passed back to the people through mission school education (30). It is only in the postcolonial period and the few decades around the middle of the twentieth century that led up to it that Africans have engaged this transformation of African consciousness through their use of the same medium of writing by which they had for so long under colonialism been interpreted. Their doing so has opened the African people to the transformation in consciousness about which Benedict Anderson speaks in Imagined Communities when he demonstrates how print-capitalism gave people a sense of themselves as part of a larger group, most of the population of which they would never meet, bound by something other than their gods. Ngugi, in Homecoming’s “The Writer and his Past,” further explains the African quest for historical restoration in terms, not only of a sense of identity in relation to a people, but also of a rejection of Western paradigms. He explains that “[t]he African novelist has turned his back on the Christian god and resumed the broken dialogue with the gods of his people” and in doing so “[h]e has given back to the African writer the will to act and change the scheme of things” (43). Difficulties ensued, however, in trying to follow through with this program of action. Engaging the medium meant, for instance, that writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, and others first did so in the language of the former colonizing power. To be a student of literature, in fact, meant being a student of English literature. Ngugi argues that “[t]he teaching of only European literature, or even the very fact of making it the primary study, means that our children are daily confronted with the Europe's [sic] reflection of itself in


history. They are forced to look, analyse and evaluate the world as as [sic] seen by Europe” (30). This dependence on European languages has eroded, though, with the shift that Ngugi has promoted from the use of English and French in the formulation of primary drafts to the use of indigenous languages when engaging the drafting process itself. The use of the vernacular, to extend Anderson’s point, is among the first steps towards establishing a national consciousness independent of the former colonizing power (39). While the debate concerning the language in which African literature should be written is important in its determination of the audience for whom the African is writing, it is preceded in importance by the fact that Africans are using Western structures like the extended novel in the first place for the purpose of self-expression. This ability of African writers to respond to the conversation through the medium by which they have been interpellated has changed their relationship with the West in the sense that it has led to their ability to shape the conversation in their image.

B. The Relationship between the Individual and the Community

At its most fundamental level, the 19 th -century arrival of the Europeans transformed the relationships between African individuals and their communities as the Europeans sought to subsume the traditional African worldview into the European one. The Europeans had traveled to Africa for the many reasons—to evangelize, to open trade routes, to extend the reach of the mother country into the world in order to outflank an opposing empire—in short, to make the world a more hospitable place for them so that they might be able to control their growing environment. For that reason, wherever the European went, it was in pursuit of self-interest, and the best way of making an environment hospitable to the pursuit of self-interest is to transform the strange into the familiar. 2 In short, the European attempted to transform whatever he encountered either into something that resembled his own image by way of appropriating it or into its complete opposite by way of dichotomizing it. Staring into his own image, he was able to see what did not measure up to his standards, and these deficits had to be corrected so that the social realities of indigenous peoples could better serve the interests of Europe. It was a way of parsing the world in order to make sense of it, of turning geographic space into

2 Reference Thomas B. Macaulay’s 1835 “Minute on Indian Education” in which he proposes that “[w]e must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.” This policy of acculturation was meant, of course, to colonize the Indian mind and map the direction of Indian development onto England’s path. The policy was also followed in Africa, a precursor of neocolonialism.


cartographic space. This self-centeredness understandably angered the indigenous populations of Africa against the European mentality. “’What we stand against,’” Ndabaningi Sithole quotes a politician of former Rhodesia, “‘is not the white man, but his obnoxious practice of subordinating the African to European interests so that they [Africans] become things to be manipulated by the white man according to the whims of his temper. We want to be accepted as men by men of other races’” (55). As things to be manipulated, the Africans lost their humanity, and, like in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), the Europeans were equally dehumanized by their unethical treatment of Africans not as ends in and of themselves but as means to ends of their own. While the Europeans had arrived for the expressed purpose of seeking means by which to exploit the natural resources of Africa, the Africans in their initial encounters with the Europeans, according to Ayi Kwei Armah in Two Thousand Seasons, had had no problems sharing their resources in expectation of reciprocity in the relationship. The problems between the Africans and the Europeans, therefore, arose out of this difference in understanding about how relationships ought to be reciprocated, a difference in understanding that had also occurred between the Muslims and the Africans almost a thousand years before the advent of the Europeans. It was not the difference between the follower of the Abrahamic tradition and the follower of traditional African religion, then, that caused the conflict; indeed, had the Christian spirit, in the case of the Europeans, of a transformation in human hearts to bring about a better life for mankind on earth prevailed, then the Africans might have more readily accepted the message. It was, rather, the difference between the European idea of investing its energies in the systematic progress and development of the world as an extension of itself and the African idea of investing its energies in the maintenance of social bonds and communal ties that caused the greatest rift. The Europeans, in short, saw the resources of the world as things they could and ought to exploit, 3 and they saw the geography of the world as an entity that could be partitioned and settled 4 – in both instances, they used divide and rule strategies to make Africans complicit in their enterprise. The Africans, for their part, both collaborated with the English and resisted their advances, but either way they always found themselves the target of European hegemony. The sense of reciprocity that helped to define African intentions in their encounter with the West was itself unreciprocated.

3 An attitude articulated by Lord Lugard whose Dual Mandate emphasized that “Africa should be developed for the benefit of both Africans (improving their standards of living, education etc.) and the rest of the world (by making Africa’s resources available for trade).”

4 An attitude that led Cecil Rhodes to state in his 1877 “Confession of Faith,” “I contend that we [the British] are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”


Part of the reason for the disconnection between the intentions of the Africans and the intentions of the Europeans lay in the fact that they did not perceive the world on equal levels of consciousness. European literacy had amplified, according to McLuhan and Powers’ The Global Village, the visual sense, and this made the figure, or the object, more important a goal than the ground, or the surrounding social realities, in the European pursuit of self. The invention of the printing press in the mid 15 th -century accelerated this transformation in consciousness, and Europe boomed with technological inventions designed to further extend the European in the world. McLuhan adds, however, a caveat to the rapid proliferation of Western technologies. Any amplification causes an inversely proportional amputation, so that the extension of the visual sense brought about by books led to a distension of the other senses. This ultimately created a separation between the Europeans and the natural world so that the Europeans professed the message of Christianity on one level and pursued their own self-interests outside of Christian precepts on another. This separation is informative of another separation between the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of heaven. What the Christians promised incipiently did not bear out in practice, and a culture that still looked inward at the social realities of its own communities could not help but notice a certain kind of dissonance on the part of its white neighbors who looked toward an eschatological age to come while expropriating resources that could only materially benefit them in the present age. It was this elusive age to come, which is common to both Christians and Muslims, that most baffled an oral community that had not yet experienced the same extensions of its visual sense as the literate community that encountered it.

C. Humanity’s Relationship with God

The introduction of Christianity did not, of course, immediately thrust upon the African peoples a new and revolutionary sense of diachronic place. Even today after several hundred years of contact with Muslim and Christian eschatology and the technologies of recorded script and print, Africans have not so much subsumed their thinking within the Abrahamic discourse as they have added the foreign religious paradigms to their own ontological understanding. In African Religions in Western Scholarship, P’Bitek wrote as late as 1970 that “the vast majority of Africans today hold the beliefs of their religions. Christianity has barely touched the core of the life of most African peoples” (113). He adds that “[i]t seems to me that the new God of Christianity was taken by many African peoples as just another deity, and added to the long list of the ones they believed in. So that many African Christians are also practitioners of their own religions” (113). This bolting of the relatively new Christian message


onto traditional African religions is explained by McLuhan, who demonstrates the phenomenon of human adaptation to new concepts and technologies through the example of a rear-view mirror where humanity applies new paradigms directly onto traditional discourses. Ong’s idea that the development of human consciousness is evolutionary through the gradual progression of orality into literacy also helps explain this. Ong explains in Orality and Literacy that the literate mind is necessarily more advanced than the oral mind in its ability to engage the semiotic structures of the world. This advancement came, however, only after a lengthy development process. Western technologies had built upon themselves in the 15 th -20 th centuries through a process of conflict and cooperation with the technologies they replaced. Printed texts, for instance, struggled over time and implementation with the technologies and senses that atrophied as a result of their use. Ultimately, then, Europe developed at an evolutionary pace that sped up as more technologies began interacting with one another. The culture that downloaded itself onto the African continent in the early 19 th century was, thus, one that was foreign to the African consciousness in addition to its being foreign to the African methods of living. Because it happened all at once for every group that came into contact with the Europeans, no evolutionary lead time for Africans to reconcile themselves to European worldview was available. Africans maintained, consequently, as much of their identities as they were unable to relinquish and learned the new technologies as fait accompli rather than as evolutionary concepts. This pattern affected every part of the African-European encounter, not the least of which being the concept of the eschaton. When Christian theology, therefore, encountered African religion, it did so, as so many other European institutions did, through the lens of its own superiority that caused it to apply deficit theories to African expressions of ontology. When Christians were not trying to fill the gaps in African religion with their own truths, furthermore, they engaged in a process of inculturation in an attempt to find the Christian God in expressions of African religion. P’Bitek explains that this was a fruitless endeavor because the Africans should have been regarded through an African lens, not a European one. “African peoples,” he writes, “may describe their deities as ‘strong’ but not ‘omnipotent’; ‘wise’, not ‘omniscient’; ‘old’, not ‘eternal’, ‘great’, not ‘omnipresent’. The Greek metaphysical terms are meaningless in African thinking” (88). The European, however, could only begin to explain African religions through the system of classification and dismemberment that had arisen as a result of his literacy, so the known categories of European religious belief were mapped onto the African’s religious understanding. In the ensuing process of comparison and contrast, the entirety of the African worldview was defined and understood in relation to Christianity, that is to say, in its deficits to


Christianity. This created the situation in which “the African deities of the books, clothed with the attributes of the Christian God, are, in the main, creations of the students of African religions. They are all beyond recognition to the ordinary Africans in the countryside” (P’Bitek 88). The importance of this, of course, lies in the understanding the Europeans were able to garner from this misinformation, which, when coupled with to their obvious desire to extend themselves in the world gave them an excuse to impose themselves upon African culture and society that was called the white man’s burden. Because Europeans were wrong in their understanding of African religions, it can be argued that they were also wrong in the way they judged the African person. 5 P’Bitek lists four assumptions deriving from Christian theology that Christian anthropologists and missionaries have attempted to apply to African religion. Christians assume that the universe has a purpose, that the material world is inferior to the spiritual, that God cannot be known, and that Africans, like them, have a God who is stronger than and who created all things (108-11). In the first instance, P’Bitek draws from St. Thomas Aquinas for proof concerning God’s existence. In particular, Aquinas wrote in his fifth proof that all inanimate things serve the purpose of a created being, which is something that Europeans thought was also true of African peoples even though “there is no evidence that African peoples see a purpose in all things. Indeed, most of the religious activities in African religions seem to be part of the ways and means of dealing with existing or threatening dangers” (108). This interpretation is consonant with the central idea of two-dimensional time as expressed by M’biti. If the religious response of the African is grounded in the realities of the Sasa period, then no purpose beyond the immediate needs of any given object exists. If any object is not needed in response to any social reality—that is, if an object does not fit a human need—then it has no purpose. P’Bitek clarifies by dividing the universe of objects into three categories, which include: “(a) Useful objects, e.g. foodstuffs, tools, weapons, etc. (b) Harmful objects, e.g. snakes, diseases, poisons, etc. (c) Neutral objects, e.g. stars—except those that guide a lost hunter; numerous types of harmless insects, millipedes, lizards, toads, etc.” (109). Purposefulness is determined not by the inherent nature of the object itself but by the object’s relation to people’s needs. An object is either useful or harmful for it to have meaning, and outside of its usefulness and harmfulness, it has only potential value and not actual value in that it might be useful or harmful depending upon the circumstances. P’Bitek extends this concept to not just natural phenomena, but also to the supernatural. “Even the deities are there to serve the interests of men,” he writes, “The African deities are for man, and not man for them” (109).

5 The African sense of the importance of humanity is also the opposite of Islam’s insistence on an unreachable, almighty God. If Christians misunderstood Africans, so, too, might have Muslims.


Just as there is no concept of an entity that can have value outside of its relation to man, no concept of humanity’s having a greater purpose beyond its social responsibilities really exists. Humankind is an end unto itself and does not need to subordinate itself to a power beyond the natural world since that power, in whatever manifestation it arrives, is already subordinate to the interests of humanity. Neither Christ nor Mohammed, therefore, had any inherent value for the African outside of his becoming a living reality within the social discourse. As a result of this physical and relational centeredness, P’Bitek argues, Christians should avoid searching within African religion for evidence of other-worldliness under the assumption that the present world cannot measure up to the world to come. “It seems,” P’Bitek explains, “that there is no other-worldliness in African religious thought. African ethics is not grounded on a promise or threat by some god that the good people will, in the future, enjoy life in heaven, while the bad will cook in a great fire. In this sense, the use of the term heaven in describing African religious concepts is confusing and misleading” (109). African ethics, if not grounded on the promise of the age to come, must then be grounded on social relationships in the age that is and the meaning these relationships have to the age that was. All of the Christian commandments against destruction of the social structure—against dishonoring one’s parents, against murder, against adultery, against theft, against perjury, against jealousy—carry a spiritual penalty. All of the African commandments against destruction of the social structure carry a social one. J. Spencer Trimingham in The Influence of Islam upon Africa (1980) interprets this social determination as difficult to overcome as traditional Africans had to shift from a societal to a personal religion and undertake the fragmentation of their religion in relation to the other compartments of their daily existences. He adds that “African religion is seen as ‘natural’ religion, arising from the working of universal Spirit within natural man, but monotheistic religions, such as Islam and Christianity, that have arisen from the working of universal Spirit outside man, are seen as ‘unnatural’; in consequence they are found to be exclusivist and divisive” (126). This, then, changes the nature of the commandments and the penalties. For the traditional African, ethics are necessarily consequentialist in nature—if what is done harms the community, then it is wrong—while Christian ethics are intentionalist in nature—if what is done was intended to harm the community, then it is wrong. Theft, for example, would be wrong not because it violates a divine commandment but because it interferes with the stability of the social order and brings harm to another member or group within the community. The Europeans who assumed ownership over everything African, therefore, had committed the worst of injustices under a consequentialist ethics because they destroyed the social


structure as it had existed, but they were convinced they were on a mission of grace because of the intentionalist ethics under which they operated. Also of importance in this sense is that the concept of original, or inherited, sin would not be applicable to the African who is born into this world. There is no innate sense of guilt or desire to perform rituals for the expiation of sin. Although curses and oaths (which are self-curses) hold consequences for those against whom they are uttered, the individual is ultimately responsible for the choices that result in or cause the curse. Ritualistic observances that cleanse the curse are not meant to release a person from an abstract sin, but are, in a sense, negotiations with the forces that oppress the individual to exchange particular acts of good will for the removal of ill will for the amelioration of life in this world. This is why P. Ado Dopamu argues in his book Esu: The Invisible Foe of Man, that Esu, whom Christians compare with Satan, is a god with whom one can negotiate without coming to harm. As Mbiti explains, moreover, “the logic or philosophy behind ‘moral evil’ would not permit ‘natural evil’ to take place purely by means of ‘natural causes’. People must find the agent ‘causing’ such evil.” (Philosophy 215). In all cases, that agent is human, and the evil is a result of man’s inhumanity to man. Mbiti adds that while some societies believe that people call upon themselves their own suffering through the contravention of some supernatural imperative, “[i]n most cases, different forms of suffering are believed to be caused by human agents who are almost exclusively witches, sorcerers and workers of evil magic (Philosophy 215). If there is a formula by which one can receive a curse from another, then there is also a formula by which one can expiate himself of the curse. If one has brought the curse upon him- or herself through the violation of some taboo, then one can engage in a ritual to remove the curse. What this means, then, is that humanity is ultimately responsible for its own salvation—no grace-conferring deity exists who can pronounce freedom and forgiveness just as no righteously indignant deity exists who has the power to withhold it. The individual’s actions in this world determine his or her state of being. The present world is the only world, and even the spirits living in the Sasa period remain among the living to help guide them in their actions. It is only in the Zamani period that the spirits depart from the world of the living, and even then they do not end up in heaven or in hell but find rest amongst their ancestors. That the African dead do not enjoy an eternity in heaven or suffer an eternity in hell means that they do not go to their gods after they die. The gods have distinct and definite functions in their interactions with living beings, but they do not concern themselves with people who have already passed beyond the community. Christians and Muslims believe that God is unknowable, but “the term knowledge as used in Christian theology is a metaphysical concept” (P’Bitek 110), not a physical one.


P’Bitek argues that “most African peoples know the names, abode and characteristics of their deities. They know them by the diseases they cause. The task of the diviner is, precisely, to determine which deity is responsible for a particular misfortune, and how to deal with it” (110). The African is intimately aware of the characteristics of his gods primarily because the gods themselves have been anthropomorphized to the extent of the African’s knowledge of humanity. What is outside of the African’s understanding simply does not make it into the set of characteristics by which he or she classifies any given god. When new social realities arise, attributes about which the existence was previously unknown are worked into the existing constructs of the gods themselves. “The knowledge of Africans about their deities are [sic] not limited, inadequate or ridiculous in any way” (P’Bitek 110). In fact, it is their understanding of the nature of their gods that helps them to better understand the nature of those who live amongst them in community, for the gods have all the characteristics ascribable to humanity. It is a matter of knowing how to deal with a given human trait that will appease the complaints of a given deity in order to lift whatever curse has been placed upon an individual or community. For the Europeans to engage in communion a god they claim not to know is a concept that empirically-based Africans cannot fathom because it is outside their understanding that any meaningful communion can occur when mystery is present in the relationship. Ultimately, then, the Africans have no High God, and this helps them deal with social issues as they arise according to a practiced and effective formula of appeasing any given god’s complaint without having to deal with an amorphous god that lies outside their understanding because of his unknowability. Mbiti writes that “expressed anthropocentrically, God is the Originator and Sustainer of man; the Spirits explain the destiny of man; Man is the centre of this ontology; the Animals, Plants and natural phenomena and objects constitute the environment in which man lives, provide a means of existence and, if need be, man establishes a mystical relationship with them” (Philosophy 16). Man is a self-contained unit within his social organism. God is not the center of his creation; rather, man is. This is the fundamental difference in Christian/Muslim and African worldviews that is so valuable to the understanding of the world that the postcolonial African writers are in the process of articulating. P’Bitek proposes that “the aim of the study of African religions should be to understand the religious beliefs and practices of African peoples, rather than to discover the Christian God in Africa” (110-1). Engaging another culture on its own terms rather than viewing that other culture through one’s own lens is a more pragmatic method of exploration if for the only reason that it will produce better results. The problem lies in the natural human propensity to want to view the world through lenses that are already in place instead of stepping outside of one’s own paradigm and viewing the world through the


worldview of another. Edward Said calls this process of the European’s consumption of the Other by the name of Orientalism, which commodifies and packages the Other into terms to which the European can relate. Elleke Boehmer explains that the development of identity comes from this dichotomizing the self from the not-self, which enables the self to know the not-self through its conventional terms. Europe took this process one step further, establishing its hegemony over the world in a unique way. It sought to universalize its knowledge in all things, to replicate itself onto the cultures with which it came in contact. Boehmer writes, in addition, that “European colonizers held the conviction not merely that the rest of the world could be understood in its terms, but that the rest of the world also could—and indeed should—be encouraged to interpret reality in a European way” (79). This is what caused the Europeans to extend to the Africans a High God on the Christian model and expect the African people to see themselves in terms of the European. Their failure to conform to European standards reinforced the European superiority complex, a complex derived from the deficit-model Europe applied to Africa. To the Africans, this deficit-model is completely incomprehensible because they view themselves and their relationship to their gods through an altogether different lens.

D. The Use of Symbols

European orientalist attitudes resulted from an underlying moral rectitude on the part of the European who has taken upon himself the burden of civilizing the world in his image. Europe orientalized Africa in the 19 th and 20 th centuries in the Edward Said sense of essentializing its greater complexities and diversities into a stereotypical model that could serve Western interests. It could be argued that such commodification of the continent continues to the present day in the form of neoimperialism in which the West continues to exploit African communities through its neocolonial servant-leaders. The reason for this is that aside from the wealth that can be obtained through favorable balances of trade, essentialized attitudes still persist. P’Bitek explains that “Western scholarship sees the world as divided into two types of human society: one, their own, civilized, great, developed; the other, the non-western peoples, uncivilized, simple, undeveloped. One is modern, the other tribal” (15). What was true for P’Bitek thirty-five years ago continues to play itself out in Marxist novels, attesting to the truth evidenced if only by their continued publication. Representation, then, has always been the prerogative of those in control of the discourse within which it is articulated, but the encroachment upon this discourse by those whom it sought to interpellate and construct as tools under Western hegemony has begun to turn the tide against the orientalists. If African novelists are able to engage the


discourse as producers rather than consumers, then the promise of reclaiming the voice of the people has already been realized – the hoped-for age to come is reserved, of course, for when that voice takes back its material means of production and all people become active producers of their own narratives. Modernity, of course, is couched in terms of a greater global awareness of humanity’s place in God’s cosmology. It is the civilizing grace, according to the Western construct, that allows people in one part of the world to engage in meaningful social discourse with similar patterns and systems in other parts of the world. Where these patterns and systems do not exist, they must be created and maintained by the West in its effort to bring cohesion to the world over which it has dominion. Because Christianity is the faith that brought Europe to its privileged place, its first efforts at civilizing the world naturally occurred in the theatre of evangelization in what would later develop into centers for commercial exploitation and administrative control. P’Bitek explains that “in Africa, the former headquarters of colonial suppression and economic exploitation are seen as centres of ‘civilization’. When persons from the rural areas enter the towns, therefore, they are labelled [sic] ‘detribalized’, and are assumed to be free from the ‘tribal’ ways of life” (15). It is not so much the move from the rural area that ‘detribalizes’ the native, however, as it is his or her integration into the capitalist infrastructure that dominates the economic life of the world. By ‘entering’ society, the native finds personhood according to the European model of his or her being plugged into the machinery of the state. Without this compartmentalized affiliation with the Western social structure, the native has no job and is, consequently, not viewed to be a contributing member of society. By processing the individual into the system, Europe felt that it was saving him or her from a life of meaninglessness. “This kind of thinking,” P’Bitek explains, “is one of the ways in which Western scholarship justified the colonial system” (15). Europe’s use of the tools it had at its disposal to redefine the African in the image of the European enabled it to consistently apply a deficit theory to areas in which the African did not measure up to the standards of European culture and society, and it used this information to destroy the African way of life through the process of acculturation to the European model. The Church was no different from the secular institutions in this regard, and when she went into the continent to evangelize amongst the indigenous populations, she, too, did her best to recreate the African religious customs in her image. “The first education given,” Ngugi explains in Homecoming’s “Church, Culture and Politics,” was designed to teach converts how to read scripture so they would be better assistants to Christian missionaries. “As education later came to be the ladder to better jobs and money and to a higher standard of living, albeit in the image of the European mode of life, the Christian-educated African became even more removed from his ancestral shrines and roots” (32).


Christianity provided not merely an eschatological ladder, but also a career ladder, and there were many young Africans eager to gain access to the material benefits of the European lifestyle, which they or their parents felt a Christian training would facilitate. This kind of enthusiasm for conversion would eventually wane as many converts began to reject European institutions in hopes of establishing their independence from the colonial powers that held them. “The conflict between the Kenya people and the missionary churches, the subsequent setting up of African independent churches, and the religious aspects of the Mau Mau liberation movement,” Ngugi adds, “were direct results of the culture conflict initiated by the missionary holy zeal” (32). The problem was that even Christian education for the indigenous population did nothing to improve or administer to the cultural integrity of the African; rather, it sought to bring the African out of his or her environment by carbon-copying the Western worldview upon his or her mind. Spiritually, then, it was an unsatisfying experience, which “was not an adequate answer to the hungry soul of the African masses because it emphasized the same Christian values that had refused to condemn (in fact helped) the exploitation of the African body and mind by the European colonizer” (32). It is now the Church’s responsibility to help in the healing process, Ngugi explains, to take an active role in working for reconciliation between the institution of the Church and the culture that it serves. To do take this active role, the Church has to return to the traditional practices of African peoples and search for the meaning within them as a way to integrate Christianity within the symbolic life of the people rather than stapling a European culture onto it. In making this proposition, Ngugi insists that this is the very core of his thesis, “for the symbols with which we choose to identify ourselves are important in expressing the values held by a community” (32). That being the case, the symbols of the Church must necessarily have replaced the symbols of traditional African religion, becoming thereby more readily identifiable by the people over time than the symbols that once had relevance for their community before the Europeans disrupted its cohesion. It is the symbols of the Church in relation to the symbols of the people that must be addressed, in that case. Ngugi’s criticism of this process is poignant, as he bitterly notes that “in Kenya, while the European settler robbed people of their land and the products of their sweat, the missionary robbed people of their soul” (32). That is to say, having just come out of a context-dependent worldview through an exploration of three-dimensional time, the Africans were becoming disposed to alter their thinking based on changes in their social realities. When the social reality became the dominance of European institutions, the symbols of those institutions became the norm.

This process of social change that occurred as a result of Christianity dealt much more with image than with faith. Those with faith who still adhered to their former lifestyles remained ‘uncivilized’ while those who donned the accoutrements of the Christian image were seen as conformed individuals who had made a place for themselves in God’s kingdom. Ngugi illustrates that the Church, in its efforts to ensure the Christian practice in form, rewarded this type of conversion entirely because it was a visual reality that would inspire others to behave in a like manner. The measure of one’s Christian zeal was not seen in one’s actions or beliefs, but in one’s use of European modes of dress and manners (31- 2). This kind of behavioral conversion, in effect, showed that the Church placed a material value on spiritual acceptance because this was the only evaluation procedure it had whereby it could determine the measure of a person’s acculturation to the faith. People who thus conformed were accepted into the Church as children of God who had the approval of their vicars to pursue their livelihoods as far as the colonial superstructure would allow them. The Church was a gateway to the privileges of the European, but it came at a great cost to the African. Ngugi explains that “the acceptance of the Christian Church meant the outright rejection of all the African customs. It meant rejection of those values and rituals that held us together: it meant adopting what in effect was a debased European middle-class mode of living and behaviour” (31). Customs like female circumcision were at first discouraged by the British colonial authorities and, in 1954, forbidden by them. It was not the European lifestyle that the Church was ultimately after as much as it was the eradication of the African lifestyle in terms that were comprehensible to the European. Africans who could not afford middle-class lives would live working-class lives of desperation and penury, but at least that was a form of living recognizable to the Church and a form for which the Church already had a coping mechanism in the practice of almsgiving. The African religions were to be stamped out regardless of the destruction of the communities of which they were a part because there was the higher goal of reorganizing those communities in the image and form of Christ. As part of this process, Ngugi writes, “the European missionary had attacked the primitive rites of our people, had condemned our beautiful African dances, the images of our gods, recoiling from their suggestion of satanic sensuality. The early African convert did the same, often with even greater zeal, for he had to prove how Christian he was through this rejection of his past and roots” (31-2). The African convert’s having taken over the European missionary’s work initiated into being an indigenous laity that would be able to succeed in its evangelization in areas where the European would have remained unsuccessful. Gradually, the African religious structure began to yield to the Christian, resulting at the turn of the millennium in an indigenous population in which 40% identifies itself as Christian


(“Exploring Africa”), which Ngugi argues has caused the “rapid disintegration of the tribal set-up and the frame-work of social norms and values by which people had formerly ordered their lives and their relationships to others” (“CCP” 31). What the Africans received in compensation was a new semiotics of the world to which they had to adapt their still latent preconceptions about their role in it.

