The characterisation of Christian missionaries in the early novels of Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Although the early works of the eminent Kenyan novelist and dramatist Ngugi wa Thiong'o have received a great amount of international critical attention since the 1960s, little has been written about his portrayal of missionaries. The present article is intended as a step towards filling that lacuna in the literary and missionary history of East Africa. The evolution of Ngugi's depiction of the proliferation of Christianity in Kenya is analysed against the evolving backdrop of his political radicalisation.
Perhaps no indigenous African writer of imaginative literature has received greater international attention since the 1960s than Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and none is known to have shot more incendiary rhetorical arrows than he at missionary activity in East Africa. After gaining prominence in African, European, and American literary circles, this talented Kenyan entered the lion's den of the Fifth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in 1970 and, after declaring that he was 'not even a Christian', proceeded to upbraid `colonialism and its religious ally, the Christian Church' and found it lamentable that `the Church opposed Mau Mau, but never the colonial Caesar'. 
He subsequently took his sweeping generalisations a step further by casting his comments about Christianity and its propagation in Africa in a Marxist mould, asserting inter alia in a speech to teachers of literature in Nairobi in 1973 that `despite protestations to the contrary from missionaries and other members of the religious, intellectual and spiritual armies of imperialism, the aim of any colonial mission is to get at a people's land and what that land produces' and that `the church is always preaching humility and forgiveness and non-violence to the oppressed'. 
That same year Ngugi told an audience in the Soviet Union that in Kenya during the decades of British hegemony `the missionary stood guarding the door as a colonial spiritual policeman' while imperialists raided the homeland of indigenous Africans. 
In Ngugi's early fiction, however, Christianity and particularly missionaries in Kenya are presented in decidedly less crass and deprecating terms. One cannot properly generalise that their depiction there is one-sidedly positive, but it undergoes a readily perceptible evolution in which Ngugi gradually takes a more critical view of what he regarded from the beginning of his literary career as an essentially European religion that colonialism had brought to East Africa.
The professional literature pertaining to his authorship, including his first few novels, is fairly extensive, though theological analysis of it is not, and most commentators have discreetly refrained from venturing out on thin ice by attempting to appraise in detail how Ngugi treated specifically religious themes during the 1960s.
Furthermore, one can glean little about this topic from numerous studies of modern African literary reactions to Christianity. Siegfried Hertlein completed his doctoral thesis about Christentum und Mission im Urteil der neoafrikanischen Prosaliteratur  in 1960, before Ngugi had begun his first novel.
Twelve years later Bethuel A Kiplagat sought to cover Ngugi in less than three pages in his brief survey of `Christianity and African Novelists'.  In his even sketchier treatment of Christentum und Mission aus der Sicht afrikanischer Schriftsteller, Ulrich Berner devoted less than a page and a half to Ngugi and dealt with only one of his novels, The river between.  On the other hand, theologian J N K Mugambi of the University of Nairobi included a chapter on Ngugi in his study of Critiques of Christianity in African literature.
In the present article I shall take initial steps towards filling the lacuna in the scholarly literature by commenting on the evolution of his portrayal of missions and missionaries in The river between, Weep not, child and A grain of wheat. The topic is not only of literary but also missiological significance, because it sheds light on how a highly articulate if sometimes rhetorically impetuous and bitter spokesman of a receiving society retroactively perceived the coming of Christianity to his Gikuyu tribe and its impact on his own formative years.
By all accounts, including his own testimony, Ngugi's early fiction bears a strongly autobiographical stamp, although for the most part he employs a fairly conventional onmiscient narrator perspective.  The subjective element is particularly apparent when read against the backdrop of his spiritual journey. In brief, the Kenyan who was baptised James Ngugi was born near Limuru, less than forty kilometres northwest of Nairobi, in 1938. He was the fifth child of the third wife of a polygamous tenant farmer. A disrupted and violent childhood experience of the Mau Mau uprising during the 1950s, including the detention of his mother for three months, shaped his youthful consciousness and provided him much of the material for his second novel. His formal education began at age nine when he was enrolled in a nearby mission school.
After approximately two years there, however, for reasons he could not remember Ngugi was transferred to one of the Gikuyu independent schools, relics of the tribal religious revolt against the Church of Scotland's hostility to female circumcision, or clitoridectomy, as a nearly universal rite de passage in Gikuyu society during the 1920s and 1930s, a topic about which he would later write. That school, like many of its counterparts, was closed during the `state of emergency' which began in 1952 as a measure against revolutionary Gikuyu nationalism.
Beginning in 1955, Ngugi attended the well-known Alliance High School, which was his springboard to tertiary education at Makarere University College in 1959, when his native land was on the verge of gaining independence from British hegemony. When that uhuru finally came in December 1963, he had just completed his undergraduate studies.
At Makarere he had written dramatic pieces, his first novel The black messiah, which was published in 1965 as The river between, and begun to draft a second, Weep not, child, which appeared in print in 1964. Ngugi also began to write a regular column for the Sunday nation in Nairobi before receiving his baccalaureate degree. After graduating, he worked briefly as a journalist in the Kenyan capital but interrupted that career to pursue post-graduate studies in England. Much of his time in that country, however, was devoted to writing his third novel, A grain of wheat, and he never received his anticipated Master of Arts. 
