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Fictions of African Dictatorship

Cultural Representations of Postcolonial Power


Edited By Charlotte Baker and Hannah Grayson

Fictions of African Dictatorship examines the fictional representation of the African dictator and the performance of dictatorship across genres. The volume includes contributions focusing on literature, theatre and film, all of which examine the relationship between the fictional and the political. Among the questions the contributors ask: what are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy? How does the dictator novel interrogate ideas of veracity? How is power performed and ridiculed? How do different writers reflect on questions of authority in the postcolony, and what are the effects on their stories and modes of narration? This volume untangles some of the intricate workings of dictatorial power in the postcolony, through twelve close readings of works of fiction. It interrogates the intersections between real and literary space, exploring censorship, political critique and creative resistance. Insights into a wide range of lesser known texts and contexts make this volume an original and insightful contribution to scholarship on representations of dictatorship.

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5. From Ritual to Fiction: The Wizard of the Crow (Maria Muresan)

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5    From Ritual to Fiction: The Wizard of the Crow

From Eldoret to Eldares

In 2006, the Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o published The Wizard of the Crow, which can be read both as a work of dictator fiction that shares many traits with postmodern historiographic metafiction (Hutchinson, Walsh) and as an African sorcery novel. The novel develops the anti-epic of a very specific historical sequence from the Kenyan dictatorship after independence: the rule and politics of Daniel arap Moi. The novelty of Ngũgĩ’s work of fiction consists in using the figures and performance of witchcraft (cursing, dance, divination and incantations) to make a statement about development on the African continent after independence. A witch doctor (Kamiti) and a revolutionary woman, at times disguised as a Limping Witch (Nyawira), join forces to cure the megalomaniac apparatus of the Ruler and his absurd ‘Marching to Heaven’ project that illustrate all too well the arbitrary rule in the postcolony, the private indirect government and its out-worldly logic (‘du hors-monde’).1 I will argue in this article that Ngũgĩ uses the fiction of sorcery to make optimally visible the development of the African continent as a problematic field through which the question of the possibility of an African democratic life must be addressed. The narrative around the Wizard constitutes a ‘rhetoric of fictionality’ that allows Ngũgĩ to question (Walsh) whether an instance of African democracy rooted in the voices and practices of the African people and the subaltern subject is strategically more efficient than the ‘extraversion strategy’ imposed by the ← 99 | 100 → neo-liberal politics of the World Bank in the postcolony.2 The main literary device turns very specific religious symbols and rituals into elements of a fictional narrative that acquire highly philosophical and political meanings in the new context of the novel. By being fictionalized, the main traits of the ritual described by Catherine Bell are laid bare: the misrecognition of ritual as power strategy, and of power as ritualization of life, whereby the ritualized subjects do not see themselves doing what they do.

Ritualized agents do not see themselves as projecting schemes; they see themselves only acting in a socially instinctive response to how things are. […] This misrecognition involves another in turn: participants do not recognize that the objectified schemes which they re-embody have been orchestrated so that the patterns of dominance and subordination they contain generate the sense of integrated totality and embracing holism experienced by the participants.3

The misrecognition involved in the formation of a ritualized political body (the Ruler, his ministers and their surveillance apparatus) or the new financial elite (Tajirika) is made manifest by rituals of healing, divination and cursing, which contain the promise of a true democratic body politics. Democracy will thereby be perceived in the increased visibility of the links between ritual performance, and its power to shape both the mind and the social body.4 On the one hand, the Dictator’s commandment is revealed as an anomalous ritualized body. On the other hand, the people’s religious and spiritual rituals gradually reveal their hidden political potential. The opposition between the postcolonial state-apparatus and the religious symbolism rooted in pre-colonial traditions is the major form through which the postcolonial body politic is ritualized in the novel. Hereby the main difference between ritual action and dramatic performance comes into play: while performance theory relies on the given opposition between actor and spectator, stage and audience, a theory of the ritual makes visible ← 100 | 101 → the ways in which new oppositions are created ‘through a social instinct for creating and manipulated contrasts’. These are meant to produce a new ritualized body that ‘facilitate[s] the envisioning of personal empowerment’.5 Gĩchingiri Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ offers a very astute interpretation of the novel through a theory of performance:

