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Swallowing a Bitter Pill

Swallowing a Bitter Pill

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Published by Annie Garner

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Published by: Annie Garner on Jun 29, 2013
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Swallowing A Bitter Pill: The Subtext i
 Kihura Nkuba’s When The
African Wake
Dedicated to all unsung heroeswho lost or are still losing their livesfor the existence of AfricaByRogers Atukunda,Department of LiteratureMakerere University, Kampala-Ugandaarogers185@ymail.com 
 In the end it has come to this prophetic prediction. That in the days of perpetual slumber, the warriors
will adopt a philosophy where, „to be or not to be‟ depends on
whether one is known in Europe or accepted in America
,‖ Kihura Nkuba;
When The African Wakes
Scholars define
as the actual words on the page given their significance by the circumstances inwhich they were written or spoken. So, these circumstances, which include what has happened before the prevailing situation and their significance is the
. The context may give special significance to thewords which will also be particularly meaningful because of what the audience/intended reader senses asthe emotions behind those words. What the reader can read between the lines as it were is the
(theunderlying meaning). The reader may also recognise particular speeches or utterances with a greatthematic significance which forms the
. My main interest is in the
as a powerful toolfor enfranchisement.
According to Wikipedia (Subtext (disambiguation)
June 2011
, subtext or undertone is the content of a book, play, musical work, film, video game, or television series which is not announced explicitly by thecharacters (or author) but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds.David Baboulene,
The Story Book - Guidance for Writers on Story Creation, Optimisation and Problem Resolution
(2010: 1st edition ed.) defines subtext as ―the result of any form of gap in knowledge between
any of the participants in a story; for example, between the author and a character, between two characters
or between the audience and at least one character.‖
 Linda Seger, in her book,
Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath
(Copyright © 2011) views subtext as ―the
true meaning simmering underneath the words and action
s. It‘s the real, unadulterated truth. The text isthe tip of the iceberg, but the subtext is everything underneath that bubbles up and informs the text. It‘s
the implicit meaning, rather than the explicit meaning. Great writing and great drama are subterranean.Subtext points to other meanings. The words we hear are meant to lead us to other layers. Conflict exists
at this intersection of text and subtext.‖
According to writer and essayist, Charles Baxter;
The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot 
(2007), subtext i
s ―the
hidden subtextual overtones and undertones in fictional works haunted by the unspoken, the suppressed,
and the secreted.‖ He gives an example of a novel which he says is ―not a summary of its plot but a
collection of instances, of luminous specific
details that take us in the direction of the unsaid and unseen.‖
In Kihura Nkuba‘s
When The African Wakes
; you can easily sense the underneath or unexpressedemotions, thoughts, the mockery and other implicit ideas. With this special tool, he has succeeded in providing a social, political, cultural and economic commentary on the fate of Africa. His book thereforecuts across all audiences because references to the would-be openly offensive themes like sexualorientation (in case of young readers) are tacitly inserted in the narratives making the book appealing to ageneral audience. Similarly, he tackles more other themes for example looting and plundering bycolonising powers, homosexuality, loss of identity, foreign religion, cultural erosion, moral decay, neo-colonialism, passivity and resignation in the face of oppression as opposed to activism and the urge for liberation.Since the book calls for a massive revolution in our turbulent times when European and American powersare incessantly plundering and looting Africa more aggressively than before, the author deemed itnecessary to embed meaning between the lines; to communicate symbolically and culturally to the targetgroup without inciting personal harm from the aggrieved. With this metaphorical approach, he inspiresthe powerless and instills in them a sense of purpose and focus to an anticipated, almost unavoidablefuture revolution.
Three cheers for this great writer of our times and one of the finest critical texts from an African author Ihave come across. When I gave this commentary to my friends for perusal, they dismissed it as misguidedlunacy.
With violent proclamations, they condemned me for ―crying over spilt milk‖ and inciting possiblemayhem when the world, according to them, is moving towards a ―one global village‖.