Interviewed at the University of Leeds in December 1967, Ngugi recalled that as a youth in Kenya he had been `deeply Christian' and had risen to attend services at 5:00, though whether he had normally worshipped before sunrise he did not specify. Showing surprising sophistication about the cultural contextualisation of the Gospel, moreover, he recalled that as a scholar he had been `concerned with trying to remove the central Christian doctrine from the dress of Western culture, and seeing how this might be grafted onto the central beliefs of our people'. Eventually, however, Ngugi's spiritual views changed. The seminal period appears to have been his years of undergraduate study at Makarere. `I gave up the Christian faith at the University', he related cryptically in the same interview. `But it was not that I woke up one day and decided that I was no longer a Christian. It just gradually lost its appeal to me as I began to see what it stood for.' 
The three novels in question effectively form a historical trilogy spanning approximately three-quarters of a century from approximately the 1880s until the eve of uhuru. Elements of continuity linking these texts include inter alia references to certain historical figures, aspects of Gikuyu myths and religious practices, and the expansion of European political and cultural hegemony in Kenya.
For our purposes, however, the most significant of these thematic connections is the proliferation of Christianity through missionary endeavours among the Gikuyu s. The growing influence of this religion and the threats it poses to indigenous belief and tradition as a proliferating accompaniment to the imposition of British hegemony beginning in the 1880s provide Ngugi with much of the dramatic tension that forms the thematic backbone of his trilogy.
THE RIVER BETWEEN: THE ENCROACHMENT OF CHRISTIANITY
In The river between,  Christianity has already begun to make inroads into Gikuyu land, although at the outset of the narrative it has not yet reached the isolated area in which most of the plot unfolds. The religious bifurcation of that society is well under way, although the church is not firmly entrenched throughout it. On the local level, Ngugi represents the incipient cleavage geographically. In his first chapter he describes two rival communities, Kameno and Makuyu, that face each other from ridges on either side of the Honia River. The tension between these two villages stems from time immemorial and involves conflicting myths of leadership. Religious tradition still runs strong, interlocked with such practices as male circumcision and clitoridectomy. 
`These ancient hills and ridges were the heart and soul of the land,' relates Ngugi in the first chapter. `They kept the tribes' magic and rituals, pure and intact. Their people rejoiced together, giving one another the blood and warmth of their laughter ... To the stranger, they kept dumb, breathing none of the secrets of which they were the guardians' (p 3). Foresaging challenges to this cultural seclusion with its religious stability, however, Mugo wa Kibiro, `that great Gikuyu seer of old' whose home was in this area, had predicted that `there shall come a people with clothes like butterflies' (p 2).
The colourful interlopers do not enter either Kameno or Makuyu in their sartorial splendour at any time in The river between. After founding a station at Siriana, in accordance with well-established missionary practice, they propagate the Gospel in outlying largely by proxy. `But the missionaries had not as yet penetrated into the hills, though they sent a number of disciples to work there', Ngugi explains with regard to the villages flanking the Honia (p 28). The chief representative of the otherwise unidentified missionary, tellingly named Livingstone, and of Christianity generally, is a local Gikuyu evangelist named Joshua. His spiritual biography remains murky. At some point he went to Siriana and there accepted the new faith after hearing a hellfire and brimstone sermon based on a text that Ngugi attributes to Isaiah, `the white man's seer', but which is apparently spurious and embodies an anachronistic concept of the realm of the dead. 
Ngugi relates nothing else about either the missionaries' homiletics or their presentation of the Gospel outside the pulpit. Instead, he focuses on this indigenous minister's emotional acceptance of Christianity and the distortion of the new religion when it is refracted through the prism of his authoritarian personality. `These strong words frightened Joshua and shook his whole body; shook him to the very roots of his being. He became baptized and it was only then that he felt at peace and stopped trembling' (p 29). Having been released from fear, Joshua continues to instill it in his hearers.
He soon emerges as the leader of a small congregation in Makuyu, which evolves into a small centre of Christianity while its rival across the river remains a stronghold of indigenous religion. Joshua differs from his fellow villagers and is inevitably at odds with many of them. In Makuyu there is `a general uniformity between all the houses', apart from Joshua's, `a tin-roofed rectangular building standing quite distinctly by itself on the ridge'. This edifice, Ngugi remarks superfluously, is `an indication that the old isolation of Makuyu from the rest of the world was being broken down' (p 28). Across the river, inhabitants of Kameno perceive in Joshua the man responsible for the intrusion of white people into the area and blame him for preparing the way for a projected government post and the threatened levying of taxes.
