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What's Up Tiger Lily?
How It Works? IMEI Number. Her skin was dry, taut and scratched. Her hair was in thick tufts. Stop telling lies. The duality that is Uganda. We are both Europeanized and Ugandan. We speak both traditional language s and English. Someone goes to church, but then will go to the traditional healer.
Someone is a scientist but will have an intense spiritual life. We think two ways at once. In the critical element of her PhD, which also consisted of a draft of Kintu, Makumbi talked about her own biography. One of my earliest memories is of story time in the evening in a village with my grandfather. The most vivid memory however is of my grandfather, who was traditional, and my father, who was thoroughly colonised, arguing about where I should live.
A compromise was reached when I was four years old: I would study in the city with my father and spend term breaks with my grandfather. From then, the conflict between my father and grandfather took on the multiple facets of urban vs. African, written vs.
Little did I know that this nomadic existence would be replicated at an international level: shuttling between Uganda and Britain as an adult. In the village, the Luganda language was protected from outside influences. Her first experience of storytelling was in the village, retelling Goldilocks or Cinderella as new tales in Luganda. This novel Kintu could be seen as reversing that process—retelling traditional material for modern audiences.
Kintu is divided into Books to mirror the form of the Bible, especially the four gospels, and the story is crossed with the Biblical story of the curse of Ham—the most poisonous of all Biblical stories for Africans. Ham was reinvented as the cursed progenitor of all black people, assigned by God to slavery. The story of Ham is laced through the book. However this intrusion only appears in parts set in modern Uganda. Kintu of the s has his origins in the first man on earth according to the Ganda, Kintu.
It is important to note that you also see Christianity evolve from the stiff English version followed by the characters Kanani and Faisi to an Africanised version in , where forms of traditional African worship are firmly entrenched in the Christian worship. My first impression was of being lowered into the Ganda culture as it exists independent of Western intrusion. How does that echo the story of Ham?
Ham was cursed by his own father, Noah, for mocking his drunken nakedness. No adoption, no accidental homicide, no curse of one family by another. The sanest interpretation of the Biblical story is that Ham was made a servant of his brothers for his lifetime only. But colonialisation drove itself and its religion crazy. Kintu Kidda is a trident character, a kind of an unholy trinity figure. A fusion of three characters, he is a nameless and timeless ancestor of the author whispered about in family circles who brought the curse of mental health problems in the family.
He is Biblical Ham, son of Noah,  from whom Africans supposedly descend. But most of all, he is Kintu the first man on earth in the Ganda creationist myth, Kintu ne Nambi. She herself is a daughter of Kintu.
The second unexpected element is how this actual family story is ANOTHER kind of hybrid—of tradition and science, or at least a psychiatry-based diagnosis. Biblical Ham also cements the notion of perpetuity through inheritance. There is something of Job in each of the Books of Kintu, including an undertow, like the Biblical book, regarding the inexplicable unfairness of God.
Each of the books focus on one terrible life after another—Suubi, starved by an aunt, and nearly kidnapped to be sold as a human sacrifice only to be haunted by the ghost of her dead twin. Kanani, made one-dimensional by a dour colonial form of Christianity and the betrayal of his children, who bear a child between them.
Isaac Newton, unable to walk or speak until six because of child abuse, living through the post-Idi Amin war, and who is convinced his beloved only child is infected with HIV. Miisi, who not only loses his sanity but 11 of his 12 children to war, violence, and AIDS. Humanity is made to suffer. Kintu is also the name of the first human in Ganda mythology. In this sense, we are all of us children of Kintu, cursed to suffer disproportionately for history laid down centuries ago. I find this reading touching; since, I suppose, it includes me.
You might need to speak Luganda to see that many of the characters have names from the story of Ham. Most significantly, the first son of Kintu named in the opening, and who is unfairly lynched for theft is called Kamu—Ham. The name of the major character, Isaac Newton, manages to reference not only the Bible, but also the intrusion of European history and science.
In her PhD dissertation, Makumbi points out that in The Famished Road , the figure of the abiku child, a birth from the spirit world is called Azaro, a form of Lazarus. However, Kintu has as its epigraph an quote from John Hannington Speke, the first European explorer to encounter the Ganda. The real curse of Ham is colonization. The stories of Kintu also embody the deformities of culture and character inflicted by the curse of colonialization.
This idea that I am a descendant of Ham was deeply engrained in me until somewhere in secondary school we were taught that we are Bantu—which means human, really. The last two Books of Kintu confront Europe through the character of Miisi.
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Miisi is a more familiar figure from African fiction than most of the characters. Miisi is the Western educated man who returns.
Miisi, in fact, was educated in both the Soviet Union and Oxford, so he combines many strands of Western thinking—imperialism but also a strand of European resistance to it. As a controversial writer, Miisi pens an African fantasy that retells Frankenstein in Africa much as the child Jennifer Nansubuga retold the story of Cinderella.
It reads like a new myth called Africanstein. Makumbi, alert to issues of language, tells us Miisi writes it first in English and then translates it into Luganda. Buganda unlike the rest of Africa was sweet-talked onto the operating table with praises and promises. Protectorate was plastic surgery to set the sluggish African body on a faster route to maturity.
But once under the chloroform, the surgeon was at liberty and did as he pleased. First he severed the hands then cut off the legs and he put the black limbs into a bin bag and disposed of them.
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Then he got European limbs and set upon grafting them on the black torso. When the African woke up, the European had moved into his house. Africastein is unlike any other passage in the Books of Kintu. Stories get re-told but only orally.