[The] dramaturgy of the state ceremonials in the Wizard present the Ruler as a bungling scriptwriter/actor/director. Since the state deploys ceremonialism as a means of staging its majesty, the analysis pays attention to the people’s staging of their resistance by seizing on the inherently dialogic nature of performance. Guided by the understanding in performance studies that an audience is actively involved in the construction of meaning of a performance, the analysis shows how as co-participants, the people appropriate and deform state ceremonies.6

My own reading pushes this line of thought further by bringing to the fore how the ‘Movement of the Voice’ of the people gains power when they do not only react to and resist given ceremonials and rites imposed by the state and the Ruler, but mostly when they discover their own power of ritualization in various figures of healing, cursing, and practices of sorcery. Sorcery, unlike the state apparatus described in the novel, is imbedded in precolonial traditions and lore, both African and East-Asian. The sorcerer’s intervention catches everyone unaware and evades the Ruler’s coercive power, precisely because it is not merely reactive and interpretive, but essentially creative and productive in its ethical motivation and political imaginary. Unlike modern medical practices for which the sick body is essentially a sign of weakness unable to adduce any form of sovereignty, the traditional African healing power of the witch doctor, often involves the ability to heal one’s own malady as well as understand one’s own weakness and thus overcome it. Thus, the interpretation of the Ruler’s illness as simply a form of ‘loss of control over his own material body which signals absolute humanization’, is fully reliant on Western and modern understandings of a medical ← 101 | 102 → condition.7 African traditional thinking, and sorcery in particular, understands that moral and political disorder are triggered by the vicious acts of various political agents, and not by the politician’s lack of sovereignty. The traditional cure of a medical condition reveals not only the gaze of a doctor who controls a powerless patient, but mainly the forces of the invisible (spirits and ancestors) who use the witch doctor as a conduit in order to redress the disrupted order, bring back the threatened well-being and redeem the imperiled meaning of the community. The communal and thus political meaning of traditional medicine is absent from most modern medical practices.

The political rituals around the Ruler become increasingly visible in the narrative through the logic of the ‘modern sovereign’, which functions through a ‘violent imaginary’ that goes through a series of imprisonments without trial, torture, recorded interrogations, surveillance, and acts of sudden disappearance of suspected individuals.8 It also functions through ‘indirect private government’ that uses power for the individual interests of a charismatic leader, through the creation of private militia, advisors, doctors, performers and councils.9 The witch doctor’s words and herbs, on the other hand, aim to cure the symptoms of a strange malady that affects the main actors of the government and the financial elite of the country. In this way, healing and witchcraft practices reveal the ropes of the belly politics described by Peter Geschiere and Jean-Francois Bayart as a paradigm for thinking the egalitarian ideology in the context of new inequalities after Independence, in particular, ‘celui d’une tension continue entre une idéologie égalitaire et une pratique d’inégalité’ [that of unrelenting tension between an egalitarian ideology and a practice of inequality ].10

La ‘politique du ventre’, c’est simultanément la corpulence qu’il est de bon ton d’arborer dès lors que l’on est un puissant. C’est aussi le lignage qui demeure une réalité sociale très présente et non dénuée d’effets politiques à l’échelle nationale. C’est enfin, de manière plus suspecte, la localization des forces de l’invisible dont la maitrise est ← 102 | 103 → indispensable à la conquête et à l’exercice du pouvoir: la manducation peut être symbolique et assassine sous la forme dramatique mais quotidienne de la sorcellerie.

[‘Belly politics’, which means at once the portly build which is convenient to display for those in power. It points as well to the importance of lineage which is a social reality with political consequences nationwide. Last but not least, as a more ambiguous term, it refers to place of the invisible forces that should be mastered if one wants to come into power or use it: the act of ingestion can thus be symbolic and murderous on the daily basis, in the form of sorcery.]11