This evangelist does not object to the anticipated changes. Livingstone has taught him both what governments are and that it is the duty of Christians to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (pp 31--32). Joshua regards the whites as his fellows and exonerates them from guilt for the problems of the Gikuyu. The root cause of their tribulations as a people, he believes, lies in their own customs. Apart from circumcision, however, these remain unspecified. Nevertheless, Joshua prays `that the people should leave their ways and follow the ways of the white man' (p 32). His compelling preaching convinces many of the villagers and dwellers of remote communities nearby to do that to some degree, at least with regard to religious life. Most continue to practice circumcision, however, despite protests from missionaries, underscoring the tenacity of this rite in Gikuyu culture.
The tension in the community affects Joshua's family when one of his daughters, Muthoni, decides to join her peers in participating in a clitoridectomy ritual. When he learns of her decision, he literally froths at the mouth and attacks his other daughter, Nyambura, for allowing her sister to take part. He permanently disowns Muthoni (pp 35--36).
Meanwhile, a gifted youth from Kameno named Waiyaki (like the Kenyan resistance leader of the 1890s whose short-lived campaign against British incursions had become legendary long before Ngugi took up his pen) has heeded the prompting of his culturally conservative father, Chege, and enrolled in the mission school at Siriana. Far from being a sign of conversion to Christianity, however, this act is intended as a means of gaining knowledge of the white man's ways so that an effective campaign against further European incursions in Gikuyu land can be mounted.
After a few years at that Protestant institution, Waiyaki returns temporarily to Kameno apparently unbaptised and desiring to participate in the annual circumcision ritual with other boys of his age. The uninhibited behaviour of the participants in the accompanying festival scandalises the youth. Ngugi describes their conduct graphically, particularly with regard to a nocturnal communal dance:
Everyone went into a frenzy of excitement. Old and young, women and children, all were there losing themselves in the magic motion of the dance. Men shrieked and shouted and jumped into the air as they went round in a circle ... Women, stripped to the waist, with their thin breasts flapping on their chests, went round and round the big fire, swinging their hips and contorting their bodies in all sorts of provocative ways, but always keeping the rhythm. They were free. Age and youth had become reconciled for this one night. And you could sing about anything and talk of the hidden parts of men and women without feeling that you had violated the otherwise strong social code that governed people's relationships, especially the relationship between young and old, man and woman (p 41).
When his mind vacillates between the scene before him and his school at Siriana, Waiyaki wonders `what Livingstone would say now if he found him or if he saw the chaos created by locked emotions let loose. And the words spoken!' (p 42). The youth nevertheless shunts his inhibitions aside and joins in the festivities, eventually losing his foreskin and a considerable amount of blood while experiencing excruciating pain. As Waiyaki squats in agony after the ceremony, his thoughts again turn to the missionary headmaster: `What would he now think if he found Waiyaki sitting there facing the river, holding his penis with blood dripping on to his fingers, falling to the ground, while a white calico sheet covered him' (p 46)? He feels no real compunction, however, and continues to regard himself as a true son of the Gikuyu tradition, especially after surviving this rite de passage.
Muthoni is less fortunate after her clitoris is excised. The improperly treated wound festers, and Waiyaki and other youths carry the delirious girl too late to the mission hospital at Siriana, where she dies.
The death of Muthoni triggers various reactions in Gikuyu land. The resulting heightened tensions provide Ngugi with an opportunity to describe Livingstone in greater detail. We thus learn that he is `an old man, bald-headed, and with a double chin', who rarely removes from his bald head `a large pith helmet of which he was very fond'. Of much greater consequence than Livingstone's unappealing physical attributes, however, are his attitudes towards the Gikuyu, their culture, and missionary endeavours amongst them. His disappointments have been legion. Livingstone's initial expectations of effecting large numbers of conversions have not been realised. The expansion of the hospital and school at Siriana reveal more to him about the need for social ministry and Gikuyu hunger for European education than about their spiritual zeal, perceptions that Ngugi in no way contradicts. Furthermore, having spent twenty-five years among the Gikuyu, Livingstone speaks their language fluently and believes he understands their ways well. He regards himself as an `enlightened' missionary who respects indigenous culture more than did many of his predecessors (pp 55--56).
Nevertheless, like many of his counterparts Livingstone draws the line at the practice of circumcision, in part because he has witnessed first-hand the attendant rituals and regards them as barbarian. As `a man of moderation', he has `advocated gradual methods of eradicating the custom'. The death of his evangelist Joshua's daughter, Muthoni, however, following the `brutal mutilation of her body', convinces Livingstone to adopt a more rigid stance and insist categorically that Christians affiliated with his mission either abstain from circumcision or leave the church. This ultimatum predictably alienates many converts who see no necessary contradiction between tribal custom and Christian doctrine (pp 55--56).
At one juncture Livingstone has exercised a temporary influence on Waiyaki, namely that of political indifference. Waiyaki does not return to Siriana but becomes the headmaster of one of the many Gikuyu independent schools that crop up after the split in Kenyan Presbyterianism. In this capacity, he is preoccupied with his duties and shows little interest in the campaign for Kenyan autonomy. `Perhaps the teaching of Livingstone, that education was of value and his boys should not concern themselves with what the government was doing or politics, had found a place in Waiyaki's heart,' interjects Ngugi (p 65).
