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Analysis of the play Kinjekitile
The play deals with the ‘Maji Maji’ revolt of the late 19th and early twenty
centuries in the then Tanzania. The ‘Maji Maji’ revolt in the play text explores the
German colonial suppression and exploitation of the people of Tanzania and the
result of the people’s revolts against their oppressors. The play exposes the
deplorable state of affairs in Tanzania, Rufiji region as meted on the people by
their colonial masters. The play clearly tells the audience about the state of
desperation, exploitation despair and famine which the colonialists had brought as
a result.
The situation brings to the mind of Africans hatred and deep feelings of
indignation against the Germans. As these inhumane conditions are carried out
against Africans, Africans too have their common problems which are the lack of
unity and solidarity among themselves. This attempt to uniting in one accord is
hampered by the constant bickering, jealousies, an accusation of cowardice and
womanliness among themselves.
As the issue of disunity raises among the people, Kinjeketile, a spiritual intellectual
comes to brighten the hopes and expectations of the people. Kinjeketile is as poor
as other Africans, what set him apart are his solitude and mysticism. After dwelling
in the pool of Rufiji River for a long period of reflection, Kinjeketile is occupied
by the spirit- Hongo who lives in the pool. In his dependency, he declares that
“with the Maji, we will unite and we will be one body… when we are one body,
when we are united, we will be free. The red earth will be destroyed; he will be
kicked out of our country. Hear me, this is the water given to us. This is the water
of life. And this is the whisk of power. He who partakes of this water, no harm will
befall him.”
Water (Maji) is used here symbolically as a necessity for the need of unity among
the tribes of the region as well as a means for assuming people of safety against
German bullets. This arouses the people to unite with the burning enthusiasm,
emotions and enthusiasm and await the final word from Kinjeketile to commence
the war of liberation. But Kinjeketile also prophesies that if they conquer the
Germans, they will become the children of Seyyid Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar.
This means that after the freedom of the people from the colonial rule of the
Germans, they will become the children of Seyyid Said, meaning the replacement
of obvious colonialism by domestic colonialism. This is disturbing, confusing as
well as contradicting. This baffles Kinjeketile that he finds it difficult to give the
people the ‘word’ to start the war of emancipation against the Germans. In an
outraged sense of betrayal and treachery from the power that possessed him,
Kinjeketile declines his message and insists that people must fight with reason. The
attack turns out to be a national suicide for the people as the Germans repel the
attack with terrible losses.
Kinjeketile is captured and tortured by the German soldiers to force him to
renounce the power of the water even though he, himself doubts the authenticity of
the water (Maji) prophecy. He used the Maji to unite the divided people and instill
a spirit of resistance in them. But having done that, he then secularizes the myth by
grounding it on the bedrock of practical military realities. It then remained for him
to articulate albeit in the tragic recognition. The inevitable transcendence of the
myth as an irreversible process of struggle and history.
Kinjeketile has therefore become a tragic hero who is driven and tied to the fate
that is guided by powers larger than he can bear. All the same, he chooses not to
lose faith and hope in the millennial signal he has given his people despite the
paradoxical nature of his Maji prophecy. This has been neatly captured in a
dramatic form by Ebrahim Hussein. KINJEKETILE therefore is a legend that
deals with the historical struggle of the Tanzanian people of East Africa for their
independence from the German.
The play stands on the theme of unity to regain independence. Kinjeketile uses the
magic myth to unite divided people and instill in them the spirit of resistance
against the Germans so as to press home their independence.
There are the economic exploitation and oppression through taxation and forced
cheap labour by the Germans. Bibi Kinjeketile’s conversation with Bibi Kitunda
vividly captures this:
“… Our men work a lot, but they get nothing, we don’t even have food in the
house … Anyway, some of these roots are poisonous. Bibi Bobali’s son died from
eating some”. There is brutality of the Germans and their minions and henchmen,
the Askaris and the Overseers; whippings and the rape of African women and girls.
Due to the difficult situation in Africa from the Germans, the natives cannot endure
and continue with the situation, therefore they make the move to get their
independence from their oppressors and they determine to use any means to
achieve their aim.
As a result of getting their freedom from the German colonial masters, the natives
see that the means of acquiring their freedom are to attack the colonial masters but
the Germans do not take it easy with them, they fight back and this results to war
which claims the lives of many Africans.
Historically, the play is set in Tanzania. The major setting in the play is
Tanganyika, other settings include Kinjeketile’s compound, the path to the river
where the two women discuss the issues on the ground, and the place used for the
battle. Banana plantation is also there.
Kinjeketile is the major character of the play. He is as poor as the rest of the
people, his life is as miserable, he does not belong to the vested class. What sets
him apart are his isolation and spiritualism. He sees visions and acts strangely to
the utmost surprise of his neighbours. The turning point in the eventual collective
destiny of Kinjeketile and the people comes when, before the very eyes of the
people, Kinjeketile is dragged in the state of trance by unseen forces into the water.
When Kinjeketile fails to surface for a whole day, his wife and Kitunda, the man
who will become his closest aide and leader of the people’s army, pronounce him
drowned. He is used by the spirit of the water – Hongo to unite the divided tribes.
Kinjeketile becomes a tragic hero and executed by the colonial masters after the
war. All the same, he chooses not to lose faith and hope in the millennial signal he
has given his people despite the paradoxical nature of his Maji prophecy.
Kitunda is another major character in the play. He is the closest aide to Kinjeketile.
He is made the leader of the people’s army. He led the people to the war. He
speaks for Kinjeketile to the people who cannot wait for Kinjeketile to pronounce
the ‘go-ahead’ before they proceed to the war. He tries to remind them of the rule
that will guide their success in the war i.e. UNITY.
Bibi Kinjeketile is a wife to Kinjeketile. The playwright uses her to explain the
conditions of the natives in the hand of their colonial masters. She reveals the state
of hunger, oppression, injustice and other inhumane acts of the imperialists. She is
a friend and neighbour to Bibi Kitunda.
Bibi Kitunda is a wife to Kitunda. She is Bibi Kinjeketile’s neighbour. She
confirmed Bibi Kinjeketile’s description of situations of the people in the hands of
the imperialists, adding that the men, after hard, unpaid labour, they will be too
tired to eat before they go to bed.
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