Matigari by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o | Summary and Analysis


23 Mar 2015 14 Dec 2017

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"Matigari" is novel written by one of the most famous east African writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. The novel "Matigari" was first written and published in Kikuyu in 1986, which was later translated and published in English in the year 1987. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, wrote "Matigari" in Kikuyu so that the messages within the novel can reach the masses of Africa (the poor). According to F.Odun Balogun, Ngugi states that "African literature in foreign languages is inaccessible to the vast majority of the African population" (Balogun 129). He even renounced his Christian name James and English language and began writing in his native language Kikuyu and Swahili because English to him is a colonial language which undermines the colonized. The novel " Matigari" takes on the oral form where the narrator can be seen as telling a story to his readers or listeners. For an example the novel starts with a note to readers or listeners" Once upon a time, in a country with no name..." ( Ngugi wa Thiong'o ix). However, "Matigari oral tradition does not serve, as in the past, but rather is served by the Western novelistic tradition" ( Balogun 131). Some of the main issues confronted by Ngugi wa Thiong'o in the novel are oppression, colonization, decolonization and neo-colonization. Furthermore it is also about Matigari, the protagonist of the novel in search of truth and justice in his land where the people(masses) are oppressed by their own countrymen who held power( bourgeoisie), a form of neocolonialism.

According to Ngugi wa Thiong'o, " there are only two types of people in the [Kenyan] land-patriots and the oppressors" ( Nyame. JR 128). It is clear that this statement is significant because there are patriots and the oppressors in the novel " Matigari". Patriots are represented by characters such as Matigari ma Njiruungi, "the patriots who survived the bullets"( Ngugi wa Thiong'o 20), Guthera, Muriuki and Ngaruro wa Kiriro. The patriots love their country and strive for it's freedom from the oppressors. They are willing to give up their lives for their beloved land. "This is a special announcement. This is a special announcement. The police have shot one of the escaped madmen. He has been identified as Ngaruro wa Kiriro" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 135). In the novel "Matigari", the patriots firstly fought against the white colonialist (oppressors) who colonized and dominated Africa. The colonizers ill treated the colonized as if they were the "other" who are looked upon as uncivilized and needed to be controlled. " Much of the narrative of the novel centers on the exploitative relations between the colonizers and the Kenyans, for whom Matigari is a representative"( Nyame. JR 129 ).Furthermore these colonizers reaped all the resources of Africa for their own benefits and left the masses to dwell in poverty. For an example,

"You see I built the house with my own hands. But Settler Williams slept in it and I would sleep outside the veranda. I tended the estates that spread around the house for miles. But it was Settler Williams who took home the harvest....I worked all the machines and in all the industries, but it was settler Williams who would take the profits to the bank and I would end up with the cent that he flung my way... I produced everything on the farm with my own labour. But all the gains went to Settler Williams" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 21).

The protagonist, Matigari ma Njiruungi is a patriot who went to the forest to oppose the colonialists and fight for freedom of his land. He had spend many years in the forests and mountains to hunt down the oppressors so that he could liberate his country and countrymen. " Matigari's character represents everyone who toiled under the colonialists and fought in the war of independence" (Loflin 90). Armed with his AK47 and other weapons, Matigari spent many years hunting down colonialist Settler Williams and John Boy(Settler's servant). After his victory, he reemerges from the forest to reclaim what was his, especially his "house". Matigari felt freedom and liberation was achieved by his country and people from the white settlers. Our main protagonist Matigari even buries his weapons under the mugumo fig tree and girdles himself with a belt of peace believing that full independence was attained from the oppressors. To his utter dismay, though they may have gained independence from the colonialists, now they are being ruled by African themselves ( bourgeoisie imperialist) who treat their own people badly. Matigari attempts to challenge the new type (neo-colonialism) of oppression peacefully, but failed. He searched for days for truth and justice; but had to succumb to defeat for there is none under the African exploitative regime. For example, "He approaches a student, a teacher, and a priest ; all fail abysmally. Their denial of Matigari condemns them as irresolute and complicit with the oppression" (Gurnah 171). Finally he resorts to arms and trampled his belt of peace because he realized that " justice for the oppressed comes from a sharpened spear" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 131). "The prototypical revolutionary hero, Matigari, must ultimately abandon his attempts to challenge the current system peacefully"(Williams 60). Matigari had to take up arms in order to get back his "house" again, but now against The Minister of Truth and justice , John Boy JR who are the oppressive elite Africans.