In a related vein, there is no evidence that he shares the belief of his radicalising ethnic fellows that missionaries were vanguards of colonialism or agents of European hegemony in Kenya, an article of faith voiced by one of the teachers on his small staff, Kinuthia, who was also a boyhood friend of Waiyaki: `Take Siriana Mission for example, the men of God came peacefully. They were given a place. Now see what has happened. They have invited their brothers to come and take all the land. Our country is invaded' (p 64). Some of the non-Christians in the area go so far as to wonder whether a detrimental change of climate can be attributed to `the white men and the blaspheming men of Makuyu', that is the converts to Christianity there (p 80).
Ngugi does not adduce any other missionaries in The river between, but in his penultimate chapter he intrudes into the narrative with some of his most explicit authorial voicing in commenting on the shortcomings of missionary endeavours among the Gikuyu that have failed to give tribal folkways their due. His reflective spokesman is Waiyaki, who on the eve of the Mau Mau period shows de facto Christlike characteristics and seeks to promote reconciliation between Christian and non-Christian Gikuyu that will promote a nonviolent campaign for independence and restoration of tribal lands. Pondering the ways of the oppressors, he believes that 'not all the ways of the white man were bad. Even his religion was not essentially bad. Some good, some truth shone through it. But the religion, the faith, needed washing, cleaning away all the dirt, leaving only the eternal.'
Ngugi does not plead explicitly for religious syncretism or, strictly speaking, a thorough indigenisation of the Gospel at this point, but he calls for toleration of indigenous folkways as essential to the psychological integrity of an evangelised ethnic group: `And that eternal that was the truth had to be reconciled to the traditions of the people. A people's traditions could not be swept away overnight. That way lay disintegration.' It was also the high road to missionary failure: `A religion that took no count of people's way of life, a religion that did not recognize spots of beauty and truth in their way of life, was useless. It would not satisfy. It would not be a living experience, a source of life and vitality. It would only maim a man's soul, making him fanatically cling to whatever promised security, otherwise he would be lost' (p 141). Apart from the stormy and historically consequential issue of circumcision, however, Ngugi does not specify matters on which he believes missionaries should have evinced a spirit of toleration. His plea in The river between thus remains generally vague.
WEEP NOT, CHILD: CHRISTIANITY AS EDUCATOR
Weep not, child, although published a year before The river between, is its sequel not merely in Ngugi's historical context but more specifically in terms of the general presentation of the impact of Christianity in Gikuyu land.  As we shall see shortly, in this second part of the trilogy the church is no longer a threatening encroachment but part of the religious and cultural landscape. Ngugi does not mention any dates explicitly in his narrative, but such internal evidence as references to World War Two as a completed historical event and the declaration of a state of emergency in Kenya in 1952 makes it clear that the plot unfolds during the latter half of the 1940s and the 1950s. Moreover, local society has become more complex. Italian prisoners of war have added fibres to its ethnic warp and woof and sired considerable numbers of half-caste children. Indian shopkeepers dominate much of the retail trade. An establishment called the Green Hotel boasts a radio. Many of the African men now have their hair trimmed in a barber's shop. A tarmac road leads to Nairobi, although many of the Gikuyus do not appear to have set foot in that burgeoning city. Others, however, have gained international experience through participation in military campaigns against the Axis Powers. After returning to their homes, these veterans evince enhanced self-confidence by regaling other townspeople with accounts of how they had killed white men and copulated with white women in Europe.
The indigenous population has lost much of its land to European settlers and for the most part stands on the lowest ranks of the regional economic ladder. Part of the younger generation has abandoned hope of securing acceptable employment in this dispossessed area and have left to seek it in Nairobi. Through collaborating with the whites, however, some of the other Gikuyus have become conspicuously prosperous. One such farmer, tellingly named Jacobo, employs several of his ethnic brethren on his land. His wife reflects their nouveau riche mentality by not wanting her children to associate with people from `primitive homes' (p 19). A wife of Ngotho, who resides on Jacobo's land but toils for an English immigrant farmer named Howlands, chides her husband: `You want to be a modern white man' (p 12).
The primary fruit of missionary endeavours is an educational system that encompasses many of the Gikuyu children. Njoroge, the youngest son of Ngotho who emerges as the central character in Weep not, child, enrols at a mission school which Jacobo's daughter, Mwihaki, already attends. Njoroge finds the institution `strange', although why it appears odd in his eyes is not disclosed. He feels attracted to the chapel adjacent to it and is `shocked' to hear some of the other boys shouting within its walls, for he has `been brought up to respect all holy places, like graveyards and the bush around fig trees'. Njoroge finds the vaguely described teacher strict and quite willing to administer corporal punishment (pp 13--14).
Njoroge thrives at this primary school and demonstrates a gift for reading. In his second year there he is promoted to enter Standard I. Like his classmates, he loves his teacher, an African named Isaka, a corruption of Isaac, even though rumours circulate that that teacher is not `a good Christian', meaning that `he drank and smoked and went about with women, a thing which no teacher in their school was expected to do' (p 33). Nevertheless, the mission school makes a spiritual impact on Njoroge. While on leave at home, he prays in a Christian vein (p 44), and the Bible becomes his `favourite book'.