This article develops an argument around the sorcery fiction of the novel, which has not yet constituted the focus of any piece of scholarship. The novel is organized around several themes that are recalled and developed rhythmically, each fictionalizing through the means of parody and generalization a very precise moment from the rule of the Kenyan president and dictator Daniel arap Moi. The project of Marching to Heaven, the main theme of the narrative that has the power to launch other subsequent plots, is based on the real and controversial development project around the Western city of Eldoret in Kenya. This project was part of Daniel arap Moi’s plan to move the concentration of power, mostly financial and urban, from the Central Plateau dominated by the Kikuyu GEMA parastatal association to the Rift Valley, which is the Western part of the country.12 Eldoret town, a sleepy, dusty, hamlet established in 1912 by Afrikaner refugees from South Africa, experienced a long-term growth trajectory and is today Kenya’s fastest growing town. In Ngũgĩ’s novel it appears as Eldares, the capital of Aburiria. Many critics have read it as an allegory of contemporary Kenya, or of the postcolonial African state, where Eldares would stand for Nairobi, or the postcolonial megacity, and Aburiria for Kenya, or the postcolonial state. My argument is that Eldares is the fictional ingredient that reconfigures the development project in Eldoret, and Aburiria, a wink at the growing political interest in Rift Valley region (Western Kenya), which reminds the reader of the strong ethnicization of power and ← 103 | 104 → economy in 1980s and 1990s Kenya. During these decades, the economic centre moved gradually from the Kikuyu institutions into the domain of previously disadvantaged ethnic groups, such as Luhya, and the pastoral tribes of Kalenjin, where president Moi himself was born. The name of the Luhya populations from Western Kenya is Abaluyia, of which Aburiria becomes the veiled signifier. The Marching to Heaven project is an allegorical hyperbole of the Moi International Airport built around Eldoret and the Turkwell Dam, the most iconic and controversial development project, which started 1986 and was only in use from 1993.

The English word ‘wizard’, unlike ‘sorcerer’, is used for both the science of the occult and for financial wizardry. There is thus a very conscious choice of this word, when used to refer to Kamiti, a Kenyan citizen of Indian origin, who in the beginning walks into Eldares in search for work. Since he does not find work, he becomes a beggar who spends his days in front of the presidential palace, only to later become a witch doctor of the suburb of Santalucia. Ngũgĩ’s use of sorcery emphasizes the economic aspect of ritual practices in the postcolony, within what Joseph Tonda calls the modern sovereign logic and Peter Geschiere and Jean-Francois Bayart designate as the belly politics (politique du ventre) in the colony. The name of the character who manages the fictionality of the sorcery plot by launching the story of the wizard (p. 96–7) in the form of rumors and urban legend, is Constable Arigagai Gathere, and it should be read as a reference to the anthropologist’s tradition.13 In this vein, Peter Geschiere reads sorcery in relation to the main new form of the invisible and the occult – namely the economic transactions and pacts in Africa before or after the independence.14

Geschiere interpreted the performance of sorcery in the postcolony as a paradigm for thinking the egalitarian ideology in the context of new inequalities after independence. This is also the main aspect of the populist politics of Daniel arap Moi, which comes to the fore in his fierce economic ← 104 | 105 → war against the Kikuyu capitalist elites, through the politics of development of the traditionally underdeveloped pastoralist regions of the country. The figure of the Indian wizard fictionalizes Moi’s strategic alliance with the European and Asian financial experts to weaken the forces of GEMA: ‘the fear and frustration over Asian economic power were reawaken by the scandals of the Moi’s era, in which Asian executive names featured with disturbing frequency’.15 Kenyatta’s politics drew the Asian traders out of their important intermediary roles, for a pro-African policy, which resulted in the strengthening of the economic hold of the GEMA association in the 1970s; these policies of Africanization came at the expense of the Asian population and business changes under Moi.16 These historical facts are encoded fictionally in the wizard’s narrative, where some of the main anti-Asian politicians try to monitor and repress the occult activity of the witch doctor’s shrine. Such are the forces of order of Sikiokuu and his militia.

The fiction of sorcery

The main character Kamiti, the unemployed young man of Indian origin, comes to play the role of the city’s Wizard for all other characters in the novel. Without any formal training in traditional village councils or cursing rituals, it is surprising to see an Indian man rise so easily as a convincing candidate for an African sorcerer, a job he did not apply for, but whose skills are secretly sought after by the urbanite politician and suburban folk alike. Sorcery is introduced in the novel as a game of make-believe staged by two beggars with the police on their heels. This incident ends up being taken seriously by the policeman A G Geschiere, who will launch the urban legend of the Wizard of the Crow. ← 105 | 106 →

He simply groped in the dark and came back and produced a cardboard, a bone, some rags, and a string, silently handing them over and continuing his watch at the window. The other beggar tied the bones and the rags together. He then took a felt pen from his bag and wrote on the cardboard in big letters: WARNING! THIS PROPERTY BELONGS TO A WIZARD WHOSE POWER BRINGS THE HAWKS AND CROWS FROM THE SKY, TOUCH THIS HOUSE AT YOUR PERIL. SGD. WIZARD OF THE CROW. With great care not to make any noise, he slowly opened the door and saw something even better, a dead lizard and a frog.17

