A Traumatic Legacy

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi rewrites history in this masterpiece Kintu. Divided into book sections, Book One is a back-in-time experience. The readers are entertained with a historical journey to pre colonial Buganda kingdom in Uganda. The notion that Africa knew absolutely no civilization and was characterised with all manner of barbaric acts before the coming of the colonialists is debunked. The pre-colonial Buganda in the novel is an organized and thriving one despite the numerous ousts. Kintu Kidda, great chief runs an extensive household whose success is highly based on Nnakato’s managerial skills. The writer goes ahead to depict polygamy as a harmonious institution that strengthens ties in communities; Kintu’s wives are each assigned roles that contribute to the prosperity of the entire household. In a way, polygamy is portrayed as a partnership that benefits all the parties involved as opposed to the view that polygamy was a major course of dysfunctional families. Contrary to the stereotype that men in African traditional society wholly benefited from the patriarchal setting, Kintu Kidda gives us something to think about. While preparing Baale for marriage, he is greatly concerned about his son’s level of readiness to perform sexually since Kintu is aware that his beloved son could as well turn into an object of ridicule. A man has to constantly prove himself to his fellow men, wives, children and to the sovereign, who happens to be the Kabaka in this case.

Spirituality and the supernatural.
Makumbi meticulously explores the lives of Kintu Kidda’s descendants; Suubi Nnakintu, Kanani Kintu, Isaac Newton Kintu and Miisi Kintu who are unaware of the past that haunts them, influencing how events unfold in their lives. Despite being in the dark about the curse that Ntwire, a refugee from Rwanda and member of Kintu Kidda’s household unleashed upon their bloodline centuries before, the different characters express their longing to break free (both implicitly and explicitly) from this malediction. The presence of the supernatural is felt throughout the novel thus suggesting interconnectedness between the two realms; the physical and the spiritual. Suubi Nnakintu, has this crawny companion who is even capable of transfixing her. As a result, she relentlessly tries to shake off this spirit. Kanani Kintu together with his wife Faisi adopt an overzealous devotion towards Christianity which inevitably blinds them to the reality of the world in which they live thus propelling an incestuous affair between their twins. As a child, Isaac Newton Kintu finds solace in a mystical companion who is able to shape shift, it is therefore not surprising that he snaps out of his eight – year invalid status in a single day. Misi Kintu is not exactly a child during his infancy since he perceives more than is expected of a child. In adulthood, he resorts to philosophy and psychology to explain the dreams that he gets.

The existence of supernatural beings in the lives of Kintu’s descendants consolidates the idea of interdependence of the two worlds. The childish voice of Babirye giving instructions to Suubi Nakato turns out to be helpful in settling in at Mr. Kiyaga’s homestead. At a time when the entire family is hell-bent on ignoring Suubi, we possibly cannot deny the companionship that the spirit offers. A similar dynamic exists in Isaac Newton Kintu’s life as an invalid. He knows that he can totally rely on this friend that manifests as a leaf, snake, rat or any other form. Indeed, one can conclude that nature has a way of taking care of those that are rejected and overlooked by the people that surround them.

Tradition versus modernity
When religion is imposed on the unsuspecting Africans for purposes of indoctrination, dissonance inevitably occurs. Christianity plays a pivotal role in alienating Africans from their roots and values hence resulting in confused minds. Bweeza, a self-professed heathen acts with more empathy and humanity as compared to Kanani and Faisi the proud Awakened Christians. At some point, Ruth and later Suubi benefit from Bweeza’s kindness and motherly care during their stay at her residence. Bweeza is motivated by purely altruistic motives as she never asserts her role in the well-being of her relatives. On the other hand , Faisi and Kanani are intent on sowing and furthering God’s work that they utterly close their eyes to the world around them. The lack of empathy particularly displayed by Faisi upsets the entire doctrine of Christianity. She even fails to mother her own children and later refuses to mourn her husband as this apparently goes against the Awakened philosophy of denouncing anything that is worldly. It is not surprising therefore that the Awakened have failed to expand beyond the elderly pioneers.

Formal education, civilization and African culture.
Through the character of Mzei Misi Kintu, Makumbi presents the readers with a prototype of an educated African who dares to challenge the indoctrinating ideas perpetuated through formal education. By identifying as an atheist, Misi sits at a vantage point where he is able to question and challenge both African and Western views on spirituality. The propositions that he explores in his column encourage his audience to think and come to their own conclusions instead of relying on the biased perspective handed down by the colonizers. Similarly, Muganda, the educated medium and his assistants challenge the view that African spirituality is a backward tenet that has no place in developing Africa.

Therefore, this literary work is both a historical repository as well as a mirror of contemporary society. As the author takes leaps between two periods of time, a lesson that the past shapes the future is propagated. I strongly believe that the novel’s strength is its ability to transition between periods of time, registering the changes, while still maintaining a clear thread of themes and ideas. The prologue which tells of Kamu’s misguided murder through mob justice foreshadows the helplessness of the other characters in etermining how circumstances eventually turn out.

Visit Tubaze African Books https://www.tubazeafricanbooks.com/ to get yourself a copy of the award winning novel.

Reviewed by Nakagga Christine Janet, a literature scholar.

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