As political tensions in central Kenya mount around the middle of the twentieth century, Njoroge identifies with much in the Scriptures. He appreciates many of the stories in the Old Testament (though Ngugi does not specify which ones, apart from stating that he admires and identifies with David), and for some unexplained reason Job also appeals to him. In the New Testament, Njoroge likes the accounts of the young Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. His reading of the Bible and the influence of the missionaries shape his spirituality as well as his general outlook on life, though not in an orthodox Christian direction. The optimistic pupil comes to believe in works righteousness of a sort that he believes can serve the struggle for national liberation. `Njoroge came to place faith in the Bible and with his vision of an educated life in the future was blended a belief in the righteousness of God,' explains Ngugi. `Equity and justice were there in the world. If you did well and remained faithful to your God, the Kingdom of Heaven world be yours. A good man would get a reward from God; a bad man would harvest bad fruits.' He discovers a confluence of this Arminian version of Christianity with his own indigenous tradition: `The tribal stories told him by his mother had strengthened this belief in the virtue of toil and perseverance' (p 49).
The biblical narrative that Njoroge learns at the mission school gradually takes on contemporary political relevance, notwithstanding the tendency of foreign missionaries in Kenya to shun certain aspects of that. `And with all this, there was growing up in his heart a feeling that the Gikuyu people, whose land had been taken by white men, were no other than the children of Israel about whom he read in the Bible,' relates Ngugi. `So although all men were brothers, the black people had a special mission to the world because they were the chosen people of God.' One of his half-brothers accentuates this belief by commenting that Jomo Kenyatta, who was already well-established as a tribal political leader and journalist and had sought to negotiate Kenyan autonomy from the British, was `the Black Moses', an identification that other politically conscious members of the tribe also make (pp 49--50, 58).
After completing his primary education through Standard VIII, Njoroge proceeds to Siriana Secondary School, the same institution that Waiyaki attended in The river between. Bearing some resemblance to Alliance High School, Ngugi's own alma mater, this missionary establishment is still thriving in Weep not, child. Ngugi praises it in terms that he would later effectively retract in more radical works. In Weep not, child, Siriana Secondary School is an almost idyllic island in a tempestuous sea of intertribal strife and violence. With little previous personal contact with Europeans, Njoroge is pleasantly surprised that the missionaries and others who served at the school `could smile and laugh' and that they `made friends with him and tried to help him in his Christian progress'. Ngugi shows little reserve in lauding the dedication of these propagators of the faith:
Njoroge was often surprised by these missionaries' apparent devotion to their work. One might have thought that teaching was to them life and death. Yet they were white men. They never talked of colour; they never talked down to Africans; and they could work closely, joke, and laugh with their black colleagues who came from different tribes.
Ngugi tempers his otherwise unrestrained praise only with regard to the headmaster, `a strange man who was severe with everyone, black and white alike', and who `believed that the best, the really excellent could only come from the white man' (p 115).
Adding to the constructive atmosphere at Siriana Secondary School, Njoroge's fellow pupils come from the Nandi, Luo, Wakamba, and Giriama tribes, and he soon discovers the ease of establishing friendly relationships with them, a particularly significant development at a time when the Mau Mau uprising had driven previously existing wedges even further between tribal groups in Kenya. Furthermore, this place of intensive missionary endeavour naturally provides an environment for fostering individual spiritual reflection and emotional peace. Njoroge believes that in this environment `he would escape the watchful eyes of misery and hardship that had for a long time stared at him in his home' and can lay plans for his future using the formal education he is receiving (p 108).
Otherwise, Ngugi's presentation of missionaries is very limited in Weep not, child. He mentions briefly that the daughter of the villainous Howlands became a missionary after the death of her older brother in the Second World War, but this vocation remains essentially a loose end in his narrative. Ngugi does, however, try to set this vaguely described young woman and her father up as foils of each other. The elder Howlands is said to have opposed his daughter's decision to become a missionary, a calling this atheist simply does not understand. Indeed, `even the attempt to explain on his daughter's side had only served to exasperate him the more' (p 78). This is narrated very sketchily, however, and readers never even learn what the young woman's name is.
Not all the missionaries in Weep not, child are Europeans. Ngugi takes a page from the ecclesiastical history of East Africa to add another minor religious dimension to his narrative of events during the Mau Mau period. The `Revival Fellowship', `Brethren', or Balokole (the Luganda term for `Saved Ones') became in the 1940s a noteworthy component of what was and is still more formally known as the East African Revival Fellowship. In Swahili, many members of this group refer to one another simply as ndugu (brother) or dada (sister).
The intercontinental historical roots of their movement lie in both Britain and Rwanda. During the 1920s a revival broke out in the latter country, curiously enough apparently influenced by both the Oxford Movement and the Keswick Convention. Its promoters emphasised inter alia personal holiness and subjective awareness of salvation. Adherents visited Kenya beginning in 1937. Arriving in that colony, they found numerous indigenous churches, some of which stemmed from separations from the Anglican, Presbyterian, and other conventional denominations, whose missionaries resented their evangelism as a gratuitous incursion and initially resisted it stiffly.