This off-hand ritualization does resonate in the Kenyan traditions of cursing and curse-removal practised once by the hunters of Mount Kenya. When Kamiti comes home to visit his family, we find out that he belongs in an old family of hunter-sorcerers and that his grandfather was a reputed healer of his community.18 The ritual improvised by the two beggars is reminiscent of a very precise ritual (‘the claw ritual’) designed by the Meru hunter population, a minority group inhabiting Mount Kenya, to curse intruders.19 This ritual was meant to protect their economic welfare from the mainstream population of cultivators and pastoralists and later from British settlers.

Invented on the basis of a long-held tradition of witchcraft, which is re-appropriated during the independence war by Kamiti’s grandfather, this story plays three main roles in the narrative: Ngũgĩ plays against the postcolonial politics of racial discrimination and purging based on distorted information that the Asian population is supposedly a late migrant to East Africa. On the other hand, the performance of seemingly fictive superstitions still meaningful to contemporary African society speaks up for the harrowing spiritual and moral crisis during the years of political dictatorship. It puts forward a solution to this crisis in the postcolony in the fiction of the return to those traditions that have proved most beneficial as enduring forces of unity and harmony during earlier, similar moments of deep political unrest and crisis. And thirdly, we find in the novel a subtle critique of these traditions, which, despite their effectiveness, leave in the ← 106 | 107 → shadow a large sector of the Kenyan population: the female half of the community. In joining forces with Nyawira and the women power movement of the Voice of the People, Kamiti goes beyond the patriarchal practices of his own family traditions and empowers women with the same agency that in the past was the privilege of men’s occupational castes (hunters, ironsmiths or other supernatural specialists, murogi and urogi).

The analogy between illness and political crisis traverses several scenes in the novel: when testifying in front of the video-cameras, Tajirika likens his sudden illness to a coup-d’état,20 an analogy that will make him the main suspect of the intelligence minister Sikiokuu. When Sikiokuu in turn comes to imagine himself in the posture of the Ruler, he gets immediately contaminated by the ‘if’ white-ache disease.21

The final stages of the social and physical malady are embodied by the fact that the witch doctor himself falls sick with ‘the malady of words’.22 The figure of the sick doctor points to the process of degradation of the social and political body, which becomes the key signal of the only social force left healthy in Aburiria: the subaltern women, fighting for their freedom under the guidance of the activist Nyawira.

From ritual to fiction

In this section I read two scenes from the fiction of the witch doctor: the first passage regards the cure of Tajirika’s recent disease named by the Wizard white-ache; in the second scene we witness the cure of the Ruler himself, and his new mysterious disease contracted in New York during the humiliating negotiations with the World Bank agents in the absence of the American president. At this point the Ruler suffers an anomalous inflation of his belly, which makes him look like a pregnant man. The ← 107 | 108 → malady of words and the pregnancy of the Ruler are the two main fictional motifs of the narrative that reappear at critical moments in the plot, each time introducing turning points in private individual lives (Tajirika and his wife, the Wizard himself, Sikiokuu and the Ruler). In this way, they have a structuring power in the narrative, regulating both our empathy with the main characters and what Richard Gerrig calls the force of being transported into the fictional world by anomalous suspense and anomalous replotting.23

The burlesque or grotesque dimension (Smith, Gikandi, Granqvist) of each of these scenes is obvious. What is less obvious is that they are travesties of precise rituals and symbols, which are chosen in such a way as to resonate both within African and Indian lore and religion.

