Devil on the Cross

If you want to know Ngugi  Wa Thiong’o and his politics, this novel will tell. The ‘Devil on the Cross’ is dense, multi-themed, and educative in a way that challenges ignorance and apathy both for the oppressor and the oppressed.

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    Ngugi Wathiong’O                                                                                                                                             ©2017 University of Massachusetts Amherst                                                                                          

His manner of telling is natural, like a Sage reminding his children and their generations to come the things they must not forget, the wisdom and knowledge of their fathers.

Written in Gikuyu and translated into English, the Devil on the Cross embraces readers with characters in natural states we can relate to. A Matatu ride across the Rift valley to IIlmorog creates a space for passengers to explore inhibiting conflicts that deters them from living happy lives, their discussions were insightful to understanding the problems of the Kenyan Nation.With an exciting point of view, its narratives represent multiple issues that are of concern to international development.

It makes a case for the value of Literature:

‘Did they ever teach you that literature is a nation’s treasure? Literature is the honey of a nation’s soul, preserved for her children to taste forever, a little at a time. A nation that has cast away its literature is a nation that has sold its soul and has been left a mere shell.’

Through the character of Gatuiria a junior research fellow in African Culture, he made a case for Language Equity:

‘Gatuiria spoke Gikuyu like many educated Kenya-people who stutter like babies when speaking their national languages but conduct fluent conversations in foreign languages…The slavery of language is the slavery of the mind and nothing to be proud of.

Let us now look about us. Where are our national languages now? Where are the books written in the alphabets of our national languages? Where is our own literature now? Where is the wisdom and knowledge of our fathers now? Where is the philosophy of our fathers now?’

And likewise a case for Cultural equity:

Our culture has been dominated by the Western imperialist cultures. That is what we call in English cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism is the mother to the slavery of the mind and body. It is cultural imperialism that gives birth to the mental blindness and deafness that persuades people to allow foreigners to tell them what to do in their own country.

It is a tragedy that there is no where we can go to learn the history of our country… our stories, our riddles, our songs, our customs, our traditions; everything about our national heritage has been lost to us.

Who can play the gicaandi for us today and read and interpret the verses written on the gourd? Today who can play the wandindi, the one-stringed violin… Today who can play the bamboo flute, whose sound makes the hearts of a young man and a maiden beat in unison as they go to the fields to scare birds from millet fingers while the moon casts its light over the land?’

Mwaura the Matatu Driver’s character raises critical questions that are akin to challenging theories of religious absolutism/relativism:

‘Let’s go back to the question of God and Satan. I have never set eyes on either of them. But let’s agree they both exist. Each has his own powers. And it is true that both have always sought votes on this earth, the vote are cast in the heart of men. Can’t you see then that each is capable of improving or ruining your fortunes on this earth?…So we businessmen pay off God and the Devil against each other. We don’t like to anger either of them. We pray to both.

Business is my temple, and money is my God. But if some other God exists, that’s all right. Sometimes I pour out a little liquor for him so that he won’t be tempted to do to me what he once did to Job. I don’t examine the world too minutely. If it leans this way, I lean with it. The earth is round, and it changes.

Beyond his highlights of corruption being the cancer in Kenya, what I loved most in this ngugi twonovel is its very apt narrative of the inequality between the man and the woman. Waringa’s character tells a story of Mahua Kareendi, a girl whose realities represents the struggle of many teenage mothers and broadly, women in general.

…she was born in the village, her education is limited. Before she reaches Form Two, Kareendi has had it.

She is pregnant.

Who is responsible?

A student, say. The student doesn’t have a cent to his name… Kareendi where can you turn now?

On the other hand, we could imagine that the man responsible for the pregnancy is a Loafer from the village. The loafer is jobless. He hasn’t even a place to lay his head…Little Kareendi where will you turn?  Perhaps the loafer has a job in the city, but his salary is five shillings a month…who will wipe away Kareendi’s tears now?

Or let’s say that a rich man is the father of the child. Isn’t that kind of affair the fashion these days? The rich man has a wife…

Student, Loafer, Rich man- their response is the same when Kareendi tells them about her condition. “What! Kareendi, who are you claiming is responsible for the pregnancy? Me? How have you worked that out? Go on and pester someone else with your delusions, Kareendi of the easy thighs, ten-cent Kareendi. You can cry until your tears have filled oil drums- it will make no difference. Kareendi, you can’t collect pregnancies wherever you may and then lay them at my door just because one day I happened to tease you…’

It is appalling that babies should emerge from the mother’s womb as corpses. Kareendi has the baby. And she doesn’t throw it into a latrine pit, nor does she abandon it at the road side or in a bus.  Kareendi places on the shoulder of her mother or the grandmother the burden of bringing up this baby. Bur Kareendi’s mother and grandmother warn (her) not to make a habit of this:

“Be on guard from now on, Kareendi. Do not forget that men have stings, vicious and corrosive, the poison of which never leaves the flesh of their victims.”