E. Ontology

The alteration of the symbols through which Africans interpreted the world did not, however, alter the essence of African morality, which Mbiti says is more “’societary’ than ‘spiritual,’” making it “a morality of ‘conduct’ rather than a morality of ‘being’” (Philosophy 214). As a result, African ontology, the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of being or existence, might demonstrate that the African people maintain their cultural consciousness even though their behavior conforms to the social expectations imposed by the colonizing presence. It was this societal aspect of morality, in fact, that probably did most to ease the transition into the Western worldview—societally, the Europeans were a fact of African existence, and the narratives of the Africans had already prepared them to accept that whatever is a part of their existence, of their social reality, as something that has to be accounted for in their ontological system. A societary ethics, Mbiti writes, “is what one might call ‘dynamic ethics’ rather than ‘static ethics’, for it defines what a person does rather than what he is. Conversely, a person is what he is because of what he does, rather than that he does what he does because of what he is” (Philosophy 214). When a person acts in a way that is out of accordance with whom he or she is, a dual-consciousness is created that bifurcates the single-consciousness that it replaced, leading to a kind of split communal personality that is out of harmony with the African consciousness of him or herself as a whole person. The African in his or her own community and under traditional African religion maintains social responsibility by acting within society for the greater good of the community, and these actions have to be concrete rather than abstract. That is to say, “kindness is not a virtue unless someone is kind; murder is not evil until someone kills another person in his community. Man is not by nature either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (‘evil’) except in terms of what he does or does not do” (Philosophy 214, italics mine). So important is this distinction between European and African ontology that a theory of conflict resolution could be based upon it—the European, who claimed through God’s grace his own redemption, was not obliged to immediately act in accordance with the principles that he preached. This is not to say that the Europeans were inherently hypocritical in their approach to African humanity but that they felt a need to take a paternalistic approach in order to bring


the Africans to civilization (i.e., humanity) and plug them into the global corporate infrastructure. If they could not envision the Africans as an immediate part of their own corporate structure, then the Africans still had too many deficits in humanity that had to be filled before they could achieve what the Europeans had already established as the universal rights of man (i.e., civilized man). The Africans, on the other hand, were present-oriented, and they could see no immediate tangible benefits to the Western civilizing mission except in the form of Africans attired in European garb enjoying European technologies. The societal ethics that the Africans applied in their social interactions, therefore, enabled them to see clearly the failings of the Europeans in treating them as human persons capable of social parity. Had the Europeans come to this realization, which would have been evidenced by their changing the policies through which they interacted with the Africans, then their ‘civilizing’ mission might have made inroads in ways that their failure to understand the African worldview prevented their doing so. The African ethical system was to the Europeans, however, just another deficit area that needed to be filled, so it was ignored in the comprehensive efforts made by the Europeans to replicate themselves upon the African mind. The dynamic nature of African ontology that enabled it to maintain its cohesion with changing social realities also facilitated African acculturation to the European reality. Ngugi explains this as a general human phenomenon in “Towards a National Culture” in writing that “[n]o living culture is ever static. Collectively, human beings struggle to master their physical environment and in the process create a social one. A change in the physical environment, or, more accurately, a change in the nature of their struggle, will alter their institutions and hence their mode of life and thought. Their new mode of life and thought may in turn affect their institutions and general environment. It is a dialectical process” (5). Because of the present-oriented mentality of African culture, this natural human propensity to adapt to change hit the African much harder than it would have hit the European— Africans not only had to readjust their worldview to account for the sudden presence of white men as something that was always already among them, but they also had to change the way their society worked to make allowances for it. Ngugi adds that “a profound change in a people’s economy, or in their dwelling-place, through trade and migration, will make people organize themselves differently to meet the new set of circumstances. Their ideals and values, over a period, are also likely to alter” (5). What is important to realize in the African context is that the Africans were not a static entity prior to the arrival of the Europeans. They were not a tabula rasa upon which the Europeans could inscribe their worldview. Change was a natural part of their existence—and their reaction to change had always been an ontological one that enabled their society to facilely adapt to new realities. Ngugi makes the


point that “contrary to the myth and fiction of our conquerors, Africa was always in turmoil of change, with empires rising and falling. African traditional structures and cultures then were neither static nor uniform. There were as many cultures as there were peoples, although we can recognize broad affinities which would make us talk meaningfully of African values or civilizations” (Homecoming 5). Africa was not a single dark mass, and African peoples had developed rich cultural and social traditions that could not be easily erased and written over. In its most corrasable areas, African culture was still a palimpsest upon which new ideas might be written on top of the traditions that were already inscribed upon it. These cultures interacted with one another, evolving together towards common experiences and making war upon one another when their common needs were at variance. When the Europeans landed, they came upon a culture in process and interrupted that process with, alongside their guns, money, and ambitions, their own future-oriented goals. As Africans began to master the Western paradigms in sufficient numbers to be able to operate under the global infrastructure established by the West, they necessarily began to assert a greater sense of independence from their former instructors and began either to establish their own educational, governmental, and corporate institutions on the Western model or take ownership of those institutions the Europeans had already established within their countries. While these superimposed institutions were primarily oriented toward the economic and political aspects of African society, the most critical decisions facing the leaders of postcolonial Africa, as P’Bitek explains, lie in the areas of culture and basic human values (119). While conflicts remain within the political and economic spheres among the various nation-states and the various factions within any given state, “the basic conflict is between fundamental assumptions of Western civilization and the fundamental assumptions of African civilization” (119). As long as conflict remains in these basic underlying assumptions, no harmonious relationship on the political and economic spheres between Africa and the West can happen. For P’Bitek, “true Uhuru means the abolition of Western political and economic dominance from Africa, and the reconstruction of our societies on the basis of African thought systems” (119), the cause of which could be greatly furthered by the study of African religions. To achieve true national cultures, Africans have to be free to engage their present social realities through the lens of their traditions. For Ngugi, in “Towards a National Culture,” “that means we must thoroughly examine our social and economic structures and see if they are truly geared to meeting the needs and releasing the energy of the masses. We must in fact wholly Africanize and socialize our political and economic life” (12-3). African autonomy calls for the kind of ontological reanalysis that would not only return control of the means of production to the African people, but it would also enable the African worldview to have as


profound and meaningful impact as the European worldview has had through its being able to authentically engage in the process of cultural exchange in the world marketplace. Discussions on the process of Africanizing have usually been maintained in terms of revising or reconstructing concrete situations and paradigms that continue to oppress the people who live under them. This means that there is a material rather than spiritual transformation that must happen before Africans will have the freedom to pursue their cultural and religious Africanness. For this reason, Ngugi insists that Africans “break with capitalism, whose imperialistic stage—that of colonialism and neo-colonialism—has done so much harm to Africa and dwarfed our total creative spirit” (13). The human spirit under the best of conditions cannot thrive under a system that commodifies the human person and subordinates human value to material worth. Capitalism, as an exploitative system, Ngugi explains, “can only produce anti-human culture, or a culture that is only an expression of sectional, warring interests” (13). Ngugi’s argument, then, is a Marxist one, which calls for a “completely socialized economy, collectively owned and controlled by the people…[and] a complete and total liberation of the people, through the elimination of all exploitative forces” (13). His cry is the cry of the spiritually and materially dispossessed, and it is intended to lead people back to an existence of shared ethics and morality in the distribution of communal resources. “African culture used to be most communal,” he reflects, “when and where economic life and the means of production were communally organized and controlled. Any ideal, any vision, is nothing unless it is given institutional forms and solid economic bases” (13). Spiritually, traditional Africans had been fully authenticated in their relationships to one another and to their environment because of their rootedness in the land of their ancestors whom they were following into the past. Removal of their agency as producers of their own social realities caused them to lose their own institutional sense in exchange for an imperfect adoption of a new one. To pursue the dream without addressing the material infrastructures within which that dream is ensconced, consequently, is fruitless because “a stratified society…produces a stratified culture or a sub-cultures…[just as] an oppressive racist society, like that of South Africa, can only produce an oppressive racist culture that cannot nourish and edify man” (13). By reconstructing the paradigms that govern humanity’s state of existence, Ngugi hopes to reconstruct how the human person is able to respond to and shape his or her environment. In doing this, he is acting in the role of the healer, the voice of the community about which Armah has written who takes upon himself and the community of healers to which he belongs the responsibility, the black man’s burden, of restoring his society by healing the rifts within it.

Resolving the disparities in the African and Western ontological systems calls for action on the part of African political, commercial, intellectual and religious leaders to develop an African socialist movement that would address the needs of the people in concrete terms. Ngugi, in “Kenya: The Two Rifts,” argues that “the traditional African concept of the community should not be forgotten in our rush for western culture and political institutions, which some regard as the ready-made solution to our problems” (25). If the community is developed to serve the individual, and the individual finds his fulfillment in active service to the community, then a culture that can be inclusive of the social needs of the entire community would be ideal. This kind of thinking, Ngugi explains, is African socialism, which is a people-centered rather ruler-centered system based on total democracy in areas of production, that is, in areas where the people themselves have productive control over their own society, economy, and culture. The Zimbabwean Ndabaningi Sithole has argued that the foundation for African socialism was laid to address the grievances Africans have had against a ruler-centered system that did not consider them as stakeholders in the development of their own lives. “The white man had come to Africa first and foremost for his own good,” Sithole writes in African Nationalism, “He did not rule Africa for her own good. He ruled her for his own good. His double-mindedness in his dealings with the peoples of Africa was a calculated move to keep himself in the position of effective power” (147). If Europe was ruling Africa entirely out of self-interest, as Sithole argues, then it would have been an attitude that was endemic to all European institutions including the Church, and all European institutions would have supported one another in their conquest over African resources—both material and human. In time, this became obvious to the African stakeholders in every European institution. “When therefore the African later realized that he could not trust any European-made political schemes, he came to one conclusion: that if he was to count for something in his own country only full and sovereign independence could solve his problems, and he embraced African nationalism with a blind and consuming enthusiasm that borders on the holy” (147-8). Thus ended the colonial era, but it was followed by a period of neo-colonialism that was even worse in its exploitation since Africans, themselves, with the same zeal of the Christian convert, continued to engage in the unadulterated exploitation of their own people that Frantz Fanon articulates so well in Black Skins, White Masks (1967). What is left for the African to do, Sithole concludes, is to recognize that “the interests of Africa will be best served not by a profit-centred economic system, but by a people-centred system, and African Socialism is that system” (196). This is the system for which Ngugi, Farah, and Armah are arguing throughout their works, the articulation of which forms the substance of the next three chapters of this book.

F. Conclusion – Subversive Culture

The personality of a culture is evidenced by the duration of its history as a semiotic construct.

While the oral traditions of African discourse were aptly suited for a realized eschatology, the introduction of a teleological eschatology made a literate culture inevitable. This largely resulted from the fact that literate societies culturally measure one another by their texts, placing a cultureless value on textless societies. Cabral states that “imperialist domination, by denying the historical development

of the dominated people, necessarily also denies their cultural

like all other foreign domination, for its own security, requires cultural oppression and the attempt at direct or indirect liquidation of the essential elements of the culture of the dominated people” (55). Because it is the particular culture of a people that enables it to interact on par with another people, the

loss or displacement of that culture better enables the colonizer to exploit the people as barbarians. Culture, like history and eschatology, is subversive, which means that hope continues to exist for any given culture that finds itself in an unequal and oppressive relationship with another. Ngugi argues this in Moving the Center on the basis that because the colonial form of imperialism could not destroy the culture of resistance, neither will the neocolonial form, for a people’s culture can be completely destroyed through the destruction of the people (45). Without a cultural paradigm of its own, any group will begin to suffer the loss of its identity to the extent that it can no longer continue to be informed by that identity and can no longer contribute the discourse of its community. As long as the ability exists for a group to express its cultural existence, however, there is hope for that group, and no group can remain for long bereft of a culture that informs its experience for the simple fact that culture derives from communal experience.

imperialist domination,

Chapter 3: Ngugi’s Politicized Eschatology: Devil on the Cross and Matigari

The literature of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, especially his later books beginning with Petals of Blood, explores the degradation into which African peoples have fallen during the period following independence as a result of there being no systemic change in the way the political and economic infrastructures of African society respond to the needs of the people. Because he understands that the economic and political structures have crippled the social and cultural lives of the people, Ngugi has become increasingly more militant in his position against neocolonial policies that exist to support the power structure rather than the people whom those structures are intended to serve (“History of Kenya”). 6 He looks upon the Church as an accomplice in this, but he recognizes the power of the Christian message as a tool for mobilizing people into action. In Homecoming, in fact, he explains the method by which the Church might be a successful partner with the people in writing that “if the Church is to mean anything then it must be a meaningful champion of the needs of all the workers and peasants of this country. It must adapt itself in form and in content to provide a true spiritual anchor in the continuing struggle of the masses in today’s Africa” (“Church, Culture and Politics” 34). It is not that Ngugi is concerned, however, about preserving the Church, for as a Marxist he feels he has no spiritual need for it and believes that its ubiquity is a tool used in the oppression of the people. His reasoning, then, most likely derives from one source, the fact that the Church is part of the environment he shares with the people in his community. That being the case, he has no choice but to use the influence the Church has over people to advance his own social goals. He writes, I believe the Church could return to (or learn lessons from) the primitive communism of the early Christian Church of Peter and also the communalism of the traditional African society. With this, and working in alliance with the socialist aspirations of the African masses, we might build a new society to create a new man freed from greed and competitive hatred, and ready to realize his full potential in humble co-operation with other men in a just socialist society. (36) For that reason, in both Devil on the Cross (1980) and Matigari (1989), Ngugi relies predominantly on Christian imagery to convey his points. If the Church will not adapt to the needs of the people, then Ngugi will take from it the symbolic tools he needs to recreate it in the image of the people. Devil on the Cross, for instance, is a story based on the structure of a Christian mass, and Matigari is a story

6 The origin of European domination extends back to 1885 when five German warships appeared near Zanzibar demanding that Sultan Barghash cede his mainland territories to the German Emperor Wilhelm I. The British intervened with an agreement to share the territory between them, and the line separating British East Africa from German East Africa continues to exist in the boundary between Kenya and Tanzania.


based on the salvific mission of Christ on the Gospel narratives. By using Christian symbols and images, Ngugi is laying his hands on the very structures of the Church as a way of explicitly exercising over the social world the tool of teleological eschatology that he has found within them.

A. Ngugi’s Cultural Base

Because Christianity’s entrance into East Africa was so quickly followed by colonization, 7 it appeared as much a force of exploitation as other explicit governing structures, like the presence of a foreign military and the establishment of the European educational system, that the colonialists had put in place on the continent to strengthen their hegemony over it. The ability of the African to enter the discourse of power was limited unless this was done through an adoption of these accoutrements of the social structure, which is what Ngugi, before Petals of Blood, had actually done. He had believed as a Christian in the Church of England and its saving mission, had succeeded in the primary and secondary schools before moving to Makerere University in Uganda, and had published in English. When he understood the conflict within him, he gave back unto the state what was the state’s – its language, its religion, its claim over his mind – and kept for himself the one thing that allowed him to continue his critique of it – its symbolic language. This provided him with an opportunity to enter its social context without necessarily entering its structural context. Symbolic language is sufficient for Ngugi because his method is to avoid the grapholects and semantics of the language of the colonial powers by writing only in the languages of his people, Gikuyu and Kiswahili. For this reason, he writes in and of his book Decolonising the Mind that it is his “farewell to English as a vehicle for any of [his] writings. From now on it is Gikuyu and Kiswahili all the way" (xiv). His view on writing outside of the lingua Franca of English is not shared by all African writers, of course. Chinua Achebe, for instance, believes that colonial languages are suitable national languages for independent African nation-states. His thinking is that English and French are already African languages in the sense that they have facilitated communication and interaction between the myriad of linguistic groups existing in Africa. African writers, then, who use English as their primary mode of expression, are not looking outside their own countries but within those countries to their brothers and sisters whose common language makes them mutually comprehensible. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, on the other hand, in his belief that Africa is in need of

7 The first recorded mission to East Africa was led by Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebman, two Germans working through the Church Missionary Society of England, to the Mijikenda in Tanganyika on August 25, 1846.


a greater autonomy from its colonial forebears, feels that the use of English in the primary publication

of creative works is a betrayal of the African social context. In rejecting the Western colonization of the mind, Ngugi has not rejected the “facility for mutual communication” of which Achebe writes in “The

African Writer” as much as he has rejected the “by-products of the same process that made the new nation-states of Africa” (430), the very thing that Achebe uses as support for his point. Ngugi’s rejection concerns the whole range of Western semiotic constructs, which he feels is deleterious for the authentic African self. The new nation-states of Africa are burdened by the way in which the language of the colonizers continues to colonize the minds of African writers. The African writer who writes in a language foreign to the indigenous peoples ends up writing not so much for the masses within a country but for those whose use of English, French, or Portuguese presupposes a European mentality and a loss of African cultural identity. Languages of power, Ngugi points out in “Imperialism of Language: English, a language for the world?” a section of Moving the Center: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms (1993), “are still spoken only by a minority within each of the nationalities that make up these countries” ensuring that “the elite in Africa is, in linguistic terms, completely uprooted from the peoples of Africa and tied to the West (37). The reason for why this is true of the African, Ngugi argues, and not of other peoples who speak English as their second or third language, lies in the fact that the English tongue failed to meet the various African languages under equal conditions. “They met,” instead, “with English as the language of the conquering nation, and ours as the language of the vanquished. An

oppressor language inevitably carries racist and negative images of the conquered nation, particularly in its literature, and English is no exception" (35). For that reason, the English language as it applies to the colonized African is different from languages that meet on equal playing fields. Benedict Anderson writes that treating languages as “emblems of nation-ness” is always a mistake because of the capacity languages have “for generating imagined communities, building in effect particular sodalities” (133). Even imperial languages, he argues, are nothing more than vernaculars, and for that reason on the field of the imagination, all languages are equal. For Ngugi, this logic is flawed because language, as articulated in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (1929), is culture – it is nation-ness in the sense that “there is

a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how

that person both understands the world and behaves in it.” 8 The African writer, Ngugi exhorts, ought

not to pattern him- or herself after the philosophy of writers like Chinua Achebe, who are themselves

8 This concept was originally developed in 1929 as an article entitled “The Status Of Linguistics As A Science” by Edward Sapir.


open advocates for the use of English as an African language that transcends tribal boundaries; rather, the African writer ought to write first and foremost for the people, and this can be accomplished only by writing in the language of the people so that the meaning of the text is truly one that addresses national concerns. In writing for the people, the African writer must desire to establish and cultivate a national literature that will serve as a unifying and validating expression of the culture. Without a national literature, a people are in danger of being attacked by their oppressor with a cultural bomb, which begins the process of annihilating “a people's belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves” and opening imperialism “as the cure [which] demands that the dependant sing hymns of praise with the constant refrain: 'Theft is holy.'" (DM 3). While he articulates this idea in his essay against the cultural colonization of the African, Ngugi is later able to demonstrate it in action in his novel Devil on the Cross in the context of a Holy Mass. Ngugi’s struggle, then, in both his expository and narrative works should be put in context of his desire to decolonize the African mind and rid it of foreign influences that would seek to corrode the authenticity of the African person in order to force that person into serving the interests of the Western imperialists. 9 An understanding of this philosophy aids in the understanding of Ngugi’s rejection of Western capitalism as a system that seeks to promote the West at the expense of African natural resources. Whatever seeks to promote a non-African ideal, that is, at the expense of an African people- centeredness is part of what Ngugi is struggling against, and this extends to Ngugi’s rejection of Christianity as a spiritual way of life for African people. One of the imports that Christianity provided, however, and one which Ngugi embraces enthusiastically, is teleological eschatology, the vision of the world to come in some future time that, in material terms, redresses the wrongs of this one in the present. Ngugi’s use of teleological eschatology, in fact, seems inconsistent with his rejection of the Church as a colonizing force, but his politicization of eschatology, a field of study which is inherently apolitical, is what makes the concept a useful tool for advancing social ends. It would be ineffective, moreover, for Ngugi not to plug himself into the symbolic consciousness of the people to whom he is ministering, and if it is impossible for the Kenyan to escape the Church, then it might be very possible for the Kenyan to reshape the Church in the image of the people who comprise its membership. Ngugi’s political mission statement can be summed up by the preface of Decolonising the Mind, where

9 That the nation itself remained in the service of the West is evidenced by Daniel arap Moi’s continuation of Jomo Kenyatta’s neocolonialist policies that favored foreign investment opportunities over the people they exploit. Moi ruled Kenya from 1978 to 2002, following Jomo Kenyatta, who ruled from 1964 to 1978.


he argues that “Africa needs back its economy, its politics, its culture, its languages and all its patriotic writers" (xii). This list defines Ngugi’s eschatological goals for Kenya, in particular, and for Africa, in general, and he accomplishes this in part with his writing of his subsequent novels in Gikuyu. One important thing that Christian imagery provides is a symbolic infrastructure in which the signs being used have a relational purpose to other signs within the system. These signs manifest themselves in narrative terms so that the story of Christ is the story of postcolonial struggle against neocolonial collaborators and the story of the liturgy is a story of humanity’s direct communication with its creator. This re-narrativizing of Christian signs and symbols into parables useful for the culture being addressed is the missionary method of inculturation, which seeks to find instances within a given people where the Gospel is already being manifest and work within those instances to provide a greater understanding of the relationship between the human person and God. From the perspective of the missionary, the Gospel narrative is the grapholect, the standard written form of the language of Christ, and any instances of Christ’s message already being articulated within a given culture would be akin to a dialect of the standard form. The missionary purpose of inculturation is to respect the dialect while teaching the grapholect. In this way, the people come to a fuller sense of Christ’s working in their lives. Ngugi takes the same approach as a missionary of humanity and of authentic human relationships, and this is why he finds it expedient to use the missionary form of inculturation in his preaching. If we take the Gospel narrative in Ngugi’s terms and look upon it as a postcolonial tale written by and for the dispossessed, then it makes sense that Ngugi would find a great deal of use for its symbols in his efforts to teach his people about the nature of their dispossession. Oliver Lovesey writes that “the dispossessed, in their demoralized state of subalternity, must be empowered to seize upon the possibility of transformation and to acknowledge their role in this metamorphosis. To accomplish this political education, Ngugi relies on the instructive qualities of allegory and parable, and on the Bible’s promise of social justice” (168). The people themselves, Ngugi would argue, should be able to accomplish their own eschatological salvation; however, they are neither yet able nor willing to do so. Ngugi writes in Homecoming, “it is the height of irony that we, who have suffered most from exploitation, are now supporting a system that not only continues that basic exploitation, but exacerbates destructive rivalries between brothers and sisters, a system that thrives on the survival instincts of dwellers in a Darwinian jungle” (xviii). In order to learn to walk the path to resistance and transformation, the people need the guidance of artists like Ngugi who will show them how to do so. Ngugi’s heightened social consciousness, his demythologization of the oppressive structures that maintain neocolonial hegemony, qualify him as a good guide and necessitates his approaching this task


as an apostolic mission. This need on the part of the people, that is, creates an obligation on the part of the writer to provide for them a vehicle for the articulation of their voice, for the inability to make use of that kind of forum becomes for the masses an issue of social justice. So powerful is this obligation, moreover, that “the writer cannot be exempted from the task of exposing the distorted values governing such a jungle precisely because this distorts healthy human relationships” (Ngugi xviii). Unhealthy human relationships are the basis for corruption as people unethically treat others as means to their own ends, and it in this that we see the link between Ngugi’s vision and that of Christ. In drawing on the transformative power of the Gospels, Ngugi is able to “point to the possibility for personal and communal regeneration and offer [within his own message] the promise of social justice” (Lovesey 168) to all who follow his vision, which is also partly that of Christ in its being a hoped for kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. There is, consequently, nothing incompatible between Ngugi’s Marxism and his embrace of religious models to assist his message even though he makes it quite clear that he is not a Christian and has rejected Christianity from his youth. Ngugi, furthermore, draws not from Christianity alone, but also from the Gikuyu religion since both were influences on his early life. Patrick Williams states that Ngugi’s parents did not much concern themselves with any religion so that Ngugi himself would not have been inclined to join one or the other church. Even so, Ngugi developed an affinity for the Christian faith and was not discouraged in his pursuit of it so that “by the time he got to Alliance High School, [he] had, on his own admission, become ‘rather too serious a Christian’, a fact which he later felt had stood in the way of involvement in social issues” (Williams 9). Ngugi’s formal break from Christianity happened over a period of time when he felt that he could not reconcile the Christian views given him by the Church of Scotland with his Marxist beliefs, and he even gave up his Christian name of James when faced with it at a conference as the last vestige of his Christian accoutrements. It may seem ironic, then, that his last two novels have embraced his early experience as having had value for his reconciliation of African people to their social and cultural mores. In reality, Ngugi’s incorporation of the symbols within the postcolonial and mythical narrative provides the people with something close of their life experience of the dominant religion’s influence on their lives within the colonialist institutions. As a way of life, then, for the Kenyan, Christianity has always been indelibly tied to colonialism, and Ngugi feels this partnership between the two compromises the social justice message that Christianity seeks to deliver. Ngugi writes in “Church, Culture and Politics” without any evangelizing zeal, “As a Kenyan African I cannot escape from the Church. Its influence is all around me” (31), which is a prelude to his explaining the contradiction inherent in the European message of Christianity.


Far from engaging in the missionary activity of inculturation, which is the seeking of the Gospel message that already exists within the culture being evangelized, the missionaries of Europe brought Christianity as a pacifying force meant to subdue the people while Christian men and women appropriated all of their material resources. Ngugi expresses in “Church, Culture, and Politics” that the marriage of colonialism and Christianity as it manifested itself in Kenya was a contradiction “because Christianity, whose basic doctrine was love and equality between men, was an integral part of that social force—colonialism—which in Kenya was built on inequality and hatred between men and the consequent subjugation of the black race by the white race” (31). In extricating himself from a colonial, and thereafter postcolonial, mental relationship with the West, he had to complete the decolonizing operation by also extricating himself from the pillars of colonialism, among them, Christianity. In dealing with the social realities of colonialism in his literature, as a result, he cannot deal with colonial or neocolonial structures without also dealing with the faith in which they came packaged, and his denuding of the governing structures of his society necessarily leads to his doing the same with the religious structures. That Christianity did not arrive in Kenya in a vacuum is evidenced by the process of social change for which it was a catalyst. For change to occur within any society in ways consonant with the needs of the people, it has to occur at a pace equal to that of the people’s ability to act as agents of that change. Not only were the Kenyan people not allowed into policy matters of the colonial government as active producers of their own national destiny, Ngugi writes, they were powerless to stop the “rapid disintegration of the tribal set-up and the frame-work of social norms and values by which people had formerly ordered their lives and their relationships to others” (“CCP” 31). The new governing structures viewed the Kenyans as second-class citizens in their own country but encouraged their growth in the Christian religion as a method of incorporating the native into English manners and customs. It would follow, then, that to be a Christian did not have anything to do with Christian love and charity but with adopting Western conventions in preference to African customs. If the European missionary denigrated tribal practices and imposed deficit theories upon the cultural realities of tribal life, then so, too, did the African convert to Christianity. Once the African self was repudiated, the African mind was on its way to being fully colonized by the European consciousness which looked upon Africans as objects for Western consumption. 10 When Africans entering as second-level

10 Berman adds that colonial domination was not a system of coercion put into place at the beginning of colonial rule that ran smoothly until it was dismantled at independence, but rather a process of legitimation and control of extraordinary complexity involving far more than the use of force. Effective administrative control and social order in the countryside was based on a 'concordat of coexistence' involving the active collaboration


administrators in the colonial government’s civil service began to see themselves in the same light as the colonialists saw them, consequently, neocolonialism became a reality long before independence was achieved.

Without the colonialists to actively govern the country, the necessity for the new governing structures to adopt Western political and cultural forms was not as pressing even though neo- colonialists were seeking re-admission to the metropolitan center in London. What the adherents to a people-oriented culture would need is a strong vision of themselves as agents of change, and that is what Ngugi as a scholar and a leader is able to give them – an understanding of their roles and selves in the creation of a new order. As a creator of this new vision of people as producers of their cultural and societal relationships, Ngugi’s reliance on a future-oriented social justice message is intended to fulfill these necessary roles for the activist to undertake. P’Bitek explains that “the African scholar has two clear tasks before him. First, to expose and destroy all false ideas about African peoples and culture

that have been perpetuated by western scholarship…Second,

peoples as they really are” (P’Bitek 7). This dual task has been Ngugi’s aim from the time he became a writer, but it is only in these last most radically Marxist novels that he uses the conventions of the Church to fight the institutions that church helped engender during the colonial period. In his deconstruction of the colonial realities, he can play with the divine pedagogy of Christ in his narratives, for Christ also used parables to illustrate truths in human interaction. Ngugi takes it further in the temporal realm, though, than Christ did. While Christ preached against a social structure that caused disparities in human value, he never crossed the line of arguing that the governing power of Herod II should end its allegiance with the Roman authorities, arguing instead that one should give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Christ was able to say this because, even though he strove for a social system that would give itself over to the service of all humanity, his focus was on a life to come beyond this world – on a kingdom of God outside lived experience. Ngugi’s focus, on the other hand, is clearly on this world and on the nature of human relationships in the building of a system of social equity within the present age – in engaging this political focus in Christological terms, however, Ngugi has moved from the domain of moral theology into the realm of eschatology. Our having explored the theoretical relationship Ngugi has with eschatology in his writing brings us to the point where we can articulate it more concretely using the practical examples of his texts Devil on the Cross and Matigari. In both these texts, Ngugi makes an effort to engage his Kenyan readership

to present the institutions of African

by writing in Gikuyu, one of the national languages of the country. Achebe would call Gikuyu a regional dialect rather than a national language because it is a language that is specific to a certain cultural group, which does not, like English or French, transcend the cultural boundaries of its speakers. Ngugi provides a rationale for his decision in Decolonising the Mind, his last work in English and an apologia for his views on language and culture, that rather than taking away from African writers who have been successful in the crafting of other languages, his shift into Gikuyu and Kiswahili is his way of “lamenting a neo-colonial situation which has meant the European bourgeoisie once again stealing [Kenya’s] talents and geniuses as they have stolen [Kenya’s] economies” (xxii). By saying that Europe is stealing the talents and geniuses of his homeland, Ngugi’s indictment is of the acculturation process of Kenyan artists to European values. He believes that Europe has upgraded its tactics from the theft of art to the theft of the artist himself. "Denied language and a common culture, deprived of political and economic power, and without the corrective of an unbiased, and all-sided, educational system even after 'freedom' was regained,” Ngugi argues in “A Kind of Homecoming,” “the uprooted black population looked to the white world for a pattern of life" (Ngugi Homecoming 81-2). What Europe has succeeded in doing, as a result, is to put in place an intellectual and cultural infrastructure that relies on the Kenyans themselves to contribute to their own oppression within the global taxonomy Europe has long since defined with itself at the top of the chain of being. It was not, however, Ngugi’s plan to close himself off from the world at large in his move into his native tongue, but his “hope that through the age old medium of translation [he should] be able to continue dialogue with all" (xiv). Linguistically, then, he is accomplishing at least one of his eschatological goals, and his view of language as culture is the foundation upon which he hopes to accomplish the rest.