After the conclusion of the Second World War the movement nevertheless grew rapidly in terms of its membership and eventually encompassed the majority of the African clergy in some of the Protestant denominations. In addition to small congregational meetings on the local level, at first held in private homes or al fresco, as many as 15 000 adherents attended its annual conferences in Kenya. It should be emphasised that many members were and are also communicants in more conventional denominations. Unlike many other African indigenous churches, the East African Revival Fellowship long had virtually no formal bureaucracy. Spiritual emphases have tended to include personal holiness, the importance of `born again' experiences, and daily deliverance from sin, and the Atonement of the crucified Christ. 
In Weep not, child, Njoroge encounters the Revivalists while he is completing Standard VIII and contemplating entering secondary school. The Mau Mau period is well under way, and his homeland is in turmoil. Njoroge and Mwihaki attend a service in a church, one of the few safe havens in their hazardous world. One of the preachers is his erstwhile teacher, Isaka, whom Njoroge remembers as a rogue more interested in alcohol, tobacco, and women than in Christian spirituality. Shorn of his moustache, Isaka enters the pulpit and, preaching a message of doom based on apocalyptic texts in Matthew 24, warns the congregation against false prophets. There is no theme of hope in his sermon. Ngugi summarises succinctly the resulting mood in the sanctuary: `It was as if darkness too had fallen into the building and there was no one to light the way' (p 90). The impression that one gains from the few hundred words about the Revivalists in Weep not, child is that they and their pietistic, apocalyptic version of the Gospel are irrelevant to the struggle for political and economic independence.
A GRAIN OF WHEAT: THE CHALLENGE OF UHURU
Significantly longer and artistically more complex than Ngugi's two previous novels, A grain of wheat was completed in 1966 during his stint at the University of Leeds and clearly bears the stamp of his political radicalisation.  The narrative is inter alia a study of interlocked black and white attitudes and fears in Kenya on the eve of uhuru and involves numerous flashbacks to the Mau Mau period. Many of the characters became morally compromised under the strains of that era, and their personalities and behaviour carry over into the new political dispensation. Meanwhile, the churches have become very well established, and Christianity is an integral though not universal part of Gikuyu life. As one explicit manifestation of the political incarnation of this faith, people mix hymns with songs proclaiming uhuru to celebrate the birth of their ostensibly autonomous nation. 
In his treatment of the advent of Christianity in East Africa, Ngugi underscores in A grain of wheat even more explicitly than in his previous fiction his perception of the unholy alliance of missionaries and the imposition of colonial hegemony. In describing the origins of the Kenyan African National Union (alluded to simply as `the Party') in his second chapter, he refers to the ostensibly popular belief that they could `be traced to the day the whiteman came to the country, clutching the book of God in both hands, a magic witness that the whiteman was a messenger from the Lord'. The tongues of these intrusive propagators of Christianity were `coated with sugar', and their `humility was touching', attributes that temporarily deceived the indigenes into granting them hospitality and allowing them to erect shelters and places of worship. Almost immediately after arriving during the Victorian era, however, the foreigners had `told of another country beyond the sea where a powerful woman sat on a throne while men and women danced under the shadow of her authority and benevolence. She was ready to spread the shadow to cover the Agikuyu' (pp 13--14).
Ngugi continues a theme poorly developed in his earlier novels by stressing the alien character of Christianity in Kenya. The crucifixion of Christ seemed a mystery, `for how could it be that God would let himself be nailed to a tree?' The proclamation of self-sacrificing love also raised eyebrows. Moreover, Ngugi indicts `the few who were converted' for insensitively trampling on indigenous religious beliefs and practices. `They trod on sacred places to show that no harm could reach those protected by the hand of the Lord' (p 15).
Just as missionary endeavours had served as the vanguard of colonialism, however, they prompted its antithesis. Alluding to the liberationist motif of the original Passover, Ngugi relates that the centres of Christian activity `hatched new leaders; they refused to eat the good things of Pharaoh: instead, they chose to cut grass and make bricks with the other children'.
As one example of this noncompliance with oppressive colonial rule, he cites Harry Thuku, the early twentieth-century Gikuyu leader who `denounced the whiteman and cursed that benevolence and protection which denied people land and freedom'. Thuku had pleaded to those who wielded colonial power, `Let my people go, let my people go'. Like the Hebrews toiling in ancient Egypt, `people swore they would follow Harry through the desert. They would tighten their belts around the waist, ready to endure thirst and hunger, tears and blood until they set food on Canaan's shore' (p 16).