One day, Tijirika, the real-estate businessman and a construction-firm patron who embodies the GEMA business elite, wakes up unable to speak, and obsessively looks in his bathroom mirror, terror-stricken and babbling two mysterious syllables ‘if-if, if-if’. At the suggestion of her friend Nyawira, his wife Vinjinia accompanies him to the Wizard’s shrine to seek a remedy for an illness which cannot be mastered by Western healthcare. The Wizard’s method of healing is unusual: instead of fetishes, abstruse verbal formulae, or hallucinatory substances, Kamiti uses rational discourse, arranged as question-answering. The only witch doctor’s paraphernalia is a mirror where he pretends he can capture both the future and the past of the bewitched patient, and through whose mirrored shadows and images he warns or advises him how to avoid evil and future danger.24 A clear parody of Kenyatta’s discourses on the Africanization of power in the 1960s, Kamiti unmasks what the ethnicization of power after independence hides: the colonial logic that it actually imitates in all respects. The method of healing employed at this point mobilizes figures and shards of ritual which are embedded in two distinct traditional figures: the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and the African rituals of divinations (such as ifa divination). ‘The mirror-like wisdom,’ where personal memory and perception (attention to ← 108 | 109 → the self) is used to discover the true un-duality of the world (neither black nor white, both black and white), by following if-clauses in a reductio-ad-absurdum line of reasoning is altogether the path of the Buddhist ‘critique of causation’ that Paul Williams describes.25 On the other hand, the fits of ‘if’, ‘what if’, ‘only if’, are a burlesque imitation of the ritual of ifa divination, odu ifa (only if) that originated in Yoruba culture (Igbo and Ewe) and has become part of a pan-African reality. The mirror here is the divination tray, where various signs and marks are imprinted on the white flour.26

Playing on the postcolonial discourse, such as Fanon’s unfinished sentences which constitute the first lines from his Black Skin, White Masks, the fiction of the Wizard’s divination places Tajirika’s symptoms and destiny in the context of Black reason as ‘enigmatic mirror’ (Mbembe) to which it gives full relevancy:

Au coeur de cette tragédie se trouve la race. […] Elle apparait au détour d’un commerce – celui des regards. C’est une monnaie dont la function est de convertir cela que l’on voit en espèce ou en symbole [… ]. De la race on peut dire qu’elle est à la fois l’image, corps et miroir énigmatique au sein d’une économie des ombres.

[Race is at the heart of this tragedy […]. It appears at the end of an exchange: – that of glances. It serves as the currency that converts what is seen into money and symbols […]. Race can be conceived at once as an image, a body and an enigmatic mirror inside an economy of shadows.]27

The misrecognized political aspect of the divination ritual will determine Tajirika’s subsequent evolution as an instrument of submission through a ritual of political legitimacy (prison, political interrogation and persecution ← 109 | 110 → first, only to become the Ruler’s first councillor and in the end the new Ruler of Aburiria).

Kamiti who masters symbols and rituals from several cultural backgrounds (here African animist and Buddhist) embodies the secret of a new form of healing power against a regime that uses ethnic division and murderous identities to perpetuate the Ruler’s self-interest and political longevity. Wizard of the Crow points to a spiritual utopia, a secret power of healing through cultural translation and communication between various ethnic groups and mutual understanding. On the one hand, it upholds the Buddhist truth of the non-duality between the self-and the world, and between one’s actions and one’s identity, obtained in ‘mirror-like wisdom’; on the other hand it exploits the power of truth to emerge as the continuity between God, men, human affairs, and world as in the ifa recitation.

The burlesque travesty of ritual and cult objects points to a situation of crisis where, as Joseph Tonda notes, identity appears through a series of travestied signs, following the logic of merchandise fetishism, where the social character of work is erased or eclipsed:

… le charme ou le trouble est synonyme de traverstissement ou de perversion du rapport social à soi-meme, qui s’inscrit simultanément dans le rapport aux autres et aux choses. En d’autres termes, les sujets sociaux tourmentés, charmés, troublés sont ceux dont les structures de causalité réfléchissent, tel un étrange miroir, des images d’eux-memes dans lesquelles ils ne se reconnaissent plus et dans lesquelles ils ne sont pas non plus reconnus par les autres (Tonda 76) ‘“la forme merchandise” qui est un miroir anormal en produisant l’homme comme un autre, des miroirs déréalisants, c’est-a-dire des fétiches’.