B. Devil on the Cross

Devil on the Cross (1980), or Caitaani Mutharabaini, is a cohesive narrative structured after the Christian mass, which is divided into two liturgical parts, the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. This structure of the mass is as important as its content because of the way in which that structure guides the participant in his or her communication with God. The structure begins with a penitential rite that prepares the worshippers for communion, a song in which all congregants participate during the entrance of the priest, and a prayer that opens the service. The liturgy of the Word begins with a reading from the Old Testament, a responsorial psalm, a reading from the New Testament, a reading from the Gospel, a homily that synthesizes those four readings into something


useful for the social realities of the congregation, and general intercessions and prayers. The liturgy of the Eucharist begins at this point with the preparation of the altar and the delivery of the altar gifts (the bread and the wine) by representatives of the community. This is followed by a Eucharistic prayer during which time the gifts are blessed, the Lord’s prayer during which time the community prepares itself for communion, the exchange of the sign of peace by the congregants with one another and with the priest, the breaking of the bread, and the distribution of the body and blood of Christ back to the community from which the gifts had first come. Following the liturgy of the Eucharist, the congregants sing a closing hymn while the priest leaves the altar having already encouraged them to go in peace. These two parts of the liturgy, then, which constitute a mediated form of engagement between humanity and God, provide Ngugi with a mechanism through which he can engage his audience in a discussion concerning the appropriate relationship human persons ought to have with one another within their society. While the structure of Devil on the Cross can be outlined using the architecture of the mass, the content is drawn from the neo-colonial social realities of Ngugi’s Kenya, where people are denied authentic social communion due to their repression and exploitation by the state. Ngugi blames this on the policies of Daniel Arap Moi, who imprisoned him without trial for a year following his involvement in a Kamirithu open-air theater project in Limuru in 1977 (a building Moi later destroyed on March 12, 1982, for its subversiveness). During his detention, Ngugi wrote Devil on the Cross to expose in allegory what he would later define as the chief sins of the state apparatus that has sold itself into the devil’s service. Asked to enumerate those sins in a 2002 interview following the end of Moi’s Faustian twenty-four years in office, Ngugi answered, “Corruption: Seeing the state as a vehicle to looting the nation. Divide and Rule – sowing hatred among ethnicities. Self-hatred and slavish mentality– wanting to crush national initiatives. Remember the destruction of Kamirithu Theatre? Fear of stable institutions – lack of respect for rules (even the ones it makes) and institutions” (Munugu). The purpose of Devil on the Cross, then, is to explicitly address the types of corruption that bring about the exploitation of the people by the policies the regime has put in place. Since the root of the problems are systemic, Ngugi’s use of a common systemic structure, that of the mass, is an allegory his audience will understand to be the perversion of something that should work for the edification of the people but fails in its purpose. In the beginning of the novel, Ngugi argues that it is the devil who deserves to be crucified and that “care should be taken that his acolytes do not lift him down from the Cross to pursue the task of building Hell for the people on earth” (7). Before this image of the crucified devil, the rest of the


narrative takes place just as the Christian mass takes place before the image of the crucified Christ. The crucified devil is, symbolically, colonialism, and at the point of its crucifixion the people had two choices: to build a society that operated for the people or one that used the people to facilitate its operation for neo-colonialism, a state of being in which the government works for the interests of the former colonial powers in exclusion to the interests of its own people. Because a neo-colonial government perceives its power base to come from outside of itself, it does not see a correlative need to invest its energies in providing for a non-power base within its borders. The reason for this is that the African bourgeoisie had cultivated "a mentality, an outlook, which was in harmony with the outlook of the bourgeoisie in the colonising countries. So even after they inherited the flag, their mental outlook, their attitudes toward their own societies, toward their own history, toward their own languages, toward everything national, tended to be foreign; they saw things through eyeglasses given them by their European bourgeois mentors" ("The Role of the Scholar in the Development of African Literatures" 84- 5). This is the tragedy of Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya, which, according to the critique in the novel, is governed by those bourgeoisie described by Ngugi who have metaphorically taken the devil off the cross, inherited his attributes, and used their power to oppress the people solely to perpetuate that power. The plot through which this theme is manifested centers on the character of Wariinga, who, at the novel’s beginning, makes a confession of her recurring dream in which the narrative of the devil’s coming off the cross is outlined in detail. This re-enaction of the Passion of the Christ is what establishes the theme of the novel because the entirety of the plot takes place in front of that image. The readers, who are also participants in the mass, look to that image for their cue on how to participate in the mass. Wariinga first sees through the darkness to a cross toward which people dressed in rags and bathed in light propel the devil, a silk-clad beast with seven horns and two mouths on his head, a sagging belly pregnant with all the evils of the world, and skin red like a pig. The devil is carrying a walking stick along with seven trumpets for his infernal hymns. As he approaches the cross, he begs the people to spare him and promises to make them miserable no longer. The people themselves cry out the devil’s villainies and crucify him on the spot, after which, they retreat celebrating their success at ridding the world of the devil. The victory is short-lived, though, for three days later, others dressed as businessmen lift the devil from the cross and worship him for his attributes. Their bellies begin to swell, and they stand up and walk toward Wariinga, laughing and pregnant with all the evils of the world. The only response Wariinga can have to this dream is to wake up into a world where the lived reality is as strong as the dreamed reality. The dream is both a prophecy of the future based on present


trends and a confession of the past based on Kenya’s history. It represents, then, the anti-eschaton, the not-to-be-hoped for life in the world to come, the dystopic opposite of Christ’s prophetic fulfillment of the communion of man with God. Wariinga, as the symbol of postcolonial Kenya, is very uncomfortable in her own skin and tries to Europeanize her body with skin-lightening creams and hot, iron combs that succeed only in causing her body to be a patchwork of light and dark areas. Wariinga’s desire to eradicate her blackness is a response to the catechism she learned from her youth that blackness is bad and the whiteness is good; as a result, she is unable to appreciate the beauty of her blackness and to take joy in the fact that she will never be white. Her pursuit of whiteness leads her to not only attempt to transform her body into something that it is not, but also to accouter herself in garments representing the latest European styles regardless of whether the style or cut matched her coloring or shape. Through Wariinga, then, Ngugi has critiqued modern Kenya, standing helpless before foreign influences and values that have completely absorbed her personhood. For Wariinga, the primary task of her life is to learn to love herself and the identity of an independent African woman into which she was born just as the primary task of Kenya is to learn to love itself and its identity as an independent African nation. Having done nothing to provoke the West’s attentions, Kenya is in the same shape as Wariinga. She starts her debut in life as a young girl easily seduced by an older, rich man, an action that leads her to ruin herself in an incessant search for beauty as defined by the power that colonized her. Driven to despair, she twice tries to commit suicide by throwing herself in front of a massive technology import. As a woman born of African soil, however, Wariinga has it within herself to give birth to a new people and a new homeland, but this knowledge has not yet been revealed to her. At this point in the novel, though, the allegory of the mass has already begun, for Wariinga, the penitent, is at confession in the moments leading up to the procession of the priest and people from the door of the cathedral to the altar. She thanks the young man who has just listened to her and claims that her “heart feels lighter, just as it used to feel after [she] had confessed to the Catholic priest” (27). The young man responds that he might be a priest without the benefit of ordination since he belongs to “an order that has been called to serve by the poverty of the people of Kenya” (27). He refuses to agree with her that the oppressive society is beyond redemption and counsels her never to despair as it is the one sin that cannot be forgiven, “for which we would never be forgiven by the nation and generations to come” (27). His voice is by contrast to despair one of hope; his role as confessor played, he invites her to the feast, for she can now stand in the service and gain strength from her interaction with the liturgy.

When Wariinga rides to Ilmorog in a matatu, an inter-municipal taxi, she has several conversations with other travelers like Muturi and Gatuira. These conversations are a prelude to the later Gospel reading in the cave that precedes the homilies offered by the thieves. It is through these conversations that Wariinga is exposed to a diversity of stories that are all to be tied together in the homiletic interaction. She is first taught by Muturi, who explains the two types of Haraambe, or unity of the people. The first type is willing to sell the country to foreigners in exchange for their livelihoods, and the second type is willing to sacrifice their lives in exchange for the welfare of the country. It was the first of these that won out as the country fell under a neo-colonial yoke, but the promise of Muturi’s explanation lies not in the idea that freedom lost but in the idea that the resistance continues to operate in spite of it. Wariinga is twice given a choice in this story that she will not realize until much later, to join the resistance or to continue as one of the countless gears in the state machine that uses the labor from the countryside to feed the towns and the labor from the towns to feed the neocolonialists – and she will choose the path of the social militant both times. Through most of the journey, the conversation within the matatu is focused on the metaphysical relationship between God and humanity. The interaction between people who follow God and those who follow the devil can result in nothing but the struggle between these opposing forces, the parasites and the producers. This struggle is determined, furthermore, not only by what is buried within one’s heart, but also by how it is used as a tool to shape human discourse. Muturi adds that human energy is a sharp sword that can cut in either direction depending upon the hands that hold it: “This sword, in the hands of a producer, can cultivate, make food grow, and can defend the cultivators so that the blessings and the fruits of their sweat is not wrested from them; and the same sword, in the hands of a parasite, can be used to destroy the crops or to deny producers the fruits of their industry” (54). Ultimately, then, human action for a better world to come, not faith in one that will come automatically, should be the defining characteristic of our response to God, as all people hold within themselves the power to use their energies to support one side or the other. It is Ngugi’s larger point through this dialogue to show that each person must choose a side in the revolutionary struggle for a better life to come on earth, for those like Mwaura, the driver of the matatu, who feel they can play both sides against the other, have themselves chosen the wrong path. When Muturi asks his fellow travelers about what constitutes the difference between evil and good actions, Gatuira, another passenger, shares three stories. The first is about an ogre who climbs onto the back of the peasant and consumes the peasant’s livelihood until the peasant learns how to shrug him off. The second story is about a girl who falls in love with a foreigner who eventually consumes her.


The third is about a man who gives up his soul for property until he is destroyed by the people for being a witch. In this third story, the people explain to the witch that in the glory of the nation one will see the face of God and receive the praise of the people, but he who sells his nation is damned both to be cursed by his people and to become an evil spirit. The witch, Nding’uri, intimates that a man of landed property owns not only the earth but the people in it and can do as he pleases because property makes all evil good even though it cost him his soul. The people respond by killing him because that is the only proper response to a witch, who draws his entire sustenance from the blood and labors of the people, starving them so he can grow fat. Each of these stories is instructive to the audience on how to live a life that is meaningful to the community. As Wangari will argue later, “A thief is a witch, and a witch is a thief. For when a thief steals your land, your house, your clothes, isn’t he really killing you? And when a witch destroys your life, isn’t he stealing everything you own?” (156-7). Wangari emphasizes this connection between witchery and thievery by explaining that Gikuyu, the first leader of the tribe, imposed the same punishment on both, which was “death by burning or by being rolled down a hill in a beehive” (157). The implication is clear that foreign exploiters and their neo-colonial collaborators are witches in the traditional religious sense and must be destroyed. This knowledge alone should be enough to sound the horn of justice and call on all Kenyans to unite against thievery or be implicated in it. He asks, “How, then, could we possibly leave our Earth to the Devil and his evil spirits and their disciples, so that they can do whatever they liked with it?” (71). If devils and evil spirits destroy a society, and the mythological creatures are represented by real and living human persons in form of foreign capital and neocolonial collaborators, then the real and living human persons who are not represented by either capital or government have a duty to liberate themselves. The arrival of the matatu at Ilmorog, Wariinga’s destination and the location of the devil’s feast, concludes the preparatory readings from the mass that anticipate the Gospel message and that have set the tone for the homily that follows. This tone has been one that questions the human person’s relationship with his or her society and the responsibilities of that society to the individuals that comprise it. The Gospel reading in the mass is the culmination of readings that have preceded it, one of which has come from the old law and one of which has come from the new. Christ himself had claimed that he had not come to destroy the law but to fulfill its promise, and his three-year ministry involved a succession of parables that sought to explain humanity’s relationship to God and man. The Gospel reading, then, invokes a Christological interpretation, and the narrative told by the master of ceremonies at the devil’s feast is a perversion of Matthew 25:14-30, which speaks of the kingdom of heaven as a man traveling into a far country who divides his money amongst three of his servants,


rewarding the two who were able to profit by it and cursing the one who was not. The story is a short one, focusing on the rich man’s interaction with and punishment of the servant who could not turn a profit. This story as told by Matthew is illustrative of the neocolonial condition, for it deals with a master who reaps where he has not sown and who travels to a far-away country intent upon returning to the wealth he left behind. His intent, he lets them know, is to deceive the patriotic guerillas and the masses, who will chant, “See, now our own black people have the key to our country; see, now our own black people hold the steering wheel. What were we fighting for if not this? Let us now put down our arms, and sing hymns of praise to our black lords’” (83). It comes to pass, as a result, that once the people are pacified and the guerillas have stopped their attacks on properties belonging to the colonialists that the rest of Matthew’s parable can be fulfilled – the masters return and take ownership of their properties back from their stewards, leaving the titles and deeds African in name only. The participants in the feast of the International Organization of Thieves and Robbers hail their infernal Gospel reading as the keynote to their homily, for members of the first-world countries are present at the feast, and they are metaphorically the masters who have returned for a report on the faithfulness of their servants. Following the gospel, the master of ceremonies engages in an open homily, providing the inaugural call for the meeting and giving the floor to those who feel they might compete in front of the international audience of thieves and robbers for the grand prize. The leader of the International Organization of Thieves and Robbers advises the congregation to hang its compassion from trees so that they will no longer be afraid of the masses they exploit and to first woo to curry favor, then to destroy to quell obstinacy. The group homilies become prayers of supplication where the individual members of the conference confess their misdeeds and ask to be praised for them in their selfish expectation of the grand prize for being the best thief and robber in the country. Ngugi explains this behavior in Decolonising the Mind, when he writes that "it is the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues" (20). Because the grand prize is to come from the former masters, for it is only they who have the power to bestow it, it is toward them that all the speeches but one are made. Mwireri, the nationalist who rode with Wariinga and the others during the prefatory readings, engages the assembly in the idea that exploitation of a given country’s people should be done to benefit the country’s own national thieves and robbers and not the international thieves and robbers. This stand not only costs him the reward, but it ultimately costs him his life as he will later be killed by Mwaura to satisfy the anger of the international community present at the


meeting. The only acceptable homilies are those, therefore, that speak in praise and profit to the international community. The shift from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist occurs at the break in the middle of these homilies when Wariinga’s story of her youth and seduction by the rich man is told. At one point, she had had the opportunity to partake of the forbidden feast to which those who exploited others were invited. She was showered with gifts in exchange for her body and abandoned only when her body conceived the fruit of those exchanges. Had she aborted the future of Africa instead of

deciding to bear it, she would have continued to appeal to her exploiter. She leaves the cave “thinking

of the two worlds – that of the eater and that of the eaten -- and hears a voice say,

third, a revolutionary world” (184). The Satanic voice tells Wariinga, “The eating of human flesh and the drinking of human blood is blessed on Earth and in Heaven,” which is “the teaching of [Wariinga’s] own Church” (190). Similar to the temptations he gave Christ in the desert, Satan offers Wariinga the same thing everyone else in the cave has already accepted – the world in exchange for her soul. All she has to do to accept is make a conscious effort to feast on the flesh of other members of her society and drain them of their blood. She declines the devil’s Eucharist after having participated in the hearing of his Word. What the Devil’s Feast has taught the reader is that the force of capitalism that creates class distinctions is the ultimate evil within society. The mass in Devil on the Cross is meant to demonstrate how upside-down the world has become when those who should be responsible for the welfare of the people – the politicians and the businessmen – prefer catering to the interests of the international community than responding to the needs of their own flesh and blood. Wariinga’s future within that kind of a society is an idealized one, and it can only be conceived as an eschatological vision in which she is allowed by that society to work entirely for herself in a cooperative environment, return to being an African beauty unconcerned with European standards of beauty, and walk away from a rich man upon whom she has taken her revenge for the transgressions against her youth. It is this future vision that Ngugi is after, a world in which all women are equal in rights to men and that their partnerships with men are not based on sexual exploitation but on mutual respect and love. Because it is a future as yet unachievable, Ngugi is dealing with teleological eschatology through the narrative reasoning of possible outcomes for Kenya’s people. As a narrative strategy, structuring a story like a Catholic or Anglican mass is useful to Ngugi, who engages the lived reality of the African converts to Christianity by walking them through a world that looks familiar to their own church services as if to show, like Pharoah pitted against Moses, that his magic is as good as the established religion’s. This is not only useful, but it is also effective, for, as

and there is a


Dodd pointed out in The Parables of the Kingdom, it was the parable structure used by Christ that enabled those to whom he preached to see themselves in the presence of the kingdom of God. By recreating the allegory around the image of the Eucharist, which is an encounter with Christ’s salvific promise each and every time the body and blood is ingested, Ngugi is able to seize on that very real encounter his readers would understand they have with the divine. It is not enough, though, that his audience imagine themselves at the eschatological banquet at the hoped-for age to come. They have to take action and produce themselves in the role of their own saviors, become the Christ who will not only be the hope and the light for the people but will inspire them to be the same.

C. Matigari

In Matigari (1989), we find not a mass but a full Gospel narrative recreating the story of the Christ from the start of his ministry to his passion in a riverbed rather than on a cross. Ngugi has already crucified one of the characters in his books, and that was the devil rather than the Christ. In Matigari, the Christ figure is a Mau Mau freedom fighter who returns from the mountains asking where truth and justice might be found in the country. Ngugi begins the Gospel, in fact, by explicitly exhorting the reader or listener to choose the country, the time, and the place of the story and the duration of the events within the story. He wants the reconstructed myth to tailor itself in the image of the reader, and, though he writes in Gikuyu, he anticipates the translation of the text into languages comprehensible to both the former colonies and the former empires. Like the Gospel that is applicable to any time and place, Matigari will prove equally as versatile, for it is not the setting of the Gospel that matters but the realities presented within it. The realities that Ngugi wants to illustrate in his myth-building include that of a new hope for his people that can be attained through an active social struggle against the oppressive government in power. Matigari is an eschatological vision of the kinds of questions a society should ask about its lived experience in the same way that Devil on the Cross is an eschatological vision of the way a society should be structured. Because the narrative of Christ is a colonial narrative that is contextualized within the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, it fits well into Ngugi’s vision for a postcolonial Gospel narrative that replaces Christ with Matigari in particular and Mau Mau in general, the freedom fighters who precipitated Kenyan independence. The Gospel narrative is colonial in the sense that it deals with a man who lived at a time when his country was occupied by colonial forces and the leader of his country pursued a collaborative relationship with the occupying power in the hopes of increasing his wealth. As


in Kenya, the people of Judea desired their autonomy from the imperial power and sought a military resolution even though the government of the country did not consider the occupying forces a threat. When the people did not find in Christ the military leader for which they had hoped, they crucified him, and a generation later, they were destroyed and scattered by the occupying force. Postcolonial Kenya is similar in structure to that of colonial Judea in the sense that the government of Daniel arap Moi, like that of King Herod II, engaged in an obsequious relationship with the empire that controlled it to the point that it looked to the empire for its strength and currency instead of to the people for whom it existed. 11 Ngugi looks upon African society as a struggle between the opposing forces of the imperialist tradition and the resistance tradition. He defines these in Decolonising the Mind by writing that the “imperialist tradition in Africa is today maintained by the international bourgeoisie using the multinational and of course the flag-waving native ruling classes” while “th[e] resistance [tradition] is reflected in their patriotic defence [sic] of the peasant/worker roots of national cultures, their defence [sic] of the democratic struggle in all the nationalities inhabiting the same territory" (2). To question the structures of society, then, is to engage in the revolutionary path about which Satan talks in Devil on the Cross, and Ngugi wants to be a revolutionary and inspire the idea of revolution in others to help achieve the to-be-sought-after age to come. Matigari wa Njiruungi, the eponymous hero of the novel, is also the Gikuyu for “the patriot who survived the bullets” and so he becomes the symbol of hope and freedom for a liberated country. Matigari’s entrance on the scene is defined by his burying his AK47, his sword, and his gun with its bullets. Like a Franciscan, he girds a belt of peace made from a strip of tree bark and sets off to rebuild his home in this time of post-revolutionary peace. His dilemma is that he has been away fighting for independence for some time and has lost track of his people, but he resolves this by deciding to first look for his Kenyan family – his metaphorical parents, wives, and children – in public places where he can sound the horns of patriotic service and victory. His plan, and Ngugi’s, is to rebuild the community that was scattered during the revolution. Ngugi’s focus is on the solution he finds in the traditional African concept of community in service to the individual. He writes in “Kenya: The Two Rifts,” that “the individual finds the fullest development of his personality when he is working in and for the community as a whole. Land, food and wealth is for the community. In this community, culture belongs to all. For the rich and poor, the foolish and the wise are all free to participate in the national

11 In Moi’s case, he began removing from the government opposition to his rule after a 1982 failed coup attempt, and he established in universities and public centers a strong network of spies and secret police. To his credit in recent times, though, he did not pursue an unconstitutional extension of his presidency in 2002, and his hand chosen successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, was not forced into power when the democratic process worked in the election of Mwai Kibaki as the new president.


life of the community in all its manifestations" (Homecoming 25). He ponders that if this is what is meant by African socialism, it is a worthy ideal, and he strives to make Matigari’s interaction something that lends itself to this definition. The first group Matigari encounters on his journey, then, is that of the children, the youngest and most impressionable, whom he finds at a factory running from a tractor. His impulse is to invite them home with him, reasoning that that, “after all, the struggle was for the house” (10) and is heartened by the saying that “there is no night so long that it does not end with dawn” (11). He notices, though, that the children are after the rubbish from the tractor and that they are being exploited by two policemen with a dog and understands that “a handful of people still profited from the suffering of the majority, the sorrow of the many being the joy of the few” (12). Because there is nothing that a united people cannot do, the resolution to create a “new heaven on a new earth” (16) grips him so strongly that he approaches the children to share with them his vision. Matigari is compelled to draw the children to him because of Ngugi’s insistence in “Resistance to Damnation: The Role of Intellectual Workers” that a society’s future lies within its children to the extent that if one wanted “to maim the future of any society, [he ought] simply maim the children. Thus the struggle for the survival of our children is the struggle for the survival of our future” (Moving the Centre 76). The children that Matigari approaches, though, are convinced that he has come to steal from them their savings, so they try to pepper him with stones though none touches him at first. When a stone does hit him, Muriuki, a little boy whom he had earlier befriended, protects him. At this, Matigari tells his story, that he and Settler Williams spent years hunting one another down but that neither had been able to subdue the other. One day, though, Matigari wakes up and says to Settler Williams, “you who eat what another has sown, hear now the sound of the trumpet and the sound of the horn of justice. The tailor demands his clothes, the tiller his land, the worker the produce of his sweat. The builder wants his house back. … Go build your own” (21-2). Just as Matigari is about to kill Settler Williams, he discovers that John Boy, the black servant, has been able to save him. The message he gives Ngaruro is spread the good news that Williams and John Boy are both effectively dead and that it is time to return home together and be reborn into a new life. After preaching about a new life to the children who do come unto him, Matigari performs his first miracle when he and Muriuki enter a bar so that he can eat and wash. They find a woman named Guthera, who had been forced into prostitution by the neo-colonial regime, being terrorized by two policemen with dogs, and Matigari’s first impulse is to reach for his gun. When he remembers he is girded with the belt of peace, he admonishes the crowd to remember itself as people of the land, an act


because of its boldness thwarts the policemen’s pleasure at their attack on the woman. Matigari tells Guthera to stand up, and she does so to the amazement of the crowd, which departs wondering about the boldness of this newcomer. Guthera then recounts what she had learned from her father, that the “Ten Commandments are all good, but they are all contained in this one commandment: Love. And there is no greater love than this: that a man should give up his life for somebody else. Imagine, a people ready to give up their lives for one another, for their country” (34-5). The emphasis is shifted from the Old Testament of God to the New Testament and promise of the New Age, that which is given by both Christ and Matigari, to not merely give up one’s life for another, but also to give up life for one’s country. Matigari shares with Guthera his polarized insights on the type of men there are in the world – they are the same kind about whom Muturi spoke in Devil on the Cross, those who serve their people and those who sell them. This dichotomy, he infers, needs to be closed so that no one will be allowed to sell out their people for the sake of a foreign power or for the increase of their own pocketbooks. To that end, he is sounding the call for the families of the patriots who survived the war; in effect, he is looking for his own children, the people of his country. In doing so, Matigari is making a promise that there is a place, a home, for all the children of his country, and he is also promising that he is the one who can show the people how to get there – how to get to their heaven on earth. “Imagine,” Matigari says, “the tiller dying of starvation, the builder sleeping on the veranda; the tailor walking about without clothes and the driver having to go for miles on foot. How could such a world be?” (38). Guthera agrees and says that the women suffer a similar fate as the men, forced to hunt for sustenance for their families and work as casual laborers in the plantations. She urges him to go to the plantations and rescue the women there since those like her who work in bars are long past saving. Guthera accompanies Matigari and Muriuki to the first plantation, which Matigari recognizes to be his own after experiencing a vision of horses galloping into the setting sun. When the dust clears from this apocalyptic vision, where “a red cloud [had] enveloped the sun, but the sun continued to peep from behind it, sending out darts of fire in every direction” (42), Matigari understands the horses to be carrying the sons of Settler Williams and John Boy. He points this out to his companions and reminds them that not only have these neo- colonialists stolen his property, but that they come from a tradition of slavers that includes the Portuguese, the Arabs, and the British. When Matigari confronts John Boy, Jr., and Settler Williams, he is attacked with a whip by the black man and finds once again that he cannot defend himself because he is wearing the belt of peace. The difference between these two black men in the presence of the white man is that one of them is a


collaborator with him while the other has struggled against him. Ngugi demonstrates the dichotomy between the two types of Africans in Decolonising the Mind when he writes that “the good African was the one who co-operated with the European coloniser; particularly the African who helped the European coloniser in the occupation and subjugation of his own people and country. Such a character was portrayed as possessing qualities of strength, intelligence and beauty. But it was the strength and the intelligence and the beauty of a sell-out” (92). John Boy, Jr., has the same qualities about him as the traditional stock character that Ngugi has described; however, he has given Matigari, who would have traditionally been a bad character, “one who offered resistance to the foreign conquest and occupation of his country,” a portrayal different from “ugly, weak, cowardly and scheming” (92). Matigari, in fact, alternates between being youthful and manly and being old and fatherly. While in racist literature, “the reader's sympathies are guided in such a way as to make him identify with Africans collaborating with colonialism and to make him distance himself from those offering political and military resistance to colonialism" (92), in Matigari, the readers praise resistance and blame collaboration. The affront of his being hit, then, by a collaborator is all the more offensive to Matigari as he remembers that John Boy, Jr., is the one for whom the community had sacrificed itself so that he could return from studying abroad to reclaim the country and deliver his people from bondage. By invoking the spirit of sacrifice, Matigari is claiming that the intellectuals who have returned from abroad or have been educated at home at community expense are indebted to the people who supported them and should regard them with respect rather than condescension. Because of the authority in his voice, the two are taken aback in the same way the police officers had been, and Matigari uses the opportunity to remind them that it is his house in which they are living and to invite his people to share with him his home and provide for them a banquet. Because of his impudence, he is thrown in jail and finds himself surrounded by people lamenting their hunger. In a significant act of communion, he shares with them the beer and sandwich that he has in his pocket and teaches them that “it is not the quantity that counts but the act of sharing whatever we have” (55). This act of sharing is so explicitly a recreation of Christ’s final meal with his disciples that one of the prisoners makes note of it. Not only is Matigari girded with the belt of peace, but he is also the embodiment of peace in demonstrating how individuals should engage one another in community. When sharing the meal, Matigari takes the sandwich, breaks it, and passes it to his companions. Once they start eating, he opens the beer, pours a libation, and gives it over to the people. It is at this time that the drunkard, who later baptizes Matigari, proclaims the scene: “And when the time for the supper came, he sat at the table together with his disciples. He told them: I want you to share this last supper with me, to remind us that


we shall not be able to eat together again unless our kingdom comes” (57). This scene, though, is told differently from the passage in Matthew where it originally appears. In this version, the drink represents the blood oath that Mau Mau took, and the intention of the Christ is that the act will be repeated until the revolution is brought about through the will of the people. The people, then, are called to share with one another in the expectation and hope that their kingdom will at long last arrive. As is expected of any prophet, Matigari is asked for a sign to prove his identity, and he responds by speaking in terms of the second coming and the reign of justice. He does not need signs, he argues, but

says that his actions will speak for him because of his resolution to remove the belt of peace in favor of

a belt of bullets. After accoutering himself in this way, he plans to call to the people, “Open your eyes

Open your ears and hear what I have heard

be done! Our kingdom come” (63). Ngugi explains Matigari’s attitude in "Resistance to Damnation:

The Role of Intellectual Workers," by arguing that "a people are truly free [only] when they control all the tools, all the instruments, all the means of their physical, economic, political, cultural and psychological survival. In short, when they control the means and context of their integrated survival and development" (78 – brackets mine). No longer can Matigari be a symbol of peace in this oppressive world but has to work to make that peace a reality. The vision that he has shared with these men does not come without a struggle to bring it about. Matigari, at his announcement is warned by a murderer to keep his own counsel because there are police informers in the country and wherever there are twelve people gathered, one of them will be a spy for the government. Matigari responds by disregarding the warning and declaring that he has come wearing a belt of peace and that Truth, which never dies, will reign in the end even though it does not reign today. “Tomorrow,” he assures them, which is the metaphorical age to come, “belongs to me” (64), and he follows this up inviting them to his house the day after the morrow, or on the third day when he will come into his inheritance and be

and see what I have seen

Let the will of the people

able to bring all of them with him at a feast and homecoming. At this, the first section of the book ends with the prison opening up to release its prisoners and Matigari’s fame throughout the land. While the first section of the text is an exploration of the social condition through the eyes of one who, like Rip Van Winkle, was unconscious of societal transformation, this second section of the text is one of action and example. The very children who had stoned Matigari take the news to the people of

a Savior who would come to them and invite them back into their patrimony. The day of the Lord has

come as the countryside resounds with “Who is Matigari ma Njiruungi?” and the Good News is spread. When he appears before a group of people interested in learning about him, though, and asks where a person can find truth and justice in this country, they do not recognize him, the myth having grown


larger than the man. Instances of the myth are found in the story of the stones thrown by the children having turned into doves, with Matigari’s embracing the children with love rather than anger, and in the stories of his having saved Guthera and his having escaped from a locked cell. This last story recounts him as saying to the arresting officers, “Don’t rejoice just because you have thrown me in this hell. You will see me again after only three days” (79). His prison experience, then, is patterned after that of the crucifixion, that he will return the day after the morrow of his incarceration to reclaim what is his and to reclaim the country for his people. The escape itself is romanticized, with the newspapers stating that policeman who was guarding them secured the prisoners tightly and returned to find the cell bare with the lock intact. This same group draws the biblical allegory even more closely by arguing from the Gospel: “’Don’t you know that the Bible says he shall come back again?’ ‘Do you mean to say he’s the One prophesied about? The Son of Man?’ ‘Why not? Let’s count. Where is the oldest church in the world? In Ethiopia, Africa. When he was a baby, where did he flee to? Egypt, Africa. What has happened before can happen again” (81). The Gospel account tries to show an eschatological vision as being an instance of temporal realities – what is done here on earth affects one’s place in the Kingdom of Heaven, so our relationships with others are significant based on how we engage them authentically. To engage others authentically, we need to value others as human persons and not use others as means to our own ends. This is the message that people are hungry to hear, and their desire to engage in social dialogue is meaningful for Matigari’s ministry even if they do not recognize him. As Matigari is wandering from group to group wondering about where truth and justice might be found, he comes across a thought about which has to be done first – the amelioration of the social conditions that lead people into sin or the salvation of the souls of those who are sinning. In this time of confusion, he understands that it would be possible for him to save himself alone and forsake his countrymen, and while pondering this, he enters the wilderness and leaves society behind him. In the wilderness, he meets an old woman collecting rubbish who asks about his search and gives him the advice that in order to find answers to his questions, he should not wander where there are no people because “truth and justice are to be found in people’s actions. Right and wrong are embedded in what people do” (87). This is not a theology of the spirit, then, but of the physical actions of the body, and the reason that people have not given Matigari the answers for which he is looking is explained simply as fear for their corporal selves. Matigari is advised to follow this up with learned men who can read the stars, and he finds a cosmographer of society in the person of a priest who agrees that the world is upside-down and explains that this is why God had to send his only son to set it right with Eternal Love. The priest then gives Matigari a message for Guthera entreating her to take her sins to the Cross


for forgiveness as “Christ is the only one who can right a world which is upside-down. He is the only one who can set right souls which have gone astray” (99). The cross, in this case, is the real cross of Christ, and those who embrace it can live fully in communion with God. The answer to Matigari’s question, then, about what to set his sights on, whether the souls who have sinned or the social conditions that lead to sin, has been answered by the priest. We are called to address both, but we can do that by coming to Christ, in which case the sins we have committed will be no more, and the way we authentically encounter others after our revelations will help to create a world in which the social conditions have been ameliorated and the people have begun addressing the behaviors that have led them into sin. Priests as ministers of Christ, for all their insight, work as a foil against Matigari’s ministry of the people. During a speech by the minister of truth and justice, the priest reads from Matthew 24: 23, “if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders in so much that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (105). Because the Church is a conservative institution, the priest cannot support a system of liberation theology (or a theology of the people) against the establishments that support its presence in the country. Matigari, however, understands what the priest is saying as a salve against the despair of the people, and the minister of truth and justice tries to let the people know that their own countrymen, namely he, is benefiting from the way things are. Because he is a representative of the people, the people also benefit, and if he can accomplish such things, then so can they. What the minister cannot provide the people, though, is an authentic vision of themselves as producers of their own destinies, nor can he fully give them a vision of themselves immediately sharing in the material riches that he has amassed. Matigari’s response is unequivocal as he lays claim to the house that he built and the land that he tilled because his labor gives him a right to those claims. He predicts that the land will return to the tiller and the wealth of the land to those who produced it with every person working for himself and reaping the benefits of his or her own work. With the abolishment of poverty will also come the abolishment of the imperialist and his neocolonial collaborators like Boy, whom, he claims, will never again sleep in his house. This voice of revolution is in marked contrast to the voice of stability provided by the priest, and the reader is called to see this dichotomy wherein the Church promises salvation after this world and Matigari is promising salvation within it. After all the comparisons of Matigari to Christ, Ngugi makes the point explicitly that Matigari is not the messiah, and, by extension, that he is not endorsing a messianic eschatology like Benjamin’s. Rather than raise one person up as savior of his people, Ngugi would rather raise everyone. In response


to a street boy who asks him, Matigari replies, “No

in other humans. He has always been there inside us since the beginning of time. Imperialism has tried to kill that God within us. But one day that God will return from the dead. Yes, one day that God within

us will come alive and liberate us who believe in Him

want Him to” (156). This is Matigari at his most theological, and he is not endorsing the return of a Christian God but the resurrection of the whole people who have been oppressed under imperialism and neo-colonial collaboration. While he is preparing to retrieve his weapons from their hiding place, he admits that he would rather build a new house with a strong foundation than try to rescue his old house from its present state of corruption. This building of a new house is the desire to build a new society and a new people, to bring forth a new day, as it were. It is something that is also desired by the masses as everyone sees within Matigari reflections of themselves, which is why they cry out after

Matigari has returned to his house, “Parratology in the land must burn! The culture of Parratology must burn!” (168) and begin setting fire to the Mercedes-Benzes and nearby houses. In this, Matigari realizes his vision that before a new earth can be built the old one has to be destroyed for the foundations upon which the new earth is to be built should not be corrupted by what preceded it. That the people have to learn to deal with their fear if they are to be masters of themselves are the last words of wisdom from Matigari, for both he and Guthera are chased by dogs into a river at the very moment a torrential rain descends upon them concealing their escape, and it is not known by anyone whether they are dead or alive. Muriuki, however, remains very much alive and arms himself with Matigari’s weapons taken from beneath the mugumo tree, hearing as he does so the voices of the masses shouting, “Victory shall be ours!” (175). This foreshadows the struggle’s entering the next generation, and affirms Ngugi’s point made in “Resistance to Damnation: The Role of Intellectual workers” that “The children have been the most vulnerable victim [sic] of the forces of our demise…but the children are also part of the resistance" (80). While Matigari did not succeed in reclaiming his home for his people, he did succeed in awakening the people to the realization that if they are to reclaim their homes, they must take physical action against the established order while using the appropriate rhetoric to advance their cause. The salvation for which his people are looking can be found on this earth in the form of autonomy from those who would oppress them and in the form of authenticity in human engagement. The people once aroused and working together cannot be frightened, for it is they who provide the oppressors with the labor required for production. As Ngugi predicts in “The Cultural Factor in the Neo-Colonial Era,” “The collapse of neo-colonialism and all the international and national structures of domination,

the God who is prophesied is in you, in me and

That God will come back only when you


dependencies, parasitisms…would see the birth of a new world, the beginnings of a truly universal human culture” (57). Matigari, having instigated the revolution and taught his people how to fight for their material existence, disappears with Guthera into a stream from which he does not surface, and this, coupled with the image of Muriuki wearing his arms, is an act of hope that promises the struggle will be carried on into the next generation until heaven can be achieved on this earth and the social realities that make it hell are ameliorated.