One of the main characters in A grain of wheat is an executed member of Mau Mau named Kihika who appears in numerous flashbacks as a local Gikuyu who attended a Church of Scotland mission school but left that institution, where he became preoccupied with the story of Moses, `a little disgraced' after challenging a teacher by defending the tribal practice of circumcision (pp 99--100). After joining Mau Mau, Kihika asks a friend rhetorically, `Had Christ's death a meaning for the children of Israel?' and explains that `in Kenya we want a death which will change things, that is to say, we want a true sacrifice. But first we have to be ready to carry the cross. I die for you, you die for me, we become a sacrifice for one another. So I can say that you, Karanja, are Christ. I am Christ. Everybody who takes the Oath of Unity to change things in Kenya is a Christ' (p 110). Kihika is indeed sacrificed by being betrayed to the British by a supposed friend, Mugo, who fears for his own life after Kihika murders a British colonial official and seeks refuge in his home.
Yet Kihika's greater scriptural inspiration has come from the Old Testament in his contextualised understanding of the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt. Preceding three sections of his narrative, Ngugi quotes texts that Kihika has underlined in his Bible. Two of these, underscored in red ink, are from that account, namely Exodus 8:1 (`And the Lord spoke unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go.') and Exodus 3:7 (`And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows') (pp 37, 147).
The message of the third text that Kihika has found particularly meaningful and underlined in black ink, John 12:24, is more subtle and sombre: `Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit' (p 229). When Kihaki flees to Mugo's hut after killing a colonial official, he seeks to legitimise Mau Mau violence as a modern-day re-enactment of God's infliction of plagues on the Egyptians immediately preceding the Passover. `That is our aim,' he explains. `Strike terror in their midst. Get at them in their homes night and day. They shall feel the poisoned arrows in the veins. They shall not know where the next will come from. Strike terror in the heart of the oppressor' (p 217). To the politically conscious Gikuyus in Ngugi's gallery of characters, such accounts have immeasurably more meaning than the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
By contrast, Ngugi again castigates the Revival Fellowship as a politically irrelevant movement that merely played into the hands of British colonialism. Representing the Revivalists is a minister named Jackson Kigondu, who in his previous evangelism had emphasised what he regarded as overlapping ground between Christianity and tribal religion (`Ngai, the Gikuyu God, is the same One God who sent Christ, the son, to come and lead the way from darkness into the light' (p 97)), and a teacher called Muniu, who earlier had antagonised Kihika by calling circumcision a `heathen custom'. Villagers sympathetic to Mau Mau believe that both are police informants. Kigondu insists that he is `a Christian soldier' rather than a militant one; to him `politics was dirty, worldly wealth a sin'. His goals are not of this world: `My home is heaven; here on earth I am a pilgrim' (p 98).
Ngugi emphasises that their innocuous form of Christianity pleases the colonial authorities. `The Revivalist movement was the only organization allowed to flourish in Kenya by the government during the Emergency,' he declares quite misleadingly, perhaps not realising that most of the formal denominations also continued to function during that period. `Jackson became the leader in the Rung'ei area.' It was less pleasing, however, to Mau Mau guerrillas; Kigondu `was among the first group of Christians to be killed in Rung'ei' (p 99).
When one examines Ngugi's depiction of Christian missions and missionaries and their faith in Kenya against the backdrop of his intellectual development and political radicalisation, one can readily discern a pattern of gradually increasing resentment and criticism of Christianity. To be sure, from the outset this de facto Gikuyu nationalist perceived that new religion as a foreign intrusion whose merit depended on the ability and willingness of its propagators to indigenise their teachings and practice, and early on Ngugi regarded foreign missionaries as the handmaiden of colonialism. With the exception of a very few passages, however, he failed to develop his missionary characters as individuals. In Ngugi's fictional recreation of religious and cultural conflicts in colonial Kenya, they remain little more than cardboard stereotypes who superficially represent the flowing of a new religious and cultural current into Gikuyu territory.
What is equally clear, however, is that during the early phases of his literary career in the 1960s Ngugi was quite willing to acknowledge that the faith which British missionaries proclaimed in his homeland had much to offer in terms of for example education and a biblical message of liberation that could be adapted to inspire the Kenyan struggle for independence from British hegemony. By the early 1970s the nuances of this perception of the missionary impact on colonial Kenya would yield to an ideologically determined presentation of it as the vanguard of imperialism in Ngugi's fiction and essays.
The evolution of this pre-eminent East African novelist's portrayal of missionary Christianity thus teaches lessons which range far beyond the geographical and cultural boundaries of Kenya as it embodies a theme which, mutatis mutandis, has been a Leitmotiv in postcolonial African literature. Across much of this continent, littérateurs with varying degrees of artistic talent, theological sophistication and resentment of Christianity have recorded their perceptions of the linkage of European imperialism and the arguably symbiotic relationship it maintained with Christian missionary endeavours. Chinua Achebe, T Obinkaram Echewa, Mongo Beti, Kenjo Jumbam, and many other men of letters have commented bitterly and at times perceptively on the impact of Christianity on their own cultures. Some have concluded that this imported religion is inherently incompatible with their indigenous beliefs and folkways; others have not made such categorical claims but found fault in abundance with the ways in which the Gospel has been presented in Africa and indicted accused missionaries for bringing essentially bad news to African peoples.