Guthera and Miuruki are also patriots in the novel " Matigari". However they were transitioned from being the oppressed to become patriots with the influence of Matigari ma Njiruungi. Both of them played important roles in helping Matigari to make sure that John Boy JR, " will never sleep in my house again" (157). Guthera for example, lets go of her eleventh commandment "never open my legs for any policemen, these traitors no matter how much they are prepared to pay for the favors"( Ngugi wa Thiong'o 37) in order to save Matigari from the policemen. This proves that she wants to safe a patriot who is in the path of justice, truth, right and yearns goodness for the country and it's people. Furthermore through her narratives we came to know that her father( a Church Elder) was a patriot as well who was arrested and killed for he would not support the oppressors. Guthera was ready to die by going against the traitors and the oppressors with Matigari. She wants to be the vanguard and never wants to get left behind. Guthera states " One can die once, and it is better to die in the pursuit of what is right" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 139). Thus it is clear in the novel that Guthera too a patriot following the footsteps of Matigari ma Nijuungi.

Muriuki is an orphan who lives in the children village(scrapyard) and survived by scavenging rubbish after paying entrance fee. He called an old Mercedes Benz at the scrapyard his house . Muriuki was not the only one,for there were many children parents-less and poor due to the new ruling system after independence which cared less. Muriuki like Guthera joined Matigari's quest in the battle against these oppressing bourgeoisie Africans. " It is a world in which the bourgeoisie act criminally within the law" (Indangasi 194). Muriuki may have not been under the oppression of the colonizers but he is under the injustices of neocolonialism within Africa. He understands that his land is in absence of justice and Matigari was willing to get it back for them. So Muriuki joins him and becomes a patriot himself. He even called himself and his fellow Children of the village as ,

" Yes. We are the the children of Matigari ma Njiruungi, we are the children of the patriots of the patriots who survived the war" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 139).

He aided in Matigari's mission by providing him shelter at children village from the policemen and accompanied him alongside with Guthera . At the end of the novel Muriuki was portrayed as picking up Matigari's weapons from the mugumo tree and strapping them to himself . This then establish an understanding that Muriuki will continue Matigari's fight and mission for freedom as a patriot for his beloved country from the heartless oppressors. Hence, even though Matigari and Guthera were never stated as survived or dead in end of the novel,through Muriuki, "Matigari ma Njiruungi remains undefeated" (Loflin 90).

Ngaruro wa Kiriro a factory worker was also classified as a patriot in the novel " Matigari". In the first few pages of the novel, we can see that Ngaruro was involved in a strike outside the factory. This is because the workers were not being paid appropriately and were being unjustly treated .Ngaruro, was not afraid to ask for justice. According to the Minister of Truth and Justice, Ngaruro was the first to stood up in public and oppose the presidential decree after the independence. For that he was sent to the mental hospital with Matigari. However before he was taken away, Nagruro shouted bravely ,"you may arrest me , but the workers will never stop demanding their rights" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 123). Sadly he was killed by the policemen for resisting the power abusing ruling party Kiama Kiria Kirathana(KKK).

