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Devil on the cross by ngugi wa thiong o

There are six people inside. They have known each other for just a few hours, but now they are something like family. Each conversation they take up — about colonialism, the fate of their country, economics, art, how women treat men, how men treat woman — has only one destination: Which is another way of saying that each conversation is attempting to disentangle what is real from what is contrived.

Which is another way of saying that each conversation constitutes a search for a new reality. Such conversations are only possible in a barbershop or salon, in any church in any city in the world, or on a devil on the cross by ngugi wa thiong o, such as this one, which happens to be traveling from Nairobi to Ilmorog.

In such places, even the most anodyne observations are freighted with meaning, but then again in such places observations are rarely anodyne. They have been kept alive by their owners in inhospitable climes for such a moment as this, this moment that arrives only once a week or month or year or lifetime. Each observation, though garbed in different clothes, carries within it the same set of questions: What shall we do about it?

In most other places, those spaces in which we work and eat, sometimes even those intimate spaces we share with those we love, we are complicit in maintaining the various fictions that sustain our shared reality because upending reality requires faith and courage. Days, weeks, your entire life. Originally published in 1980 Penguin Classics will be issuing a new edition this monththis novel is bold and disquieting and, like most great novels, wonderfully immersive.

So immersive, in fact, that I dreamed about it. I found myself on that matatu, listening and arguing, peering out of a dust-covered window as the conversation flowed around me, occasionally laughing, often shaking my head in disbelief. I woke up and for a moment I forgot where I was. Then I stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling and remembered — I was in Cologne, Germany.

I glanced at my phone and realized that I had five minutes to get dressed and downstairs for a meeting with a few local writers.

I met them in the lobby. I had never seen them before but I recognized something in them.

An Architect of Dreams: On Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Devil on the Cross”

We went to the hotel dining room for breakfast, and then we wandered around the hotel until we found a small room with two leather couches and no doors. We sat and talked, about writing, art, and life. I listened and argued; occasionally I glanced at the small window directly ahead of me; I laughed; I shook my head in disbelief.

Somehow the barrier between my waking life and my dream life had eroded. Devil on the Cross argues quite convincingly — so convincingly that, for a moment, I became a character in the novel, or perhaps Ngugi became the author of my life — that all of us are living within a dream. The question is who is the dreamer? The opening frame is black. We hear a voice: She is calm, assured. The voice repeats the question: Then we see the source of the voice, a white reporter.

The reporter turns to the source of the new voice. He strides right up to the reporter. His voice ticks up a few decibels. She done answered it with a lot of confidence. He also seems dismissive, or something close to it. His is an act of love and defiance. He is protecting her from a reality that says she cannot become a champion. Her reality has been formed around a dream that she is a champion.

This is remarkable because she is a black girl from Compton, California, and in 1995, when this footage was recorded, very few female tennis champions resembled her.

But because her reality has begun to rhyme with her dream — she had already attained a measure of success by then — she does devil on the cross by ngugi wa thiong o waver when the reporter inquires about her aspirations. Yes, of course she can beat her. She will beat everyone. Especially when almost everything around you is a direct repudiation of who you are and who you aspire to be. This is why Richard Williams interjects as aggressively as he does.

He is the architect of her dream. He is the one who has told Venus that she is a champion despite what anyone else may think or say. He knows he must protect her and the dream he has shaped for her or the reality of the man across from her will become her reality as well. And so he silences the reporter. The dream remains intact. A group of Europeans envision a future in which they have apportioned the continent of Africa among their respective countries.

  • He is the architect of her dream;
  • They dream, plot, execute;
  • There are six people inside.

Everything on the continent — its resources, its land — will belong to them. They will provide free labor. Most importantly, they will serve as living reminders that the Europeans are superior, the inevitable rulers of the world.

The Europeans dream, plot, execute. Inevitably, reality begins to form itself around their dream. Africans across the continent resist, and sometimes they succeed, but mostly they do not. Their progeny are born and raised and die in this new reality. In matatus and salons and churches across the continent people begin to interrogate this reality.

Surely this is not the way things were meant to be. Surely there must be another way. They envision a future in which Africans rule themselves. They dream, plot, execute.

All across the continent various countries proclaim their independence. All should be well. This is the reality that greets us in the opening pages of Devil on the Cross. We are introduced to a young woman named Wariinga who is having an especially bad day. In quick succession, she loses her job because she refuses to sleep with her bossher boyfriend leaves her, and she is kicked out of her apartment. Wariinga blames herself for these incidents: Wariinga was convinced that her appearance was the root cause of all her problems.

Whenever she looked at herself in the mirror she thought herself very ugly. What she hated most was her blackness, so she would disfigure her body with skin-lightening creams like Ambi and Snowfire, forgetting the saying: That which is born black will never be white.

Now her body was covered with light and dark spots like a guineafowl.

Devil on the Cross Summary & Study Guide

Her hair was splitting, and it had browned to the color of moleskin because it had been straightened with red-hot iron combs.

Wariinga also hated her teeth. There were a little stained; they were not as white as would have liked them to be. How would Wariinga perceive herself if she had been reared in a space where she was valued for precisely the things she despises most about herself? The door is locked, so she sits on the steps. Then she slips into a recurring nightmare. Now we know the secrets of all the robes that disguise your cunning.

You commit murder, then you don your robes of pity and you go to wipe the tears from the faces of orphans and widows.

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You encourage lasciviousness solely to gratify your own appetites, then you put on robes of righteousness and urge men to repent, to follow you so that you may show them paths of purity. They crucify the Devil, and then, three days later: And they knelt before him, and they prayed to him in loud voices, beseeching him to give them a portion of his robes of cunning. And their bellies began to swell, and they stood up, and they walked toward Wariinga, laughing at her, stroking their large bellies, which had now inherited all the evils of this world.

It is hard not to read the first part of this dream, with its direct allusions to the crucifixion of Christ, as an allegory for our postcolonial era, the manner in which the West engages with Africa and the rest of the world. But what about the second part? Who are the men dressed in suits and ties who lift the Devil down from the cross, with their loud voices and large bellies? Wariinga wakes up, and the man who saved her is there.

Card in hand, Wariinga boards a matatu bound for Ilmorog. Others board as well. Wariinga discovers that a few of her fellow passengers are bound for the same feast. Their conversations coalesce around a single topic: What will they find at this feast?


He not only wants to tell you a story, but he also wants to implicate you in it. He employs various strategies to achieve this goal: This is what happens during the matatu scene, which is just under 50 pages. The scene occurs at the speed of dialogue, which means that we experience time at the same speed as the characters.