“Why is it that only a few people are talking about this novel?” This was the question I asked myself after I was done perusing Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow. It tells a lot about the attitude of this modern age towards any bulky volume of print. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow is Africa’s greatest satire, followed by Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People and Ferdinand Oyono’s The Old Man and the Medal. True, the novel, Wizard of the Crow, is quite ambitious for it runs into seven hundred pages and more. Yet, this is one of the reasons I consider the novel of much worth for it is only those who are familiar with writing would understand the amount of energy drained from a writer who struggles to commit their thoughts to about fifty pages of print, talk more of over seven hundred! It is a daunting task and Ngugi bore it well and delivered.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o (with his novel Wizard of the Crow) has done for African literature what Jonathan Swift did for English literature when he committed Gulliver’s Travels to paper in the Eighteenth century. Many who have encountered the shortened and abridged version of Gulliver’s Travels would see it merely as children fantasy; especially those who know only the cartoon version of that story. But the story is as satiric as satire gets. The Wizard of the Crow is also a satiric portrayal of the Kenya dictatorship government of Daniel arap Moi yet what amazes one is that it seems as if the story ridicules Zimbabwe’s president; Robert Mugabe. Well, the answer to that should not be farfetched, dictatorship exhibits the same traits everywhere, there is usually an obsessed ruler whose clinging to power borders on psychosis, his antics are close to tomfoolery, while his actions are maniacal and highly ridiculous. Also with dictators, there is always that urge to aspire towards deification and the sycophancy of the dictator’s minions is unparalleled. This happens to be the case with almighty ruler of Aburiria, a fictional African country in the Wizard of the Crow.
In a country under the pangs of hunger and unemployment, Kamiti, an African graduate from an Indian university, visits Eldare (capital city of Aburiria) in search of a job offer. His efforts are in vain and he disguises as a beggar in order to survive. But he begs at a wrong place and at the wrong time, some European delegates from the Global Bank are visiting the country to examine the feasibility of granting Aburiria a loan from the bank but the delegates activities are disrupted by a group of political activists disguised as beggars bearing placards denouncing the idea of the Global Bank granting loan to Aburiria for a project termed “Marching to Heaven” initiated of course by his excellency, the almighty ruler of Aburiria.
Police officers were immediately ordered to disperse the beggars and Kamiti who had innocently come to beg for money found himself running for his dear life. Kamiti ran alongside a beggar to a slum around Eldare known as Santalucia only to discover that the beggar was a woman disguised as a man. More so, he had met her not quite long for she was the secretary at a construction company where he had gone seeking employment.
Other policemen had given up on chasing the beggars who seemed to have disappeared into thin air but not Constable Arigaigai Gathere who keeps pursuing the duo of Kamiti and Nyawira (the second beggar who ran alongside Kamiti and happens to be the leader of a women political activist group). He pursues them across the prairie and into Santalucia. When he could not locate the particular room they ran into among the numerous slum houses in the area, he began a room to room search with the hope of getting his culprits. Kamiti and Nyawira see Constable Gathere Arigaigai as he conducts a room to room search, out of desperation Kamiti devices a plan to stop the policeman from invading the room. He writes on a sheet of paper; which he places on the door; that the apartment belongs to the Wizard of the Crow who could command crows from heaven and whoever touches the door does so at his or her own peril. To fortify his message, he hangs some pieces of clothes at the door to make the place look fetish. Constable Arigaigai arrives at the door and notices the sign post, trepidations takes the better part of him and he turns to run away immediately. He concludes that the two beggars were not ordinary humans but djinns leading him to his doom. He goes home and after giving the whole experience a good thought, he decides to return to the Wizard of the Crow’s place but this time not for arrest, he has his own problems and only such a strong wizard as the Wizard of the Crow could help him out of the stagnancy he finds himself (Constable Arigaigai wants to be promoted). He comes to the conclusion that the two beggars he pursued were djinns leading him towards his destiny else why did he persist in going after them when he could have easily given up the chase. Certainly, fate had brought him to the Wizard of the Crow who would solve his problems for him.