D. Conclusion

Marxist eschatology is not very well received by the Church because it manifests itself in the form of liberation theology, which is the social and political struggle of the faithful against established governing structures through which the Church articulates itself. Auer and Ratzinger explain the problem with Marxist overtures into eschatology as resulting in “the rise of false messianic movements which of their very nature and from the inner logic of messianic claims finish up in totalitarianism” (58). Auer and Ratzinger echo the practical experience of Milovan Djilas, the first vice-president of the Yugoslavian people’s republic, who wrote in The New Class that the leveling of the social structure had the real and present effect of raising up a new class of totalitarian dictators who ruled by force what should have otherwise been governed by popular consent. Ngugi’s messianic claims, however, will not tend towards totalitarianism if they promote a people-centered dialogue and are consistent in their pursuit of individual agency in each person’s affairs. Reaction on the part of the state takes place not only in the novels of Ngugi but also in real life as the state imprisoned Ngugi and later forced him into self-imposed exile. After the publication of Matigari, for example, the state attempted to arrest the main character and settled on arresting the book when they realized that the story of a man seeking truth and justice in modern Kenya was a fiction. 12 The fear is that reconfiguring the infrastructure of the state so that it addresses the needs of the people would lead to a redistribution of material resources in favor of the dispossessed and a realignment of political allegiances that would dissolve international ties that perpetuated the old political structures. Ngugi’s reordering of society through a redistribution of rights and duties to the people would upset the established order of governance through which the Church has made itself manifest. It cannot, therefore, be totalitarianism that prompts Auer and Ratzinger’s reaction against Marxist eschatology because places like Kenya are totalitarian, anyway, and changing the power center would mean at worst that conditions remained the same on one end of

12 This is a highly anthologized story that Ngugi tells.


the spectrum or lapsed into chaos on the other; instead, what motivates their response is the threat of the Church’s losing control of its power center. A Marxist eschatology, moreover, is competition for a Christian eschatology in its promotion of a faith-based system that seeks as its end, rather than as a means to a greater end, the amelioration of social conditions on earth. The redistribution of resources made by the people and given over freely to the people’s government would take the place of the Christian Eucharist in the sense that the bread and wine (the product of human labors) are brought to the priest who then redistributes them to the

congregation. This redistribution of resources also fits into an eschatological pattern, which, according to Auer and Ratzinger, is one of hope and spiritual expectation that is indelibly tied to the Eucharist. The Christian eschatological pattern defines this expectation through the personalizing of hope, the

focus of which “is not space and time

him to come close” (8). The closeness of Christ’s person in relation to us is tied to the Eucharist, which deals with the personal relationship each communicant has with Christ through the sharing of his body and blood. For Ngugi, on the other hand, hope is socialized with a clear and distinct focus on both space and time. Any institution that purports to give hope or to have an eschatological vision of hope

must do so within the cultural realities of the modern African. Substituting the culture of Europe for the culture of Africa merely because Christianity is a European construct was never meaningful, and the Church has a social responsibility to make amends to the people it wronged in the process of evangelization-cum-colonization. “If the Church in the past has been the greatest cause of the misshaping of African souls and cultural alienation,” Ngugi argues in his essay “Church, Culture and Politics,” “it must, today, work for cultural integration. It must go back to the roots of the broken African civilization: it must examine the traditional African forms of marriage, traditional African

the symbols with which we choose to identify ourselves are important in

expressing the values held by a community” (35). That Ngugi is writing about cultural integration means that he is not advocating a return to pre-colonial Africa – he understands the historical realities of which his country is a part – he is advocating, however, that the subsumption of African values into the European construct be reversed so that those values can meet as equals the values of the colonizers. This idea is not as extreme, however, as it could have been. "Most national liberation movements start by rejecting the culture of the colonizer by repudiating his religious and educational systems,” he explains in Writers in Politics’ section entitled “Literature and Society: The Politics of the Canon,” adding that “[p]eople create their own songs, poems, dances, narratives and sayings which embody a structure of values diametrically opposed to that of the oppressing race, nation and class. Often they

forms of sacrifice

but [the] relationship with Christ’s person and longing for



will take the songs and hymns of the oppressor and give them an entirely different emphasis, interpretation and meaning" (20). Ngugi, on the other hand, is at least receptive to the idea of the Church’s working toward cultural integration. That the Marxist and Christian eschatologies could collaborate instead of compete with one another is otherwise a rather dubious chance at reconciliation. There is a strategy to Ngugi’s use of eschatology as a tool within his Marxism, and it comes through the realization that eschatology by its very nature is a spiritual rather than political construct. Auer and Ratzinger provide the rationale for this in problematizing Christianity as a strategy of hope and questioning which hope Christianity addresses if such is the case. They argue that “the Kingdom of God, not being itself a political concept, cannot serve as a political criterion by which to construct in direct fashion a program of political action and to criticize the political efforts of other people” (58). The eschatological banquet, then, also cannot be politicized and still retain its meaning as sounding the kingdom of God. As Auer and Ratzinger stress, “The realization of God’s Kingdom is not itself a political process. To misconceive it as such is to falsify both politics and theology” (58). In retelling the Gospel story as political action, then, in terms of a man traveling around the countryside asking where he might find truth and justice with the definite aim of reclaiming his earthly property from the neocolonial collaborators who have appropriated it, Ngugi has politicized the eschatological vision. He has taken the vision of the heavenly eschatological banquet in which social justice will be realized and social disparities will no longer exist and removed it to an earthly banquet where these things are no longer awaited in the abstract paradisiacal sense but brought about as concrete earthly realities. His rationale for doing this is that he equates cultural realities with political realities, believing, in “Towards a National Culture,” that “when people are involved in the active work of destroying an inhibitive social structure and building a new one that they begin to see themselves. They are born again” (11). This rebirth into a life of themselves as producers of their own institutions that serve foremost the people of Africa over and against the aims of the former colonial occupiers is the hoped- for age to come. It is a spiritual awakening as much as it is a political awakening, and this fusion is what fuels Ngugi’s eschatology.

Chapter IV: The Value of Societal Change to an Eschatological Awakening in Nuruddin

Farah’s Secrets and Close Sesame

The Abrahamic eschatological vision extends beyond Christianity’s introduction into Africa and is

manifest in the reality of Islam’s also being an African religion. Sulayman Nyang argues, in contrast

with Awi Kwei Armah, that “the arrival of Islam in the continent widened the horizons of the

traditional African a little bit” (47), for Islam provided traditional Africans with a meaning for their

existence, the responsibility for which they would have to answer in the afterlife. Not only did “the

conversion of the traditional African [mean] his gradual realization of the spiritual loneliness of man in

the world and his responsibility to live up to the expectations of his religion” (Nyang 48), but it

provided traditional Africans with an eschatological vision rooted in the idea of their origins as having

meaning for their ends, an idea that is inherently eschatological in that it offers a rationale for

existence. Farah can use the eschatological vision of a thousand-year-old Somali-Islamic tradition,

then, in the same way that Ngugi has made use of eschatology in the relatively recent colonial import

of Western Christianity that competes with traditional African religion. Farah, moreover, is doubly

exposed to eschatological studies in his also being able to draw from the way in which the Somali

educational system was redrafted during the Italian occupation of his country. This redrafting most

likely included the introduction into his course materials of the medieval Catholic vision of Dante

Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Farah’s sincerity in regards to Islam is implicit in the way in which he

structures the trilogies that conclude with Close Sesame and Secrets, and even if he is not a believer, he

strongly emphasizes the value of both applied and teleological eschatologies to resolving the problems

of social disintegration in an age of totalitarianism and internecine conflict.

A. Farah’s Eschatological Vision

While there is great evidence within the work of Farah that he is using Islamic eschatology to

further his social ends, not all theorists feel he is being authentic in his doing so. Ali Mazrui, for

instance, in The Africans: A Triple Heritage, argues that Farah “seems to be informed by a brand of

Eurocentric ideology that has considered Islam as retrograde in its cultural dispensation, and as socially

and historically decadent in its doctrines” (205) in his understanding of Islam’s inherent moral

bankruptcy. Mazrui also argues that Farah believes the foreignness of Islam to lie in its being an

imperialistic religion. Mazrui bases this argument on what he perceives as “counter-allusions” to the

suggestions in Maps of the interconnection between Islam and Somali identity (207). It is true that


Farah’s work focuses to a great extent on discussions of tribal affiliations and the responsibilities that individuals have to the clan to which they belong, and this would seem to suggest that Islam has not been able to fully address its promise in Somalia of undermining the tribal allegiances in the development of cohesive communities of faith. Mazrui makes the point, in fact, that even with the legacy of Islam “until the coming of European colonization the Somali were basically a stateless society, [a decentralized people,] and their identity was based on family and clan rather than allegiance to a state or to a single nation [or state structures of coercion and control]” (69-70). It is also true that Farah’s work illustrates a disconnection of the younger generations from the tenets of their faith while demonstrating within them a great spirit of social consciousness in their efforts to shape the place of Somalia in the modern world. None of this means, however, that Farah denigrates the power of the faith among the pillars of society as is evidenced by both Deeriye in Close Sesame and Nonno in Secrets, nor does it mean that Farah himself lacks respect for the faith, which he freely uses as a tool in which to interpret social interaction, validating its continued relevance in the lives of his people. Islam’s greatest contribution to traditional African societies lies in its transcendent effect upon the faithful, making all persons equal under the beneficence and mercy of Allah. John Esposito describes this transformation in simple terms when he writes that “tribal solidarity in pre-Islamic Arabian society had represented the basic social bond. Islam replaced this, however, with a community whose membership was based upon a common faith rather than male blood ties; religious rather than tribal affiliation became the basis of Islamic society” (2). Islam, in that sense, was a unifying power, bringing social cohesion through a faith that transcended the limitations of tribes and held out for them the promise of unity; moreover, “Islam’s spread among the Hamitic nomads (Beja, ‘Afar, Saho, Somali, and Galla) was not accompanied by Arabization as in Nilotic Sudan and this meant that they preserved their social institutions as basic features of tribal life, modified but not greatly changed by Islamic institutions” (Trimingham Influence 30). Confederations of tribes like the Somali, then, had the opportunity to receive the best that their new faith had to offer with no colonizing presence from an exploitative power. Abdullah Yusuf Ali summarizes the core of the faith’s revelation in very simple terms: “All things were created by Allah; are maintained by Him; and will go back to Him. But the point of special interest to man is that man will also be brought back to Allah and is answerable to Him, and to Him alone” (1134). Ali pulls this from the thirty-sixth sura of the Qur’an entitled Ya-Sin, which, along with the eighteenth sura that deals with the resurrection of the body, is the primary source for Muslim eschatological thought. This sura reads, “So glory to Him in whose hands is the dominion of all things: and to Him will ye be all brought back” (Section 5, paragraph 83). It is this use of an


eschatological vision common to the Muslim faithful that makes the works of Nuruddin Farah so meaningful within an African context. While Somalia might be balkanized by tribal groups competing for a share in the hegemony that the current dictator exercises upon them, it is a nation that is homogeneous in both its Muslim faith (Trimingham, Influence, 103) and in its Somali language. 13 These two factors of faith and language should have proven a binding force on the various Somali clans in a world where “the central problem of today's global interactions is the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization" (Appadurai 328). The schisms that occurred, moreover, had nothing to do with Mazrui’s description of Islam’s presence as a foreign occupation; instead, a primary source of conflict was derived from the arbitrary division of the country into five spheres of influence by Western colonialism (“History of Somalia”). It was foreign occupation and not the indigenizing of a foreign religion that caused the modern crises of which Farah writes. 14 This division of a culturally homogeneous geographic area would seem to have lent itself to a natural reintegration of all five parts following independence, but the politics of Kenya and Ethiopia (even to the extent of war from 1977 to 1978 over the issue) prevented the return of two of the areas, and the creation of Djibouti as an independent nation precluded a referendum on incorporation with the consanguineous Somali state. Homogeneity in religion and language made Somalia different from most African nations as Trimingham describes, for other African countries had their independence shaped by their colonial boundaries, leading their infant governments into the position of having to reconcile the cultural and linguistic diversity and tribal (and also religious) heterogeneity in the creation of the nation. This process made other nations unique in the way in which each reconciled itself to pluralism and syncretism within its borders. Somalia, on the other hand, was inhabited by a “people united in language, ethnic characteristics and religion,” which “formed a natural unity,” leading Trimingham to assert that “in this particular instance the colonialist boundaries are not accepted” (133). The conflicts this caused those who were linguistically Somali and religiously Muslim are in part dealt with in Farah’s novel Maps (1986), the first in the Blood in the Sun trilogy, set against the war between Islamic Somalia and Christian Ethiopia over the Islamic Ogaden territory. The linguistic and religious

13 This homogeneity, according to Wikipedia, is the result of a sedentary civilization building itself upon the shoreline of significant trade routes between Arabia and India, which opened Somalia to the world and helped anchor both their religious and linguistic identities.

14 Present-day Somalia, in fact, is cartographically defined through the joining of only two of its five parts, the English Somaliland and the Italian Somaliland. The Somalis, according to Wikipedia, in a province called Ogaden, where Farah grew up in spite of his having been born in the Italian protectorate, were annexed by Ethiopia; another section of Somaliland was incorporated into Kenya; and the final piece, the former French protectorate, became an independent nation called Djibouti (“History of Somalia”).


homogeneity (the blood that united the Somali people) rejected the lines drawn by the Europeans as they withdrew from direct administration of African lands. While the religious homogeneity helped shape the way in which Somalis find brotherhood in one

another and a reason to fight for reunification, Islam held both advantages and disadvantages for the Somali people who encountered it in a language outside their own. The advantages of embracing Arabic opened the Somali people to a world outside of themselves and connected them through that affiliation to a more extensive society beyond their borders. The disadvantages of embracing Arabic were most noticeable in their not having generalized the Arabic script into the meaningful transcription of their own oral language. Had this occurred, those not fluent in the Arabic language would have had productive access to an alternative script in their own tongue that could have united the tribes more fully. Because of its adherence to the written word of the Holy Qur’an, however, the Somalis did not see a reason to develop an orthography independent of Arabic until 1972 when Siyaad Barre, an army general turned dictator with ties to the Soviet Union, sponsored a nationwide literacy campaign around

a new orthographic script. 15 Perhaps as a way to further secularize the country under the vision of Scientific Socialism, Barre promoted a creed based on “community development through self-reliance,

a variant of socialism based on Marxist principles, and Islam” (“Somalis: Their History and Culture”).

He opted, against opposition from Islamic leaders, for Somali orthography a modified Latin, rather than Arabic, script, which was established on October 21, 1972, two years to the date after Barre’s government came into power. No sooner did the promising era of Somali socialism begin to engage in universalizing a vision of the people for the people, however, than did it also begin to assume repressive tactics that would eventually send even a socialist writer like Farah into exile for his writing against it. If the work of Nuruddin Farah seems to parallel that of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ayi Kwei Armah in its articulation of national schizophrenia, then it, too, is not without its reasons. Farah is not a socialist writing against the police state of a Daniel arap Moi who never had socialist pretensions, but a socialist writing against the police state of Siyaad Barre who came to power through the very socialist principles of community and faith that Farah endorses. In this sense, the criticisms of Somalia’s government in his publications more closely resemble those of Milovan Djilas, ex-vice president of former Yugoslavia whose The New Class (1955) exposed the loss of the communist ideal of an egalitarian state.

15 Barre founded Xiddigta Oktobar (The October Star), a national Somali language newspaper in which the first novel in Somali, Tallow Waa Talee Ma, by Nuruddin Farah, began serialization in 1973 (Ng’ang’a). Farah’s novel, which had helped to herald the Somali Renaissance under the new socialist regime, was one of the first victims of that regime when the government censors stopped publication after a short run (Ng’ang’a).


While both Armah and Ngugi wrestle against the impact of Western colonialism on traditional African (which are themselves culturally heterogeneous) values, furthermore, Farah has the additional layer of his country’s Islamic heritage with which to contend and upon which to fall back. Mazrui

views this as a hindrance for Farah rather than a helpful tool, and feels that Farah not only explicitly rejects the Islamic culture and worldview, but also satirizes it like Salman Rushdie in Satanic Verses (1988), albeit without the stigma of a fatwa being issued against him. Mazrui adds that “in addition to

[Farah] does make sex a primary feature of the relationship

between the Prophet and his wives” and concludes that “in his satirical projection of Islam, therefore, Nuruddin Farah has clearly taken the path of a cultural apostate” (217). Discussing Islam in the context in which it is lived does not, however, make Farah apostate. If anything, Farah’s reliance on Islamic eschatology as a lived experience shows the very synthesis of socialism and faith for which the Somali

people have strived since Islam’s indigenization. Mazrui, in explaining the social bond Islam has had for the Somali people, quotes David Laitin and Said Samatar: “Although traces of pre-Islamic

traditional religions are clearly visible in Somali folk spirituality

entrenched not only as the principal faith of the Somalis, but also as one of the vital wellsprings of their

culture. A pervasive sense of a common Islamic cultural community contributes vitally to Somali consciousness of a shared national identity” (206). This point of cohesion is a useful tool for Farah, whose desire to achieve a less centralized form of socialism without his country’s regression into pre- Islamic tribalism means for him a lesser reliance on Western cultural imports and a greater reliance on rebuilding structures within Somalia that lend themselves to Somali cultural authenticity. In developing an eschatological vision predicated on socialist principles inherent within Islam, Farah has demonstrated an understanding of the idea that the stronger the Islamic influence, the weaker must be that of the West. Mazrui argues that “where Islam is already established, the decline of the West is advantageous for Islam. After all, the most important threat to Islam in Africa is not a revival of indigenous culture but the triumph of Western secularism” (19). Western secularism is not only a threat to indigenous faiths but also a threat to indigenous cultures because of its support of neo- colonialist structures that perpetuate its own economic presence in developing countries. This presence is so strong that when it ebbs, the receding currents affect economic prosperity, which, paradoxically, is disadvantageous for Islam, for “while established Islam is indeed stabilized by this Western decay, Islamic expansion to new areas is probably hindered by the same decay” (Mazrui 19). This is due, Mazrui notes, to the “reduced traffic of Muslim traders and other migrants, many of whom have been unofficial missionaries for the Islamic faith. Also reducing the expansion of Islam are the decaying

Islam today is deeply and widely

debasing the religion and its Book


roads and railways, which reduce social and economic mobility” (19). This paradox points to an imbalance in the power relationships between the West and the developing world regardless of faith, creed, or nationality. It is likely for this reason that the people who populate Farah’s literature find themselves seeking refuge within their faiths (like Deeriye in Close Sesame), seeking refuge in attempts to overthrow the dictatorship to establish a national rather than tribal government (like Deeriye’s son, Mursal), or seeking refuge in their escape from a disintegrating society (like Kalaman in Secrets) trapped as they are within another paradox of an oppressive neocolonial regime facing its dissolution as a failed nation-state. In the articulation of these occurrences, Farah proves himself a descriptive rather than prescriptive writer, and any prescriptiveness that might be attributed to him would come in the form of his challenging his people to believe in the whole Somali community that comprises a consanguineous brotherhood transcendent of tribal affiliations, a community that should invest itself in its common bonds of faith. Because he wants to see Somalia as a modern and stable nation, he realizes that the neocolonial bonds with the West must be realigned if an authentic independence is to be achieved, and the formula that he could use is quite simple: strengthen the people’s response to one another through the tenets of a faith they already (even if only nominally) possess, contribute thereby to the decline of the nation’s dependence upon the West and the influence of multinational corporations on the lives of the people and their government, and create a living and applied eschatological sense among the faithful whose faith in themselves as community will take precedence over blind devotion and syncopated foreign allegiance. In short, Farah’s model could simply be to use eschatology as a tool in nation-building. As a living eschatological system, Islam charges its adherents to live up to a certain standard in relation to others within the community. According to Sayyid Qutb in a book entitled Social Justice in Islam, the first requirement for a Muslim is to conscientiously perform his own work because each person doing what he or she is called to do helps the greater community function. The second requirement is that every individual must take responsibility for the safety of his or her society and has the duty of stopping any evil-doing he or she sees at the risk of being held responsible for that evil- doing him- or herself. “The whole community,” Qutb explains, “is to blame and merits injury and punishment in this world and in the world to come if it passively accepts evil-doing in its midst” (Williams 49). Individuals who adhere to their faith, then, are called to take this commandment seriously, all the more so since the Qur’an is considered by Muslims to be the literal word of God rather than the inspired word that Christians take their Bible to be. God does not leave it to the Qur’an


alone, however, to perpetuate this message to humanity, as John Esposito explains, “Within Sunni Islam, there developed an awareness that the continued vitality of the Islamic community would require renewal and reform from time to time” (31-2). This regular renewal, presupposed by the “disparity between public life and the Islamic ideal” would require the sending of a ‘renewer.’ This renewer is accounted for in the idea and expectation of the Mahdi who, according to the hadith, is to be sent “at the beginning of each century to restore true Islamic practice and thus regenerate a community which tends, over time, to wander from the straight path” (Esposito 32). Though Farah is writing in the latter half of the fourteenth century in the year of Al Hejra (the original date of which was 622 A.D. by the Christian calendar), he is assuming the role of the Mahdi, or guided one, which “in Sunni Islam is a popular rather than doctrinal belief in an eschatological individual who will come in the future to deliver the community from oppression by the forces of evil and to restore true Islam and with it a reign of justice on earth” (Esposito 32). This assumption is manifest in Farah’s using the living eschatology that is the community responsibility to itself as a means by which to sound the horn of justice for his people. As Trimingham observes, “The millenarian messianism of Mahdism, alive in Africa up to 1910, has been diverted from the idea of the restoration of a golden age of Islam into a modern political and social messianism aiming at grasping now the benefits of the dynamic culture which has invaded African life” (121). The standards to which all Muslims are called in their faith, therefore, should also be standards to which all Muslims are called in their daily interactions with the greater communities of which they are a part. Ironic for his aims, Farah has had to develop most of his thoughts on the nation building of Somalia while away from his own country in an exile he half-imposed upon himself. In 1976, he completed his studies in England and learned that Barre had called for his detention and death based on his publication abroad of A Naked Needle (1976), a novel which speaks unfavorably of Somalia’s dictatorial regime. In both his Variations on the Theme of African Dictatorship trilogy, which Farah began in 1979 with the publication of Sweet and Sour Milk, followed by Sardines in 1981, and Close Sesame in 1983, and his Blood in the Sun trilogy begun in 1986 with the publication of Maps, followed by Gifts in 1992, and Secrets in 1998, Farah demonstrates the confusion within Somali identity brought about by neocolonialism and the loss of the true faith and, in doing so, attempts to bring about a renewal of Somali society from the outside. That people will find faith through a renewer is a matter of hope, which points to an eschatological vision in the soon-to-be-hoped-for future time, but the Qur’an makes a prediction of each renewer, that while “we have sent you with the Truth, to hear good tidings and a warning; no community is there but has passed away in it some warner” (35:25). By delaying his


return for over twenty years and having not remained in his homeland afterwards, Farah managed both to avoid passing away and to contribute meaningfully to the Somali cause. His intention to remain politically involved through his literature is evidenced by his having begun a new trilogy, the first book of which is entitled Links (2004), but his doing so from the distance of his new home in Nigeria denies him the chance to have a meaningful role in the everyday development of his country. Another influence on Farah’s writing lies in his having been born Somali under the Italian occupation, which means that the foreign schooling he received lent itself to an exposure to classic Italian texts like Dante’s Divine Comedy. That Farah has some reverence for Dante can be found explicitly in Links, which is an exploration in Muslim Somali narrative of Dante’s Inferno, the journey of a pilgrim through a medieval Catholic construct of hell. It is not only in Links, though, that Dante’s influence can be found, for the sense of Dante’s eschatology is also quite clearly articulated in the

earlier trilogies. The idea of contrapasso, for instance, where one’s state of being in this life continues as his or her state of being in the next, is evident throughout Secrets in the form of social karma (for instance, Gacme-Xume’s greed, according to Yaqut, consumes and kills him through the even greater greed demonstrated by his own brother and cousins). There is also a particularly Dantean puzzle involving the squaring of the circle that is employed throughout the text, explicitly mentioned by Nonno in Secrets when he says,

famines produce a boomerang effect among other things, a beastly

backlash. Where dictatorships reign, famines reign too. However, I doubt if we should be debating about finding an outlet for people’s anger, or about placating their hunger, but about squaring the circle, in expectation of dealing with the root causes of famines, of ignoramus dictatorships, injustices. (86-7) Squaring the circle, though, is a geometrical problem that has no solution; it is otherwise known as an impossible task, and it appears in the final canto among the last lines of the Comedy when Dante, face- to-face with God, writes, Like a geometer wholly dedicated to squaring the circle, but who cannot find think as he may, the principle indicated— so did I study the supernal face. I yearned to know just how our image merges into that circle, and how it there finds place; but mine were not the wings for such a flight. (133-39)

Like dictatorships


Just as the poem is ending, with Dante certain that this puzzle is insolvable, he gasps, “Yet, as I wished, the truth I wished for came/ cleaving my mind in a great flash of light” (140-41), leaving open the possibility of embracing the eternal and resolving humanity’s relationship with God, which is ultimately humanity’s relationship with itself. That humanity cannot achieve this on its own efforts is clear in Dante – humanity needs salvific grace, which is the activity of God working within it to accomplish the purpose for which God created humankind. Farah, too, makes this clear. His issue, however, is not necessarily one of theodicy, of the problem of evil in a world created by an omnipotent and merciful being, but of humanity’s inhumanity to humanity and the value humanity places upon its relationship with itself. As a result, Farah is trying to do accomplish the same eschatological moment in his social reconstruction of Somali society that Dante grasps in his own progress as a pilgrim seeking a relationship with the Creator of creation and then loses in his translation from heaven back to his writing desk. Most evident in Dante’s eschatological system is the idea of community and the bonds that measure it. In the Inferno, Dante moves from the least of the damned to the worst. He finds in the first circle of hell all the virtuous pagans enjoying the height of human reason with their only torment being a lack of hope. By the time he gets to the final circle of hell, he finds encased in ice, and, consequently, in a state of permanent separation from one another, those who betrayed their communities in some way. The disintegration of community complete by the end of the first canticle, Dante begins the process of rebuilding community as he moves up the slope of Purgatory so that the pilgrim’s reorientation to God is one of rebuilding human connections across whatever differences or barriers might have separated the incarnate members of the social body. In the final canticle, Dante the pilgrim shoots like an arrow toward God, and as he passes through the ten heavens on his way to the Empyrean he sees the souls of the departed becoming more and more of one body and mind in their active response to divine revelation via the activity of God working through them. In demonstrating the disintegration of community and social ties in Secrets, Farah is constructing a Muslim hell on the foundation of a Catholic one; likewise, in demonstrating the development of community and the social bond in Close Sesame, Farah is constructing a Muslim paradise on the foundation of a Catholic one. His use of Dante’s vision is instructive, for Islam’s primary eschatological vision is contained entirely within eighty-three lines of the 36 th Sura (called Ya-Sin) of the Qur’an and has never been expanded in Islamic imaginative literature in the way Dante expanded through imaginative literature the Catholic eschatological vision. This is not to say, of course, that the Dantean influence has shaped Farah’s


religious outlook, but it has shaped his eschatological sense in a way that resonates with his Marxist worldview, lending him an applied eschatology predicated not so much on how we live our relationships with God but, as has been evidenced in Ngugi and Armah, on how we live our lives as social beings on earth. A people’s beginning and ending naturally resonates with societal myths, of which, according to Mazrui, every society has at least two: “the myth of ancestry concerning the origins of that society and the myth of purpose or mission, emphasizing the uniqueness of that society” (296). While it has been argued that Nuruddin Farah’s socialism interferes with his adherence to the Islamic faith, it is clear in his works that Islam’s importance to Somali life and culture make its tenets a strong foundation upon which to rebuild Somalia. Even though “neither Islamic sources nor Islamicists say much about myth,” for “the Qur’an is not structured around the great cosmic cycles of Creation and the eschaton” (Martin 60), Islam’s arrival in Africa positively transformed the lives of those with whom it came in contact through its interpretation of origin and purpose of the individual in relation to the larger humanity of which he or she was a part. In examining Blood in the Sun and Variations on the Theme of African Dictatorship as the foundation of a socialist eschatology in a Muslim context, this chapter will focus only on the final installment in each set to see the point that Farah is making concerning the individual’s role in the social and political life of his community. While in Close Sesame, the reader gets the sense that a community of martyrs is rebuilding itself in heaven, the backdrop against which Maps, Gifts, and Secrets is written is an unmistakable disintegration of community.

