The Social Problems that Arose during the Colonial Period of Kenya in Devil on the Cross, a Novel by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

“Kenya does not belong to you, imperialists!” (Ngugi 47). This quote from the novel Devil on the Cross refers to the common theme throughout the book that the colonialists who tried to rule over Kenya have not fully taken over the country. Many problems arise throughout this novel such as corrupt politicians and law enforcement, the need to take advantage of others, and the abuse of power by those who have it I believe that the problems that are found in this book are derived from the legacy of the colonial period in Kenya along with the refusal to go against the norm by the present day people.

The conflict between the peasants and the rich is brought on by the war that took place in the colonial period which saw some Africans take the side of the colonists. The lack of money is due to the various banks that came into Kenya and rubbed off on the greedy natives. Lastly, the people in the book who are living in the post- colonial period are displaying tendencies of their conquerors, and do not go against these ways until it’s too late.

The colonial war that is constantly mentioned in the book is the Mau Mau rebellion.

This was a group ofAfricans who worked together to overthrow the British invaders who wanted to take over their country. Many died during this conflict, not only to the hand of the whites but also to fellow Africans. Many natives were bribed into turning their allegiance to the colonists with rewards of immunity once the war was over.

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This was tempting especially to those who were struggling at the time such as the character Mwaura, the matatu driver, It is stated in the book that “Mwaura used to get five shillings for the head of every Mau Mau follower he killed…ln the morning, he would take the heads to Nyangwicu (a European), who would give him the bounty for murder” (Ngugi 194). Instead of caring about his fellow Africans, Mwaura along with many others sacrificed their loyalty to the country of Kenya for money. The group that he worked for, known as the Devil’s Angels, is feared by Wariinga throughout the book due [0 its legacy from the previous war.

Due to the divide among native Kenyans that results from these actions, many adopt the ruling ways of the Europeans, resulting in an upper class of “European Africans” and a lower class who still try to live the life they had before the war, These lifestyles inter ere with each other as it is not right for one countryman to look down on other. The second problem is the lack of money in the lower class of Kenyans, resu ting in these people doing anything they can to earn a living The money problem is brought on by the greed of the banks that come into Kenya. One of the names mentioned the most is the Wor d Bank. These banks would profit off of people who would seek loans by making them take out a higher amount than they would need, then immediately putting the extra cash into their poc et. In turn, this caused the borrowers to scam people into paying more than the product being offered was worth in order to cover the extra debt, The product being offered was almost always and. An example of this is when Gitutu wa Gataanguru decides to start building his wealth by taking advantage of people’s desire for land, Two quotes come to mind that show his lack 0 care for other people and how he gained out of others’ losses.

The first is an equation, “hunger x thirst : famine, famine among the masses = wealth for a man of cunning” This quote shows his lack of guilt about what he is doing. The hunger and thirst refers to the aspiration of the natives to own land, They will give up all they have saved for a piece of land that they believe will bring them future prosperity. Instead it brings about a lack of the necessities for the people who buy his land, but enormous wealth for Gitutut The second quote is “he would sell it to me for 100 shillings an acre,..l sold each plot for 5000 shillings.,.l was left with a clear profit of 220,000 shillings” This means that after only selling three out of 100 plots of land, the man had repaid his loan, He did not care that the land was not worth that much, and it is mentioned that when he first saw the land, he described it as an “arid wasteland”, The purchasers would never make enough money to cover their investment with the poor quality of land they were given. Basically, the banks would screw over their debtors, and their debtors, knowing they had been taken advantage of, decided it would be alright to pass it along to their customers. This created many rich Kenyans as you can see by the profit figures above.

If it wasn’t for the banks, the Kenyans would be conducting the dealings of property fairly because they would have little to no debt to worry about. Not all blame can be put on the colonists for the problems that occur in the novel. The characters, such as Wariinga and Muturi, both display actions that show they have followed the ways of the foreigners, Wariinga, for example, has ruined her appearance due to her desire to be like the Europeans She uses creams to lighten her skin, thinking this will help her get a job as they may think she is not a full blooded Kenyan, Her hair is also fried due to straightening it out with hot irons for years. She abandoned her schooling to work as a secretary This leads to her life turning into a rollercoaster of ups and downs, beginning with the teenage pregnancy with the rich old man, continuing into her romance with John Kimwana, which came to a close due to suspected infidelity, and ending with complete and utter irony. Wariinga finally believes she is going to live a happy life after the events at the cave, but it turns out her lover‘s father is the rich old man who procreated her child.

This leads to an ending that is described as the start of “the hardest struggles of her life’s journey” (Ngugi 254). If she had avoided the dreams of wealth that disrupted her education, she could rightfully been out of the lower class she is portrayed to be a part of. Instead she could be at in the middle class of the Kenyan society, not ruling over others but not being stepped on like the peasants She could have avoided the conference of thieves’ altogether, Muturi does not display these kinds of actions as much as Wariinga, but even he says he tried his luck in the various industries that foreigners were bringing in. He confesses his early life actions when he says, “I started a factory for manufacturing skin lightening creamst My reasoning was this: if foreigners are growing fat by wrecking the skin of black people, why can’t I do likewise” (Ngugi 169) Muturi eventually comes out of this novel as the hero of the lower class, but he too had thoughts of taking advantage of his fellow people just as the white man did.

These two characters eventually became the symbols of anarchy and change in the book, but only after trying to be like their enemy and failing. If they had held steady in their beliefs against the colonial ideas their whole lives, they would both be free instead of locked in jail Overall, the difficulties shown in the novel Devil on the Cross are a result of the events that occurred during the colonial period and the actions of the modern day people, When Kenyans turned their back against fellow Kenyans at Mau Mau, this formed classes in the post- colonial period based on those who adopted the European lifestyle and those who held on to their past wayst Also, the banks that came into the country showed natives a bad business model which revolved around self-indulgence and carelessness, The last reason is the lower class characters couldn‘t avoid living their lives without being influenced by the settlers‘ ways, whether it was a small or large impact that was portrayed, Problems may be brought onto a country such as Kenya by their settlers, but the reason they are not solved can be attributed to the actions of present people.

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The Social Problems that Arose during the Colonial Period of Kenya in Devil on the Cross, a Novel by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. (2022, Sep 13). Retrieved from

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