At the time of reading Kareendi’s story, I was reflecting on the destructive words of Tanzanian President John Magufuli:

‘As Long as I am President… no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school…after getting pregnant, you are done.

Justifying his position, he further says: ‘After calculating some few mathematics, she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom, ‘Let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby.’

Juxtaposing Magufuli’s narratives with the narratives of Ngugi, one can’t help noting that the former (Ngugi Wathiong’O) is empathetic and progressive, while the later (John Magufuli) is judgemental and retrogressive. I couldn’t help thinking I will recommend this novel to President John Magufuli as it may offer him a mind-shift. Perhaps if he knows better, he will do better.

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Unlike him, Ngugi is that father that knows the pain that his daughters are not telling, what the four walls of  the Boss’s office sees and hears. He knows that even when a girl survives the crookedness of her young lovers, she will still have Boss Kihara-whose hairy chest has been shaved with money-to contend with. He knows how though tempted, she is forced to turn down Kihara‘s shopping baskets from haute culture houses of Paris in rejection wrapped with civility.  He knows that in soulless cities like Nairobi, the Modern Love Bar and Lodging has become the main employment bureau for girls, and women’s thighs are the tables on which contracts are signed. He knows that amongst all other common struggle, the modern African woman still has to make peace with the fact that the world wants to eat from her thighs.

The Devil on the Cross is a novel that parades too many devils. Ngugi does a good job of nailing them all on the cross of Inequality. Generally, this novel addresses the different shades of inequalities and how it undignifies and divides people; it projects the urban/rural dichotomies, the pain of the rural people whose sweats are used to fatten urban cities that don’t welcome them. It exposes the political, economic and socio-cultural systems that create these gaps. Global inequality projects like the Guardian, Ford foundation  #InequalityIs among others will find this great novel a complement to their course. The message is clear; addressing inequality should be at the centre of all development endeavours.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field and you don’t notice it. By reading this book, I made God happy. The color purple written by Alice Walker was set in the time when Horses and their wagons gave horspitality. Then lived Celie and her sister Nettie, there were many Mr._____; Albert, Alphonso. There was Harpo, Sofia, Shug Avery and others. In those days, the enemy was not the horse thieves; it was Mr._____ .

Celie wrote many letters to God about the days of her life. Whether God will read her letter or No, Celie went on IMG_7683writing. She told God about Celie the orphan and Celie the mother of two children conceived with her father and later given out for others to raise. She told God about other people’s children she nursed; the good  and the bad ones, their good and their bad days. With hints of humor, she describes the children’s prevailing illness in winter, ‘they have flue , they have direar, they have newmonya,… twoberkulosis.

Celie shared her life as a victim of two Mr._____s . The parts of the story that constructs the character of Mr.____  stinks with all sorts of domestic violence; rape, battery, emotional abuse… She expresses this strand of theme as captured below.

‘Harpo ask his daddy why he beat me. Mr._____ say, cause she my wife. Plus she stubborn. He beats me like he beat children. He say, Celie, git the belt. The children be outside the room peeking through the cracks. It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you are a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man.

Scenes from the Movie The color purple

A scene from the movie ‘The Color purple’.

Using the Mr._____ without a name for a better part of the book can be further understood in her words ‘Most times, mens look pretty much alike to me’. This generalization raises the question on whether the male gender had a monopoly to the kind of violence Celie  experienced. I asked myself if violence was innate or socialized. Could men also be a victim of domestic violence? Could women like Celie who played victim also become enablers, reinforcing what they have been given trans-generationally?

My questions found answers in the arrival of Harpo’s wife Sofia who represents the defiant new generation of amazon sisters that are not shy or afraid to backtalk. Mr._____ advices Harpo to hit Sofia to show who got the upper hand. Celie surprisingly concurs to the idea that ‘Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating’. Sadly, the next day, Harpo returns back to them with a black eye and a silence which in a way highlights the silent crime of male abuse present in our society. After some confrontations, Celie confesses that indeed, ‘some women can’t be beat, Sofia one of them’.