B. Blood in the Sun: Secrets

Secrets (1998) begins and ends with the idea that with one corpse comes three secrets, and secrets, as we learn throughout the course of the novel, are things that, when discovered, have the power to disrupt social stability, for they were hidden in the first place because they were anomalies within the social fabric. The power of secrets, we learn throughout the text, is both emasculating, as is the case with Kalaman, who seems repressed by them, unable to act as a producer of his own situation in life, unable to commit to his fiancée or to govern his own existence, and invigorating, as is the case with Nonno, who seems able to resolve all problems and pierce through all difficulties. Secrets is an exploration of human culpability. As Farah uses the circumstances of Kalaman as a tool to carry this theme from base nature to human malice, he notes that while people will not hesitate to voice their grievances against the dictatorship, they will remain mute accomplices in supporting the


regime that oppresses them and shifting blame for it to the Italian colonialists and the Western superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States. “Our challenge,” Farah indicates, is to come to terms with the destruction of the soul that has caused the people to lose their sense of a living

eschatology by way of locating “the metaphor for the collapse of the collective, following that of the individual” (191). That the individual is responsible for the way in which his society is governed is a rather democratic idea for a nation bound by clan interests in which tribal chieftains are stipended by the dictatorship. To maintain the order of the status quo, as Al-Azmeh explains, those in power must

remain in “exclusive possession of the secrets of things

the social order, the king, is meant to be in absolute and exclusive possession of the secrets of his kingdom and his own palace, to be shared with no one, for therein lie not only the secrets of the king’s strength, but also of his potency” (96). To withdraw from the interests of the clan, then, is as much a personal disintegration of the established order as the clan’s withdrawal from the nation would be a collective disintegration, both equally destroying the status quo, and since the novel’s purpose is to locate a metaphor for social and individual collapse, it makes sense, then, for the plot and theme to be eschatologically constructed. The reason for this is that a metaphor, by definition, is a referential

construct that indicates one thing has all the characteristics of something else. Loss of community, then, is a loss of the faith, hope, and love, a loss of virtue, and a corruption of human reason that leads to envy and betrayal. Farah’s use of the theme and structure of Dante’s Inferno as his metaphor, moreover, establishes the sense of the collective in that others may be present on our journey toward community but are dead within that journey if they are not actively working to transform the idea of community in response to changing social realities and their changing roles as producers of nationhood. Kalaman, one of the protagonists of Secrets, is a new man in Somali culture in the sense that he owns a computer company and is, therefore, part of the modernizing force affecting the development of his country. Not only does his work with computers distance him from traditional African life in a society that is 90% agrarian, but it also distances him from his Islamic heritage as computers are a Western innovation on the Somali scene and their networked interconnection at the time of the novel’s setting in the late 1990s does more to advance the cultural imperialism of Europe and the United States than it would to advance the Muslim faith. Trimingham would consider men like Kalaman to be “the

most important social force in both the old and new Islamic communities

between African society and secular civilization” (124). That this is particularly true for Kalaman derives both from his ability to work with Western technologies and the lifestyle he has chosen as an urban Mogadiscian who feels burdened by the imposition members of his clan impose on him and

very much in the same way that the tip of

for they form the bridge


“seldom entertained anyone claiming to be from either side of [his] parents’ extended families” (26). That Kalaman would explain to them that he “had no time for them and didn’t hesitate to show them the door” and “would remind them that [he] was no member of a clan, that [he] was a professional” (26) indicates that he wanted to establish himself completely as a new man who was not bound to the traditions of what he calls social blackmailers. Trimingham, though, adds that new men like Kalaman are not only “the mediators for the penetration of Western ideas, attitudes and institutions, but they have the task of reconciling and moulding the old and the new in changing Africa” (124), something that Kalaman is hesitant to do. His life is fairly focused on his own problems and is characterized by indecision in marrying his girlfriend and ambivalence towards his mother, which is what makes of interest Trimingham’s question as to whether new men like Kalaman “can become a religious as well as a social and political force” (124). Kalaman’s loss of touch with his Islamic faith in exchange for his secular lifestyle is another factor in his having distanced himself from his community. Trimingham argues that “when we reflect that apart from Islam and Christianity there are other contenders for the souls of Africans – nationalism, modern materialism and secularism – we have to recognize them as quasi-religious factors” (124-5), which parallels Mbiti’s argument that Africans look upon social change as religious phenomena. In uncovering the secrets of the novel, then, Kalaman is discovering himself and the role he should be playing not only in his own life but also in that of the greater society, the final solution to which is a decision to flee. Of the things that Kalaman does not understand about his origins, the first is his name. From the time of his childhood, he has pressed his grandfather, Nonno, for an explanation since it was Nonno, who had once been cursed by his ouster from Qur’anic school for practicing wizardry, who received the privilege of naming him. Nonno gives him two answers, neither of which is satisfactory to Kalaman as evidenced by his mother’s persistence in discovering the answer, too. “I named you Kalaman because it is a cul-de-sac of a name” (4), Nonno explains to him. A cul-de-sac, a dead-end street, is as enigmatic an answer as “I had the foresight to call you Kalaman because I knew it would stand on its own, independent of your father’s name or mine” (5). The question begs as to why the name would have to stand on its own, as though Kalaman were meant to be set apart from his family and clan from the beginning, a fact that would explain his natural aversion to their presence in his life. That Kalaman is independent of his father, his grandfather, and his clan, though, is revealed later when he learns that he was the product of a gang rape and has no affiliation to his father’s line and only an illegitimate one to his mother’s. In spite of this, Damac, Kalaman’s mother, pursues the reason as much as does Kalaman and compares her “son’s name to a sheet of water with arid scrawls in salt


efflorescence” (170), the closer she gets to it, the more mirage-like and elusive it becomes. The mystery of Kalaman’s paternity derives from the inability to point to a given man as the father, so the enigma within the origins of Kalaman’s name mirrors that of his own origins. When Damac presses Nonno for an explanation and uses the imagery of the “mirage producing more thirst in the one espying it” (171), the response comes in the form of a puzzle as Nonno tells her that a camel stores up water in its blood and that the blood in the camel’s vein needs to be sorted out from the water it contains. The solution to the puzzle is to “imagine that the quantity of water has run low, because of the beast’s consuming thirst” (172). Water, as Damac notes, is the source of life, so if it has run low in the allegorical camel’s veins, then the resolution to the puzzle toward which Nonno is moving lies in the idea that the water needs to be replenished. The solution to a camel’s dying of thirst is to give it a drink, to replenish the life within its veins by diluting the blood. It is not Nonno’s sense of the mysterious that prevents his telling Damac outright that the origin of her son’s name is a response to his detachment from any known origin even though he does confess his love of secrets as he explains to her that “secrets define us, they mark us, they set us apart from all the others. The secrets which we preserve provide a key to who we are, deep down” (144). Even so, Nonno has a genuine distrust of secrets, the reason for which he explains to Kalaman: “Sooner or later, secrets sabotage the very purpose for which they are being withheld, they give away the very thing one wishes to protect” (114). Nonno, whose own identity as a member of a Somali clan is compromised by his preference to keep the word “British” on his passport in place of his clan affiliation, also has his secrets, one of which being that he was expelled from Qur’anic studies for allegedly tampering with the text. He was suspected of sorcery and witchcraft and dismissed with the admonition to be truer to his faith. He confesses, “Power-hungry, I guessed that by replacing a set of magical codes with some of my own making, I might rule the wind and the birds which ride upon it” (298). It is this secret that promises one further meaning to the mystery of Kalaman’s name, for the Qur’an is written in a script in which all letters, because they derive from the language of God who recited the Qur’an verbatim to his prophet, Mohammed, have a mystical meaning. The idea is introduced in the novel by one of the speculators on Kalaman’s name that the name might have something to do with the letters of the Arabic alphabet, but the proposal is too quickly dismissed by the man’s audience. “K,” “l,” “m,” and “n” follow each other through the exact center of

and “n” follow each other through the exact center of a script that has only twenty-eight

a script that has only twenty-eight letters. Written in Arabic, the name would have no vowels ( ), so the pronunciation would depend upon established use – kalaman, kilimin, kulumun, or some derivative thereof with the three short vowels a, i, and u interchangeable. The Arabic language, furthermore, is


one that is structured around a triad root system so that any three letters combined form some part of a linguistic tree referencing a given concept. “K,” “l,” and “m,” in that order, have to do with the concept “to speak,” an idea which presupposes the use of words and with the result’s being that “klm” stands in for both “word” and “speak.” The use of the “n” changes the word “Kalaman” (with a long vowel ) from the subject “word” to the object “word,” which means not a word that is acting in the nominative case but one that is receiving the action in the objective case as part of the predicate or as an adjective when a subject complement. Nyang points out the importance of this rather pedantic exercise in writing that “[t]he Arab experience under Islam also has a lesson for Africa: that is, it shows man that the spoken word is power and that the divine presence is paradoxically most visible in words rather than in objects” (85). The Qur’an is not just the written language of God, though; it is a spoken language that presupposes its own script, a script that articulates itself through the command that it be written down. Kalaman is the command to be written, which bears within it both the acoustic and visual meanings of the idea of the “word,” and to say, “I am Kalaman” (pronounced “kalamoun” in this case) would be to say, “I am a text being spoken/written.” Some derivation of this answer is likely what Kalaman gives people who, once they hear it, “widen with grins” and say, “Now why on earth did we not think of that?” (1). The symmetry of the word is underscored by the fact that Somali, itself, was, at the time that Kalaman would have been born, a spoken rather than written language, and Nonno’s reluctance to explain all this to Damac is probably less a result of his desire to preserve a secret than it is to prevent his outing himself as a “closet literate” (3) or to avoid confusing her with his erudition. As both an ephemeral and documentable entity, Kalaman never has the opportunity to reach a point of stasis, his life finding purpose as both an agent of change in society and as an interpreter of change in himself. As the catalyst, executor, and interpreter of change, Kalaman is both judge and jury, prosecution and defense, linguistically, at least, a law unto himself, and it is this that enables him to negotiate his role in Somalia as an itinerant pilgrim. Concerning himself, Kalaman knows that Nonno is not only privy to his origins but is also circumlocutory in response to his precocious inquiries into them. When Kalaman wants to change his patronymic to a metronymic, Nonno indicates a certain knowledge of the past by discouraging Kalaman’s plan, arguing that it would cast suspicion on his origins and that while taking a mother’s last name might apply to some, it does not apply in Kalaman’s situation, for he is “an only child of a monogamous union” (7) and would not want anyone thinking he were illegitimate. To counter Kalaman’s insistence that society was unfair to women, Nonno adds, “If you do not wish to displease your mother, then you must abandon the idea of drawing anomalous attention to your beginnings” (7). While he does not lie to Kalaman, he is not forthcoming with the

drawing anomalous attention to your beginnings” (7). While he does not lie to Kalaman, he is


truth, an instance that Kalaman suspects when he argues in response, “I am eight-plus, a big enough boy to know that there are adult secrets which are unwise to share with a child of my age. I understand” (5). Nonno, however, will not budge, and it is only much later, after Kalaman is an adult that he discovers through his mother’s matchmaker, Arbaco, what Nonno has known all along, that he was illegitimately conceived of a gang rape that followed the falsification of a marriage certificate and extortion by marriage racketeers. The man responsible, called Y.M.I., loses the marriage certificate in a card game, and the winner, Gacme-xume, along with Y.M.I. and some other men, perpetrate the deed. Kalaman knows none of this growing up. He knows only that the man he calls ‘father’ is Yaqut. The later knowledge he receives of his origin suddenly displaces Kalaman from everything he has ever known to be true of his relationships, and it even causes him to be displaced within his society, which is driven by clan affiliations and loyalties derived from one’s birth. This sense of displacement causes his mind to whirl pointlessly, which he explains in the sentiment of Dante who found himself, also midway through his life’s journey, lost in a dark wood. “I might have been someone with eyes emptied of light and sight. It felt as if the blackness of my pupils was a shade paler than normal, my brain deprived of its strength, its characteristic human resolve,” Kalaman describes, adding, “My head seemed peopled with monstrous beings, some half human, some belonging to the animal realm” (236). These monstrous beings, these bestial guardians of hell’s upper chambers, are threats of madness against which he needs his reason to protect him. In a cartography of degenerative order, such as hell or Somalia, the only way Kalaman will be able to exercise the kind of reason sufficient for his purpose is to step outside of what is happening around him, to consciously cut his ties to tribe and nation and reconstruct them in his own image. That Kalaman is able to stand outside the textual fabric of his society but remain a receiver of its text and its changing realities is due to his having been born with the capacity and desire to constantly search for answers to both the origins of things, “where babies began and how,” and the ends of things, “where the dead ended up, and whether, once interred, the buried awoke in the dark of their tombs and were immediately reborn” (12). His questions are fundamentally eschatological in nature, and he gets frustrated when he cannot discover the truth. He questions, in fact, the origins of his questions, sensing that his desire to change his name had developed “because its origins made no sense to [him]” (12). He carries these reflections from the idea of mysteries of life into mysteries of social interaction and the formation of friendships, wondering why every new friendship also had its “birth pangs” (12). His most memorable friendship was with Sholoongo, and it is with her return into his life that the novel is largely preoccupied as it sparks a series of events that lead Kalaman to greater self-discovery. From the time


this friendship began, he writes, he sensed his mother’s disapproval, for her own origins were as mysterious as those of his name. Sholoongo is rumored to have been left in the woods to die as an unwanted baby but somehow managed to survive, and perhaps as a result of this his mother dreams of

endowed with a stout head, protruding teeth, with legs that are abnormally

short, with rounded ears which resemble a ratel’s. She is busy forever digging, without a moment’s break’” (13). Whatever the origin of his mother’s attributions, there can be no doubt that Sholoongo does have a great deal of animalistic qualities about her. Nonno responds to Kalaman’s question about this by focusing on “’the idea’ of ratels,” drawing a link “between a ratel’s feeding on carrion and [Kalaman’s] mother’s belief in Sholoongo’s animal powers” (14). That Sholoongo’s father, Madoobe, mates with a cow and later returns with a woman (who may have been the cow) as his wife reinforces this vague idea of Sholoongo herself as half-beast, able to transform “her human nature into the animal of her choosing” (14). Mysteries such as these are enough to hold Kalaman’s attention as his character is one that is predisposed towards the uncovering and classifying of secrets, for to know something is to prevent its having power over him. Secrets have a life and death power over everyone, and this is underscored in the novel by Sholoongo, who brings closure to the prologue by telling Kalaman of a Nigerian folktale in which a hunter finds a human skull and wonders aloud how the skull came to be there. The skull responds, “Beware of divulging secrets, because that is what got me where I am, dead” (17). The hunter returns to his village and shares the story and its ominous portents with everyone he knows so that the story eventually makes it back to the king who asks the hunter to take him to the skull. In spite of the hunter’s exhortations, the skull will not speak before the king, so the king has the hunter’s head cut off and left unburied where it falls. After the king leaves, the skull speaks and asks the hunter what got him there. The head replies, “Divulging secrets got me here, dead” (18). Secrets, the moral is clear, are to be respected and not thrown about, and Sholoongo’s reticence concerning the secrets of her life parallels that of the other characters in the book. The only person in the book who really seeks answers to everyone’s secrets, and he does so by questioning everything about him, is Kalaman, and if the allegory of the skull is to have any meaning for him, it is not to admonish him against discovering secrets but against divulging them, for the loss of a secret destroys the status quo, throws everything it hoped to guard into chaos, and disintegrates the society in which it was kept. Throughout his discovery of himself, Kalaman witnesses this disintegration of his world around him and of the social ties he had long taken for granted as a death, or dreamless state. The catalyst for this misfortune is the reappearance after twenty years of Sholoongo, whom his mother once described

her as “long-nailed,


as more animal than human, into his life for the purpose of becoming pregnant by him in fulfillment of

a childhood promise. Nonno, who ultimately obliges her desire though his act does not fulfill her wish, even speculates on whether the shattering of the world around them could possibly stem from the

pledge that Kalaman made with Sholoongo (112), for Sholoongo admits to being a shape-shifter (46), a professional occupation that, while it is vaguely explained, lends itself to being the embodiment of active disturbance of the status quo. The idea of the status quo, moreover, is that of a persistent reality once dreamed into being, and this is why it is the nature of dreams to help make sense of the status quo.

It would seem, consequently, that the first indication of change brought about by a shape-shifter would

manifest itself in the unconscious reassembling of reality – in the dreaming of a new reality designed to persist. Al-Azmeh explains the idea of the dream as “the product of a regard by the rational soul into its own spiritual essence, wherein it beholds a glimpse of realities” (61), and adds that “a true dream

foretells the future, for good or ill, and an augury is only possible by transcending the sheer humanity of humanity and passing over into a superior station of being, one which affords readier access to the beyond where absolute knowledge is contained” (61-2). The glimpse of realities the rational soul beholds, though, is prophetic only in its making sense of clear and present signs within the culture, indicators of what the future might hold based on present circumstances rather than absolutes that dispel human agency in future-building. Sholoongo’s significance as a shape-shifter is further explored in her relationships to others. Prior to Kalaman’s having learned that Sholoongo is in his house, in fact, he receives a call from his mother who has already been visited by Sholoongo in her dreams and, it is later discovered, has purchased a gun with which to kill her. Kalaman explains this appearance of as being due to Sholoongo’s having gone to his mother’s shop and having been unconsciously detected by his mother, which caused all of her self-protective animosities against Sholoongo for having discovered the secret of her marriage to Yaqut to once again rise within her. If Sholoongo appears to Damac as part bestial, to Timir, Sholoongo’s half brother, she appears as a maggot, for “with maggots, you can never tell where they’ve entered or where they’ve exited. Likewise,” he muses, “you discover that my sister has visited a place only when she’s already left the area, reasons undisclosed, motive unexplored” (55). To Kalaman, she appears as a rat, “the type of rodent with almost mythical qualities which is said to bite your toe and then blow on the spot, as if helping to reduce the pain. Only it claws you again and again. Pain and comfort, fingers entwined, the thorn on the pulpy fruit!” (55). The incessantness of this attack that Kalaman feels he is experiencing causes him to question whether Sholoongo’s presence could explain supernatural events like an elephant’s hunting down an ivory hunter and goring him to death. Nonno


offers some explanation for this phenomenon by attributing Sholoongo a kind of mythical, half-human, half-animal status, like the beasts and guardians of upper hell. He offers a string of origin theories such as the cosmos’s having gestated in an egg, creation’s being quantifiable, cosmic balance resting in the horns of a bull, but his preference is for the most popular one, which is of nonhumans giving birth to the ancestors of a people. “It follows naturally,” he believes, “that those who are capable of regaining their animal self and merging it with their human self are deemed more powerful. They are worthy of our envy, not our disdain” (105). Sholoongo’s ability to shape-shift, even if only within the realm of active human imagination, is in part a reclamation of this legacy of the myth of origins. What makes Sholoongo’s shape-shifting meaningful for the human condition is that she serves a social role as a bridge between the order of a stable society and the chaos of an unstable one, for if Nonno resembles anything like the Mahdi in his desire to preserve the status quo through his role as the guardian and keeper of secrets (which is ultimately a preservation of the bonds of faith he had once tried to corrupt through his own shape-shifting), then it is Sholoongo who plays the role of the dajjal, or destroyer of secrets (and ultimately the banshee whose screams portend the destruction of society). Nonno explains to Kalaman what he calls a heretical notion. He explains that what makes humanity different from the rest of the animal kingdom is not our ability to reason or articulate the process of that reasoning faculty, but our insistence on constructing and obeying a code of ethics in which communal taboos are established alongside the structures by which they might be hidden. Nonno adds, “I cannot imagine a world without taboos, a culture without its notion of right and wrong. Honors are maintained, pledges kept, gods worshipped” while in the same breath maintaining that “[i]t is anathema to imagine a world in which there are no secrets. Secrets have life energy, they keep us alive” (202). Since the most powerful secret in the novel is that of Kalaman’s origins themselves, and it is this, in fact, that provides the foundation for all other secrets with which Kalaman comes into contact and that ultimately serve to destroy his place in the disintegrating world around him, Sholoongo’s knowledge of that secret unleashes a disruptive power that in microcosm parallels the disintegration and identity crisis of the greater nation as though the tribes had discovered their own illegitimacy in the greater social construct that is known as Somalia. Origins and endings, then, are the two complementary themes of the novel, for each presupposes the other in an eschatological construct that seeks to interpret social relationships. Kalaman’s birth had been heralded by a crow, a creature that Somalis are culturally trained, as Mursal explains in Close Sesame, to stone. Not only had the crow brought forth the announcement, but it was named Madoobe by the farmhands on Nonno’s estate and kept as a pet by Nonno, who explains that “crows are


associated, in the ancient Somali mind with a guarantee against death, as opposed to Islam and Christianity, faiths which offer the faithful a guarantee of afterlife!” (164). Nonno’s having seen the significance of this on the day of Kalaman’s birth explains why he kept the crow, to ward off a living death from Kalaman, begotten outside of clan affiliations or tribal structures and later resistant to them as he explains in the novel’s beginning that his kinsfolk seemed a burden. Kalaman’s later speculations on his life, then, naturally entail speculations on the idea of death, and he ponders, “Did I begin in death, in the thought of a man fleeing it, coming south and changing his name? Then deciding not only that his dying-time had arrived but that others must come with him too? Did I start in death, in my mother planning to kill every single one of the thugs who gang-raped her?” (247). The larger question here concerns at what point in the past could Kalaman have been said to have his beginning and how far into one’s ancestors must one go to discover it, for if our origins are predictors of our present lives and the promise they hold for establishing the foundations of society, then Kalaman’s origins affect his immediate present. P’Bitek discusses this idea of the immediate present in writing that “African religions are not so much concerned about the beginning and the end of the world, they are rather more concerned with the good life here and now, with health and prosperity, with success in life, happy and productive marriage, etc; they deal with the causes of diseases, with failures and other obstacles in the path of self realization and fulfilment [sic]” (62-3). Kalaman’s search for his origins, then, is a religious search for his own life’s meaning midway through that life’s journey in a society so badly torn that it seems impossible to rebuild in a positive image. His origins more than parallel those of modern Somalia; they are modern Somalia, conceived in a gang-rape by gamblers and swindlers who eat their cores rotten from the inside. If birth is the point of entry into a web of social relations, then death would be the point of exit, “in the shift of emphasis” as Nonno explains it (277) brought about by the cessation of one state and the assumption of another (198). For that reason the guarantee against death would be the guarantee of one’s having a meaningful and enduring role within the social structure, something that Kalaman loses by degrees as the secrets of his origins further separate him from his nascent social affiliations. His death in this manner is as much a social construct as has been his life, but death has no real power over him because he learns in the pursuit of discovery to dream ambitiously, which is the essence of living, according to Nonno, who adds that “if you don’t dream beyond your reach, why, you may as well give up living” (72). Corporal death is variously defined in the novel, but it is always defined in relation to a person’s role within his or her community. Kalaman explains to Timir that “death is the tragic, sorrowful acceptance of an irredeemable reality, a notice served that one will no longer figure in the


dream of one’s beloved” (53), not so much a sadness as a dreamlessness. In reflecting on this further, he explains, “This, I thought, was perhaps the most apt definition of death, not seeing one’s departed in one’s dream” (53-4). It is also a return to the two-dimensional sense of time in which one truly dies only when the last person alive who remembers him or her also dies, which is a living in the dream of the past rather than in the hope of the future. The preoccupation with death, then, is as poignant in the novel as the preoccupation with origins; in fact, they are integrated soundly in a world where disclosure of one’s secrets is an act of destruction, where one’s beginning is bound up in one’s end. Nonno explains the concept to Sholoongo: “All that death does is to deny you the opportunity to reinvent your life as you live it. Because dying, you cease to dream” (275). The one who is dying, in fact, “must be content with others’ dreams, visions which are not continued in you” (275). At the memory of Damac’s killing the snake, Nonno thinks at the time, “Death deforms. Death brings sadness to one’s eyes” (134). With all this talk of the nature of death to the individual, the individual’s personal eschatology, Farah saves until the end the pronouncement of death upon the society, the social eschatology, as Nonno confesses to Kalaman: “Cursed, I have become blind, because I’ve failed to read the warning signals. Our people have not heeded the signs portending the coming catastrophes. I am as good as gone. Our country is as good as gone. My advice to you is make of your life what you may” (296). In short, he advises Kalaman to live, to call upon the reservoir of the will to do so that wells within him and begin a new life, which Kalaman will have to do in exile from the inferno that Somalia has become. In this, Kalaman also follows the wisdom of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as reported by Bukhari in the hadiths, who, upon being asked by Ibn Idris al-Khawlani, “What do you order me to do (if I should live until the time of troubles)?” said, “Cleave to the collectivity of the Muslims and their leader (imam).” Al-Khawlani sought clarification and asked again, “And what if they have neither collectivity nor leader?” whereupon the Prophet instructed him to “withdraw (I’tazil) from the factions altogether, even if you must gnaw the roots of trees until you die” (10). With no collectivity upon which to cleave, there is no other choice, according to the Prophet, but to withdraw and start anew, something that Kalaman and his fiancée do as they, like an inverse Adam and Eve, leave the deadness of Somalia’s garden for the life of the world to come in Djibouti, Somali in language and faith, but set apart from the inferno from which they are exiled. The alternative to the Prophet’s advice, to assume leadership and reestablish the community, is not an option left open to Kalaman, nor was it ever meant to be.


C. Variations on the Theme of African Dictatorship: Close Sesame

While both trilogies deal with problems faced by families in contemporary Somali life, the Blood in the Sun trilogy does not enter into direct confrontation with state authorities in the same way that the Variations trilogy brings the governing power to the center of the plotlines in each novel. All three books of Variations, in fact, concern themselves with the role each individual has to the greater society of which he or she is a part, rejecting the clannishness embraced by the tribal chieftains of the Somali people. The reasons for such clannishness are legion, but they rest on the fact that “traditionally the Somali people loathed totalitarianism,” Issa-Salwe offers, “and suspected any form of centralised rule.” Pan-Somali movements, nonetheless, have a precedent that is identified in Close Sesame with Hajji Sayyid Mohammed Abdulla Hasan, the “Mad Mullah” who refused to pay taxes to the colonial government and formed the Daraawiish, which embraced Islam and the idea of a pan-Somali state. Both nationalistic and strongly religious, the movement is characterized in microcosm by Deeriye, the protagonist who greatly admires “the Sayyid” and enjoys listening to an audio recording of the leader and poet’s “Death of Corfield,” a poem depicting a Daraawiish victory over the British colonial powers. The individual, Deeriye, embraces the idea of being a darwiish, which is, according to Abdisalam M. Issa-Salwe, “a Muslim believer who takes vows of poverty and a life of austerity in the service of Allah and his community” (Issa-Salwe ). The role of the individual, according to Farah’s trilogies, is to transcend the clan and embrace the nation by working in the interests of the Somali people rather than for the interests of a tribalist government that seeks to curtail the people’s rights. That Deeriye is characterized as an Islamicist nationalist, then, is a natural outgrowth of his having a sense of transcendent community, of his seeing complementary value in both his faith and his people. The war against foreign occupation led by the Sayyid was therapeutic for an otherwise struggling collection of tribes that were trying to form themselves into a nation-state. According to Said Samatar, the war against the British was useful for the Somalis because it broadened their perspective beyond the tribe. He adds that the Dervish experience had a detribalizing effect in its bringing together such a diversity of natural interests in the various kinds of people and roles that sought to comprise it. It was the Dervish example, then, that provided the idea for the nation. The Sayyid, for all his efforts to convert the tribes of Somalia into a single nation, was unable by the time of his death to fully eradicate the traditions rooted within the tribal structure. In comparing the Somalis to the occupying forces, specifically the Italians that once governed them, for example, Zeinab finds a strong similarity between them in that “every Italian, since he or she does not believe in the state as an institution, becomes a


paying member of a secret society or a Mafia fraternity; the Somali doesn’t believe in the logic of the state working justly for all, regardless of clan, and therefore the Somali becomes a dia-paying member of his or her own clan” (191). The idea that the Sayyid established, nonetheless, is one that has the possibility of enduring and is embodied in Close Sesame in the person of Deeriye. Maggi Phillips points out that Farah has modeled Deeriye on the parable of the “single old man among the

disbelievers” as articulated in Usef Ali, the third book of the Qur’an, written as follows: “[He] was just

a simple honest soul, but he heard and obeyed the call of the apostles and obtained the spiritual desire

for himself and did his best to obtain salvation for his people. For he loved his people and respected his ancestral traditions as far as they were good, but he had no hesitation in accepting the new Light when

it came to him (3.1176)” (Phillips 203). Deeriye’s conversion from a man of the faith who pursues a

non-violent and non-conflictual existence into a man who takes up the sword of justice is equated by Phillips with the conversion of the man in this parable to a new life in God. The connection Farah makes between Deeriye and the honest soul resembles the Prophet’s own conversion and steadfastness in the faith, for, as Phillips points out, “all are receptacles of God’s messages and all hold their submission to Allah as their most valued human trait. Consequently, Close Sesame reinvokes, if enigmatically and personally, the coming of God’s word to humankind” (203). Deeriye, then, in the role of the pious Muslim who observes the laws of God even until death, does not, like Kalaman, take the mandate to leave the community; instead, he dies for it, and in that case, most resembles the Mahdi after whom he has patterned himself. Deeriye has two significant encounters with divide-and-rule totalitarianism, and each time he is victorious in abiding by his principles. This brings hardship upon him and those he loves, however, including his wife, Nadiifa, and his children, Mursal and Zeinab, from whose childhood photographs he is conspicuously missing. His victories over the Italian colonial government and over the Somali neo- colonial government, as a result, can be considered spiritual rather than military, for in both cases, his holding true to his convictions causes him time in prison and does nothing to transform the government under which he lives or ameliorate the social conditions of the community of which he is a part. In the first encounter in 1934, Deeriye is a 22-year old leader of his clan who presides over an Italian inquiry of the whereabouts of a member of a neighbouring clan who killed an Italian in self-defence. He refuses to give up the man even though the Italians threaten death and destruction upon his tribe for non-compliance. Deeriye believes, though, that tribes do not matter as much as the idea of Somalis and that it is his social responsibility to protect his neighbour; consequently, he is forced to witness the destruction of the tribe’s cattle before he is incarcerated and later wonders whether “peace from a


