‘So he was sacrificed at the altar of knowledge?’ Kusi tries to reconcile her mother and aunt.
‘For knowing and refusing to know,’ her aunt says confidently.
Is this how Nigerians felt when “Things Fall Apart” or “No Longer at Ease” were released? Is it how the Kenyans felt when “Carcase for Hounds” or “The River Between” were released?
When you ask Google what famous Ugandan novels she knows, she will give you ten names. Only ten names as opposed to the twenty plus of Nigeria or Kenya. One of these ten is Kintu. I can understand why.
For much of the books written by African writers, there is a great chronicling of local history and profiling culture. In fact this is not just African writers, it is writers everywhere. This is why we probably know more about Victorian lifestyle than Ugandan pre-1900 lifestyle. We’ve read more of it than our own.
When you start to read Kintu, you are thrown into a hot scene that showcases one of the worst vices of Ugandan society, “mob justice”. It’s a seemingly random death but a death at the beginning of a book spells a lot of story, as we all know.
Jennifer has a very captivating style of writing. I have seen it in another piece of her work -“Let’s Tell This Story Properly”. Her plot is not structured chronologically. It moves back and forth like a dream but is the kind of dream that has a proper beginning and a meaningful ending.
What she takes us through is a shared story woven over two hundred and fifty-four years. It tells the circumstances of six characters and how their history defines them.
The story is particularly gripping because it talks about home, Uganda, Buganda. It is so gripping because there are so many places it describes that I can walk to now and stand in. Like Mulago. Makerere College School. Bunga. Masaka. Places I have been to. It is gripping because the culture is something I can relate with: The effect of religion, campus life, etc. What’s more is that it tries to explain the reasons to so many unanswered questions in our minds.
It’s a tale of African mysticism that can easily steal your sleep and leave you pondering on your roots.The question of twins for example: I never knew why when twins die in our culture, they say “Babuuse” (they’ve flown). There are so many rites that come with twins that it seemed Baganda were fussing over nothing. When you read the story, you get new found respect or is it apprehension for twins.
It really weaves a tale of its characters alongside that of Buganda and Uganda. This is one book where finally someone talks about pre-British Buganda and pre-independence Uganda and what it meant for the locals. It goes through the different regimes, the issues that affected the country, how they affect individuals; things like HIV, war etc
Jennifer’s tact is in telling you what you have an idea about yourself. I really feel like it’s the first book that gives a fair idea of Uganda/Buganda.
I don’t know how it feels like for non-Baganda or non-Ugandans, but personally it really gave me a shaking.
I admire Jennifer for taking the time to research and teach so many Ugandans and in particular Baganda what they may not know about themselves. I for one know that an urban Muganda maybe a very disengaged Muganda but this book gives one a knock on their head and makes them awake.
I fell in love with Kintu’s life. How it might have been in the 1700s in Buganda. Family life. Sexuality. Kingdom and the other interesting aspects you will find. I also fell in love with Kanani, the Muzukufu because I relate. I understand the writer gives you a bias when it comes to what to believe but I can see the struggle of having to believe in a foreign god when your people believe in the local ones.
I sympathise with Ssuubi who is being haunted by her twin, who lives not exaclty afraid of death but waiting for it in vain. I understand the burden on Miisi’s mind, knowing all you know and not being able to know at the same time.
It’s such a rich book I am glad I did not hurry to read it. I will definitely think more about where I come from, and will look forward to more from Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.
This is a groundbreaking piece of Ugandan work.
Image : http://jennifermakumbi.net/