Kihika’s Bible: The recontextualisation of the Gospel in Ngugi’s <i>A Grain of Wheat</i>


African novel


How might a post-colonial novel by the author of Decolonising the Mind deal with the Christian Gospel, that pillar of Western culture, used for too long to justify European imperialism in Africa and elsewhere? In A Grain of Wheat (1967), Ngugi depicts both the appropriation and betrayal of the Christian message by British colonialists in Kenya. One would expect the remnants of Christianity and its representatives to be waved off with some relief together with the departing government officials. Yet in the novel the Gospel survives; its recontextualisation in Kenyan history the key to its survival. Even before independence the appropriation of the Bible for a political programme is not limited to the colonists: the first freedom fighters are shown to adopt the sacrificial ethic suggested by the novel’s title. This article examines the criteria for the novel’s implicit judgement of Christian theologies and practices, its recontextualisation or “transgressive reinscription" of Biblical narratives, images and models of heroism for the struggle, as well as the ideological shift effected by Ngugi’s revisions of the text nineteen years after its initial publication - a shift in which the Biblical text is wrenched so far from its original context as to render it meaningless for all but his programme.