Ngugi wa Thiong'o

translated from the Gikuyu by Wangui wa Goro
Heinemann 1989
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006
The struggle for independence over, a resistance fighter comes out of the bush, buries his AK47, and girds himself with a belt of peace. But he finds life in the newly independent state is far from his dreams, with business continuing very much as it did before. Using the name Matigari ma Nijiruungi, "the patriots who survived the bullets", he joins up with a worker, a prostitute, and an orphan. When he confronts the sons of those he had fought, demanding the house he built, he is locked up. He and the others in his cell tell one another their stories before miraculously escaping.

As rumours about him spread, Matigari goes in search of truth and justice. He asks in shopping centres, law courts, eating places, and farmlands. He asks old women and students and teachers and priests. And finally at a public meeting he asks the Minister for Truth and Justice and his parrots, only to be locked up in a mental hospital.

Here Matigari takes off his belt of peace and tramples it, remembering that "Justice for the oppressed comes from a sharpened spear". Escaping, he is tracked down with dogs but disappears, becoming a myth and leaving his weapons and his words to those among the next generation who will take up the struggle.

"Who is Matigari? they asked one another. How on earth are we going to recognise him? What does he look like? What nationality is he? Is Matigari a man or woman anyway? Is he young or old? Is he fat or thin? Is he real or just a figment of people's imagination? Who or what really is Matigari ma Nijiruungi? Is he a person, or is it a spirit?"

Matigari was written in Gikuyu and modelled on a traditional Kikuyu tale, but it could be set almost anywhere in Africa. It mixes oral tradition, Marxism and Christianity, concrete detail and symbolism, and humour, poetry and politics, in a simple but powerful story.

May 2006

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%T Matigari
%A Ngugi wa Thiong'o
%M Gikuyu
%F Wangui wa Goro
%I Heinemann
%D 1989 [1987]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0435905465
%P 175pp