“The definitive African book of the twentieth century” (Moses Isegawa, from the Introduction) by the Nobel Prize–nominated Kenyan writer
The puzzling murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this fervent, hard-hitting novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. A deceptively simple tale, Petals of Blood is on the surface a suspenseful investigation of a spectacular triple murder in upcountry Kenya. Yet as the intertwined stories of the four suspects unfold, a devastating picture emerges of a modern third-world nation whose frustrated people feel their leaders have failed them time after time.
First published in 1977, this novel was so explosive that its author was imprisoned without charges by the Kenyan government. His incarceration was so shocking that newspapers around the world called attention to the case, and protests were raised by human-rights groups, scholars, and writers, including James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Donald Barthelme, Harold Pinter, and Margaret Drabble.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Ngugiwa Thiongo was born in Limuru, Kenya, in 1938. One of the leading African writers and scholars at work today, he is the author of many novels, short stories, essays, a memoir, and several plays, and recipient of numerous high honors. Currently he is Distinguished Professor in the School of Humanities and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Part One: Walking . . .
And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that
sat thereon had a bow: and there was given unto him a crown:
and he came forth conquering, and to conquer . . .
And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him that
sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, that they should
slay one another: and was there given unto him a great sword . . .
And I saw, and behold, a black horse; and he that sat thereon
had a balance in his hand . . .
And I saw, and behold, a pale horse: and he that sat
upon him, his name was Death . . .
And there was given unto them authority over the fourth part of
earth, to kill with sword and with famine, and with death.
Revelation, Chapter 6
The people scorn’d the ferocity of kings . . .
But the sweetness of mercy brew’d destruction, and the frighten’d monarchs come back;
Each comes in state, with his train – hangman, priest, tax-gatherer,
Soldier, lawyer, lord, jailer, and sycophant.
1 ~ They came for him that Sunday. He had just returned from a night’s vigil on the mountain. He was resting on his bed, Bible open at the Book of Revelation, when two police constables, one tall, the other short, knocked at the door.
‘Are you Mr Munira?’ the short one asked. He had a star-shaped scar above the left brow.
‘You teach at the New Ilmorog Primary School?’
‘And where do you think you are now standing?’
‘Ah, yes. We try to be very sure. Murder, after all, is not irio or ugali.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘You are wanted at the New Ilmorog Police Station.’
‘Murder, of course – murder in Ilmorog.’
The tall one who so far had not spoken hastened to add: ‘It is nothing much, Mr Munira. Just routine questioning.’
‘Don’t explain. You are only doing your duty in this world. But let me put on my coat.’
They looked at one another, surprised at his cool reception of the news. He came back carrying the Holy Book in one hand.
‘You never leave the Book behind, Mr Munira,’ said the short one, impressed, and a little fearful of the Book’s power.
‘We must always be ready to plant the seed in these last days before His second coming. All the signs – strife, killing, wars, blood – are prophesied here.’
‘How long have you been in Ilmorog?’ asked the tall one, to change the subject from this talk of the end of the world and Christ’s second coming. He was a regular churchgoer and did not want to be caught on the wrong side.
‘You have already started your routine questions, eh?’
‘No, no, this is off the record, Mr Munira. It is just conversation. We have nothing against you.’
‘Twelve years!’ he told them.
‘Twelve years!’ both echoed.
‘Yes, twelve years in this wasteland.’
‘Well, that was – you must have been here before New Ilmorog was built . . .’
2 ~ Abdulla sat on a chair outside his hovel in the section of Ilmorog called the New Jerusalem. He looked at his bandaged left hand. He had not been kept long at the hospital. He felt strangely calm after the night’s ordeal. But he still could not understand what had really happened. Maybe in time, he thought – but would he ever be able to explain this fulfilment of what had only been a wish, an intention? How far had he willed it? He raised his head and saw a police constable looking at him.
‘I am a policeman on duty. You are wanted at the station.’
‘Will it take long?’
‘I don’t know. They want you to record a statement and to answer a few questions.’
‘That’s all right. Let me put this chair back inside the house.’
But at the station they locked him up in a cell. Abdulla protested against the deception. A policeman slapped him on the face. One day, one day, he tried to say in sudden resurgence of old anger and new bitterness at the latest provocation.
3 ~ A police officer went to the hospital where Wanja had been admitted.
‘I am afraid you cannot see her,’ said the doctor. ‘She is not in a position to answer questions. She is still in a delirium and keeps on shouting: “Fire . . . Fire . . . My mother’s sister . . . my dear aunt . . . put out the fire, put out the fire!” and such things.’
