revolutionary aesthetics in ngugi and mugo’s the trial of dedan kimathi and hussein’s kinjeketile

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revolutionary aesthetics in ngugi and mugo’s the trial of dedan kimathi and hussein’s kinjeketile


The attempt in this study is to examine two notable East African plays, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile, against the background of revolutionary aesthetics as a means of socio-literary engagement. The work is comparative in nature. The realist dimensions in the realization of the theme of revolution are carefully examined including other major themes like oppression, exploitation, poverty, and so on. Copious inferences were drawn from the examination of the selected works. The study is included on the relevance of realist ideology in an aggressive pursuit of freedom, through revolt, against all human and material weapon of colonialism.



Table of Contents


1.1 Introduction

1.2 The Struggle for Independence in Africa

1.3 Pre-Independent Kenya

1.4 Pre-Independent Tanzania

1.5 Purpose of Study

1.6 Justification of Study

1.7 Scope and Limitation

1.8 Methodology



2.1 Literature Review

2.2 Ideological Perspectives on Ngugi Wa Thiong’O and Micere Githea Mugo

2.3 Ideological Perspectives on Ebrahim Hussein



3.1 Introduction

3.2 Authorial Background of The Playwrights

3.3 Analysis of The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile

3.4 Themes and Sub-themes in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile



4.1 Summary

4.2 Findings

4.3 Conclusion




All African nations except Ethiopia have experienced one colonial administration, or the other. It has grown in leaps from pre-colonial to colonial and post-colonial. This project is concerned with the use of revolutionary aesthetics employed by Ngugi and Mugo in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Hussein’s Kinjeketile to conscientize and creates awareness in the people asking them to rise up and change their situation.

Dating largely from the 1930’s, substantial bodies of literature in many languages exist reflecting revolutionary or otherwise extreme social situation. Literature is written to reflect the happenings in the contemporary society. Ngugi (p.6) asserts that:

Literature is more than just a mechanistic reflection of the social reality… it does shape our attitude to life, the daily struggles within a community, and the daily struggles within our individual souls and selves.

Literature is a reflection of life which records or imagines actualities in or for the society. It is employed as a weapon of change, i.e., revolution.

The term “revolution” was coined from the Latin word “revolucio” which means a “turn around”. The Encyclopedia Americana (p.445) defines revolution as: a struggle, more or less successfully and completely accomplished, in which the ruling power of a country passes from one economic class or political group to another class or group.

Revolution is the most extreme but necessary social alternative taken when other options or avenues to achieve reforms have been exhausted. It is meant to arouse the consciousness of man with the revolutionary ideology. It also helps man understand, master his environment and fashion it to serve humanity better. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary (p.1010), revolution is:

“an attempt, by a large number of people, to change the government of a country , especially by violent action

Revolution can be described as a form of radical change in economy, culture and socio–political institutions as expressed in Merriam–Webster’s dictionary (p.1) that revolution is:

“an activity or movement designed to effect fundamental change in the socio-economic situation of man”

Revolution is however regarded as the choice between two alternatives: humanization and dehumanization. Of these two, man’s choice is clear, humanization. But the choice is constantly negated through injustice, exploitation, oppression and the violent of the oppressors.

However, there are other perspectives of revolution. Attempts have been made by African artists to evolve a revolutionary ideology that will negate the evils of colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. The strategic weaponry and ideology in imaginative creativity is the process used. Creativity is the mother of aesthetics. Aesthetics, according to Encyclopedia Britannica (p.277) is “…the philosophy of the science of the beauty of taste or the fine arts…”

The employment of aesthetics in African literature is as old as the vocation itself. From Soyinka to Ngugi, from Hussein to Armah, Africa literature got permeated by beautiful works of art imbued with exciting creativity. That the two attributes of revolution and aesthetics employed in the two texts and the idea that both are revolutionary works that have consciously engaged the medium of drama to covey their important messages cannot be over-emphasized. One can, therefore, see that revolutionary aesthetics play a very great role by ideally and realistically projecting the social structures that influenced the actions of the individuals.

Based on these postulations, committed writers are creating awareness so that with time masses who are conscientized can stand up for their right. The main feature of art in revolution is aimed at empowering the powerless (masses). The aesthetics is in the ability to create social awareness among the oppressed to rise up against their oppressors. Revolutionary aesthetics, therefore, demands among other things the simplicity of expression, humility towards the culture of the people, collective sensibility and the functionality of the message expressed.


In the early eighteen century, various representatives of different European countries were on a quest to acquire material wealth. They went about this by pillaging the African continent, but the continent was not developed enough in terms of arms to be able to defend itself. Thus, these Europeans found that they could easily penetrate the countries and acquire wealth. Africans resisted incursions into their territories at first, but were subdued by the Europeans due to the fact that their arms were more superior to the Africans. Having had absolute control of economic activities, the Europeans began to fight and quarrel with each other based on who should be in charge of the various areas. This was what prompted Bismarck, a German emperor to call a meeting which was held in Berlin in 1884/1885, and Africa was formally divided among the colonial powers to be ruled.

The struggle for independence in Africa led to the use of violence as a revolutionary means to break free from the clutches of the white oppressors who seized their lands and made them landless yet making them laborers on their own lands. Abubakar (p.19) asserts that:

Revolutions, especially politically influenced ones, predate colonial domination in Africa. Africans have not been known to accept oppression and domination lying down. The agitation for changes in leadership and political systems gave rise to numerous uprisings which became popular in the region prior and during the colonial conquest.

Algeria, a North African country experienced French conquest in 1830. War was declared against the colonial administration by the National Liberation Front in 1954. In 1962, a cease-fire was agreed between the two groups and independence was declared.

Nigeria, a West African country also attained independence in 1960 after Nigerians who were educated in Europe and America formed various activist groups like WASU (West African Students’ Union) for the purpose of demanding for self-rule. Other African countries were not left behind in the maze for independence with the exception of Ethiopia, which did not experience any sort of colonial administration. However, our focus is on two East African nations, who struggled for independence via revolution, i.e., Kenya and Tanzania.


Kenya was one of the British colonies in Africa. Thousands of British soldiers were relocated by the British government to Kenya after the First and Second World Wars. Consequently, the natives were dispossessed of their lands and ultimately reduced to low wage labourers and this was one of the propelling factors towards colonial struggle.

The struggle against colonialism was marked by several attempts by the masses to annihilate colonial rule. At first, the masses established peaceful resistant organizations like EAA (East African Association) led by Harry Thuku, KCA (Kikuyu Central Association) which was organized by the ilk of Jesse Kariuki, Joseph King’ethe, James Beauttan and so on which later metamorphosed into KAU (Kenyan African Union), under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta, in 1946. However, these resistance organizations were met with repudiation, hostility and resistance from the imperialist circles. Some of the leaders of these organizations were arrested and exiled while some of the masses of Kenya were also killed.

Due to the failure of this approach, a culture of violent resistance soon developed among the people resulting to the establishment of the Mau Mau movement. The movement’s first strategy was to educate, mobilize and unite as many people as possible and the swearing of oath was implemented. It was characterized by pointing out clearly to the Kenyan masses to road to armed struggle with Dedan Kimathi and Stanley Mathenge as the new leaders.

Kimathi became one of the most prominent of the dominant leaders of Mau Mau’s land and freedom armies, with oversight function for the Aberdare Forest. On the twentieth of October, 1952, Jomo Kenyatta was arrested due to the misguided notion that he was the main organizer of the MauMau movement and a state of emergency was declared after which stringent measures were taken against the Kikuyu peasants.

Kimathi created the Kenya Defense council to co-ordinate guerilla activities and moved to the Nyandarua forest. The government took swift action against the Mau Mau, using repressive action. They began with the banning of KAU because they did not realize that the Mau Mau is an independent movement. The “Operation Anvil” was also launched in Nairobi with 25,000 soldiers and police. The peasants were maltreated, killed or even castrated. Consequently, food and drug supplies could not reach the Mau Mau soldiers. The capture and surrender of General China led to the downfall of the Mau Mau. He confessed and betrayed the Mau Mau by revealing their plans and secrets. Kimathi was captured with Wambui, his “forest wife” and was hanged on the 18th of February, 1957.


The establishment of German colonial rule in Tanzania from 1880 came about through the force of arms. The alternative option of peaceful negotiation did not seem to hold much prospects as non of the African communities was ready even at the age of partition, to surrender their sovereignty to the Europeans without a struggle. But even in the use of force, the German colonialists met with communal rebuffs of a continual nature.

Tanzania is divided into two regions: Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The Africans of Tanganyika were not organized, rather, they were organized in small units, each independent of and sometimes hostile to, the other. The collection of hut tax was ruthlessly enforced. Deprivation, discrimination, forced labour and flogging became the order of the day. The people submitted patiently because they were not united.