superpower always mean that they would sweep clean your national resources and make you live on the dry sticks of famine and total economic and political dependence?” (128). In the second encounter in 1972, almost forty years later, he had arranged for a meeting with the general in order to tell him that “it was beastly to kill anyone for his or her opinions and we Somalis were known for tolerance of the ideas of others” and that “it was these alien advisers he encircled himself with who heavy-handedly were trying to make him appear a fool in the eyes of his and not their people” (211). He is incarcerated this time by a black rather than white government and is denied access to the Qur’an, something the Italians had afforded him in addition to the writings of Il Duce. He is offered, instead, The Collected Wisdom of the General, Volumes I & II, which he turns down. As a result of these incarcerations, Deeriye emerges from detention commanding a great deal of respect from the Somali people for he was “the only man [people] knew who was ready to die for his principles, the only man brave enough to stand up to and challenge naked terrorism or brutal force or injustice, the only man who staunchly believed in a national rather than trivial clannish politicking” (6-7). Those who most admire him are the youth, who seek out his company either to talk with him about their own ideals or just remain in his presence for a time absorbing his conviction and resoluteness. Even so, he is held in suspicion by the stipended tribal chieftains and is ultimately called before his own clan to answer charges that he may have been involved with his son’s plot to assassinate the General. Such a charge would have led to his excommunication from the clan, an eventuality that would have hurt his spirit even though he identified with national rather than tribal interests. The problem Deeriye sees in the government, as part of its being tribalist in a multi-tribal state, is that it does not share anything as a means of building bridges between people who call themselves Somalis. For social communion to be effective, a people must share knowledge of one another, and they must not be restricted from access to information necessary for them to understand each other’s needs. The General’s government is an example of “power prepared to protect power” by keeping “the populace underinformed” so they can be ruled, “keep[ing] them apart by informing them separately; build[ing] bars of ignorance around them, imprison[ing] them with shackles of uninformedness [so that] they are easy to govern; feed[ing] them with the wrong information, giv[ing] them poisonous bits of what does not count, a piece of gossip here, a rumour there, an unconfirmed report” (74). If the government controls the media and makes use of it only to transmit information, then the people in receipt of that information (or misinformation) have no productive control over their own dialogue. This affects not only the immediate community but also the way in which its future unfolds and its past is interpreted. Elmi-Tiir, Deeriye’s brother-in-law, replies to Deeriye’s idea that “messages that aren’t


delivered change the history of a people” with the thought that “so do messages that are distorted; lies that are fabricated to serve the vicious need to be wicked” (153). The people can be kept waiting for a newspaper to arrive at a stall or for a report to come onto the radio, and their dialogue in the meantime will be stale with talk of unconfirmed rumours around which it is impossible to define a resistance movement. Deeriye muses that when incidents occur, the government’s best formula is likely to just bide its time and inform the people of “the little that will misguide them, inform them wrongly, [and] make them suspect one another so that they will tell on one another” (74). For this reason, Deeriye does not like listening to the Somali radio or even the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Somali section, for both are tainted by the government’s censorship office. He reasons that those among the Somali people “who are polyglots can switch to the Arabic, the English or the Italian. But the common man in Mogadiscio, Kismayo, Baidoa or Hargeisa has no alternative but to listen to two radio stations, one in Mogadiscio and the other in London, whose relevance to the important news and events in Somalia is minimal” (73-4). The shades of Ngugi in this argument are apparent, but, unlike Ngugi, Farah is demonstrating the necessity of his people’s being educated not only in their own language and culture, but also in the languages and cultures of the world outside the box that is Somalia. The average person who is not encouraged to educate himself or herself on the cultures outside the tribe or in the languages outside the nation is left at the mercy of whatever he or she is fed, consumers of the misinformation of the leadership and the misunderstandings of their neighbors. Being a nationalist, then, means also understanding oneself in context with the world in which one lives. This lack of governmental encouragement for Somalis to grow beyond their paradigm is evidence that the divide and rule strategies of the General’s neo-colonial government mirror those of the foreign occupation under the Italians. Deeriye remembers when the Italians paid stipends to a handful of tribal chieftains in exchange for the chieftains pacifying their own people. When this method did not work, the Italians would resort to violence as in the case of their killing the livestock belonging to Deeriye’s tribe because he refused their request. He muses over the pacification method, which is to “bring in little in exchange for what you draw out in the form of exploitation; allow trade to flourish; create a class, an elite, and rule through them: classical methods which have worked over the years” (italics his, 79). A government of the people, for the people, and by the people would not be so monolithic in the way in which it handles them. It, in fact, would open itself to the idea of being informed by the people as to needs that could be aggressively pursued through the formation of collaborative partnerships that transcend tribal lines and are based on the actions of the people within the tribes rather than on the directives of the tribal leadership. Such a true democracy would edify rather than restrict


the people since, Phillips points out, it was in the nature of Somalis prior to occupation to seek communal consensus on all decisions. Zeinab notes, however, that the modern idea of democracy, a word added to the Somali Republic on the General’s rise to power, is actually “the instrument with which the elites whip the masses anywhere; it enables the ruling elite to detain some, impoverish others, and makes them the sole proprietors of power” (92), sole guardians of what is good and necessary for the people. The election process under the General’s regime is rigged with separate yes and no ballot boxes and boxes for state-sponsored candidates draped in flags while boxes for non-state- sponsored candidates are marked with the indication that only the enemies of the people need place their ballot therein. These problems within the government are what lead Deeriye to declare unreservedly, “We Africans did not struggle against the white colonialists only to be colonized yet again by black nincompoops” (93). As in the observation by Frantz Fanon, Deeriye sees the white masks on the black skins, and he knows, unlike the little boy who exclaimed that the emperor was naked, that he can just as easily go to jail again for mentioning it. The government by which Somalia is ruled is neo-colonial in all its features, misleading the masses in order to support the minority, going against national interests to support multinational corporations and research projects, and blaming nationalist activities on single tribes to isolate the people so they cannot unite. “Between national and colonial governments there is this major difference: the enemy is obvious, the nation’s priorities clear on one hand;” Deeriye reasons, “on the other hand, with national governments, things become unclear, priorities are confused. The enemy is within: a cankerous tumour. You die of it gradually; bloodless, pale and unmourned” (166). The only response to a situation like this is resistance, either passively or actively. Deeriye passively resisted when he refused to surrender the man the Italians wanted for murder and then waited for the Italian retaliation that destroyed his people’s livestock and put him in prison. He actively resisted when he told the General what he really thought of the man’s regime and the state of Somalia, an act which again put him in prison and caused another absence from his family. Deeriye is quoted by Zeinab, in fact, as having said that “the history worth studying is one of resistance, not capitulation” and that the “shaping force of” the lives of great men “has been resistance” (166). Resistance, moreover, is not only important under oppressive governments; it is also a natural response of humankind to environments that attempt to restrict it. This is why the hegemony of the state has to appear absolute for dictatorships to succeed even though resistance to those dictatorships will always be working to undermine totalitarian control. At one point, Deeriye wonders whether “Mahad’s soul would perhaps live in another: if not a Somali, then perhaps a Zulu struggling against the tyranny of apartheid, a Palestinian fighting for the principles of human


justice” (117). The answer is a foregone conclusion, for “life [is] made of encounters and departures:

the living dead meet the spiritually dead when both dwell in a tyrannical state” (117) and find common cause with the greater humanity’s desire to be free across cartographic contrivances, cultural liminalities, and diachronic measurements. Deeriye is capable of being both a Pan-Somalist and a Pan-Africanist because he believes the two ideas complement one another. Farah describes him as Pan-Somalist “because he was a Somali

nationalist and his hero and political mentor had been the Sayyid

Somali dispute with both Kenya and Ethiopia were settled to the satisfaction of the Somali people (not a Somali government), there would be no lasting peace in the Horn of Africa and the years would be littered with famines, droughts, conquests and re-conquests” (13). Farah describes him as Pan- Africanist “because he was a man who followed, with enthusiasm, all the liberation movements in

Africa; a man who believed that unless the southern portion of the continent were freed from the reactionary clutch of white racism, Africa might as well consider herself a colony” (13). To understand Deeriye’s convictions, however, it is important to understand not his nationalist position but his Islamic one. Deeriye, during his meeting with Rooble, posits that “one’s conscience is the lens which helps one to see, judge and then gives one enough confidence to press the button of one’s reason of being” (31). Ultimately, he is a man whose life is governed and structured by his prayers, and he takes the tenets of his faith rather than his politics as the means by which he might achieve a better society. Instead of injustices and human madness, “he would think of God; of prayers; of the divine will which held out a hand to him whenever he felt base and inhuman; of the vision and power which enabled him to identify the enemy within and helped him get rid of it” (4). He is attentively devoted to his prayers and interrupts his social interaction to participate in them. He is at his most authentic when praying his beads and reciting the Qur’anic verses:

who believed that unless the

O my Lord, great Thou art without a doubt, the greatest and most merciful and most

compassionate; welcome us, o Lord, allow us into the enclosure Thou art in, permit us to enter

Thy dwelling in tranquil peace. For Thou art a celebration and we, with every breath we receive

or emit, are mere manifestations of Thy existence. And Thou art our closest neighbour, our

protector; Thou art the provider of our needs and Thou art our need, our principal need; Thou

art the guide of our shaky visions, the honey-guide of our dreams. (3)

These prayers shape and reflect his entire worldview. He sees religious significance in the names of the four conspirators, even though they themselves are not strong Muslims, whose names he learns,

Mursal, Mahad, Mukhtaar (who claims to be the Mahdi when he reaches Deeriye on the telephone in


his attempt to convey news to Mursal), and Jibriil Mohammed-Somali, each carriers of “the message,” “the message of the Lord; the message of the revolution; the message of a future happier than the present we live in; the message of brotherhood and true peace” (153). Deeriye’s Islamic heritage has taught him that the brotherhood of man does not stop when the tribe becomes the nation but continues beyond the nation’s becoming the people of the world and of God. Seeing God’s message in everything he does is part of Deeriye’s general response to the brotherhood of humanity taught by Islam, and aside from holding these convictions and viewing life through the lens of a devout Muslim, Deeriye actually practices what he believes. When he realizes he has been wrong, he seeks to rectify it immediately. In one instance, he clasps the knees of his son’s wife, Natasha, and humbles himself to ask her forgiveness for treating her, though a white American and a Jew, as an outsider. After this, “he felt like one who had said a most divine prayer” (209). When Elmi-Tiir, his brother-in-law, learns that Deeriye had begged forgiveness of Natasha, moreover, he calls him a saint (209-10). Deeriye forgives the General and does not, unlike his son, wish the man any harm. He tells Elmi-Tiir, “I wish him the best of health. I wish him a long life” (211), indicating he harbors no animosity toward the man for that would indicate that his heart is filled with hate. He believes that hope is to be found in the greater community of the faithful, and from the young age at which he was first taken by the Italians, he had “a mind determined to serve the needs of the immediate family and those of the larger community” (32). He invites the young to join him in his prayers though he knows they are not religious. That he continues to do all these things in spite of the fact that fewer of his community engage in an active practice of their faith makes him all the more sanctified in the role of the Mahdi. The paradox of his society is that while Islam is the defining faith, it is practiced by fewer and fewer people. Trimingham confirms this by writing that “there are those in Africa to whom Islam as a spiritual and moral force is becoming irrelevant to life, who at the same time retain full loyalty to Islam as the cultural environment to which they belong” (125). In the case of Mursal and Zeinab, who do not attend Mosque and are not depicted within the text as valuing the practice of their faith, they are no less Muslim for their secularization. Trimingham explains this by adding that there is a gradual recession of the Islamic people’s religious roots with the distance between practiced faith and lived experience becoming greater. “Islam,” he argues, “whilst continuing to influence deeply individual lives, will gradually cease to have the profound effect it formerly exercised over vast ranges of people” (125), so that the future of the faith “depends upon the forging of a new form of relatedness between religion and life different from anything known in the past” (125). This makes sense in context


with Farah’s worldview, which is to forge a new heaven onto the new earth through a living and practiced social eschatology. For all his saintliness, however, Deeriye is also very politically practical and proves himself a round character in his gradual shift towards the views of Mursal and his co-conspirators. Like them, he adopts the concept of lex talionis, which is the eye-for-an-eye law practiced by the Sayyid. Deeriye indicates to Elmi-Tiir in the same breath he used to wish the General the best of health and a long life, “I do not spare those who do not spare my life and those of my children and my friend. Although it must be said that I have less respect for those who have served him and allowed him to humiliate them by humouring him, by clapping applauses of praises and by hiding in the safety of a clowning crowd” (211). This realization that he would seek a private justice in a blood feud indicates a shift in attitude from his first conversation with Mursal where he expresses “that he would never make use of violent means to overthrow a tyrannical regime” even though “he could see himself justifying, intellectually speaking, any mind which moved in this general direction of violence” (11). It is his shift in attitude that eventually leads him to attempt the lex talionis in the name of justice when he takes Jibriil Mohammed-Somali’s revolver to the General’s doorstep, for “the General uses the authority of a nation-state, of which he is now head in view of his military take-over, and lays this belabouredly on the structures of a clannishly ruled state” (173). He admits, “If I had a gun, a revolver, any weapon. I could kill to vindicate not my son but justice” (218). It is the attack against justice, then, that causes him to modify his views, and his attempt on the life of the General is a nationalist response against tribal tyranny. What has for so long forestalled his engagement in this kind of private justice, which is largely a tribalist means of exacting recompense of members of another tribe, is his faith in God’s salvific plan for the transcendent community. It was his adherence to his view of the transcendent community that brought on the attack by the Italians and his first incarceration, after all, and for him to go back on that view would have made his stand less meaningful. It was this attack, moreover, that demonstrated the grace of God as a palpable substance working through him, for it signified “the first time Deeriye had crossed the known, tactile world into one in which he could have visions, could hear prophecies, communicate with the beyond and reach out to and receive the guiding voices of other visionaries” (37). God’s messenger initiated him into the life of the visionary and confirmed for him his role within the community as he “had been kneeling down, saying one prayer after another, when he heard a voice call to him, a male voice from somewhere outside of himself and which told him to persevere, hold on to his principle” (37-8). Having been told he was right by God himself through the messenger God sent


as an intermediary, Deeriye could follow no other path – the way to salvation was through love of one’s neighbor, and one’s neighbor was humanity as a whole. It is for this reason that he can be both a pan-Somalist and a pan-Africanist, that he can transcend

pettiness in his relations with others even when he has reason to hate the circumstances or situations in which they place him. It is not for nothing, moreover, that one ought to seek one’s community and embrace neighborliness with the best one had to offer, for it was your neighbours who were first intimated of your ill health; it was your neighbours whose fire lit your hearth; it was your fire’s ember which hid the secrets of your neighbour’s cold fears when you buried it at night, just before you went to sleep. And one referred to as one’s neighbour anyone, man, woman or child, whose dwelling fell within a forty-house radius

but then one’s neighbour was generally one’s relation.

of yours – in all seven directions


In cases where one’s neighbour is not one’s relation, it is not difficult to extend this philosophy to neighbouring villages or tribes, for all the variables still apply. Had Deeriye allowed the neighbouring tribe to suffer under the Italians without taking a stand, his tribe’s turn would have certainly come under the divide and rule methods of the occupation forces. While the greater humanity of whom these tribes are comprised makes up Deeriye’s concept of neighbour, the leaders of these tribes are people with whom Deeriye must condescend to associate, for he does not respect their life choices. He calls them “Bringers-about-of peace, as the General’s euphemism has it, but all they stand for are the principles of others – and only if they are paid something, if they are made stipended tribal chieftains, traitors that they are” (98). They are clannish and not nationalist as is Deeriye, and their chief concerns lie in the filling of their own gullets. Upon meeting with this group at a café for the purpose of gathering information about the resistance movement, he reflects, “Friendship is a very complicated organizational concept of self- and group-definition: and I would define myself out of this lot; any day” (italics his, 99), the essence of a healthy friendship being autonomy and blamelessness within the self- defined group (126), neither of which virtues is possessed by any of the assembled. Deeriye knows that [t]hese men existed on their own, they were real as pain: they were the products of a neo- colonial system. You found the likes of them all over Africa, the Middle East and Asia: old men who employed the power of tradition and the trust of their own people in order to support and justify a non-traditional authoritarian head of state; the same men who served the colonial governments were now serving these dictatorships or authoritarian regimes. (103-4)


In that regard, these men have no sense of social responsibility or purpose beyond their own interests, which means that none of them have ever defined themselves as Somalis and that dispersion can be cast on their having defined themselves as members of the tribes they lead. This is because responsibility for one’s role within the group can be taken only when one defines oneself within the group, and the fact that Deeriye has not yet defined himself out of this particular group of tribal leaders means that he is still willing to keep the channels of communication open with those who have the power if not the will or ability to begin the process of reconciliation between a nationalist government and the people (not necessarily the tribal structures) that government ought to support. Deeriye later returns to this concept, thinking that friendship is not only a concept of group definition, “but it is also one of self-denial, taking upon oneself the responsibility for the others, one of self-sacrifice” (125). This will later prove a prescient thought as Deeriye takes the burden of his son’s mission upon himself in the pursuit of justice. That Deeriye holds the idea of neighbourliness in high value is evidenced by the fact that he notices that Cigaal is an unneighbourly neighbour, having sold out to the General to seek his own advantage. Not only does Cigaal lack that which makes a good neighbour, we find that lack also in his offspring, in the palpable form of his grandson, even, a boy named Yassin (like Deeriya’s favorite sura, Ya-Sin). At the thought of Yassin, in fact, Deeriye becomes afraid to go outside because he fears fear – specifically, he fears Yassin’s pelting him with stones. At the time, Deeriye had no justification for this fear outside of the fact that Yassiin had once stoned the madman Khaliif. In exposing himself to being stoned, Deeriye, whose name has the dual connotations of excommunicated (deero) and “the one who offers warmth” (diiriye), would be opening himself up to the possibility that he, too, might be mad and is, above all, afraid of being associated with madness. Phillips writes, “The novel’s polemic on madness includes religious and cosmological explanations of the condition that may be marked by two complementary attributes: madness enables communication to occur between spiritual and earthly worlds; and in specifically Arabic terms, ‘all people who receive wisdom from the mouths of the mad remain sane’ (Jaggi 1989, 182)” (200). It is for these reasons that grown men do not stone the mad even though children do, and also why no one removes Khaliif from the neighborhood or tries to put him in jail. Considering that Khaliif is always shouting in the direction of Cigaal’s house, Deeriye speculates on the value of a neighbour, who, “according to Islamic thought, is one’s closest and therefore first protector. God is our neighbour. A wife is a man’s neighbour. The husband, the wife’s” (60). Because being a neighbour is most easily associated with what is not being a neighbour, Deeriye’s thoughts move fluidly from the positive identification of a neighbour to the negative, “These wicked


unneighbourly neighbours: I am afraid of stepping out of the house for I see below me, lurking in the background of my reasoned out fears, an urchin waiting to pelt me with stones” (60). Not to be a neighbour, then, is to be an outcast, is to lose one’s sense of place within the societal construct into which he or she was born, is to expose oneself to ridicule and death. To be a neighbour, by extension, would then mean to protect other neighbours, even those who sin against one as Deeriye does with Yassiin who successfully accomplishes his mission with a rock against Deeriye’s head. After Deeriye is struck by the stone, he draws the link between Mahad’s failed attempt to strike the dictator and Yassin’s successful attempt to strike him. As Yassin is the only one in the vicinity and the only one with a noticeable stockpile of rocks, Deeriye would be right to assume as events later bear out that Yassin is the culprit; however, he is hesitant to blame the boy. Preceding Zeinab’s response that Yassin “is surely Satan in the flesh” (68), Deeriye says, “Mysterious devil- tossed xaleef-stones strike one, every now and then” (68). He does not, furthermore, want to prosecute the boy, for two reasons, the first being because he did not see him throw the rock and the second being that “the political consequences would be so great we would not be able to handle it with grace” (71). The political consequences of which he speaks are part of his view of Yassin’s grandfather, Cigaal, as an unneighbourly neighbour, for Cigaal earned that reputation by being an Italian collaborator and traitor to his friends, “some of whom were said to have died under torture later” (68). Cigaal’s son was a felon, his daughter, the mother of Yassin, of questionable moral character, and his wife a noisy woman with a wicked tongue. They were so outcast that “believing the family was evil, everybody avoided contact with them” (68). Even so, Deeriye is willing to forgive Yassin, and this alone refutes the intention of the stone, for madmen cannot forgive since they do not have the ability to reason the difference between right and wrong. In this denigration of Cigaal’s family through the telling of its history, Farah sets up a dichotomy that explores the difference between Cigaal’s lineage that produced nothing but evil and Deeriye’s that has produced nothing but good in order to demonstrate how good should respond to the evil within its midst. Deeriye explains that there are a great many religious significances to stones and that “in the Islamic concept in which you take refuge when you curse the devil is the keyword ‘rajiim’ which defines Satan as the stoned one” (62). He then references two images of stones and breath but sees the stone imagery as contradictory in the Qur’an because while they are “symbolically vital to the practical and metaphorical expression of Islamic sanctity,” the idea of stone “is identified with Satan or jinn and other creatures who err from correct conduct” as manifest in Satan’s having been stoned out of heaven. Not only is the devil cursed with stones, but objects designed to represent the devil, that, in effect, take


upon themselves the sins of mankind, are also cursed with stones such as the stoning of stone pillars as part of the ritual purifications of the hajj. There is also a significance applied to who stones whom, and this is the real cause of Deeriye’s fear of Yassin. “Madmen, with whom a saintliness of a kind is associated, are stoned by children – but not by adults; for in children, in a manner of speaking, dwells the divided and unseasoned man or woman” (62). Yassin’s stones, therefore, make Deeriye fearful of being assumed mad, of being assumed cursed by the devil, a pronouncement upon Deeriye’s family that Khaliif the madman eventually makes about Mursal’s betrayal of his friends. The idea of being cursed by the devil, furthermore, is that of the outcast, for “nobody ever stones the object of one’s love” (62), Deeriye explains. He adds, “What is loved, what is expensive and what is worshipped: you do not pelt these with stones. This seems to me to be the moral, if there is one” (62). What is not loved, cheap, and not worshipped, by contrast, is pelted with stones. The moral of which Deeriye speaks, then, is that his fear is falling out of favor with God and having God tell him so through the arm of a young child with a stone. In spite of his fear of falling out of God’s favor, Deeriye provides Islam with a model of grace, of God’s activity working through the human person, which exhorts all Muslims to respond to all situations with grace as part of their lived experience of faith. Deeriye comforts himself, in fact, with the thought that the crow, which “used to be worshipped once even by Somalis” and from which they derived their word for prayer and developed, out of the sound that it makes, their word for God, is also stoned. This indicates for Deeriye that “to throw a stone at a crow is, for a Somali, to admit that there is an unconscious and primitive reversal of where we stand” (62). It is on this, in fact, that Yassin defends his action, arguing that he thought he saw an owl, rather than a crow, on the roof above Deeriye’s head and took aim and missed. That this is likely not the course of events is not the point. Yassin’s declaration that “Xaaji Deeriye is like my grandfather; he is not Khaliif, a madman; nor is he a beggar, nor a dog” (78) is a sort of ablution, however, for Deeriye has already proven this by following his own advice to Samawade who asks what one ought to do when one is being cursed: “Don’t do the thing for which you are being cursed” (137). That this advice will be useful to Samawade is due to its eschatological character, for it is written in the third sura that part of submitting oneself to God is to “let there be one Community among you, inviting men to good, bidding to honor, rejecting what is disapproved; such are those who prosper. And be not as those who divided and fell into disagreement after the clear signs had come to them; for them there is a mighty punishment” (3:104-5) (Ali 7-8). A living eschatology, then, means doing what one can to heal the community in times of rift, and this seems to contrast with Deeriye’s later resolution to assassinate the General. It can be argued,


nonetheless, that Deeriye has already tried to reason with the man, and he feels, in dying, that this could be his final effort to bring peace to his people – after all, Khaliif was not cursing his son’s house for the attempt on the General but for betrayal to the cause. To effect the shift from the intellectual understanding of violence in vindication of one’s neighbour to a personal involvement in that violence, Deeriye would have needed two things to occur, the first being a conscious identification of the lex talionis with his transcendent nationalism and the second being a message from God requesting that he make a stand against an unpardonable injustice. Both are in his hands from the beginning of the novel in the form of his favourite poem of the Sayyid, entitled “The Death of Corfield,” and in his favourite Qur’anic Sura, the Ya-Sin, which is in part a description of the eschatological promise. In the first instance, the Sayyid practiced the lex talionis and actually called for it “within the Daraawiish. Whoever wronged among the Daraawiish had to face the ‘you defied’ (waad xujowday) provision,” according to Issa-Salwe, who adds that “this code of rules was completely alien to the Somali practice of treating crime according to clan context.” When the General executes Deeriye’s son, then, Deeriye is able to open himself to the idea of blood vengeance in accord with the dictates of his own national (and nationalist) hero. In the second instance, the 36 th sura called Ya-Sin, in which the eschatological vision is provided to the effect that the wicked who ridiculed the messengers will go straight to the devil while the righteous who upheld their vision will go straight to paradise. According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, “This sura is considered to be ‘the heart of the Qur’an’, as it concerns the central figure in the teaching of Islam and the central doctrine of Revelation and the Hereafter. As referring to the Hereafter, it is appropriately read in solemn ceremonies after death” (1116). It has already been discussed how Mursal and his collaborators are believed by Deeriye to be messengers of God, but the coup de grace for Deeriye comes when he is visited by the vision of his dead wife who exhorts him to finish Mursal’s work with the certain promise that he will at least avoid an anonymous death and all the sooner be able to join her in paradise upon his martyrdom. It is Nadiifa, in fact, who provides the final rationale for Deeriye’s change of heart as she explains, “It seems you cannot envisage being on your knees all the time, seeking Natasha’s pardon day in and day out. It is as simple as that. The point is, you ask yourself, how you can make allies of all those who should’ve been your enemies when you are on your knees – in need of being given a pardon” (226). Nadiifa concludes by promising, “I am here, awaiting your arrival, I am the houri assigned to you – on earth as well as in paradise” (italics his, 227). The transformation from a man of peace (a word that always made Deeriye want to reach for his gun) to the instrument of God, in the light of both these points, becomes viable in the context of the story.


To understand what Deeriye must realize is in it for him, the key continues to be found in the sura Ya-Sin, which explains that “if the Most Gracious willed any harm for me,” the intercession of false idols, or ideologies, as the case may be, “cannot help me one bit, nor can they rescue me” (verse 23); likewise, if the Most Gracious were to will that a person engage in an activity, that person’s inaction would only harm the relationship he or she has with God. Even in death, then, God takes care of his own, for it is written in verse 12 that “We will certainly revive the dead, and we have recorded everything they have done in this life, as well as the consequences that continue after their death.” On the day the horn of judgment blows, furthermore, “no soul will be wronged in the least” (verse 54), and all those who submitted themselves to the will of God will “abide with their spouses in beautiful shade, enjoying comfortable furnishings. They will have fruits therein; they will have anything they wish” (verses 56 and 57). The alternative to life everlasting is eternal damnation, brought onto people who allow themselves to be misled by the devil, who do not open themselves to the activity of God to work within and through them. “On that day,” the sura promises, “we will seal their mouths; their hands and feet will bear witness to everything they had done. If we will, we can veil their eyes and, consequently, when they seek the path, they will not see. If we will, we can freeze them in place; thus, they can neither move forward, nor go back” (verses 65-7). To avoid this fate, the believer need only open himself to “the One in whose hand is the sovereignty over all things, and to Him you will be returned” (84). Deeriye, with prayer beads possibly entangling his revolver, answers the call, and it is not so important that he fails in his mission but that he takes a stand against tyranny, against the closed system of clannishness in support of his God who transcends tribalism and calls for all men to be brothers in the faith. His last lucid act of which the reader is made aware involves his saying of a prayer while standing “before the closed door [of the Generals house] and look[ing] up at the openings in the heavens, wondering if his soul, when it parted with his body, would enter by one of them” (235). In that act, he is offering himself up to God, to the greater community of God’s faithful on earth, and to his own conscience as the Mahdi of his generation.

D. Conclusion

Farah’s exploration of an applied eschatology throughout his writings is one that both matches the socialist goals for which he strives in the building of a nationalist Somalia on an Africanist continent and complements the tenets of Islamic eschatology in the building of a kingdom of God through the reformation of human communities on earth. As Ana quotes Bukhari in the hadith, the Prophet said,


“Help your brother Muslim whether he be the oppressor or the oppressed.” To this, the people asked, “Messenger of God, if he is oppressed we shall aid him, but how shall we aid him if he is the oppressor?” The Prophet replied, “Prevent him from oppressing” (10-1). In everything that Farah writes, he articulates this theme in his effort to expose oppression for what it is and, like Khaliif, shout through his writings at the neo-colonial dictatorship that oppresses his people in the name of socialist progress.

Chapter V: The African Eschatology of Ayi Kwei Armah in Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers

Ayi Kwei Armah’s eschatological vision uses neither Christianity nor Islam as its foundation; instead, it is based on the traditional African vision of what Armah calls “the way of reciprocity.” The African “way” is described by Anoa in Two Thousand Seasons as a “giving, but only to those from whom we receive in equal measure” and a “receiving, but only from those to whom we give in reciprocal measure” (27). Because Armah believes that it is only through reciprocity that peoples can live harmoniously with one another, he has no room in his eschatological vision for Muslims, whom he calls predators, and Christians, whom he calls destroyers. Neither faith, Armah demonstrates, has dealt reciprocally with its African hosts even at times in the African past when the social structures of African peoples most closely resembled the hierarchical structures of the foreign dominating powers. 16 For that reason, Armah poses this third way between the Scylla and Carybdis of the occupying religions, which is a rejection even of the augury and ceremony of traditional African religions, in his formulation of a kind of African socialism in which all people comprise a single, cohesive, and whole society instead of the fragmented shards into which the larger society has long been splintered. Armah’s desire is one that seeks the kingdom of heaven for the living in place of the foreign model that seems to seek it only for the dead. As Armah demonstrates in his novels Two Thousand Seasons (1973) and The Healers (1978), moreover, there is a rich complexity to African narratives that is not wholly defined by their attraction to and repulsion from foreign invasion. The cultural identity of the African people lies, rather, in their inherent desire to look inwards to the wholeness of community rather than outwards to that which is divisive in order to be reborn united in the way of reciprocity that shaped and healed them for the many millennia before Islam or Christianity settled among them.

A. Armah’s Eschatological Vision

Armah’s assessment of the relationship between the Abrahamic religions and African culture has been qualified by Sulayman Nyang. Nyang cites Fr. Mveng of Cameroon’s argument that indeed the

16 While Armah’s focus in both 2000 Seasons and The Healers is on the remnant of society that resists domination, the Asante had their own model of hierarchical kingship that is shown to collaborate with the British invaders when it is convenient or expedient since oppressors, regardless of who they are, always seek oppressive means. The setting for the present-time action in both novels is around the year 1874 and the years preceding that date. This is the year the British occupied Kumasi, the Asante capital (“History of Ghana”), the dramatization of which occurs in The Healers.