Kihura Nkubaquizzes: By the way, I forgot to ask, who decided that we are one world? (51). Many asserted thatwhatever happened in the past should be left in the past and the future embraced however it comes. To
them, unless I forget the past, I cannot concentrate on my future happiness ―which
is the most paramounthuman pursuit
 Only one less educated colleague came to my rescue in a letter. To him, such friends ought to be buried inmolten lead as
traitors and enemies of the continent. ―Their 
responses are a sign of the new indoctrinatedand Europeanised generation purposely tamed to live a life of make-believe and opulence. A people who
don‘t know where they are coming from
cannot claim to know where they are going. Our people say thatthe river moves at night because it has never carried out any sort of self-analysis to know what it is and
why it even exists,‖ he stated.
This unschooled friend then went on to write
, ―Neo
-colonialism is founded on a new myth of  brainwashing to create uncritical minds that applaud anything that comes from western countries. A new breed of men and women has already been produced from this experimentation. All they do is eat, rejoice,sleep, excrete, make love and gamble as they prepare to enter the promised paradise. This flat road of easerelies entirely on the animal instinct of survival.
 He actually gave me the courage not to be intimidated out of my line of thinking, reasoning and
expression. According to this fellow, ‗we pay great respect and admiration to those mentally equipped
with knowledge of human progress not those armed with race, caste, power, riches and guns to subdue
, my friend‘s letter signed off the
subsequent sizzling commentary.
Analysis and Synthesis
As Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin (1995) warn: All post-colonial societies are still subject in one way or another to overt or subtle forms of neo-colonial domination, and independence has not solved this problem. (2). This subject has attracted hot debates amongst academics. According to Frantz Fanon,French West Indian psychiatrist and political theorist (1965:48),
Colonialism is not a thinking machine,nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will yield when
confronted with greater violence.‖
Fanon also observes that colonialism is
not merely physical occupation of a native territory, rather itsubjugates the tradition, heritage, language, customs and thereby culture of people, and their veryidentity
. In his critical book 
Wretched of the Earth
(1965), he asserts, ―By the time
a century or two of exploitation has passed, there comes about a veritable emaciation of the stock of national culture...the
 poverty of the people, national oppression and the inhibition of Culture are one and the same thing.‖
 Back to our topic, Kihura Nkuba at first glance struck me like the Indian adept of wisdom, Mahatma
Gandhi. Both sages want ―to cultivate the courage of dying without killing‖. Kihura aims at liberating theAfrican‘s mind which has been arrested and imprisoned in the cells of inferiori
ty complex and lack of 
insight; where they have caught a cold of psychological torture for many centuries. ―I am a prophet of correction…I am sent to lay before your immortal eyes…Truth…the only useful thing in liberating.‖(11
16). He doesn‘t se
em to be alone in the struggle!The question of 
liberating an African‘s mind has been a crucial factor amongst the continent‘s hottest
debates ever. Writers of all calibres have tackled this issue for generations. June Givanni (2000: 93-96)quotes
 Ngugi, Wa Thiongo ―Is the
Decolonising of the mind a prerequisite for the independence of 
Thought and creative Practice of African Cinema?‖ It is therefore acknowledged that African Cinema
has played a big role in the decolonisation of the mind ( Ngugi 9
5) argues, ―It is in African cinema, no
matter what we think of its content, where on the whole, the African character has been restored to hislanguage. It is on the screen where we encounter African people speaking their own languages, workingout proble
ms in their own language…‖
 Ngugi is also certain that African cinema has already taken a giant stride in rejecting the neo-colonialnotion that the African person has no language, that African people can express themselves only inforeign tongues. Equally so, some filmmakers like Haile Gerima,
(1993), have come up with a
metaphor or plainly stated: looking back to understand one‘s roots so as to formulate a new
future.The text
When The African Wakes
revisits the greatness of Africa which we have been successfullyindoctrinated to be ashamed of. Kihura Nkuba alludes to Rip Van Winkle, a lazy and good-naturedYankee who slept for 20 years (
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent:
1819-1820, a collection of short stories by Washington Irving). By the time this Yankee woke up, he found himself in a changedworld. The allusion is aimed at reminding the African that there is need to wake up from that eternal sleepand reclaim what belongs to him.
―The disease of perpetual slumber has caught the Afrikan.‖(
 Nkuba: 56).

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