[charm or disorder become synonymous with disguise and the perversion of the social relation to oneself, which marks at the same time the relation to others and to things. In other words, the tormented, charmed and troubled social subjects are those whose causal structures reflect like in a strange mirror their own images in which they do not recognize themselves and in which others do not recognize them either. (Tonda, 76), ‘The merchandise-form, which is an anomalous mirror that produces the human as another-oneself, a derealization mirror, that is a fetish’].28 ← 110 | 111 →

Another narrative thread that punctuates the novel as a leitmotif is the Ruler’s inflated stomach. This first becomes visible when the African dictator is confronted with the image of the Aburirian Dictatorship in the letter written by those entreated to support the Ruler’s foolish development plan of Marching to Heaven: ‘The Ruler rose to make a speech, completely unawares that the letter in his hand was now shaking … But when the Ruler opened his mouth, no word came out […] Suddenly his cheeks and stomach began to expand. No, not just the cheeks and the tummy but the whole body’.29 Not without fictional precedent, but masterfully reworked in the new context of dictatorship to hyperbolic dimensions, the mysterious malady manifested through the inexplicable inflation of the body along with the impeded power of speech is present in one of the most widely read fictions of the colonial period. In Lord Jim by Conrad, the grotesquely swollen body of the captain of the Patna displays the workings of a mysterious poison:

he seemed to be swollen to an unnatural size by some awful disease, by the mysterious action of an unknown poison. He lifted his head, saw the two before him waiting, opened his mouth with an extraordinary, sneering contortion of his puffed face – to speak to them, I suppose – and then a thought seemed to strike him. His thick, purplish lips came together without a sound, he went off in a resolute waddle to the gharry and began to jerk at the door-handle with such a blind brutality of impatience that I expected to see the whole concern overturned on its side, pony and all.30

This unequivocal intertextual link between Wizard and Lord Jim, through which Ngũgĩ forces the reader to discover under the figure of the Ruler the imperialist figure of the Patna skipper. He stands as the ‘incarnation of everything vile and base that lurks into the world we love,’ and is meant to elicit the following question: to which extent are various forms of authoritarian rule in the postcolonial state in continuity with the colonial apparatus and ideology of commandment.31 By extension, the reader may also feel invited to see under the Wizard of the Crow, a new version of Lord Jim himself. ← 111 | 112 → Conrad’s ambiguous position regarding the moral and political tenets of imperialism resurfaces in Ngũgĩ’s narrative when he reworks it to make visible the ambiguous relation between the postcolony and its colonial past; the persistence of the violent domination of the African population from the colonial period into the present makes even more visible the neocolonial extraversion and dependency of the African continent. While the moral profile and often the physical appearance of the characters from Conrad’s novel are used by Ngũgĩ for his own fictional universe, their identity is inversed in Wizard’s new context: under the physically monstrous and morally unscrupulous white German captain, we find an African dictator, and behind the romantic white British chief-mate who finds redemption through political action in Patusan (East Indies), we imagine the young Indian Kamiti who espouses a similar trajectory of self-discovery through political action in the fictional country of Aburiria (East Africa).

Interpreted as the pregnancy of the Ruler by the African people, yet named by the American white doctors as the disease of self-inflation (SIE: self-induced expansion), the Ruler’s inflated stomach is indeed the second ambiguous sign. Its burlesque nature pointa directly, in the context of the postcolony, to the essence of Bayart’s belly politics, as what Achile Mbembe calls the ‘arbitrariness of the African rule’ in a megalomaniac delirium of power. Mbembe also reads in this new form of African politics a production of ‘hors-monde’ [otherworldliness].32 The Ruler’s symptoms present an aggravated form of the same malady of words that we have seen with Tajirika. The witch doctor cures the malady of words, but he is at a loss regarding the new symptom of the inflated belly, that he is not able to cure until the end of the book, a failure which will eventually entail the sickness of the doctor himself. The new form of cure that the Wizard has in mind is a ritual-journey more akin to a shamanic flight, the only remedy able to cure the new maladies of otherworldliness, self-expansion and later on self-induced disappearance.

The voice became more distinct: Go back in time. Arise and go to all the crossroads, all the marketplaces and temple sites, all the dwelling places of black people the world ← 112 | 113 → over, and find the source of their power. There you will find the cure for SIE …. He had left his body behind, and now a bird, he was flying freely in the open sky.33

At the end of the novel, Kamiti recounts this journey to Nyawira, and his discovery of the source of the black power in real and symbolic country of Tanganyika.34

This second, democratic meaning of otherworldliness is comprised in the diasporic existence of the black people, and their narrative-journey, which is at once cosmic and historical (marching to heaven has here a ritualistic meaning). The figure of the pregnant Ruler, beyond its precedent in Conrad, is embedded in a fertility ritual from East Africa, performed by an ethnic group living in current day Tanzania and Mozambique, with a small diaspora in Kenya: the female fertility body-mask is worn by the Makonde community’s male dancer, who can enter a trance state when possessed by the group’s ancestress, the Goddess of fertility. The female body mask depicts a pregnant belly and breasts with scarification patterns, and is worn by a male to promote fertility in the context of the difficulty in conceiving.