Church in Africa did not adhere to Christ’s message in its early period of missionary work. Nyang believes that the Church will, nonetheless, be beneficial to Africa in the long run. Paraphrasing Mveng, Nyang clarifies the incipient problem by explaining that “[r]ather than deal with the African personality and encourage a dialogue between such a personality and the Church of Christ, many of these early missionaries wanted to destroy the African personality before embarking upon the teaching of the Christian message” (2-3). The practice of inculturation, which is the articulation of the Gospel message as it is already manifest within the culture being evangelized, was replaced with a policy of cultural denigration resulting from racist deficit theories. The worldview missionary schools tried to establish within the minds of the African youth included not only Christian indoctrination but also a sense of the African’s ‘proper’ place within that religious framework as subordinate to the place held by white Europeans. Fr. Mveng labels the result of missionary instruction a depersonalization of the African self that provoked a ‘crisis of identity’ as the values toward which Africans were being instructed conflicted greatly with their ‘traditional patrimony of culture’ (Nyang 3). In spite of the problems caused by the inequalities of the relationship between the proselytizing Europeans and the proselytized Africans, Nyang feels that the encounter is meaningful and beneficial because it does contain reciprocity. The Africans will benefit from the eschatological vision of the West, and the West will benefit from that which the Africans have to offer to civilization, which is “the spirit of cultural tolerance in a world of ethnic diversity” (Nyang 9). Nyang explains this spirit is comprised of “the capacity for suffering, the capability to co-exist in a highly diverse cultural world, and the unflagging belief in the spiritual continuity of physical life” (Nyang 10). That reciprocity is possible between the colonizers and the colonized makes of Africa a producer of world civilization rather than merely a consumer. While Nyang proposes a viable argument given the historical circumstances with which he is dealing, his reasoning is flawed if viewed through the lens that Armah has provided his readers. Nyang rests his argument on the foundation of reciprocity, but he couches it in terms of Africans having a solid contribution to make to world civilization and that their doing so will help shape human relationships on a global scale enabling them to give something back of what they have themselves received. As long as African nations suffer from the legacy of colonialism, as evidenced by their neocolonial governments, African peoples will always have an unequal relationship with a dominant power, and inequality is not a hospitable environment for the breeding of reciprocity. Africa, as a socio-political entity is, in fact, a creation of Europe, so it is only natural that the governmental structures still bounded by borders established by Europeans to demarcate their own spheres of


influence would have more in common with European systems than with African. Systems, furthermore, are developed for particular reasons, and the nascent reasons for the development of African governing structures was to facilitate the exploitation of the human and material resources of each region for the purpose of enriching the colonial power back in its home base. When Africans gained control of those systems and formed neocolonial alliances with their former colonizers, the exploitation of the people continued through the same channels as before; in addition to continuing to enrich the former colonizers, the new African class also enriches itself. The African capacity for suffering, the African ability to socially co-exist, and the African belief in a realized spiritual continuity cannot equitably respond to a situation in which exploitation continues to be the reason for government, and without equity, there is no reciprocity. Of the three characteristics of Africans that Nyang feels are valid contributions to global society, only the belief in a realized spiritual continuity, in an undying hope of a better physical world to come brought about by an adherence to the way of reciprocity, is authentically derived from African cultural identity. The capacity for suffering and ability to socially co-exist are circumstantial characteristics that find their roots in the constant pressures placed upon the people by foreign encroachment. The same could, therefore, be said for the Native Americans, the Jews, the Irish, or any other long oppressed people in past or present memory. Because the state of oppression creates transitory identities, furthermore, only a partial cultural identity can be observed by looking at it through the present tense. Stuart Hall explains that cultural identity is a “matter of ‘becoming’ as well as being” that “belongs to the future as much as to the past” (394). For that reason it cannot be ascertained by the present tense but by a holistic understanding of the transformation of a people’s situation-in-life over a fourth dimensional viewpoint – from its origins to its eschaton in time and space. Hall adds that cultural identities are never “fixed in some essentialised past” or “ground in mere ‘recovery’ of the past, which is waiting to be found” in order to “secure our sense of ourselves into eternity” but “are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power” and “are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past” (394). A people, in short, is greater than its historical moments of oppression and its historical moments of oppressiveness. Every people has within itself the power to self-actualize, which means to engage in meaningful social communion with its own members and with other peoples, and this is a result of the humanity’s resilience. In addition, Nyang’s qualification is meant to refer only to the relationships Africans have had with European foreigners, for Nyang believes that the African encounter with Islam was reciprocal and


healthy even if Armah disagrees by labeling the Islamic movement into Africa as predatory and exploitative. Trimingham explains the Islamic and Christian encounters as being different in their inculturative method, for Islam sought a brotherhood while Christianity sought a paternalism, leading “the African and Islamic elements [to be] closely integrated in traditional Afro-Islamic culture [and] the new elements from Western culture [to be] kept rigidly apart” (Influence 111). It was only through Europe’s explorations and exploitations, in fact, that Africa was ripped apart and reconstructed in the image of the Western nation-state (2), Nyang explains, and this was due to the fact that the various European countries began their colonization as a consequence of state-building as they expanded into a global arena for resource acquisition in their desire to outflank one another at home. That this has had such ramifications for modern Africa is due, largely, to its having happened so recently in African history that Africa herself is still trying to heal from the loss of her traditional governing systems. The African people find themselves displaced in their own homeland, forced to pledge their allegiance to national governments more concerned with their own interests than with those of the people whom they govern and couched within a global context that continues to extract the most valuable African resources, both human and material, while offering little in return. That Islamic culpability is consciously not part of Nyang’s viewpoint likely has a lot to do with his own Muslim background, but his focus is not to lay blame with any one religious affiliation; it is, rather, to demonstrate the process by which Africa was partitioned in modern times. It could be argued that the Arabian peninsula simply did not establish colonial networks for the enrichment of its home capitals in the same systematic and exploitative way as the Europeans, and this made the Islamic encounter with Africa an authentic form of proselytism. Islam set about to share not only its traditions and culture with sub-Saharan Africa, but it also endeavored to indigenize viable Muslim communities that could develop reciprocal relationships with one another. Nyang, indeed, believes that the Abrahamic tradition as a whole is not only beneficial for Africa but can also “be reconciled with the traditional African’s view of life, provided that we allow African man’s resilience to take its course” (86). Whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, the Abrahamic tradition came from outside of Africa and became indigenized over time. That this process happened to occur synchronously with European expansion is something Africans will have to get beyond if they are to engage in the reconciliation process because the Abrahamic tradition is richer and more meaningful than the historical context in which it was transmitted. To engage the tradition, the African has to understand only two things – one is that each branch of the tradition itself is a three-part evolutionary process.


The first claims for its members the exclusive status of historical and transhistorical importance denied to all other humans; the second, on the other hand, claims for itself the privilege of being the blessed community that testifies before all men the fact that God Himself came in the person of Jesus Christ to save humanity; and yet the third claims that its prophet was the last and that the community he founded was honored by Allah to assume the Adamite title of Caliph (God’s Viceregent) on earth. (86) Not only has each of the succeeding faiths developed in part from the foundation of its predecessor, each is continuously evolving within its own discursive structure. Another is that this evolutionary process finds its completion and fruitfulness only if the African “acts out his new faith and rituals within the framework of tolerance that several thousand years of experimentation with the old religion has brought about” (86-7), for the spirit of tolerance between the religions, brought about by the give and take nature of reciprocity, is the most important contribution Africans might give. The reason that Africans remain so capable of injecting a spirit of tolerance within the Abrahamic tradition lies in the fact that even though they lost their own systems of governance along with every other aspect of their political and economic autonomy, they managed to maintain their indigenous culture (Mazrui The Africans 20). In articulating this point, Mazrui uses as evidence the fact that imported institutions have a shallowness to them which, he believes, is due not to the institutions themselves but to the “culture gap between new structures and ancient values, between alien institutions and ancestral traditions” (20). As Armah demonstrates through narrative reasoning, the idea of centralized, hierarchical governing structures is alien to the reciprocity of the way even when derived from within the tribes themselves; a foreign imposition would, therefore, be especially alienating because the culture, if not the social structure, would rebel against its being used only as a means by which to further the ends of another. The fact that colonial government arrived on the coattails of Western missionary activity, moreover, tainted the proselytism of Christianity as a means by which the colonialists were able to dominate the region, for Africans saw the same institutionalism of religion as they saw with that of government. Salvation was through the Church alone, and he who rebelled against the Church on his way to rebelling against the institution of colonialism rebelled also against God. Traditional African religion, on the other hand, did not need an intermedial institution by which to approach the Creator – an intimate relationship between humankind and God already existed for them. The spiritual relationship between Africans and their environment is entirely relational as reciprocity is sought within all elements of life, and this leads Mbiti to identity African morality as essentially more


societary than spiritual, arguing that “it is a morality of ‘conduct’ rather than a morality of ‘being.’” (ARP 214). Theodicy is thus explained extrinsically, in terms of man’s actions towards others rather than intrinsically, in terms of man’s nature. Western exploitation of human and material resources created a great problem, then, for reciprocity between humankind and its environment because the lack of reciprocity exhibited by the invaders corrupted all relationships between persons, and the replacement of the African Creator who sought balance with the Christian one who seemed to ignore it exacerbated relations between Africans and Europeans. To have maintained a functional dialogue with traditional African beliefs, the Christian Church would have had to authentically engage in a program of inculturation, realizing that the Africans would have had a better chance of seeing themselves in the Christian context had reciprocity been respected by those purporting an evangelical belief in the Christian worldview. The fact that such an event did not occur is seen by Fr. Mveng as a crisis, the only way out of which is a return to African traditions, where “Africa agrees to become Christian insofar as Christianity agrees to become African” (qtd. in Nyang, 3). Agreeing to become African means maintaining a constant dialogue with the divine powers – living harmoniously with the natural world and in a state of reciprocity with the elements that govern it. Nyang views the concept most key to understanding traditional African thought as what he calls the “cosmic schizophrenic tendencies of man” (20), by which he means that traditional African man sees himself as a citizen of three different worlds at the same time. This is to say that he lives in (a) the world of concrete reality, (b) the world of social values, and (c) the world of ineffable self-consciousness. The first world is that of man, trees, stars, inanimate objects and phenomena. The second is that of values governing the mental and spiritual processes of man and his community. The third is the world of unreachable and inexpressible spiritual powers. (20) The missionary vision of the early colonialists saw this central concept as obstructive rather than meaningful to their efforts to convert to the Christian worldview, and in their seeking to impose Christianity on the Africans they encountered they started by trying to replace the old traditions rather than trying to use them as means by which to share their faith. The hierarchical cosmology that Nyang is describing in the West African context, it is important to note, is different from the one earlier posited by Mbiti for the pan-African context. Nyang, in fact, believes that Mbiti was misled into denying an indefinite future sense because of the overemphasis, which Nyang calls an “ontological emphasis,” Africans have on social values and the traditions of their ancestors (21). There is a future sense, Nyang argues, based on social realities rather than on


eschatological ones of resurrection and salvation, and it is on this point that both agree. Had teleological eschatology been Christianity’s only contribution to traditional African religions, it would have had an enormous impact on the anthropocentric cosmologies of the people, for it would have given them an ontological purpose beyond their social realities without taking away from them the harmony with which they interact with their environment. The West did not invest the effort in learning that the Christian eschatological vision when placed within an African context would have been meaningful in strengthening the relational experience between Africans and their ancestors rather than in diminishing it. As Maquet describes, “In Africa, death means the disappearance of a being whose ultimate reality is entirely relative to entities that existed before it and will exist after it: the lineage, the society, the world. Herein lies true reality, not in the individual. The African is never wholly separated from these entities while he is alive, and he does not see his death as a total breach with them” (Maquet 65). The way of reciprocity would have had its own revival in the rebalancing of anthropocentric social realities with Christocentric eschatological ones, and the West would have itself benefited from this understanding since the Christian faith is inherently also a relational one. Nyang believes that it is not too late for this to happen and argues African religious tolerance and social harmony need only embrace the Abrahamic tradition for Africans to make a substantive contribution to humankind’s sense of place in the cosmos. Likewise, Abrahamic religions “must cultivate this language of Africa if they are to fulfill their mission in both Africa and the modern world” (Nyang 87). The transformation brought about by Abrahamic eschatology and African reciprocity would strengthen both and engender a more cooperative global community in the interactions between its peoples. Ali Mazrui, who understands that a seed’s germination is accomplished at the expense of its decay, has proposed in The Africans two broad principles that he believes should direct African social reform, one being “the imperative of looking inwards towards ancestry,” and the other “the imperative of looking outward towards the wider humanity” (21). In Two Thousand Seasons, Armah demonstrates a strong desire to pursue only the first of these goals, for he feels that ‘the wider humanity’ has already adversely affected both ancestry and progeny. Isadore Okpewho finds Armah’s attitude in this intemperate, for he believes that Armah ignores the social stratification evidenced by Africans themselves in their own oral tradition (5). The fact is, however, that Armah does not so much ignore African social stratification as much as he blames the model established for it on outside influences. It is that, more than anything else, that prevents Armah from authentically ‘looking outward towards the wider humanity’ as it is in the interaction with that wider humanity that Armah finds fault. This is enough, however, for Okpewho to label Armah a Marxist for his anti-elitist reading of African oral


tradition in his novel, which, Okpewho admits, is “largely a condemnation of the system of privileges that has infiltrated traditional African society under corrupt foreign influences (9). A new society, as far as Armah is concerned, would reclaim a productive role in its own development by first using the nascent strengths of Africans themselves to heal the wounds inflicted on it by both Muslims and Christians. Only then, from a position of social autonomy, would viable (that is, reciprocal) relationships with the wider humanity be possible. A rejection of the tenets of Islam and of Christianity in preference to the ‘way of reciprocity’ carries with it a rejection of both Islamic and Christian eschatologies by which both the future and the past have been defined. This is a different kind of rejection than that of Ngugi who began in the Christian context or Farah who began in the Muslim because each of them had set out to deal only with the eschatological context within which he was born. In pursuit of a realized eschatology derived from traditional African culture, Armah is in a position to strike out against both religious constructs, which means he not only has to, like Ngugi, articulate a future vision for his people but also has to, like Farah, engage in a search for origins, for a past that presupposes the direction in which its future is heading. Armah’s vision in both Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers is a vision of the past as it approaches the present, but within the myth of a people’s quest for reciprocity that he relates, he is able to engage in prophesy through the voices of seers like Anoa, who envision a divided people as a people who will lose the way until their remembrance of who they are brings them back together as one. For twice as long as two thousand seasons, in fact, the African people did not receive as much as they gave, and this, according to Maquet, has led to an uneven balance sheet and a cultural isolation that, while it “enabled Africanity to ripen, consolidate and differentiate itself from other cultural worlds of the same order,” was very costly in terms of developing relationships with the outside world and sharing technological innovation over time, “[f]or cultures are enriched much more by borrowing than by invention” (32). For a people to thrive, it must come to understand itself holistically, from beginning to end; understanding itself fractionally, as foreign oppressors have encouraged it to do, will cause it to shrivel and die.

B. Two Thousand Seasons

Two Thousand Seasons begins with a discussion of origins, as Armah writes that “a people losing sight of origins are dead” (italics his, xiii), and of ends, as Armah follows the thought a sentence later with “a people deaf to purposes are lost” (italics his, xiii). The path of the novel is fully outlined in


those two sentences, and Armah’s exploration of a one thousand year period of history, divided into two seasons, one wet and one dry, for each year, becomes an epic of both origins and ends. Armah, indeed, somatically binds both in expressing how a people’s loss of truths that can be realized through natural human senses damns their existence and turns them into the walking dead. Having established the entirety of his theme in the first lines of the book, Armah has the remainder of the novel to articulate a plot in which fifty generations of Africans speak with one voice, and he invests a full hundred pages in the setting of the novel, leading up to the action that will begin when the corrupt king Koranche rules over the people. That voice begins by establishing that a people’s origins do not begin with the earth’s creation but with their first consciousness of themselves as a people. The best African minds, the voice explains, argue that the presence of a universal creator is not necessary and, furthermore, is a subject that can be driven only through speculation rather than the empirical evidence on which the author insists a people base its social consciousness. Africans were forced to engage in this speculation by the white man who came first as predators and later as destroyers “assailing us with the maddening loudness of their shrieking theologies” (5), theologies bent toward only one end, which is that of the extermination of the African people. This is not to say that a creative presence does not exist but that it is only fully realized in the collective consciousness of the people, and this is one of the reasons why traditional African religion is considered to be anthropocentric. Paraphrasing the second epistle of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man, Armah’s point in this reflection is to “know then [ourselves], presume not God to scan;/ The proper study of mankind is man” (1-2). The African people, who were one in their collective consciousness, slowly spread across the African continent in search of stability in the face of unexpected environmental changes and, though connected at first, gradually lost the threads that bound them as the collective voice fragmented into competing tribes. The development of the novel, then, is meant to not only reclaim that autonomous voice but to also begin a process of defining the people as different from and independent of outside influences. To facilitate an understanding of the process of social disintegration, Armah first blames outside influences for their erosive and divisive role in the lives of the African community. When Islam began to encroach upon African civilization, it infected a sufficient number of people with its religious ideology to convince them to serve as home guards against their own communities. When Christianity began to encroach upon African civilization, it brought with it a system of colonization and exploitation that operated under a divide and rule strategy, setting up and supporting chiefs in their wars of acquisition against other tribes and in their consolidation of power at home against their own citizens. In either case, these Africans who submitted to the predators and destroyers became as


zombies, the living dead who act exclusively in the interests of the outside force that controls them. Armah’s voice takes the role of the prophet in its jeremiad to the people as it cries out in the wilderness that the earth has become,


You do not understand how the destroyers turned earth to desert? Look around

you not seen the fat ones, the hollow ones now placed above us? These the destroyers have already voided of their spirits, like the earth of its fertility. Barren, unproductive pillars have been driven into their brains. Then, left to walk the land, they do their zombie work, holding up the edifice of death from falling in vengeance on the killers’ heads. (10) What Armah is describing is the neo-colonial condition in which the leaders of a people work diligently for a foreign power at the expense of those to whom they ought to be more closely obliged. Culpability does not end with the chiefs, however, for the entire social fabric is blameworthy; it is the people, after

all, who allow their chiefs to continue serving the foreigners and who provide the human resources that make foreign exploitation possible in the first place. The destroyers who have seized control of the people over the course of two thousand seasons know nothing other than to enrich themselves at the expense of others. They take because “that is their way” and “they know nothing of reciprocity,” and this distinction drawn by Armah defines the ontological difference between the destroyers and the Africans. Taking without giving is destructive because it drains resources from one area to enrich another, thereby starving one civilization to fatten another beyond its needs. To rectify the damage, what is needed is the return of a generative presence among the people, a single, unifying voice that will rally the Africans away from the fragments into which they have broken, and this presence is a social consciousness rather than a religious creed. If “all unconnected things are victims, tools of death” (12), then the only road to life is that which brings about social cohesion and a reconnection of the scattered in their vision and in their purpose. It is here, at the beginning of the novel, that Armah sounds the first eschatological call to his people, for in his evocation for them to reclaim a cohesive vision, he has to define what a fractured vision is, and that is one “that sees only the immediate present, that follows only present gain and separates the present from the past, the present from the future, shutting each passing day in its own hustling greed” (12). In his evocation for his people to reclaim a cohesive hearing, he has to define what a fractured hearing is, and that is one “that listens only to today’s brazen cacophony, takes direction from that alone and stays deaf to the whispers of those gone before, deaf to the soft voices of those yet unborn” (12-3). Finally, in his evocation for his people to reclaim a cohesive understanding, he has to define what a fractured reasoning is, and that is one that “thinks only of the immediate paths to the moment’s release, that takes


no care to connect the present with past events, the present with future necessity” (13). To redeem the vision and the purpose of the African people, therefore, it is essential for the people themselves to take a holistic approach to their own situation in life and, in doing so, reassemble the shards of their brokenness by recreating the way. The first prophet to whom Armah introduces his reader is Anoa, a woman to whom he refers often as the seasons progress and the people find themselves splintering further away from one another. Anoa prophesies that the people will be lost a full two thousand seasons as they let go of the way of reciprocity, “the giving, the receiving, the living alternation of the way” (26). The people turn themselves into givers alone, who through their offering become willing victims of predators and destroyers, through the “heedless generosity of [their] blinding abundance” (26). Armah uses the Arab presence to demonstrate this point, for these desert whites had come begging and found lands upon which they could parasitically prey. Never once asked for anything in return, the white beggars became more numerous and more demanding, gradually imposing their faith on the men to keep them servile and their sexual appetites on the women to keep them submissive. The people, Anoa adds, will come to know themselves as takers, too, voiding their souls from their bodies and feasting on the scraps left over to them by the white destroyers. Armah uses the European presence to demonstrate this point, for the sea whites had come demanding resources by which to increase themselves and diminish all others, and they found willing accomplices in those among the people who harbored resentment against the way of reciprocity as it limited their own ambitions. If the way is “creation knowing its purpose” (27), then both the people who blindly accept the lack of stewardship in their leaders and the leaders who turn over the stewardship of their people to those who would bleed them dry have demonstrated their impotence as creative beings, wandering purposelessly through life without a meaningful eschatological vision. In each age of occupation, a voice of resistance arises and saves the people, but not all of the people in any generation want to be saved. A fraction of the people unleashed from slavery yearn for the privileges they had under it, for the power it gave them as intermediaries between the predators and the people on whom they preyed. This reality further splinters the people and obstructs the progress of the way. In the age of Arab predators, for instance, it is the women who rise up and save the people from their contemptuous guests in the most sexually graphic and violently explicit scene in African literature. Armah calls the Islamic Ramadan “the predators’ season of hypocritical self-denial,” the completion of which sparks “orgies of food, of drugs, and of sex” (31). During the scene of this orgy, the African women allow the Arab men to sate themselves to the point of delirium and murder them


piecemeal, demonstrating the reality that “[t]he way destroys only destruction” (62). After this, the African askaris who had aided in the oppression of their own people by serving as guards for the Arabs suddenly find themselves without direction from their masters. The privileges they had enjoyed under their masters are hard for them to forget, so liberation from the predators brings with it an unwelcome loss. It is in this way that the slave is “forever conditioned against himself, against [the] people” to the point that communities of the way cannot co-exist with them (42). Knowing that they are no longer safe or privileged in their own communities for the atrocities they have committed in the name of Allah, many of the askaris flee. Others try to resume their lives among the people but grow in discontent until one of their former number, an old, heavy, blind man who has taken the name Abdallah, which means “slave of God,” returns with a missionary zeal and charges his fellow zombies “with a fanatical reinterpretation of everything around them” before unleashing them on the people (43). It is not the people, then, who want to be enslaved, but a fraction of their number who find their self-worth in the oppression of others. It is this desire on the part of the minority to oppress the majority that is the cause of the splintering and the religious zeal only a tool in the hand of those with the desire to oppress. Armah develops an explanation for the askaris involving the colonization of their minds, an interpretation akin to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s argument that the West established its hegemony over Africa by first corrupting the people’s ability to reason via the introduction of a racist religion, a racist language, and a racist policy of colonization. Armah uses the imagery of sleep and death to explain the askari condition in that in sleep the body is vulnerable but no less so is the mind. “A mind attacked and conquered,” he writes, is guided easily away from the paths of its own soul. The body is then cut off from its spirit as in sleep, yet still instinct with the conqueror’s imposed commands, a soulless thing, but active. In this state of souldeath the body blindly, sleepily obeys the conqueror. Such a body is set to persist in such obedience even if its conqueror be a distance of days and days away, a time of seasons separate. Such are zombis. And among us such were the askaris. (44-5) Their minds numbed with the artificial power given them both as intermediate oppressors between them and their people and as agents of God under their new faith, the askaris not only thrive under oppression but welcome and abet it. Once the mind is gone, the identity of the individual in relation to his or her society is dead, and the community is then used as a means to further personal ambitions rather than valued as an end in and of itself. In addition to colonizing African minds by starving them of anything useful, the predators would also colonize African bodies by over-satiating them with an excess of physical pleasures. “From morning till sleep,” Armah describes, “they were either at some


sport, eating, drinking, copulating, smoking or defecating” (47), after which their bodies would become habituated to the cycle as the sole reason for its living. In the end, it is not they who use others as much as it is they who are used by predators, whom Armah states “consistently reduced these men first to beasts, then to things—beasts they could command, things they could manipulate, all in the increase of their power over us” (46). The personal ambitions are shallow in the sense that askaris try to increase themselves at the expense of others, disintegrating themselves from the community and causing the community to diminish proportionately. This is always the result of an over-reliance on foreign imperatives, for they are by definition alienating the people from the traditions that would otherwise define them. While the reasons the askaris desire not to be saved by the voice of resistance are clear, their presence as a police force in the service of the predators demonstrates that the occupiers do not exercise sovereignty through the will of the whole people; they, in fact, maintain it through the complicity of a fraction. Armah’s voice of resistance explains that “[e]very season, every month, often every week and sometimes every day, those among us not made to be animals for others, things in the hands of our

enemies, were trying ways to end our

caught trying to end our oppression. In this the mindless ones were truly expert” (47-8). Just as every occupation finds its collaborators, every occupation also finds its resistors, and it is these resistors that most interest the narrative voice of the novel. Armah sets up a strong dichotomy between the African people who follow the way of reciprocity and the African people who support the way of death, always referring to the former in the first person plural and the latter in the third person plural. This is because their abandonment of the way sets them outside of the community, and even though they are the sons and daughters of the community, they have consciously rejected it in accepting the predators’ balm. The community, then, must not only resist the predators, but also resist those among themselves who abet them. Resistance, then, to imbalances in power that seek to give too much in the case of the askaris or take too much in the case of the predators is one of the primary features of the way. The way seeks balance in human relationships, for it is only in the equity of balance that mutual respect and a desire to ensure that all persons thrive in every transaction. The resistance, even though it ebbs and flows like the tide, does not prove immediately successful against the will of the occupiers and their minions. In fact, a hundred seasons pass in which the people diminish so greatly that the occupiers have come to view them as inferior and subhuman with a servile destiny that could only run parallel to their own ascendancy. While this is occurring, moreover, the structure of the community is compromised by emulation on the part of the enslaved as the leaders of

It was the askaris’ violent job to kill off all


the people see how women are objectified and begin to seek gender stratification as part of their desire to take the place of their masters, replicating the system of oppression, should freedom ever be gained. Armah demonstrates this in the case of Edusei, who feels he has been unfairly denied the role of caretaker and is worked upon by Abdallah to deliberately reclaim what is his by hereditary right. Following his disappointment, Edusei had become reclusive, but, following Abdallah’s advice, he becomes incredibly industrious and brings together a group of men to work for him rather than with him. Eventually, Edusei has as much power as the caretakers. The community watching him knows his path is wrong, but they do not perceive the threat of that path until it is too late. Other Islamic missionaries advise the malcontents in other areas of the land to do likewise, and though the people feel the converts to Islam will quickly awaken to the absurdity of the faith that sets them apart from the way, it does not quickly come. For that reason, those who still have a mind to resist the numbing effects of the new faith and the rise of an indigenous aristocracy decide to leave rather than continue their fruitless resistance against not the predators but their very own people who are no longer of the same mind as theirs. “Examining the paths laid open before us,” the voice of the way reasons, “we saw the prospect of our extinction as a people whichever way we looked. For what else would we be under a religion imposed on us by force but a people with a soul extinct” (61). This time, the move is different from previous migrations, which have occurred over “thousands of seasons when movement was about the desire for something to be found at the destination, not fear of destruction at the point of departure” (60). While leaving means starting over in a new land where those who make the journey will be able to thrive in the way of reciprocity, it also means acknowledging that the only community worth saving is that remnant of it that follows the way. For Armah’s narrative voice, such is all that is left of the community, anyway. In the journey away from the Arabs, the people are searching for a new land, and they have a hope in a new world to come. That eschatological vision is meaningful to the group since they are of one mind, followers of the way. The narrative voice points out, nonetheless, that the root causes of the ruin left behind are merely transported to the new place, the bosoms of the people “still made room for the inadequate wanting stupid, noble privilege. We fed a disease killing us” (92). Though those who left are people of the way, they are also people who have seen what power can do and have found it desirable. It is these who will serve as the new guard to “[t]he other, complementary disease, the blight without which the first would have remained mere irritation, that other plague came at us incredible, monstrous from the sea” (92). Having been born into a servile community, these recent adherents to the way who desired nothing more than freedom to continue to follow it found some of their number so


sufficiently schooled in the art of serving their masters that they had little difficulty in striking up new relationships of dependency with the European menace. As the Jews had cast blame upon the direction in which their God had taken them during their flight from Egypt, this trek toward a future community in which the people would choose the manner of their independence also had its malcontents who argued that the spirit of reciprocity, the goal for which all pilgrims were striving, was the root cause of the people’s suffering and should end in favor of the model taught them by the white man. Their reasoning was that the white man’s road may be predatory, but it was lucrative and led to a certain power they could use to defend themselves. The narrative voice, always true to those who continue on the path toward the way, slices another fraction out of those on the long march as it points out that “On us [those of our number true to the way] they [those of our number who prefer predation] urged the desirability of that road, the road set irrevocably against reciprocity, the road set against our way, the way” (92-3). When the latter win out, they reorganize the community along the model taught them by first relegating the women to the status of things and then selecting from their number a king to whom all must obey. Freedom to follow the way once again lost and the caretaker role within the community once again destroyed, the people are once again doomed, for, as the narrative voice points out, it is not the quality of the king that is destructive but the idea of kingship as even “[t]he quietest king, the gentlest leader of the mystified, is criminal beyond the exercise of any comparison” (100). The new land that is settled loses the essence of its promise when the way of reciprocity is lost to the people, and the eschatological hope with which the people started their journey becomes part of the resistance rather than part of the living reality of the community. Up to this point in the novel, Armah has been establishing the theme of his work and clarifying the distinction between the way of life and the path to destruction, but with the introduction of Koranche, a slow, mediocre half-wit who is king at the time of the white destroyers, the rapid passage of seasons ends and the narrative voice becomes personified in Isanusi and a fraction of the youth, the last generation the book will explore and the one upon which rests the future hopes of the people. There is also a shift at this point in Armah’s focus of attack. He has, heretofore, been attacking Islam for its unhealthy association with black Africa, and now he shifts into an attack on Western Christianity for its destructive spirit. The shift is an important one because in his dealings with Islam, he seems just unwilling to equate in moral terms the Arabs with the Africans, but, Okpewho writes, “it is in his attack on the Christian theology that Armah reveals his summary rejection of the supernatural community or machinery on which much traditional African mythology and religion rest” (12). Armah, in effect, white-washes the complexity of traditional African religious thought, boiling it down to the single idea


of the way of reciprocity and leaving out rituals like augury and ceremony that are usually guided by an active response to divine revelation. For the future of the people to rest on this single idea of the way, the idea itself has to become the guiding eschatological construct – that which was in the beginning, is now, and will be in the end. Armah explores these thoughts through Isanusi’s disagreements with the vision brought by the whites. Isanusi understands the white presence as one that is destructive of the way and describes the god they worship as “not the living spirit there is in everything but a creature separate, raised above all surrounding things, to hear them speak of it rather like a bloated king” (130). Considering that kings are the most evil of social constructs, Isanusi’s argument is intentionally designed to sway his audience toward the good, which the way, from which he knows the white men intend to take them in order to “void [its followers] of our soul and put their spirit, the worship of their creature god, in us.” (130). Having already had experience with an alien god who did not follow the path of reciprocity, the people of the way are wary of this one especially since the oppressor class seem to welcome it along with the opportunities it brings for the consolidation of their power and the increase of their wealth. Worshipping the new white god, moreover, would not only destroy the followers of the way within the community but also any hope even the worshippers have of maintaining their homes and their livelihoods. Isanusi explains the destruction of the fabric of community and environment by adding, The white men wish us to destroy our mountains, leaving ourselves wastes of barren sand. The white men wish us to wipe out our animals, leaving ourselves carcasses rotting into white skeletons. The white men want us to take human beings, our sisters and our sons, and turn them into labouring things. The white men want us to obliterate our remembrance of our way, the way, and in its place to follow their road, road of destruction, road of a stupid, childish god.