‘Record her words. It might give us a clue in case—’
‘No, she is not in a critical condition . . . just shock and hallucinations. In ten days’ time . . .’
4 ~ Karega was fast asleep. He had come late from an all-night executive meeting of Ilmorog Theng’eta Breweries Union. He heard a knock at the door. He leapt out of bed in his pyjamas. He found a heavily armed police contingent at the door. An officer in khaki clothes stepped forward.
‘What is the matter?’
‘You are wanted at the police station.’
‘Can’t it wait until tomorrow?’
‘I am afraid not.’
‘Let me change into something . . .’
He went back and changed. He wondered how he would contact the others. He had listened to the six o’clock news and so he knew that the strike had been banned. But he hoped that even if he was arrested, the strike would go on.
He was hurled into a waiting Land Rover, and driven off.
Akinyi, preparing to go to Ilmorog Church for the morning service, happened to look in the direction of his house. She always did this, automatically, and she had promised herself to cut out the habit. She saw the Land Rover drive away. She rushed to his place – she had never been there – and found the door padlocked.
Within a few hours word had spread. The workers, in a hostile mood, marched toward the police station demanding his release. A police officer came out and spoke to them in a surprisingly conciliatory manner.
‘Please disband peacefully. Karega is here for routine questioning. And it is not about your last night’s decision to take a strike action. It’s about murder – murder in Ilmorog.’
‘Murder of the workers!’ somebody retorted.
‘Murder of the workers’ movement!’
‘Long live the workers’ struggle!’
‘Please disband—’ appealed the officer, desperately.
‘Disband yourself . . . disband the tyranny of foreign companies and their local messengers!’
‘Out with foreign rule policed by colonized blackskins! Out with exploitation of our sweat!’
The crowd was getting into an angry, threatening mood. He signalled his lieutenants. They called out others who came with guns and chased the protesting workers right to the centre of Ilmorog. One or two workers sustained serious injuries and were taken to hospital.
Workers were waking to their own strength. Such a defiant confrontation with authority had never before happened in Ilmorog.
5 ~ One newspaper, the Daily Mouthpiece, brought out a special issue with a banner headline: MZIGO, CHUI, KIMERIA MURDERED.
A man, believed to be a trade-union agitator, has been held after a leading industrialist and two educationists, well known as the African directors of the internationally famous Theng’eta Breweries and Enterprises Ltd, were last night burnt to death in Ilmorog, only hours after taking a no-nonsense-no-pay-rise decision.
It is believed that they were lured into a house where they were set on by hired thugs.
The three will be an irreplaceable loss to Ilmorog. They built Ilmorog from a tiny nineteenth-century village reminiscent of the days of Krapf and Rebman into a modern industrial town that even generations born after Gagarin and Armstrong will be proud to visit . . . etc . . . etc . . . Kimeria and Chui were prominent and founding fathers of KCO . . . etc . . . etc . . .
1 ~ But all that was twelve years after Godfrey Munira, a thin dustcloud trailing behind him, first rode a metal horse through Ilmorog to the door of a moss-grown two-roomed house in what was once a schoolyard. He got off and stood still, his right hand akimbo, his left holding the horse, his reddish lined eyes surveying the grey, dry lichen on a once white-ochred wall. Then, unhurriedly, he leaned the metal horse against the wall and, bending down, unclipped loose the trouser bottoms, beat them a little with his hands – a symbolic gesture, since the dust stubbornly clung to them and to his shoes – before moving back a few steps to re-survey the door, the falling-apart walls and the sun-rotted tin roof. Suddenly, determinedly, he strode to the door and tried the handle while pushing the door with his right shoulder. He crashed through into a room full of dead spiders and the wings of flies on cobwebs on all the walls, up to the eaves.
Another one has come into the village, went the news in Ilmorog. Children spied on him, on his frantic efforts to trim up and weed the place, and they reported everything to the old men and women. He would go away with the wind, said the elderly folk: had there not been others before him? Who would want to settle in this wasteland except those without limbs – may the devil swallow Abdulla – and those with aged loins – may the Lord bless Nyakinyua, the old woman.
The school itself was a four-roomed barrack with broken mud walls, a tin roof with gaping holes and more spiders’ webs and the wings and heads of dead flies. Was it any wonder that teachers ran away at the first glance? The pupils were mostly shepherd boys, who often did not finish a term but followed their fathers in search of new pastures and water for their cattle.