The myth of creation from the Makonde tradition bears witness to the difficulty of creating life in the postcolony. The real child of the political body, Baby D (democracy), is delivered from the Ruler’s body. The impending delivery points to the shift from single-party to multi-party system, but is in no way reducible to it. Real democracy comes from the movement of the Voice of the People led by Nyawira, who is Kamiti’s first disciple and whose image Kamiti continuously carves in his mind, while returning political democracy to the roots of African (cum Asian) black ritual. Kamiti and Nyawira together refashion the old Makonde original couple who gave life to the Makonde people, by extension the African people, as free, and living in harmony with nature and itself.

The main question that this chapter has addressed is whether an increased awareness of ritual can deepen our understanding of the relationship between postcolonial novels that use sorcery plots as a core device, and the socio-political events that condition or are expressed by them. I have ← 113 | 114 → shown that ritual, in its apparently a-political literary and oral performance, tells us something about human singularity, of which the wizard and the witch become the symbol. This bridges the divide between political theologies that laid the foundations of precolonial egalitarian societies and the search for democratic values in the postcolonial state.


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William, Paul, Mahayana Buddhism: The doctrinal foundations (London: Routledge, 1989). ← 115 | 116 →

1 Achille Mbembe, De la postcolonie, ‘Du hors-monde,’ p. 217–64.

2 Walsh, The rhetoric of fictionality, ‘The pragmatics of narrative fictionality,’ p. 13–38; Bayart, L’état en Afrique, ‘Introduction: l’historicité des sociétés africaines’, p. 19–64.

3 Catherine Bell, Ritual theory, ritual practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 206–7.

4 Bell, Ritual theory, 204.

5 Bell, Ritual theory, 97; 84.

6 Gichigiri Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ, ed., Unmasking the African dictator: Essays on postcolonial African Literature (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2014), 185.

7 Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ, Unmasking, 172.

8 Joseph Tonda, Le souverain moderne (Paris: Karthala, 2005), 39–47.

9 Achille Mbembe, Critique de la raison nègre (Paris: Éd La Découverte, 2013), 95–139.

10 Peter Geschiere, Sorcellerie et politique en Afrique (Paris: Karthala, 1995), 125.

11 Jean-Francois Bayart, L’État en Afrique: La politique du ventre (Paris: Fayard, 2006), 12.

12 The association was established under Kenyatta in the 1960s and 1970s.

13 Ngũgĩ Wa Thiongo’o, The Wizard of the Crow (London: Vintage Books, 2007), 96–7.

14 Geschiere, Sorcellerie et politique en Afrique, ‘Sorcellerie et politique locale: la dialectique de l’égalité et de l’ambition,’ p. 93–124; Bayart, L’état en Afrique, ‘La politique du ventre,’ p. 281–317.

15 Charles Hornsby, Kenya: a history since independence (London, New York: I. B. Tauris, 2012), 11.

16 Hornsby, Kenya, 233; 388.

17 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 77.

18 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 294.

19 Jeffrey Fadiman, When we began there were witchmen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 79.

20 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 342; 337.

21 Ngũgĩ, Wizard of the crow, p. 414.

22 ibid., p. 415.

23 Richard Gerrig, Experiencing narrative worlds (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), ‘Participatory responses,’ p. 65–96.

24 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 180.

25 ‘In Buddhist thought generally something is a cause because it produces its effect. If the cause is present then it does indeed produce its result. If X causes itself then having caused itself, X would be present again. Since X is the cause as well as the effect, so, being present again, it produces the effect – that is itself again. And so on ad infinitum’. Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The doctrinal foundations (London: Routledge, 1989), 73.

26 William Bascom, Ifa divination (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969), 17; 22.

27 Mbembe, Critique, 163.

28 Tonda, Souverain, 80.

29 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 486.

30 Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim: A romance (New York: McClure, Phillips & Co, 1905), 41.

31 Mbembe, De la postcolonie, p. 50–1; Bayart, Etat en Afrique, p. 281–317.

32 Mbembe, De la postcolonie, p. 217–64.

33 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 494.

34 Ngũgĩ, Wizard, 757.