It is not just a change in creed, therefore, for the Africans to leave the way and follow Christ; it is total annihilation of the eschatological origins and ends of the people that will cause them not only to forget themselves but also send them to die or to a living death as zombies. The white predators from the desert had brought the message, “Change, or we will kill you” (137), and half the people wearily submitted to the eradication of their souls so that their bodies could hold onto life as they were driven into slavery. The other half, though, fled, leaving, as Armah describes, “land, trees, stones, all the things that had filled their lives with recognition, taking only the spirit of a people with them on their way” (138). When the white destroyers appeared in this land and pursued their policies of divide and


rule, the way of reciprocity was broken because it could not exist in a fragmented community governed by caretakers who did not have the interests of the people in their minds. Eschatologies, because they provide the framework for origins and ends, usually compete with one another when cultures cannot agree upon common creation and destruction myths. When the people are approached by a Christian missionary about the nature of God and his relationship to humankind, they balk at what they consider to be a children’s story and explain “that there is indeed a great force in the world, a force spiritual and able to shape the physical universe, but that that force is not something cut off, not something separate from ourselves. It is an energy in us, strongest in our working, breathing, thinking together as one people; weakest when we are scattered, confused, broken into individual, unconnected fragments” (151). This disagreement between the people of the way and the Christian missionaries, however, is not a discussion based on the principles of reciprocity. The Christian missionary might have taken the opportunity to explain the Eucharistic vision in which humanity ingests the body and the blood so that Christ might live inside of us; instead, the dialogue ends by force rather than inspiration, for the white missionary is preaching not only an objective God, but also the value of colonial occupation and neo-colonial oppression. Isanusi describes one of the Christian missionaries as outlining neo-colonialism, believing there to be “far greater profit in keeping the victims of the trade here on our own land, having the kings and their courtiers use them to mine and grow whatever the whites need, then offering the product to the white destroyers, the kings and courtiers getting gifts in return” (163). The only eschatological foundation the Africans understand of the faith of the missionaries, then, is how the colonizers will put an end to the African people by supporting oppressive governing structures designed to perpetuate an at-home diaspora. In the consolidation of their power, the puppet kings like Koranche endeavor to remove all opposition by selling their own people into slavery, 17 and, in doing so, remove themselves from retribution by their angry spirits. All of Isanusi’s apprentices accept an invitation from Koranche to a dinner at which they are shackled and shipped away from their homeland, but to the African whose entire sense of being is joined with those of his or her ancestors, removal from the land of one’s people becomes a loss of connectedness between the living and the dead. Realizing this, one of those Koranche sells, a woman named Tawia, seeks and finds death before boarding on the slave ship. Beneath the decks, those forced below realize she was right as one laments that this kind of death is so new that no one will be able to join the ancestors or even wander as ghosts. It is a complete destruction

17 Historyworld explains that “the Ashanti [which Armah spells Asante] suffer a series of major blows between 1804 and 1814, when the Danes, British and Dutch each in turn outlaw the slave trade” (“History of Ghana”).


of the ontological reality of the African person. The narrative voice of the novel decries the barrenness of the people monstrous “when outside the lonely cut-off self there is no connection with the whole” (208). The people, sold away from their home through an abuse of their king’s power, have become broken shards that can only be mended when the whole people mends, for “[l]udicrous is the freedom of the slave unchained in his single body if his mind remains a cut-off individual mind, not a living piece of our common mind, our common soul” (209). It is for this reason that the followers of the way have dichotomized themselves into an us/them relationship with those among their people who have chosen the path of destruction. By recognizing that others have deliberately cut themselves off from the whole, they can still consider themselves a complete people when they escape the followers of death by moving elsewhere. The ideal solution to their brokenness would be a reconnection of all African peoples, but they can only achieve this end if given respite from the corrupting influences of foreign oppressors who prey on the parasitical members of their own group – people with whom they otherwise know how to deal. The followers of the way, furthermore, have developed their own eschatological vision of a better world to come through active resistance on their part and a reconnection of their souls with one another. The narrative voice prophesies that “[a]gainst the death brought by whiteness only the greatest connecting force will prevail: the working together of minds connected, souls connected, traveling along that one way, our way, the way” (209), which will be accomplished by “[c]onnected thought, connected action: that is the beginning of our journey back to our self, to living again the connected life, traveling again along our way, the way” (209). Because the destroyers work on the principle of divide and rule, the way out of destruction is simply to remain united, and this means that the spirit of connectedness that is already within the people provides its own cure against the occupation. The reconnection of the people also means that it will act as a single voice, reclaiming the people from their fragmented state as they seek wholeness. The voice believes that the people must work together because “[t]he single agent’s action is wasted motion; the single agent’s freedom useless liberty” (210), for “[s]uch individual action can find no sense until there is again that higher connectedness that links each agent to the group” (210). As part of the larger whole, “each eye inspires itself with visions springing from group need, the ear is open to sounds beneficial to the listening group, the limbs move and the hands act in unbroken connection with the group” (210). Wholeness, then, equals reciprocity because people act for the good of the body rather than for the good only of its various parts and understand themselves in terms of that body rather than in terms of themselves as individuated from it. This vision of wholeness has always been within the African people, but it was not until foreign


influences sought to undermine and destroy it did it rise up in self-defense to provide further clarity to those who heed its call. What makes possible the idea to restore the whole is a temporary division of the people who escape the slave ship between those who wish to remain where they have landed and start a new life based upon the way, those who wish to return home to salvage the lives they left behind, and those who wish to take up arms against their oppressors and form the nucleus of an African resistance. Juma, an askari pressed into the service of the white destroyers but desirous of absolution for his cooperation with them, teaches those who choose to fight everything about the white man’s weapons so that they might use those weapons in their struggle, but Isanusi, with whom the apprentices reconnect, cautions them they will not themselves outlive the white occupation of their land. Their desires to engage in the work of creation will merely establish the foundation to enable others to work against destruction. In light of this, they articulate their destiny as healers of their people in a teleological direction – the goal is to utterly end destruction and “to begin the highest, the profoundest work of creation, the work that is inseparable from our way, inseparable from the way” (246). Devoting their lives to the power of healing, their vocations entail helping bring others back to the way, but they see the surest way of doing this as to first destroy the foreign presence that will be a constant source of corruption to them. As doctors and priests, the healers are bound to one another in this single purpose for their existence – to heal the desire to oppress, 18 to heal the spiritual rift that prevents one’s rising from oppression. Overthrowing destruction through violence, the healers learn, seems to resolve little but the establishment of an askari named Kamuzu in the seat of power previously held by the white destroyers. What Kamuzu wants is not the restoration of the African way but to plug himself into the infrastructure established by the white destroyers. Here we see Kamuzu’s desire to rule not only in place of but in collaboration with the whites as the birth of the neo-colonial relationship between the Europeans and the Africans. The healers reason with Kamuzu that their primary goal should be the liberation of the people, not the establishment of a replacement power over the people, for those among them eager to take the place of the oppressors become no better than they are and “would quickly find [them]selves forced to keep faith not with our people—always the victims of this power—but with the white

18 A mandate that also exists in the Christian and Islamic creeds. One instance in the New Testament can be found in Colossians 3:9-10, which reads, “3:9. Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, 3:10. And putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.” One instance in Hadith 4681 reads in part, “a person should help his brother whether he is an oppressor or an oppressed. If he is the oppressor he should prevent him from doing it, for that is his help; and if he is the oppressed he should be helped (against oppression).”


destroyers from the sea—the real establishers of this power” (268). Kamuzu accepts that intermediary role the healers outline for him and when he does trustingly keep faith with the white destroyers, his reward is to be hanged by them for the crime of presumption. Those tempted by the immediate power

they seem to gain in overthrowing the whites and stepping into their roles are also corrupted by the necessary consequence of their new positions – that of becoming the oppressor who hates reciprocity and loves imposing his will on others to turn them into slaves as dictated by the religion they adopt as a result of their conversion. The narrative voice mocks these new oppressors: “The parasites—ah, how perfect for their lousy spirits they found Christianity, this other religion for slaves” (312). Turning into an oppressor, therefore, is a fate worse than death, which can at least be qualitatively measured as a victory against destruction or a means by which the way is realized for the whole people. The solution to eradicating destruction in the world is to engage in the act of creation. Isanusi perceives the cure to be found in “the hope of the way,” which is a generative and eschatological hope entailing “creation of what is necessary, creation sufficient for sharing, creation that makes sharing easy, natural, reasonable, not an unbearable sacrifice, creation for community” (314). To accomplish these acts of creation, the healers must focus on the causes of the disease, which lie “not in things

not in the abundance of things but in relationships growing

between users. The people using all things to create participation, using things to create community, that people have no need of any healer’s art, for that people is already whole” (315). The only destruction allowed to a healer, in that case, is the destruction of destruction itself, but within the eschatological context of origins and ends, of understanding that the people “are not just of the present, not just the walking multitudes of murdered souls and zombis now around us, but many, many more gone and many, many more to come.” (317). As for the white oppressors, they have already destroyed themselves in their desire to destroy others, and it is for this reason that the prophetic voice of Anoa returns to explain that the end of destruction is near, unable to continue beyond the two thousand seasons allotted for it. Not only does the creative voice call for a reconnection of African communities, it urges its own missionary appeal for the people of the way to find other people of the way and globally reconnect all those who once suffered under the white man’s rule in a further effort to destroy the destroyers (318). Okpewho, consequently, calls this final chapter of the book, entitled “The Voice,” “a veritable appeal from a voice in the wilderness exhorting the race to embrace a way of life that ensures for them the only true salvation. Very much as Christ urged his followers, the voice here exhorts all black men to abandon all family ties and all sentimental connection with home in favour of something more

themselves but in the use of things


rewarding and more enduring” (16). It is this voice, then, that leads Okpewho to conclude that “[w]hether [Armah] likes it or not, the socialist vision that underlies the concept of ‘the way’ bears a strong relation to Judaeo-Christian [sic] myth and dogma” (16). Whatever the resemblance, there lies a stark contrast in the ends of the evangelical natures of those adhering to the way and those adhering to the Gospel in that the latter is preparatory for a kingdom in heaven, which can only be realized after one has died and left his community, while the former actively seeks to reconcile to itself the greater community on earth.

C. The Healers

In a fragmented society like the one discussed in Two Thousand Seasons, there can be no greater work for ministers of a faith seeking to bring the people together in a realized eschatology than to act as healers of the rifts that work to separate them from social communion. This is in contrast to the teleological eschatology that seeks to bring people together in a communion with God that is not only in the age to come, but that has also already been effected by the mystery of Christ. Fr. C. Eugene Morris, a Catholic liturgist at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis writes, 'The mystery of Jesus Christ has already healed the rift between man and God. As such, reconciliation is complete and man and God are united, but only in the mystery of Christ. Consequently, an aspect of the priesthood (too rich to limit) is continuing the work of effected reconciliation that has already been definitively accomplished in Jesus Christ.” The healers' pursuit of reconciliation through the way of reciprocity may seek to accomplish social communion in some to-be-hoped-for future, but it does not share the view that reconciliation is an already accomplished fact outside of the potential that all people have to reconcile themselves with others through the healing work of the way of reciprocity. The emphasis the healers place on social communion, then, is substantially administered by the healer in response to the social and spiritual needs of the community but not transubstantially administered by the healer in the generative relationship the community has to a personal God that forms it. Catholics find this in the Eucharist, which, according to Morris "is that one reality that allows [both] healing [and] reconciliation, but is also the perfect means of on-going communication between God and man; the Eucharist is the sacrifice giving meaning to all others sacrifice and revealing man to himself because that is what Christ has done for us.” The Eucharist, then, is the bridge between the ephemeral social realities of our temporal communities and the eschatological realities of our eternal communion, but it is a bridge on which only the Catholic and Orthodox Christians rely, the Protestant


denominations that charged themselves with evangelizing much of Africa not having presented this as a truth of conversion. Ministers of the way of reciprocity, nonetheless, do not see a need for this kind of a bridge, relying chiefly on the use of inspiration within a cooperative process in their vocation of healing rifts and reconciling the people to their communal roles. Calling for their highest ideal of social communion on earth, they understand it will take some time, perhaps many generations. Like Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers begins with a quest for origins and a purpose for the people as Densu, the protagonist of the novel, considers the origin and purpose of the games his people play as indicative of the origin and purpose of the people themselves. He reflects that these games had once been different but have evolved over time in keeping with changing social realities. The past had been one of migration and pain, and the people who settled along the waters maintained the festivals as ways of keeping their scattered people close to one another. The games are described, in fact, as “reminders that no matter how painful the journey, our people would finish it, survive it and thrive again at the end of it, as long as our people moved together” (4). They are no longer games of wholeness but of brokenness, driven by circumstance rather than meaning and designed to ensure the young are adequately prepared for the fragmented world in which they have found themselves. Armah reflects that “[i]n the circumstances of fragmentation, the meaning of unity had not been entirely destroyed, perhaps. But it had been torn to shreds” (5). As a result, Densu prefers not to compete, not because he dislikes the rituals, but because of this deficit in meaning that he finds. For him, only games of cooperation and not competition can be meaningful because they would teach the people how to return to a concept he only later learns to articulate, that of the reciprocity of the way. Instead, only one winner emerges from the entire community, which makes losers of everyone else; only one person is successful rather than everyone’s being able to share in that success. Such a reality naturally and powerfully repels Densu, for there is no way for his spirit to connect with the spirit of the games. Densu, then, is a natural healer, one who seeks wholeness for his people in order to help them return to the way of reciprocity. Armah sharpens this image for his reader by contrasting two characters, Damfo, a healer, and Ababio, a manipulator, demonstrating throughout the novel how the healer inspires others and the manipulator forces them. Damfo, in fact, believes that inspiration is the best way to serve the purposes of creation while he finds manipulation to be the worst because of its destructive nature. He is so repelled by manipulation that he endeavors to put as great a distance between himself and the manipulators as he can, which means he has to leave his village for all courtiers and many of those living outside the court act in ways that are forceful, fraudulent, and deceitful. His uncle, for instance, wants him to step into the role of king when the vacancy comes open


due to the changes occurring as a result of the white occupation. The way to seize power is, of course, to help the whites in their occupation and to become puppet rulers in their service. Densu, however, has already taught the true prince, Appia, that “a king should work for all black people – to bring all the black people together” even though Ababio sees that “there would be no more kings if some catastrophe brought all black people together” because “[k]ings belong to their tribes and not to the people at large” (31). Densu agrees with Damfo and wants to live in a world in which other human beings are not seen as means to the ends of others but valued as ends in and of themselves. The dual ways in which to live, the way of manipulation and the way of inspiration, compete with one another for the souls of the people. The way of manipulation and destruction is embodied in Ababio, who uses people as pawns in the advancement of his own plans. Aside from distrusting the system that Ababio outlines, Densu is right to distrust Ababio himself, for Ababio would not hand Densu the power over the kingdom without profiting himself considerably by it. Densu sees that human persons are to Ababio “nothing better than an obstacle to be tricked, lied to, manipulated and shaped by force or guile into becoming a usable ally in spite of himself. And if that failed, then a human being became simply an object to be destroyed” (50). Healing people like Ababio who have the desire to oppress others is the healer’s vocation, and proof that it can be done can be found in Araba Jesiwa, who is an example of a woman steered by her family against her will into a marriage that deafened her to her needs and to the voice of her soul. In spite of all his help for her, Araba Jesiwa expresses confusion at the fact that Damfo has always maintained his vocation is not to heal sick individuals. What she does not realize until later is that his work is to heal the entire society and that healing individuals within the society is only a means to that end. Damfo has to reconcile others to a cooperative spirit through a cooperative process, and this is why he cannot force others to do his will, for in that case he would be no better than Ababio if his methods did not match his ends. The healing profession is difficult, for it is one in which the healer holistically develops a cooperative spirit with his environment rather than seeking power over others. Manipulation, Damfo points out, comes from spiritual blindness, and this is different from inspiration, which results in the communion of spirits who see and understand one another. Those blind to the spirit see only the body as a tool they use against the spirit’s direction. Because manipulation is a destruction of the spirit, it is fundamentally opposed to the creative power of the way. Damfo adds that master healers achieve a kind of enlightenment that they call the shadow, which follows the healer everywhere he or she goes and helps him or her discern between the two forces in the world, unity and division, and that the first provides the healer with the ability to do healing work, the highest goal of which is the healing of a


whole people rather than the healing of tribes and nations, which are divisive social constructs. Health and unity are the same, for an unhealthy body is a body divided against itself in the same way an unhealthy community is a community divided against itself. A healthy soul cooperates with a healthy body as two healthy individuals within a community cooperate with one another; clashes between individuals or between communities are evidence of a disease in need of healing work, which is ultimately “[t]he ending of all unnatural rifts” (83), which Damfo says came about because the people struggled so hard “to forget thoroughly the shattering and the dispersal of a people that was once whole” that they “have gone so far as to pretend we have always been these silly little fragments each calling itself a nation” (83). Healers awaken a sleeping people, and this is a natural process that continues always, beyond the centuries it will take to bring the black people back together from the fragments into which they have exploded over thousands of years. To avoid falling into despair at not achieving immediate results, “[a] healer needs to see beyond the present and tomorrow. He needs to see years and decades ahead. Because healers work for results so firm they may not be wholly visible till centuries have flowed into millennia” (84). What Damfo is articulating, then, is an eschatological vision of a hoped-for age to come, a time in which all the black people will return to the consciousness of their being one in community, of their being one in reciprocity, and this is as close as a realized eschatology gets to being a teleological construct. Healers do not actually heal sick bodies, for all bodies have the power within them to heal themselves provided they are recognized and multiplied. Any power within the healer’s profession, then, is not a personal kind of power but, Damfo teaches, “the power to help life create itself” (103). In any process of healing, it is important to note that the healer does not work alone, for healing work, he explains, “is the work of a community” (270), not of individuals. In Fragments, in fact, Armah shares an African proverb, “A human being alone is a thing more sad than any lost animal and nothing destroys the soul like its aloneness” (6). For this reason, healers need to work in communities, and communities of healers need generations to grow strong in number and ability, “until there are inspirers, healers wherever our people are scattered, able to bring us together again” (270). There are those among the healers who regret their lack of temporal power and leave the work of healing to use their power for disunity and destruction in the service of the powerful. Not all interaction with the powerful is damning work for the healer, though, for there are those especially among the powerful, like Araba Jesiwa, who are in great need of healing. Those among the oppressors, kings, courtiers, generals, policemen, and the like are also in need of healing, and Damfo demonstrates how this might work when he agrees to heal the greatest general of the Asante people, Asamoa Nkwanta, who has been


debilitated by a personal tragedy at the hands of the elite he is sworn to protect. Minds, Damfo explains, “can find the truths of the past, come back to the present, and look towards the future” without the individual’s getting lost in the process (176). The present, he adds, is where we lose ourselves “if we forget our past and have no vision of the future” (176). At this point, he shares with Asamoa Nkwanta the truth of the unity of the black people and the vision that what was once unified may be re-unified in the future. Damfo does not have the power to force the general into accepting this truth, but he does have the power to help the general learn the reasons for his despair and try to heal the general through interpreting the conflicts in his mind; he can, moreover, give the general a vision of himself as part of a communal process working towards an eschatological goal. For healing to work, it has to be conducted within a climate that favors its success. When Asamoa Nkwanta returns to his army and develops a plan by which to save his people from the white destroyers, for instance, he is ultimately betrayed by the royal family who prefer to make a separate peace with the whites than see a war come home to their country in which the general, because of his role as leader of the army, would garner more power than they. After the colonizers consolidate their power over the black tribes, they bring representatives from all the tribes together in Cape Coast, a fact that brings laughter to a healer named Ama Nkroma who notes “[h]ere we healers have been wondering about ways to bring our people together again. And the whites want ways to drive us farther apart. Does it not amuse you, that in their wish to drive us apart the whites are actually bringing us work for the future?” (309). The white consolidation of power from the coast to the interior of the land brings a kind of closure to the disaster of the white invasion, for the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend comes into play here not only in Ghana but all over the African continent. There being nowhere for the black people to run, the only choice left open to them is to unite against the destroyers, learn from their mistakes, and reunite as one people under responsible caretakers who interact with the people in the true spirit of the way of reciprocity.

D. Conclusion

The eschatological framework inherent in Armah’s way of reciprocity, an equitable giving and receiving within social intercourse through the treating of others as persons and not objects to be manipulated, facilitates its use as a viable third faith in its attempt to reconcile the spiritual and material worlds. It makes provision for its adherents to harmoniously interact with one another on earth in addition to ensuring that such interaction is meaningful to the greater community within which it takes


place. It is not, therefore, a theology of the body or of the spirit but a theology of human relationships, a theology of bodies that happen to contain spirits. Armah believes that there is no beauty except in relationships, so it is in relationships that he finds God. While this may seem reconcilable with the relational nature of the Gospel message, the opportunity for Christianity to make itself meaningful in the African context was lost when the process by which it was indigenized, a process that culminated in the converts being second-class Christians, ran counter to the African need for reciprocity in all of its social dealings. Christianity used them poorly, and those who came to understand the grammar of colonization understood that and reacted against it. If Africans were a people who gave too much, then the only way to achieve balance is for them to take back much of what they have given, and that means fighting to destroy the destroyers but doing so through the philosophy of the healers, the prophets of the way. It has to be the oppressed who initiate social change because only the oppressed study the particulars of their oppression, orientalized into an amalgam mass as they are by their oppressors. In doing so, they will find their future hope as it is holistically drawn from the structure and culture of their people who will be unified as one in the hoped-for age to come.



Because the oppressor orientalizes the oppressed, the oppressor deprives himself of a natural context within which to study the oppressed outside of the function the oppressed serves, and this is why it is difficult for the oppressor to reconcile himself to those he oppresses. It is only the oppressed, then, who have to study the oppressor as an instrument of their survival under his hegemony, who have within them a natural process to know themselves sufficiently to understand the meaning of their liberation. Abrahamic eschatologies expanded traditional African consciousness to the concept of a future tense in the articulation of a hoped-for age to come, but the emphasis on a kingdom of heaven that was not a part of the living experience of the people was an oppressive construct because it required them to reorient themselves to the idea that the foundation of their hope lay outside of their social relationships. The idea of a realized eschatology that finds its origins as early as 1919 was meaningful in restoring a sense of priority to human relationships, but it did nothing to mitigate the oppressive social conditions within which the Africans found themselves under European colonialism. When Marxist theologians like Gutierrez began articulating a theology of liberation as a way to reconcile humanity to itself by dismantling capitalist structures oppressive to the artificial classes constructed under them, the idea of a hoped-for age to come suddenly came down to earth. Teleological eschatology became a weapon in the political arsenal of social catalysts who sought to move the people by inspiring them with a vision of a better world to come in the here and now. Because of the traditional African emphasis on change as a religious phenomenon, Africa’s suddenly finding itself part of the world’s technological revolution was equally disconcerting because all of the technological growth in the areas of time, literacy, mechanization, and the like descended upon most Africans all at once with the establishment of colonial protectorates and European exploitation of African human and material resources. To restore a human sense of place within what had become an otherwise inhuman means of interaction with one another, socially conscious Africans began questioning the structures that limited their ability to authentically engage one another. The birth of an African literate culture was a result of their efforts, and this developed alongside the independence movements that eventually brought all of the African peoples out from under colonial domination. The Africans were not free, however, but forced to reconcile themselves to the colonial legacy which manifested itself in artificially drawn borders, limited industrial bases established as extensions of metropolitan centers, contrived socio-linguistic ties to various former colonizers, and the like. These shackles helped form the nucleus of the neocolonial states that followed the successful independence movements.


Wherever there is oppression, heroes who stand against it will also be found. The heroes are those who not only point out the problems inherent within their society, but also develop viable and meaningful solutions for redressing social injustices. Ngugi, Farah, and Armah have each established useful means by which to do this, and all of them use a temporalized teleological eschatology as the primary tool in their work. The formula each uses is very simple – teach the people the nature of their oppression and give them a vision of how life should be when that oppression disappears. This eschatological vision does not come without a price, for the people must work to achieve the utopian vision by transforming the current socio-economic structures inherent within the state. That these efforts will take many generations, many millennia even, is apocalyptic, for the hoped-for age to come becomes that heaven for which society needs to strive, a future on earth that we might work toward but ought not expect to see lest we become disappointed in the slowness of our efforts. For that reason, Marxist novelists use eschatological structures derived from the religious tradition in which they find themselves. Ngugi uses the Christian Mass and the Christian Gospel narrative in Devil on the Cross and Matigari, respectively, as an authentic attempt to engage his audience at their level of understanding in the process of demythologizing postcolonial structures. Far from being a Christian himself, Ngugi yet understands the meaning of the Christian message for the people of modern Kenya who have lived for so long under repressive colonial and neocolonial regimes that preached Christian love and responsibility but did not live up to the promise of that teaching. This teaching is also present in Islam, and Farah’s articulation of the disintegration and reintegration of an Islamic community in Secrets, the final book of the Blood in the Sun trilogy, and in Close Sesame, the final book in the Variations on the theme of an African Dictatorship trilogy, perceives hell as the absence of community on earth and paradise as its presence. Because the Abrahamic tradition has within it the capacity to provide a vision of the kingdom of God as it can be realized on earth, that capacity can be used as a tool in giving people the hope to achieve it. Stepping outside of the Abrahamic tradition, then, and returning to the roots of African social consciousness as articulated within Armah’s understanding of the ‘reciprocity of the way’ does not mean the African has to let go of the tool that teleological eschatology provides in helping the people prepare themselves for the hoped- for day to come, for it is Armah’s vision in 2000 Seasons and The Healers towards which both Ngugi’s and Farah’s points. That vision is one in which all social relationships will be authentically derived as people learn how to value others as ends in and of themselves rather than as means to ends of their own.



Arab and European Colonization of the African Continent 19



Arab Colonization

Egypt conquered with Islamic troops by Khalif Omar

Western Colonization


Africa claimed by Uqbah bin Nafi for Islam


Arab merchants move to Ghana and convert the Mandike; Islam starts to spread throughout West Africa; Somalia begins to convert


Timbuktu is founded as an Islamic center of learning; Islam continues to spread


Establishment of Hausa kingdoms


Mali defeats Ghana; Mansa Musa becomes King of Mali


Mali Emperor Mansa Musa travels to Mecca and puts Mali on the map


Gao secedes from Mali, eventually becoming Songhai


Songhai Empire becomes Muslim


Muslim Adal declares jihad against Christian Ethiopia, conquering most of Ethiopia


Christian Ethiopia expels Muslims


Spread of Islam as a personal, rather than state, religion -- ongoing

Britain begins its slave trade


Portugal establishes a colony in modern Angola


Dutch establish colony at Cape of Good Hope

19 Information for this timeline obtained by consulting Albalagh, Agatucci, Fajors, Frontline, Goethals, and Religion Facts as listed in the bibliography.



British take possession of French African colonies following the Peace of Paris


Senegal returned to France


Sierra Leone established by Britain as home for freed slaves


British seize Cape Colony from Dutch


About 30% of black Africans forced into


American slavery are Muslim


Britain outlaws the slave trade, ending 245 years of active participation


British take over Sierra Leone


Mohamed Ali of Egypt takes Sudan


British take over Gambia


The United States begins returning emancipated slaves to what will become Liberia in 1847


French take over Algeria


Abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire


Revolt of Sudanese Mahdi; French take over Tunisia


British take over Egypt


Berlin Conference divides Africa amongst the European nations


Sultan of Zanzibar gives Italy favorable trading rights

East Africa carve-up between Germany and Britain creates the boundaries of present day Tanzania and Kenya, respectively


Imperial British East Africa Company chartered


Sultans of Obbia and Aluula place their territories under Italian protection

Rhodesia founded by Cecil Rhodes



Europeans partition East Africa


British establish protectorate in Uganda


British East Africa protectorate established


Ethiopia successfully resists Italian invasion


Mohamed Abdullah, known as the "Mad Mullah,” begins attacks on British in Somalia that would last two decades

British take over Asante (Ghana) peoples and establish protectorate in Nigeria


British annex Asante Kingdom


French colonize Benin (Dahomey)


Entente Cordial between Britain and France concerning the recognition of each other’s African provinces


Union of South Africa: the Cape, Natal, the


Orange Free State, the Transvaal British establish protectorate in Egypt; Northern and Southern Nigeria merged

By 1914

All of Africa except for Ethiopia and Liberia has been divided between European powers


“Mad Mullah” defeated by the British

East Africa Protectorate renamed Kenya


Southern Rhodesia achieves self-governance


British establish protectorate of Northern Rhodesia


Birth of Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Kamiriithu, near Limuru, Kiambu District, Kenya


Birth of Ayi Kwei Armah in Sekondi Takoradi, in western Ghana


Birth of Nuruddin Farah in Baido, Italian Somaliland


Italy renounces all claims to Italian Somaliland, which is placed under a decade- long international trusteeship with Italy as its administering authority



Morocco and Tunisia gain independence from France


Ghana gains independence from Britain


South African Dutch Afrikaners gain independence from Britain


Zaire gains independence from Belgium; Nigeria and British Somaliland gain independence from Britain; Italian Somaliland gains independence from Italy


Tanganyika, Sierra Leone, British Cameroons, and South Africa gain independence from Britain


Algeria gains independence from France


Kenya and Zanzibar gain independence from Britain


Northern Rhodesia gains independence from Britain as Zambia; Nyasaland gains independence from Britain as Malawi; Rhodesia declares independence; Gambia gains independence from Britain


Lesotho and Botswana gain independence from Britain


Mauritius and Swaziland gain independence from Britain