Matigari, a novel by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, alludes to the effects of post-colonialism in an African society. In the novel, the main character, Matigari, in a search for truth and justice, stumbles upon several instances of these effects. In many ways post-colonialism left people imprisoned within demeaning and sinful lifestyles. It left the native people depleted of resources, forcing them to steal, fight, or sell their bodies in order to survive. Thiong’o uses the dynamic minor characters Muriuki and Guthera to illustrate the oppressive effects post-colonialism had on the culture of the people, imprisoning them within a degrading lifestyle.
The character Muriuki showcases the violent behavior that post-colonialism forced people to commit in order to survive. Matigari first stumbles upon the boy, Muriuki, in a garbage yard as he is being “held by the throat and strangled while fighting over a bundle of shoelaces” (Ngugi 10). Some children “stuffed their mouths with rotten tomatoes, while others were busy cleaning bones with their teeth, hoping to find a scrap of meat still stuck to them” (Ngugi 10). Muriuki, a small boy, clings to the seemingly worthless piece of string as he is nearly killed by another boy that also wants it. It was evident that these children had very little because they ravenously filled their mouths with rotten food and violently fought each other for pieces of garbage. In much desperation for basic resources, they were forced to resort to violence to gain these small things. Similarly, European colonizers left the society as a whole oppressed, with a depletion of wealth and resources. Like most of the children, Muriuiki’s clothes “had patches all over them, and his toes could be seen peeping out of the holes in his shoes” (Ngugi 11), illustrating Muriuki’s inability to scavenge enough resources to clothe himself. Colonizers had come, taken the communities resources, and then left, leaving them in a chaos. Because of this lack of resources, people felt they had to fight in order to survive. When Matigari first travels through the junkyard, children “pelt him with stones” (Ngugi 12). The children, robbed so many times by adults, felt it was essential to use force in order to keep them away. Colonizers had deprived the Kenyan people of resources, forcing them to protect their belongings even if it meant resorting to violence. In addition, the junkyard was a “huge hole fenced around with barbwire” (Ngugi 9). Barbed wire fences, usually intended to for animals, aim to keep them trapped inside. In this case, the children are surrounded by the fence while in the junkyard, further illustrating how the children were trapped in this demeaning lifestyle. The children had unknowingly been imprisoned within a lifestyle in which they had to commit violence in order to maintain the basic necessities of survival.
In addition, Muriuki displayed a change in societal structure through his imprisonment in a life of violence. As Matigari plans to revolt against the government, Muriuki begs to come along, “already imagining himself wearing a gun” (Ngugi 12). Muriuki, tired of the oppressive nature of colonialism, anxiously seeks to fight against the government, a government established by colonizers. A young boy, would normally hold a sense of innocence, however, he acts quite the opposite, displaying a violent and aggressive behavior. This is not something typically seen within a society. Children do not often picture themselves with deadly weapons, ready to fight the government, but, because of the jarring oppression, the children more than willingly sought to fight their oppressors. This signified a change in societal structure, one that involved children violently fighting. Kenyan culture typically involved a non-violent and peaceful lifestyle; however, it was clear that this cultural norm had been lost. Later on in the novel, after Matigari disappears in the river and is presumed dead, Muriuki digs Matigari’s weapons from under the mugumo tree. Muriuki “put on the cartridge belt across his chest. He passed the strap of the sword over his right shoulder and across his chest so that the sword lay on his left side…and finally he picked up the AK47” (Ngugi 148). Muriuki comes to realize that the only way to fight the oppression is through violence, so he picks up Matigari’s deadly weapons and prepares to fight. Normally an adult would fill this soldier-like role. However, colonialism had shifted social structure within the African community. Children, like Muriuki, were forced to fill these violent positions in society because no one else would. The children were the only ones that could see the possibility of a better life and the only way they could achieve this was through violence. Because of this, they felt they had to step up and fill the adult roles that brought change within the society.
Thiong’o futher condemns post-colonialsim through the imprisonment of Guthera within a demeaning lifestyle, forced by capitalism. Guthera, initially, “aimed to do no ill” (Ngugi 28). This meant that Guthera strived never to commit a sin, however, at a young age she is given a severe ultimatum: Sleep with a police officer or watch her father die. Intent on preserving her innocence, she refuses and her father is killed. After this, in much torment, she decided “to walk the streets” (Ngugi 28). Although she had broken her commandment of immorality, it was the first time “she was able to feed and clothe her children” (Ngugi 36). Upon realizing this satisfaction, Guthera decided to become a “hunter of men” (Ngugi 31). With the installment of a capitalist economic system by the Europeans, people relied on a new currency and became dependent on this new form of money which caused them to do terrible things for it. Guthera sold her body to men for money, a highly sinful and unrespectable act. She did not enjoy this lifestyle, but it was her last and only resort because she had no other means of making money. Her and her family could not survive if she made no money, thus she resorted to prostitution. Guthera was not physically imprisoned within a cell, but metaphorically trapped within a lifestyle of sexual exploitation. Later in the novel, as she discusses her troubles with Matigari, Guthera states that “her troubles have led her from the path of righteousness” (Ngugi 30). Guthera, a once very religious girl, is well aware of the sins she commits. She once vowed never to break her heavenly commandments; however, she is forced to break them anyway to survive and evade post-colonial rule. She comes to realize that the life she has been “leading is not that of a human being. It has been more like that of an animal” (Ngugi 118). She compares her life to that of an animal, illustrating the demeaning nature of her profession. Post-colonialism had imprisoned her within this degrading lifestyle that solely focused around survival. Rather than enjoying life through family, holidays, and traditions, Guthera was forced to spend her time pursuing money in order to survive. Similarly Therefore, Muriuki and Guthera lacked cultural identity because of their demeaning lifestyles. Kenyan culture, prior to colonization, likely focused more on traditions and family rather than money. This can be inferred based one of the Kenyan’s native songs that discussed “sharing the last bean” (Ngugi 6). This song highlighted the moral values of the Kenyans before colonialism placing an emphasis on their kindness and willingness to share with all.
However, Muriuki and Guthera were forced to disband from their native culture in order to survive under post-colonial rule. This can be inferred based on the fact that their lifestyles were solely focused around survival. Matigari, upon realizing the violent and aggressive behavior that Muriuki possesses, discusses a vision of his in which “the children come out of this graveyard into which their lives had been condemned” (Ngugi 14). Graveyards arouse the connotation of death, illustrating how the children’s lives were not about living but surviving. Because all time and energy was put into this battle of survival, it was not physically possible for the children to maintain their cultural identity under the influence of European powers. Survival took precedence over maintaining cultural norms and traditions. Later in the novel, Matigari describes how the “children look as if they all came from the same womb” (Ngugi 13). In doing so, he signified that the children lacked their cultural identities, for they all looked and acted the same. Similarly, Guthera disbanded from her cultural norms by violating her most important religious commandment of adultery. Post-colonialism had driven away Guthera’s cultural identity because she was forced to let go of her beliefs in a fight for survival.