According to Ngugi wa Thiong'o, " there are only two types of people in the [Kenyan] land-patriots and the oppressors" ( Nyame. JR 128). In the novel " Matigari" there are two types of oppressors. The first oppressor would be the white colonialist like Settler Williams. The second oppressor in the he novel would be the elite African themselves who misuse power and oppress the poor people. For example, John Boy JR, The Minister for Justice and Truth, His Excellency Ole Excellence and the ruling party KKK" who are 'sell-outs', 'traitors', 'parasites', 'enemies', 'ogres', and even 'dogs'" (Idangasi 194). The mass of Africa felt that they were out from the frying pan into the fire. Lives and standard of living of the people in the novel after independence did not get better but deteriorated. Children living in old cars, women are prostituting themselves , unjust at working place and corruption within the police enforcements are some of the examples portrayed in the novel. If a person were to question these abuses, The Minister for Truth and Justice himself sends the questioner to jail or mental asylum. The establishment of Parratology and newspaper Daily Parratology, were ways to keep the masses under control by the neo-colonial power as well. People who subdue and abide to their unjust laws were called " Loyalists" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 103). These oppressors having the black skin but white masks behaved like they were the colonialists and ill treated their own people. Sadly after fighting against the colonialists, now Matigari has to continue battling against the neo-colonial power. "Having fought against colonial rule, he returns to discover that injustice still exists, albeit in a slightly different form that reflects changed circumstances of neo-colonial society. Settler Williams and his servant John Boy, whom Matigari had fought to death in the forest, have been replaced by their sons, now partners in reaping-what-theydid-not-sow" (Gurnah 170).

The white colonialist had given a few people(elite) like John By colonial education. Furthermore he was brought up to see his own people through the lenses of the colonialists. Now, this education which instills ideology of the colonizers was given by the oppressors for their own benefits. The elite Africans ,to white colonizers are still collaborating servants , and not much difference from the masses. Through this colonial education, the colonialists retained power over the colonialized land. "African leaders is itself a product of a discursive formation and ideological construct specific to the project of mental and psychological colonization of Africans perpetrated by colonialist ideology" (Nyame JR 134). Therefore,in the novel " Matigari" Ngugi states that though liberation was achieved by the Africans from the colonizers , their minds were not decolonized. Ideology of the oppressors still lingers within the leaders and it creates more subordination, poverty, oppression to the African society.According to Ngugi and Maya Jaggi, "What is needed is for us in Africa and the Third World to become as conscious of neo-colonial arrangements and their economic, political and cultural implications, and to be horrified by them with the same force, determination and sincerity, as we were vis-al-vis colonialism"(Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Maya Jaggi 246). For example in the novel, Africans have this strong sense of communal bonds and in the novel Matigari calls almost everyone his child. However, John Boy JR prefers the "individual" over the term "masses" because it is primitive. The change of thought within John Boy JR are brought about by colonizers. "Our country has remained in the darkness because of the ignorance of our people. They don;t know the importance of the word "individual", as opposed to the word "masses". White people are advanced because they respect the word and therefore honor the freedom of the individual, which means freedom of everyone to follow his own whims without worrying about others" (Ngugi wa Thiong'o 48). Thus, the dream of Matigari and others that someday John Boy JR will be the future patriot was dashed. These elite Africans become the neo-colonisers and imperialists , who continue the oppression taught by the settlers.

In conclusion, the statement "there are only two types of people in the [Kenyan] land-patriots and the oppressors" ( Nyame. JR 128) is relevant for the main characters within the novel " Matigari" are the patriots and the oppressors. However, one must not forget that there are the oppressed Africans depicted in the novel as well represented by the student, teacher and priest who would rather be complacent than fight for truth and justice. They are scared to voice out their opinions for fear of trouble. So they rather ignore and deny Matigari rather than joining him in the battle for freedom and decolonization.

Work Cited

Indangasi, Henry. "Ngugi's Ideal Reader and the Postcolonial Reality." The Yearbook of English Studies 27 (1997): 193-200. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.

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Loflin, Christine. "Ngũĩgĩ wa Thiong'o's Visions of Africa." JSTOR 26.4 (1995): 1-19. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.

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Ngugi wa Thiong'o, . Matigari. Bostwana: Heinemann Kenya Ltd, 1987. N. pag. Print.

Ngugi wa, Thiong'o, and Maya Jaggi. "Matigari as Myth and History: An Interview." Third World Quarterly 11.4 (1989): 241-51. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.

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Nyame JR, Kwado Osei. "Ngugi wa Thiong'o's "Matigari: and the Politics of Decolonization." A Review of International English Literature 30.3 July (1999): 127-40. Print.

Williams, Katherine. "Decolonizing the Word: Language, Culture, and Self in the Works of Ngũĩgĩwa Thiong'o and Gabriel Okara." Research in African Literatures 22.4 (1991): 53-61. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.

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