The Trial of Dedan Kimathi

Q. Comment on the title of the play. The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976) is a revolutionary drama about the MauMau insurgency in Nigeria, written by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo. The writing of this play began as a response to a play (that came out in 1974) by Kenneth Watene, which characterized Kimathi, the leader of the Mau Mau uprising, as a crazed and brutal paranoiac. The content of Ngugi's play derives from the actual trial of Kimathi after his betrayal and capture in 1956, but the author makes extensive use of mime, dance, and Gikuyu song to portray Kimathi as a courageous freedom-fighter struggling against the forces of imperialism. The Trial of Dedan Kimathi attempts to rewrite Kenyan history: an activity that according to Ngugi and many others was urgently needed. The title character of this play, Dedan Kimathi (1920-1957; also known as Kimathi wa Wachiuri) was an important member of Kenya’s militant nationalist group, the Mau-Mau. In 1950 Kimathi embraced radical politics when he subscribed to the oath of the Mau-Mau, the group demanding freedom and the return of Kenyan land from the British. Kimathi became one of the most prominent of the three dominant leaders of Mau Mau’s Land and Freedom Armies, with oversight functions for the Aberdare forest. Due to the activities of the Mau-Mau, the colonial regime was forced to declare a state of emergency in 1952. In 1956 Kimathi was captured with Wambui, his “forest wife,” and sentenced to death. He was hanged on February 18, 1957, at Nairobi Prison and was buried in a mass grave. Despite attempts by British propagandists to label him a dangerous and elusive terrorist, Kimathi became a folk hero among the people of Kenya. It is significant to note that the word “trial” is used both in the judicial sense as well as the spiritual sense in this play. Hence, there are both real and metaphorical trials happening throughout the play. There are four main “Trial Scenes” in the play, which are interspersed with crucially significant Street-scenes. These scenes do not help in telling Kimathi’s life story. Instead, these trials “intend to question the very basis of large economicpolitical-social systems with an implicit or explicit call to overthrow the whole system…Also, in a single Trial-scene there are different kinds of

the whole of imperialism puts itself on trial by virtue of its relentless association with and espousal of negative and oppressive values. the humiliated of the country and the continent. the accused. only a threat of torture which is carried out in the scene. the torture inflicted on Kimathi in the Fourth Trial is symbolic of the general torture inflicted on the people after the “screenings” and detentions were started. which is brought back to be enacted again in every possible harmony with the ongoing torture of Kimathi. that is used to tempt Kimathi. it is the vision of a “better” (not necessarily free) Kenya. and in the Fourth Trial. Kimathi. can be seen as an offer made to the people of Kenya. It is significant to note that the trial scenes in the play have religious echoes. the exploited. In this play. . there is no tempting offer. Henderson is the embodiment of the negative values of imperialism and is made to play the symbolic role of trial judge in the play in an obvious ironic bid to expose the fraud in the imperialists’ sense of justice. Similarly.” (Chidi Amuta) The Trial of Dedan Kimathi is also the trial of the people of Kenya—the workers and the peasants. Basu). every offer that is made to Kimathi in the Trial scenes. While the colonialists’ judiciary tries Kimathi for his patriotic and progressive stance. This is shown through the device of a previously enacted scene of physical torture of the Kenyan people. “It is the dialectics of these exchanges between Kimathi and the agencies of imperialism that constitute the essence of the ‘trial’. In that sense. We see the real nature of Kimathi’s trial in the final courtroom scene.tempting offers made to persuade Kimathi. It is when he is standing among his people that he finally triumphs over the crucial hesitation and doubt in his mind about the future of Kenya. But Kimathi sees through the imperialists’ intentions. is heard giving his judgement upholding the charge brought against imperialism by the injured. (The only way to read ‘temptation’ in it would be to see the temptation of escape from great torture)” (Dilip K. exploited by the imperialists. In the four Trials. not only are the doings of the imperialists and their agents exposed through their speech and action. They remind the reader of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness for forty days by Satan (a period which is now observed as Lent). It brings home the point that the people of Kenya are as much on trial as Kimathi is. it is imperialism which is actually on trial. According to Chidi Amuta.

even if he or she is saying things hurting Kimathi’s statements and attacking his logic. Basu). and everybody is listened to.” (Dilip K. our hopes. as it highlights the key aspect of the play—the Trial—while simultaneously presenting Kimathi both as the hero of the Kenyan people as well as a symbol for them. and is finally at peace with himself reposing complete faith in his people. (Chidi Amuta) Thus. The trial of Kimathi by the imperialist government is strongly contrasted with the trial of the Mau-Mau traitors and imperialist soldiers.Kimathi doesn’t die in the body of the play. Kimathi’s ‘weakness’ of being “too human” is also discovered in this scene. the title of the play is very significant. as Kenya’s struggle does not die. This scene “recaptures the essence of Kimathi’s heroism and revolutionary vision”. our resolve The trial of loyalty Our cause…” . “Kimathi does not die when he is sentenced to death by hanging because in the meanwhile he has come out successful after going through the trial of his spirit. But the trial is humane and keeps everyone’s interests in mind. which happens at the guerrilla camp in Nyandarua forest (where Kimathi is the judge). This trial is very democratic. I would like to conclude with the words of the Woman in the play. which successfully bring out the ethos of the entire play: “The trial of our strength Our faith.