Ngugi Wa Thiog’o is one of Kenya’s most renowned writers. The Petals of Blood, published in 1977, is one of his most important works which takes the reader into the early years of Kenya’s independence. It is a novel that bears the hallmarks of Kenya and its people, the history of its long struggle and also its post-independence struggle that was harder than it was before. The story takes place in the small and distant village of Illomorg, in which the population lives in the inevitability of destiny, from famine to famine. By pointing to the harmful consequences of arbitrariness, corruption and so-called underdevelopment aid. It brilliantly describes the disparities between the different social strata of the country and shares in a captivating and poetic way the unresolved political problems of the Mau-Mau movement. In its form, the 600-page book resembles a crime novel with ethnological problems and in its fund is nothing but a sharp criticism of the powerlessness and incapacity of economic, political, military of the country. The style of writing is based on the tradition of oral storytelling in the country and the story is finally a parable symbolizing the history of many African countries.
The author discussed the status of Kenya after independence through the characters of the novel. He tried to present the models of his heroes (Munira-Aiga-Karyga) and other secondary figures by linking them to the movement of daily history, with class affiliations have two points in common: they are alone, having cut more or less brutally the links already very mutilated with their families, and their isolation has led them all to the same village as lost that dried up that is Ilmorog. There is Godfrey Munira, a little teacher and ugly duckling of a family dominated by the dark charisma of an ultra-Christian father and wealthy landowner. So the narrator reflected the life of a social segment is still swaying within the vision of the past and present. There is Abdulla, the lame man who runs a small, dusty business where villagers rarely venture. His companion is an old donkey and his little brother Joseph, who, silently, cash every day Abdulla’s cruel orders. Wanja suddenly arrived, a young woman with fatal beauty and mysterious past, come to live with her grandmother, was still tied to her past, which was turned down and became marginal. She lived in protest against a situation where her past was denied and her way of life was denied and Karega, a young man with communist verve buried under a failed education and a life of miserable little salesman of edges of highway that does not seem to leave it. This character, has become a center of polarization of workers and movement and took political dimensions in this country, however, the new regime has marginalized it and confiscated its freedom and placed it in prison.
The novel opens with a triple arrest, that of Munira, Abdulla and Karega, accused of a triple murder, that of three rich local businessmen. The investigation is then based in the story of these new inhabitants of Ilmorog, their fight against drought and forgetfulness. While the rain is desperately waiting, the crops are lost and the famine spreads, the lives of Munira, Abdulla, Wanja and Karega are also in abeyance. Their stories are revealed in long, tormented discussions: all seek each other as much as they flee. Why did they come here to Ilmorog, what are they hiding, what are they waiting for?
Throughout the pages, and as their mutilated lives unfold little by little, we discover that all are in reality prisoners of a much broader history, and on which they seem to have no hold: the political history of Kenya freshly independent. If one should elect a single work in all African literature to illustrate in all its complexity the trauma created and fueled by (neo-) colonialism, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood would have every chance of being acclaimed. . This masterpiece is an essential contribution to the critical thinking by African intellectuals about the post-colonial failure. Kenya paid a high price for it, at the price of the blood of hundreds of thousands of her sons. In Illmorog, this lost village at the bottom of the country, the years of struggle are already a thing of the past. Life here flows slowly, steadily, smoothly. Thrown between heaven and earth, forgotten by the world, peasants and shepherds live peacefully from their labor and they are happy. Then comes Wanja, the beloved, the prodigal daughter of Ilmorog; Had preceded Abdulla, the grocer, who seems to love only his donkey, and Munira, the teacher, who sweats blood and water to establish a school in the village; Karega will also come, in search of who knows what. No one suspects it, but these strangers are only souls in pain, wounded beasts who, in a sense, hide to die; they are the stink, the slag, the rejects of “New Kenya”. They will unearth buried memories, they will bring back the nightmares of yesteryear: with their arrival, nothing will be like before. And it is here that the genius of this work is found: to synthesize through all four destinies that intersect, all the distress of the African of today. Wanja, Munira, Abdulla, Karega: a woman, three men, four children from Africa; four destinies declined but one suffering, one disillusionment, one struggle with bare hands. The fight of Wanja the rebel, Wanja the girl of joy, Wanja the woman who wanted to give birth to all the children of the Earth. With it, one can explore the limits of a society that tends to exploit the so-called weak sex, the limits of the fatal attraction to which few men can resist, the limits of devotion to others. Abdulla who also saw these traitors, cowards, “black zombies” of settlers taking over all of Kenya’s wealth at independence, and harvesting all the fruits of Uhuru. Or the struggle with bare hands, the almost evangelical dilemma of Munira, who throws himself body and soul into education to forget that he has not paid the debt of blood for freedom. One can feel Christ and the Antichrist struggling in him. One can hear his faith that reminds him of the curse of Ham, his faith that soothes his outbursts of revolt, his faith that whispers to him “All the signs-the conflicts, the wars, the murders, the shed blood-are prophesized.” One can also hear his reason shouting at the injustice, which refuses to deny the factual evidence, that reason that whispers to him “He wore the Bible. The soldier had the rifle. The administrator and the settler, the money. Christianity, Commerce, Civilization: the Bible, the Money, the Rifle; The Holy Trinity. “Or finally, the fight against oneself, the self-destruction of Karega, Karega who has sought Truth in books, in the street, in men, in women, and even in him; without finding it.
The open wounds of the Mau Mau war, which shook Kenya (and especially the Kikuyu) in the 1950s and was brutally crushed by the British colonial power, are hollowed out. Faced with the growing impoverishment of the masses, dispossessed of their most fertile land by settlers and stocked in reserves, the Mau Mau movement was formed, recruiting fighters hidden in the forests of central Kenya, carrying out guerrilla actions against the settlers. The end of the conflict (the capture and assassination of leading Mau Mau leaders, including the infamous Dedan Kimathi) left a civilian population divided between freedom fighters and so-called loyalists organized by the British military into National Guard. At independence, few landless were compensated for their losses. The new government decided that the colonized lands would not be redistributed for free – they would be redeemed. Most of the peasant masses, Mau Mau or Loyalists, could not buy their land for want of financial means. It is in this setting of poverty, violent dispossession and insidious rancor that the drama of Blood Petals unfolds.
A question arises, and haunts the novel: must one give up one’s hopes in order to survive? Do you have to save only your own skin to survive? But then, how to live together? Munira, Abdulla, Wanja and Karega appear as allegorical figures of the disappointed hopes of the struggle for independence. Munira tries to embody the figure of education, but his failure only revives the bitter and insurmountable success of his father. Abdulla, survivor Mau Mau, is silenced and forgotten. Karega, younger, seems more enigmatic. He is, paradoxically, the hope figure of Blood Petals, precisely because he has none. But he is searching for meaning, and it is this quest that will lead him to the workers’ cause, already bruised by the political murders of several of his flag bearers. Wanja, finally, embodies the figure of the woman in spite of herself. In spite of herself, because she cannot escape her condition as a woman: whether she is a worker or a prostitute, she remains a body for sale. Wanja is on the side of prostitutes. Ironically, she is the only one to be able to attend the powerful – and who knows, to try to avenge fate.