Harpo feeling his body size made him weak to Sofia, is triggered to gluttony with the expectation he will get as fat as Sofia; but only his belly gets fat. Harpo and Sofia show that gender roles are indeed fluid. Though Harpo desires Sofia to be just a ‘wife’, she was instead the ladder carrying, roof nailing girl who hunts with bow and arrows and batters her husband deservingly.

The character of Celie in the movie ‘The Color Purple’.

Harpo’s character breaks the bleak boundary of traditional gender roles. He questions the normative division of labour in an age where women were caught in the field cotton chopping, labouring all day tending their crops and praying.

Describing the impact of this intense work, Celie says ‘I’m roasted coffee bean colour now.’ This clearly makes a case time poverty, a concept that is not fully explored among women in developing countries. Celie could not even get time to see her fantasy superstar queen-honey-bee; Shug Avery, no matter how intensely she desired to.

In an ironic way, super star Shug Avery who also is the love of Mr._____ life, walks into Celie’s life sick with twoberculosis. Shugs presence created a paradigm shifts, an epiphany! Though a superstar, Shug is yet another human with life’s ravages. Unlike she appeared in the picture, she was only kinky haired, black as tar woman with legs like baseball bat. Thanks to her, the identity of  Mr._____ who Celie married is revealed as Albert. He is de-constructed with a display of all his weaknesses.

Celie nurses Shug to health and in return Shug protects her away from Mr._____ Albert’s violence. She gives her access to piles of letters from her only sister Nettie which Mr._____ Albert has hidden from her. Shug teaches Celie sexuality, empowering her with sexual and spiritual freedom. Through Shug’s character, the author re-constructs the identity of Celie‘s God sharing why sinners have more good time with less consciousness of the injected fear of God.

‘Shug say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found Godin church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.’

With Shug’s impact and influence, Celie finds the courage to question her relationship with a silent God she has written letters to all these while.

What God do for me?…Yeah ,I say and he give me a lynched daddy, a crazy Mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown.

Finally Celie’s life just began. In one sentence, she expressed the new dynamics. ‘Dear Nettie, I don’t write God no more. I write to you.’  Writing and reading and from Nettie her sister who is now a missionary in Africa served a window for Celie to learn about Africa and coincidentally how the children she assumably conceived through incest with her dad were doing now under Nettie’s care. She learnt about trains, ships, and slave trade which she could liken to the experience of Sofia eventually losing her freedom for five years in jail after fighting the white mayor; Sofia became a slave to Mrs Millie the Mayor’s wife.

Alice Walker showed a mastery of the language art with a seamless swing from uneducated Celie’s broken English to learned Nettie’s standard English. The stories are woven perfectly allowing most characters second chances in life. For many of them, life took them on full circles, sometimes returning them to relationships with the devils they left behind. In a moving reunion, the author brings to an end a life of absence between two sisters.

A scene from the movie ‘the color purple’.

I am not at all surprised ‘The Colour Purple’ bagged the Pulitzer Prize of 1983 and also won the National book Award. Doing a summary of this book is pure injustice to it, this evergreen book is wholesome. It addresses racism, sexism, and the social constructions of gender roles. It ruffles the normatives of organised  religion. It makes a perfect complement for discourses around gender based violence which CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) addresses. It recognizes violence as constituting a violation of women’s human rights; that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. Alice Walker’s narratives resonates deeply with the understanding of violence as an act that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.

The Color purple  explores issues of identities, questioning all colour-based definitions of the African identity in the dichotomy between the descendant of African slaves seeking to lay claims on Africa like the Missionary Nettie and Samuel, and the people of Olinka who don’t accept them as Africans.

While examining rural development issues and the conflicts of imposed civilization, it also highlights the issues of unpaid work and time poverty; a concept least explored for women in developing countries.

Author Alice Walker. Photo by the South Bank Centre. http://tiny.cc/dnx6sx

Author Alice Walker. Photo by the South Bank Centre. http://tiny.cc/dnx6sx

This epistolary novel published in 1982 made an indelible impact. It’s letter written format served as a great tool for communication and  reflective practices. Deservingly, the novel has been adapted into a movie which equally expresses the power to communicate the issues raised by the author.

To Alice Walker, I would have titled this book ‘A letter to God’ as your deconstruction of God remains the best gift I received from it; I learnt that God is inside me as me. I admire the spiritual awareness you have shared here. May you remain the Big Purple Flower in my hair.

Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

No Hoodie No Honey

Just in my very early twenty’s then, I had become excited about carrying a condom. I was grateful for the confidence my new knowledge on sexual reproductive health gave. I used to be the naive girl who could only say NO but never knew how to say YES in a sexual encounter. I was the shy girl who could not be caught dead discussing sex, purchasing or owning a condom. Like many other girls caught up in the socially constructed ‘good girl myth’ I too would deny that sex happens, despite our beliefs. We all seemed to think that unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortion, HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) only happened to ‘bad girls’ until it happened to the ‘good girl’ we knew.

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Adeola Olunloyo is the NPO – BCC & Advocacy UNFPA, Nigeria.

Listening to Adeola Olunloyo my trainer and mentor in those days was remarkable. From her, I learnt the most important lessons about my reproductive and sexual health. This was a game changer; it meant I was in charge of my sexuality. I had power over unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection and a promise of a fulfilling adult life. My best of her topic was how to wear a condom.  I was awed at her mastery of the penal model. Watching her facilitate the session that sunny afternoon at the youth camp, I knew right away that I will be wearing her shoes.

There began my journey as a reproductive and sexual health trainer.  The climax was teaching shy clergy men and women the ABC of condom use; Exhilarating! Years passed, camp to camp, class to class, I met young boys and girls excited and many times shy to learn about condoms. Broad shouldered, bold faced, the boys will step out in bravado volunteering to prove their skills at wearing a condom. The girls remained sticklers to the good girl myth; which often left them ignorant of their rights and role in managing what happens in and outside their bodies.  After all, the boys should know it all as the girls are better naïve.

Photo by Inhabitat.com/Lori Zimmer

Photo by Inhabitat.com/Lori Zimmer

Year after year and not one boy or girl though sexually active got how to rip and roll a condom right. Reflecting on each failed attempt, I realised that while they should have been taught, perhaps no one did teach them. Most boys learnt to wear condoms by instinct and the few lucky girls learnt from their inept boyfriends. This pattern extends to knowledge of all things empowering about sex, the contraceptive measures, and the negotiation skills among others. This socialization contributes highly to the cases of teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and new cases of HIV infections in our society.

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Photo by vukuzenzele.gov.za http://tiny.cc/4ay3px

Nothing gets a girl out of the classroom faster than unplanned pregnancy. From the story of Precious in the 1996 novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, to Raven in ‘SpellBound’ , Aisha in ‘Chill Wind’ (both by Janet McDonald) and others, all of them tell tales of broken girls forced to drop out or change schools. For most of them, once was enough; they didn’t need a second sexual encounter to get pregnant. Suddenly they are being asked to PUSH…, experience motherhood in their childhood, and watch the crib rather than their books. For many, abortion or adoptions are familiar experiences, and for even more unlucky ones, HIV is an addition.  All of these stories tell tales of altered lives, girls falling apart in an emotionally crippling way, limiting development and economic potentials.

The No Hoodie No Honey project by UNFPA thrills me. Finally, a bigger platform for addressing things we would rather not talk about is here for the African youth. The videos are engaging and educative, the characters familiar. The evidence-based IEC materials developed under this project potentially drives the discussions that empower young people; especially girls to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies, STIs by practicing safer sex.toju1 (2)

Ratidzai Ndhlovu, the UNFPA (United Nation’s Population Fund) Nigeria’s representative shares that the No Hoodie No Honey campaign further expresses the importance of young people to the UNFPA mandate. Hence, by expanding access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services for young people (especially girls),  No Hoodie No Honey project will facilitate a value shift and paradigm shift among boys and girls to create a society where neither culture  nor beliefs will deny women the freedom and power to negotiate safer sex.

Every year, 16million girls under the age of 18 give birth especially in low and middle income countries. Many of these cases are unplanned. This has implication for population growth and economic development. In putting the global population issues on the spotlight, the World Population Day (2013) focused its theme on adolescent pregnancies and the need to take action. Yet, the adolescent girl with a swollen belly continues to live among us.

It is my hope that young people will like I did years ago, take advantage of this platform to address their knowledge gaps on reproductive and sexual health issues. I do hope that young girls will stop their assumptions and take charge of their sexuality; negotiating when, where, and how they experience sex.

Dear girls, unplanned pregnancy is violence against self, don’t be left behind, don’t be the girl who couldn’t say NO!

 

Written by  ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye.