Elleke Boehmer
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‘The master’s dance to the master’s voice’
Revolutionary nationalism and women’s representation in Ngugi wa Thiong’o

In Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary (1981), the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o points to the strong position that women characters have held in his work over the years. Beginning with the writing of the epic-length Petals of Blood (1977), Ngugi came unequivocally to identify with the plight of the neo-colonially betrayed Kenyan peasantry. His nationalism of the 1960s thus turned increasingly revolutionary and openly Marxist. With respect to his determination in the later novels to develop powerful women characters as counterparts to the strong hero figures he favours, in Ngugi's early work similar tendencies emerge in embryonic form. In particular, as the focus in the early novels is more on the remote past and the pristine origins of Gikuyu people, mother figures signify prominently. As if to make amends, Ngugi, in his more recent work, introduces heroines who have made a decisive break with a former life of mothering and/or whoring in their commitment to a revolutionary cause. To him, other interests give way before the ‘higher social system of democracy and socialism’ in a free Kenya.

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Stories of women

Gender and narrative in the postcolonial nation


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