But Munira stayed on, and after a month we were all whispering – was he a little crazed – and he not so old? Was he a carrier of evil? — especially when he started holding classes under the acacia bush near the place rumoured to be the grave of the legendary Ndemi, whose spirit once kept watch over Ilmorog Country before imperialism came and changed the scheme of things. He is mocking Ndemi, said Mwathi wa Mugo, who divined for both the ridge and the plains and prescribed a deterrent. At night, under the cover of darkness, the old woman shat a mountain between the school building and the acacia bush. In the morning the children found a not-so-dry mound of shit. They ran back to their parents and told a funny story about the new teacher. For a week or so Munira galloped his horse the length of the hills and plains in pursuit of the disappearing pupils. He caught up with one. He got off his horse, letting it fall to the ground, and ran after the pupil.
‘What is your name?’ he asked, holding him by the shoulder.
‘That’s your mother?’
‘What about your father?’
‘He works far away.’
‘Tell me: why don’t you like school?’
The boy was drawing marks on the ground with his right toe, head bent to one side, holding back laughter with difficulty.
‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ he said, making as if to cry. Munira let him go after getting a promise that Muriuki would return and even bring the others. So they came back cautiously: they still thought him a bit odd and this time would not venture out of the closed walls.
She waited for Munira outside the school kei-apple hedge. He got off the metal horse. He stood aside, thinking she only wanted to pass. But she stood in the middle of the narrow track supporting herself against a twigged stick.
‘Where you come from: are there tarmac roads?’
‘And light that comes from wires on dry trees to make day out of night?’
‘Women in high heels?’
‘Oiled hair, singed goatskin smell?’
He looked at her furrowed face, at the light in her eyes. His own wandered past her, over the empty school, for it was after four o’clock, and he thought: what did she want?
‘They are beautiful and wise in the ways of the white man: is this not so?’
‘That they are: too wise, sometimes.’
‘Our young men and women have left us. The glittering metal has called them. They go, and the young women only return now and then to deposit the newborn with their grandmothers already aged with scratching this earth for a morsel of life. They say: there in the city there is room for only one . . . our employers, they don’t want babies about the tiny rooms in tiny yards. Have you ever heard of that? Unwanted children? The young men also. Some go and never return. Others sometimes come to see the wives they left behind, make them round-bellied, and quickly go away as if driven from Ilmorog by Uhere or Mutung’u. What should we call them? The new Uhere and Mutung’u generation: for was it not the same skin diseases and plagues that once in earlier times weakened our people in face of the Mzungu invasion? Tell me: what then brings you to a deserted homestead? Look at Abdulla. He came from over there and what did he bring us? A donkey. Now imagine, a donkey! What have you really come to fetch from our village? Is it the remaining children?’
He pondered this a few seconds. He plucked a ripened yellow kei-apple and crushed it between his fingers: isn’t there a safe corner in which to hide and do some work, plant a seed whose fruits one could see? The smell from the rotting fermenting kei-apple hit into his nostrils. He felt a sudden nausea, Lord deliver us from our past, and frantically fumbled in his pockets for a handkerchief to cover the sneeze. It was too late. A bit of mucus flew onto the woman’s furrowed face. She shrieked out, auuu-u, Nduri ici mutiuke muone, and fled in fright. He turned his face aside to hold back another sneeze. When a second later he looked to the path, he could not find a trace of her behind the kei-apple bush or anywhere. She had vanished.
Strange, mysterious, he muttered to himself. He got on his metal horse and slowly rode toward Abdulla’s shop.
Abdulla was also a newcomer to Ilmorog. He and little skinny Joseph had come into our midst in a donkey-cart full of an assortment of sufurias and plates and cheap blankets tightly packed into torn sisal sacks and dirty sheets knotted into temporary bags. This was going to be an eventful year, Njogu had exclaimed sarcastically on seeing the odd trio, and listening to their even more odd request: how in this desert place could anyone even think of rescuing the broken mud-walled shop that had once belonged to Dharamashah of Ilmorog legends? You can take the ghost . . . memories, curses and all . . . old Njogu had said, pointing to the building, whose roof and walls leaned to one side and looked indistinguishable from the dry weed and the red earth. We used to crowd his little shop and look curiously at his stumped leg and his miserable face and listen to his stream of curses at Joseph. Soon we were glad that at long last we had a place from which we could get salt and pepper. But we were rather alarmed at his donkey because it ate too much grass and drank too much water. Within a month Abdulla had added bar services to his supply of Jogoo Unga and pepper and salt. On a Friday or a Saturday the herdsmen from Ilmorog plains would descend on the store and drink and talk and sing about their cows and goats. They had a lot of money from the occasional sale of goats at Ruwa-ini Market, and they had no other use for it, carrying it hi...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Penguin Books, 1991. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0140153519