He visits the Wizard of the Crow, Kamiti was at first shocked that a mild prank was turning into reality but he pretends to be a real wizard and listens to Arigaigai problems while using a mirror to perform the magic of cancelling out Arigaigai enemies. The constable goes to work late and his excuse was to explain how he had dutifully pursued beggars cum djinns all through the night and lost them only to find himself at a wizard’s lair. His superior was impressed and put that into a report which was forwarded to the ruler in the course of investigating the beggars who disrupted the meeting with the foreign delegates. Machokali, one of the ruler’s minister, got the report and he thought it wise to have constable Arigaigai promoted to the ruler’s office. The minister saw the probability of djinns ganging up against the ruler and he felt it necessary to have a man who is adept at pursuing djinns stationed right in the ruler’s office! Hahahahahaha, funny people!
The end result was that constable Arigaigai got his much coveted promotion and became Superintendent Arigaigai Gathere working directly in the ruler’s office. Arigaigai believes it was the Wizard of the Crow’s magic working for him, and he returns to thank Kamiti profusely the evening after he got his promotion. Kamiti is dumbfounded, he had done nothing and yet the objective had been achieved or does he have such powers of wizardry? He reflected. If Kamiti was surprised at the way things turned out for Arigaigai, Nyawira, his newly found companion was even more astounded and she looked at Kamiti wondering who he truly was.
And so began the lore and fame of the Wizard of the crow, a wizard whose services Tajirika (Nyawira’s boss), Sikioku (Minister of Internal Affairs) and the ruler himself would later require.
The ruler soon learns of the Wizard of the Crow and he is so amazed at his powers, greed and obsession for power made him covet the wizard’s power for himself. More so, he also heard that the wizard knew how to make trees that grow dollar leaves, ha!
His antics to catch the Wizard of the Crow and gain his powers would lead to his ultimate end for the one who he considers as being too foolish and fearful of him would arrange for his death and take over power. That one is Tajirika, the ruler’s right hand man who was formerly the Chairman of the Marching to Heaven’s project, later Minister of Finance and Central Bank and later minister of Internal Affairs. Tajirika takes over power from his former master and the story ends with evil conquering evil. But what is the end of this new evil, Tajirika? No one knows, yet it is a scintillating tale.
When I began reading the story, I thought Ngugi was going to surprise me this time and give me something untainted by the Marxist ideology but it seems the saying that a leopard does not change its spot is true after all and Ngugi is just such a leopard. The story is still Marxist after all. From the idea of making Nyawira a heroine, making her the leader of a movement which a man must have found a daunting task to undertake, making her play an even more vital role than a rather passive Kamiti and other men in the story, Ngugi advocates for the equality of the sexes, one of the few traits one finds in Ngugi’s works. There is an overt societal dichotomy between the class of the rich and oppressors and that of the poor and the oppressed, especially the beggars. There are violent clashes here and there and there exists exploitation of the people by the leaders.
The idea of using an undisclosed narrator is also superb but unlike his Devil on the Cross where the narrator (Gikaandi player) is disclosed to us, we do not know the narrator in Wizard of the Crow, we only hear his voice and he is much more present than that of Devil on the Cross who performs a role similar to that of a narrator in drama; he appears for an introductory aspect then effaces for the story to continue. I think here, Ngugi is exploring an oral narrative story telling style by using narrators who are consciously aware of their listeners. Oh yes, speaking of the orality in Ngugi’s work, Ngugi does not fail to fill his stories with tools from his oral repertoire and it is in this sense that we see folk songs, folk tales and proverbs embellishing his works. Yet these tools have thematic implications.
Now, I should not lie else I go to hell, I did not enjoy some parts at the beginning and few places where he left the story hanging and went downright into sermonising. A writer should show us the story, he should not let his character go out of their way to start preaching to the readers; consider the education on wife battery and HIV AIDS (was the writer trying to advertise for UNAIDS). I do not also like how Ngugi ended the story, it seems to me to be quite pessimistic. A dictator hands over to another oppressor who is already on his way to becoming the dictator of the country. Actually that part is an anticlimax, the story should have just ended with the bursting of the balloon blown ruler and the immediate aftermath (after all, the story is already a fable). To pass that point and discover that the ruler was still alive killed the enjoyment of the story. The final shooting is but a second death that should never have been.
However, the story is hilarious and enjoyable. It also speaks volumes of the foolish antics of African leaders especially those who have perpetuated themselves in power for so long that they think they cannot abdicate power for another.
All in all, I score Ngugi eight out of ten for the novel, Wizard of the Crow.