A Grain on Wheat captures the struggle of the Kenyans against the British colonizers. Read on to find the salient points.
A Grain of Wheat – Summary
A Grain of Wheat is a novel by a Kenyan writer, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (James Ngugi). Ngugi wrote the book while studying at Leeds University, United Kingdom. It was first published in 1967.
A Grain of Wheat sums up the stories that unfolded on the eve of Kenyan independence, December 1963. Kenya was a British East African colony for decades, so at the start of the 1950s, many Kenyans disgruntled by the effects of colonialism, especially the Kikuyu people, united themselves under Mau Mau to fight against the British exclusive administration for the independence of Kenya.
The British colonizers responded to the Mau Mau’s deemed militant activities with brute force, leading to the detention and execution of several Mau Mau fighters. Ngugi drew his inspiration from the independence struggle of Kenyans against the British, which eventually resulted in the emergence of the militant – Mau Mau. The novel is riddled with flashbacks of scenarios that unfolded in the past, known as the Emergency, which end framing the events happening days towards the Uhuru (the Kenyan independence).
The novel began four days before Uhuru (Independence Day). The villagers of Thabai prepared themselves for the celebration of the Uhuru, after years of struggle for independence from the British. However, many horrific things that happened in the Emergency (the war for independence period) were still having huge effects on the villagers. Several young sons of the village were arrested, imprisoned, and executed for having something to do with the Mau Mau. Several Mau Mau fighters traded the struggle with the British colonial authority for safety, wealth, and fame. Consequently, the freedom fighters hoped to punish such fellows who engaged in such unpatriotic acts at Uhuru.
The Thabai villagers grieved their hero, Kihika, who stood against the oppressive colonial government and was executed by the British. Hence they united themselves under his cause to end British rule in their land. Kihika joined the Mau Mau as a young man but became popular amongst his people for his brave act of capturing the police garrison in Mahee and killing the vicious District Officer (DO) Robson.
With Kihika in the detention camp was Gikonyo – a wealthy businessman and a carpenter who was also arrested for his alleged involvement with the Mau Mau. Before his arrest, he was faintly in love with Mumbi, Kihika’s sister, with whom he contended with Karanja but won her love over Karanja. However, when he returned from the British detention camp after six years, his wife, Mumbi, had borne a child for Karanja, making him disengage with her.
The novel opened up with Mugo, a reserved man from Thaibai village, being requested to make a speech at the Uhuru (Independence Day) over his heroic act in the Emergency. However, Mugo was reluctant to act according to their honorable request due to a secret he harbored, which hurt him. He had betrayed Kihika to the British because of a monetary gift offered to him. He has since regretted his action.
Both Mumbi and Kiriku visited Mugo to convince Mugo to make a speech at the Uhuru. However, they end up confessing their secret against the struggle during the Emergency period.
Mumbi tells Mugo how the news about the coming back of Gikonyo made her give in to Karanja’s advances.
As the villagers prepared the Uhuru, the British authorities readied to hand the government to Kenyans and leave. However, John Thompson, a young and enthusiastic British colonizer was sad about the news of the British’ plan to hand over power to the locals; this prompted him to ditch his life’s work. He found it sleazy to stay in a country where white people were not the heads, so he decided to leave Kenya with his wife, Margery, as the British made ready to end their rule in Kenya.
Karanja, from the Thaibai village, was also saddened by the news about the British leaving Kenya soon. Karanja, who had fathered a child with Gikonyo’s wife, Mumbi, while Gikonyo was in detention, worked at Githima for the British. So the British leaving Kenya meant he would lose his favored position and respect. He was still afraid of his people’s response, whom he betrayed by working with the British. He planned to estrange himself from the village or maybe stand in the way of a moving train to get crushed but later decides against this. He eventually settled for returning to Thaibai to renew his love affair with his ever crush, Mumbi.
On Uhuru day, people happily gathered, expecting to see their perceived heroic figure, Mugo, despite him downplaying an invitation to make a speech at Uhuru. People engaged themselves in games. Gikonyo and Karanja even resurrected their ever rival since childhood by competing in a race. They stumbled, making Gikonyo break his arm, and he was taken to a hospital.
The freedom fighters had reserved Uhuru day as the rightful day to punish those who betrayed Kihika and Mau Mau. Since Mugo had refused the honorable offer to speak at Uhuru, General R, one of the prominent Mau Mau fighters, filled his position. He spoke and commanded the betrayer or traitor to come out. The crowd turned their eyes to where Karanja was because he was the person, who had publicly worked for the British against his people. But to everyone’s surprise, Mugo stepped forward and confessed to the crime. He felt relief afterward.
The crowd was confused and failed to accost him, so they let him walk out on them. Soon after, General R and Koina arrested Mugo in his hut and told him he would be tried privately. Mugo was remorseful of his past action and accepted his fate as a punishment for betraying Kihika.
Gikonyo became conscious in the hospital bed, ready to brush aside Mumbi’s past and forge a new future with her. Mumbi visited him and told him how she had a child with Karanja. Gikonyo forgave her and promised to carve an image of pregnant her on a stool.
How did A grain of Wheat end?
The novel ended with Mugo confessing to his betrayal of Kihika to the British for a reward on Uhuru day. Gikonyo forgave Mumbi and accepted her as a wife again, and Mugo was executed by General R and Koina for betraying the liberation struggle against the British.