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Matigari by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Matigari (1987)

by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Matigari is a political novel in the form of a parable. It is set in an unnamed African country, obviously based on the author's native Kenya but doubtless applicable to other lands. Matigari is a former independence fighter who emerges from the forest long after the war has ended, buries his AK-47 at the foot of a tree, and goes in search of the fruits his victory has won.

He goes to claim the house built by his own hands, but finds such houses are still in the hands of the Europeans and their toadies. He goes to the factory where he once worked only to find that black workers are still at the mercy of foreign investors. He sees children fighting over scraps from a garbage dump and living in an auto junkyard. He sees, and rescues, a woman being assaulted by police. Everywhere he goes, Matagari asks, "Where is truth and justice?"

Matigari becomes an instant legend. Is he the second coming of Jesus? Or is he a liberator of a different kind? Eventually Matigari himself, asking "where may truth and justice be found?," is told to find this miracle worker named Matigari--he is said to be a giant!

The novel is divided into three parts, with the central section a rather heavy-handed but occasionally funny satire of government propaganda and news doctoring. In the third part, however, Matigari renounces peaceful means, declaring "Justice for the oppressed springs from the organised armed power of the people." Ngũgĩ is clearly calling for an armed Marxist uprising to overthrow the corrupt government which is nothing but a puppet for continued American and European imperialism.

To understand the issues raised in Matigari that are specific to African history, Kenyan in particular, it might be best to first read other works by Ngũgĩ such as Petals of Blood which have direct historical and social references. However, there is much in Matigari that is universal--the tendency, for example, of people to wait for a savior rather than taking direct action to end injustice. It is also disturbing to ponder how many of the abuses and injustices Ngũgĩ ascribes to Kenyan society and its dysfunctional government may actually be present to a surprising degree in what we call "free" societies. ( )
2 vote StevenTX | Dec 28, 2011 |
Although I've been a Ngugi fan since reading Wizard of the Crow a few years ago, I hadn't heard ofMatigari until reading recommendations of it here on LT. A satire, an allegory, and a fable, it tells the tale of Matigari, which means "the patriots who survived the bullets," who emerges out of the forests after an unseen but epic fight with the colonizers to find that his unnamed but now postcolonial country is under the thumb of the former freedom fighters in league with western corporations and the military, particularly by His Excellency Ole Excellence, the Minister for Truth and Justice, and the specialists in Parrotology. Matigari is searching for his house, the house he built but that the colonizer lived in before the and the colonizer and the colonizer's African flunky fled into the forest to fight.

In mythical fashion, and in accordance with oral tradition, this story is repeated in various forms throughout the book as Matigari arouses the people, is hunted and jailed by the powers that be, and struggles to promote the people's right to own the products of their labor and live in freedom. This is not a straightforward tale. Time is fluid and Matigari is mysterious -- sometimes old, sometimes young, sometimes even the resurrection of Jesus. All in all, the novel is a compelling combination of a traditional form with modern literary styles and a vivid exploration of disillusionment, hope, and the necessity to continue the struggle.
1 vote rebeccanyc | Feb 21, 2011 |
Matigari is about a freedom fighter who returns from the wilderness after laying his weapons aside at the end of the wars of independence in his unnamed country. He returns to find the government changed but the status quo preserved, with European colonial types benefitting from the labour of the Africans, and African collaborators abusing their positions for a cut of the spoils. Matigari emerges from the bush as a messianic figure, dedicated to peace as he gathers disciples in the fight for the soul of his new nation. Ngugi makes several allusions comparing Matigari to Christ, as a man of peace and deliverer of his people. The book is written as part allegory, part parable and part fairy tale. He gives the reader no firm grasp on chronology, or the boundaries between the magical and the real. What emerges is a moving surrealistic tribute to the spirit of independence and the challenges facing newly independent nations.

This was my third Ngugi, and they have ranged between very good and excellent. One day I would love to get to know him better as a writer, because if his least read novel is this good, then there must be some treasures among them.
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1 vote GlebtheDancer | Jan 15, 2011 |
In the preface to this novel, Ngũgĩ informs us that Matigari was written in 1983, while he was living in exile in London. It was published in the Gĩkũyũ language in 1986, and translated into English the following year. He also tells us that copies of this book were removed from bookshops by the Kenyan police that year, due to the controversy that its release caused there.

Matigari ma Njirũũngi, which means 'the patriots who survived the bullets' in the Gĩkũyũ language, is an old man in an unnamed postcolonial African country who, after years of struggle, has finally killed his lifelong tormentor and oppressor Settler Williams and his assistant John Boy. He leaves the forest which had been his home for many years, to return to his home village. He intends to gather up his family and people that he left behind during the struggle for independence, in order to move into the spacious home that he built, which was stolen from him by Settler Williams.

Upon his arrival to the village, he finds a shocking amount of poverty and corruption: orphaned children live in abandoned cars, and obtain scraps of food and clothing from a dump; workers toil in factories and the fields, and do not make enough money to feed their families; a group of women prostitute themselves to survive. The country is now run by His Excellency Ole Excellence and his assistant The Minister of Truth and Justice, and a fragile peace is maintained by fear, violence and the ever present Voice of Truth radio broadcast, which informs the public of the punishment meted out to those who oppose the one party government.

Matigari finds the home that he has built, with the help of a young boy, who has rescued him from a mob of stone throwing youth, and a prostitute who he has rescued from two policemen. However, it is now occupied by the son of John Boy; he has obtained a Western education and, along with the son of Settler Williams, runs a major factory and plantation in the village. They are more corrupt and oppressive taskmasters than their hated fathers. Matigari attempts to claim his house, but he is beaten and jailed. However, he is not defeated, and soon escapes from prison. He travels throughout the village, a mysterious Christ-like figure who becomes a legend amongst the villagers, and a feared opponent of John Boy, Jr. and the government. All efforts to discredit or capture Matigari prove fruitless, as the villagers become less fearful of the government and more willing to stand up for their rights. A final and inevitable confrontation with John Boy, Jr. at the plantation home occurs, as the stability of the government hangs in the balance.

This was a tingling and fast-paced novel, which I read in one sitting, and is based in part on an African folk story. The ending was especially good, and unpredictable despite the confrontation that was obviously going to take place. It was banned by the Kenyan government, as Matigari teaches its readers that only armed struggle would result in freedom from corrupt and oppressive African dictatorships. Highly recommended! ( )
3 vote kidzdoc | Jan 9, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'oprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wangui wa GoroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0435905465, Paperback)

Who is Matigari? Is he young or old; a man or fate; dead or living...or even a resurrection of Jesus Christ? These are the questions asked by the people of this unnamed country, when a man who has survived the war for independence emerges from the mountains and starts making strange claims and demands. Matigari is in search of his family to rebuild his home and start a new and peaceful future. But his search becomes a quest for truth and justice as he finds the people still dispossessed and the land he loves ruled by corruption, fear, and misery. Rumors spring up that a man with superhuman qualities has risen to renew the freedom struggle. The novel races toward its climax as Matigari realizes that words alone cannot defeat the enemy. He vows to use the force of arms to achieve his true liberation. Lyrical and hilarious in turn, Matigari is a memorable satire on the betrayal of human ideals and on the bitter experience of post-independence African society.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:36 -0400)

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