Yet, generally speaking, missionary Christianity in its various forms has not fared well under the pens of these writers. Its emissaries have repeatedly been accused of European cultural arrogance and attendant insensitivity to African cultures, hypocrisy in failing to live up to the moral standards which they have proclaimed and insisted that their indigenous flocks meet, and other misdemeanours which have militated against wider acceptance of themselves as individuals and of the religion which they have sought to propagate. To be sure, the value of African novelists as witnesses in missions history is limited. One will search in vain for objectivity on their part in this regard, and even dispassionate treatments of Christianity are relatively rare in their works. Although they have been among the most articulate spokesmen in receiving cultures, their voices are not necessarily representative of African opinion. One finds an apparently disproportionate degree of disaffection amongst them which by no means reflects the attitudes of tens of millions of African Christians. Perhaps what emerges most clearly from a consideration of Ngugi's evolving depiction of missions and missionaries in the early phases of his political radicalisation is the ideological relativity of such testimonies, however articulately they are expressed.
 Ngugi wa Thiong'o, `Church, Culture and Politics', in Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Homecoming: essays on African and Caribbean literature, culture and politics, London: Heinemann Education Books, 1972, pp 31, 33.
 Ngugi wa Thiong'o, `Literature and Society', in Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Writers in politics, Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers, 1981, pp 11--12, 22.
 Ngugi wa Thiong'o, `The links that bind Us', in Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Writers in politics, p 102.
 Münsterschwarzach: Vier-Türme-Verlag, 1962.
 International Review of Mission, LXI, no 242 (April 1972), pp 130--143.
 Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft, LXXIII, no 1 (January 1989), pp 1--13.
 J N K Mugambi, Critiques of Christianity in African Literature, Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers, 1992, pp 99--119. Mugambi uncritically reproduces many of Ngugi's unsubstantiated generalisations about the alleged role of missionaries and Christianity in general in abetting imperialism in Africa.
 Florence Stratton, `Narrative Method in the Novels of Ngugi', in Eldred Durosimi Jones (ed), African literature today, Vol XIII, London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983, pp 122--135 is perhaps the most incisive treatment of the subject.
 The most comprehensive if now somewhat dated study of Ngugi's literary development is David Cook and Michael Okenimkpe, Ngugi wa Thiong'o: an exploration of His writings, London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983. Also useful is G D Killam, An introduction to the writings of Ngugi, London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1980). An insightful and incisive survey of Ngugi's life and the evolution of his literary career is David Maughan-Brown, `Ngugi wa Thiong'o (James Ngugi)', in Bernth Lindfors and Reinhard Sander (eds), Dictionary of literary biography , Vol 125, Twentieth-century Caribbean and black African writers. Second Series, Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1993.
 `James Ngugi interviewed by fellow students at Leeds University: Alan Marcuson, Mike Gonzales, & Dave Williams', Cultural events in Africa, XXXI, no 2, 1967, p 2.
 The river between has been reprinted many times. In the present article the pagination is that of the reset edition, published in Nairobi by East African Educational Publishers in 1994.
 Circumcision is virtually a Leitmotiv in Ngugi's early fiction. For a highly critical view of his defensive treatment of this subject, see Tobe Levin, `Women as scapegoats of culture and cult: an activist's view of female circumcision in Ngugi's The river between', in Carole Boyce Davies and Anne Adams Groves (eds), Ngambika: studies of women in African literature, Trenton: Africa World Press, 1986, pp 205--221.
 `Those who refuse him are the children of darkness; these, sons and daughters of the evil one, will go to Hell; they will burn and burn for ever more, world unending.'
In the same section describing Joshua's conversion to Christianity, however, Ngugi correctly quotes Isaiah 7:14 as another text that had impressed Joshua and helped to convince him of the veracity of the missionaries' proclamation and the spiritual poverty of the Gikuyu.
 Like The river between, Weep not, child has gone through many printings. In the present article, the pagination is that of the version issued by East African Educational Publishers in Nairobi in 1993.
 George K Mambo, `The Revival Fellowship (Brethren) in Kenya', in David B Barrett, et al (eds), Kenyan Churches handbook. The development of Kenyan Christianity, 1498--1973, Kisumu: Evangel Publishing House, 1973, pp 110--117.
 The pagination used in the present essay is that of the edition published by Heinemann in London in 1967.
 Ngugi later revised A grain of wheat for republication by Heinemann and availed himself of this opportunity to modify certain aspects of it in light of his disillusionment with the refusal of the Kenyan African National Union to give most of those who had led and supported Mau Mau a prominent role in governing the country after the attainment of uhuru. For a stimulating discussion of this revision in the context of Ngugi's approach to historical fiction, see Carol M Sicherman, `Ngugi wa Thiong'o and the writing of Kenyan history', Research in African Literatures, XX, no 3, Fall 1989, pp 347--370. Unchanged in the revision of A grain of wheat, however, is Ngugi's treatment of foreign Christian missionaries and their religious legacy.
Dr F Hale
1780 DeSoto Street
United States of America