The Tanganyika Africans fought bravely in defense of their age-long freedom, such as the ambush of an advancing German expedition led by Emil Von Zelewski by Mkwawa of Uhehe and his people in 1891, another ambush was also organized and executed by Meli Moshi in 1892 which was marred by inter-ethnic rivalries which marked the relations between the Moshi and other Chagga states before the arrival of the Germans, Isike of Unyanyembe also fought bravely to resist the Germans’ advance in 1892. Only Mkwawa of Uhehe tried to ally with Isike of Unyanyembe between 1891 and 1893. Albeit, some ambitious people in almost all the communities used the Germans for their selfish ends, the situation was slightly different in Zanzibar. The colonial rulers in Zanzibar were the Omani Arabs from Muscat, and Seyyid Said headed the government.

The rigour with which tax was collected among the hunger-stricken masses almost led to a rebellion in 1899. By 1900, about twenty Chiefs were executed in the Kilimanjaro area alone and two thousand Africans were also killed for resisting against the imposition of hut tax and this paved the way towards the uprising of the “Maji Maji” revolt. The Maji Maji revolt was the final attempt by the Tanganyika’s old societies to destroy the colonial order by force. While the German masters inhuman treatment of the tribally segmented people of Tanganyika lasted, Kinjeketile Ngwale, a leader and priest of the religious cult of Kolelo rose. He lived in Ngarambe in what is now southern Tanzania. He was believed to possess great legendary powers relating to Hongo, the water god, in a tributary of the River Rufiji. He became a source of strength for the oppressed people. He also became a rallying point for the people’s revolt especially because of the belief that he possessed the power to turn German’s bullet to water. The legendary “Maji” holy water was administered on the people and they started a war campaign against their colonial masters. The various tribes in the colony closed ranks and forged a common alliance in preparation for independent war against the Germans. The Maji Maji revolt began in late July 1905. The discovery of the failure of the “Maji” holy water to provide humility from the bullets of the German troops greatly demoralized them. Kinjeketile was, however, captured and hanged at Mohoro.

The revolt did not bring about the much sought after independence, but it rather laid the foundations for independence. Tanganyika and Zanzibar inspired by their nationalistic interests amalgamated as one country under the name Tanzania which gave them the much needed strength. In respect to these African nations who struggled for independence, two notable plays from East Africa; The Trial of Dedan Kimathi by Ngugi Wa Thiong’O and Micere Githae Mugo (Kenya), and Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile (Tanzania) have been selected as case study.


The study examines revolutionary features in Ngugi Wa Thiong’O and Micere Githae Mugo’s The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile respectively to show the contribution of literature to the revolutionary struggle of the people of East Africa towards liberating themselves. The study does a comparative analysis to assess the differences in the approaches of the playwrights in the selected text of study.


This research work is being embarked upon to exhibit the belief that reality exists independently of observers and then to draw up the lessons embedded in the struggle, how these lessons are utilized and the artists’ perception of the whole business of struggle, freedom and governance. It is a study of the differences between the realist struggler for freedom and the idealist artist who has an Utopian view of the society.

Opinions have actually varied as to how successful Ngugi and Mugo, on the one hand, have employed revolutionary aesthetics in conveying the artists feelings about the struggle for freedom in Kenya, and how Ebrahim Hussein, on the other hand, pursued the same cause in Kinjeketile. The need to lend further clarification to the polarity of opinions has, therefore, arisen and this work sets out to make such clarification. It is hoped on the whole that the present attempt will lead to enhanced readership of East African literature in particular but also all the literature that are embedded in revolutionary ideologies that aim to salvage humanity. revolutionary aesthetics

1.7 SCOPE AND LIMITATIORevolution permeates the literature of all cultures- European, Arabic, African etc. Few examples have already been given in the earlier part of this study. The scope of this study, however, covers only the comparison revolutionary aesthetics in two notable east African works, namely, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile regarding critical analysis of the personae of the different protagonists, and how the aesthetics and message of revolution was vehicled across through these works. revolutionary aesthetics

The scope is however limited to only the afore-mentioned works, yet, there is much more to do on the same theme as projected by other African writers. The future of revolutionary aesthetics in literature certainly holds much work and much excitement. revolutionary aesthetics


The research work will be approached in line with the theory of realism. The approach concerns itself with finding out what produces change, what makes things happen and forces change. revolutionary aesthetics It establishes relations on natural necessity rather than the relations of logical necessity and how closely associated it is with historical materialism. revolutionary aesthetics

The research work will help us understand the concept of social structures that influence and are influenced by the action of individuals. It will also project the movement along the daily and life paths which leads to the accumulation of mental experience that shaped intentions and influenced movements which will be highly supported by evidence projected in the plays and actions, illuminated by reasons, thereby ,encouraging us to put ourselves in the same condition as experienced by these individuals. The study proceeds to compare the plays and draw the implications and relevance of the revolutionary undertones in the texts for the contemporary society.revolutionary aesthetics

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