Study Guide

Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Along with Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (ehn-GEW-gee wah tee-ONG-goh) of Kenya is one of the increasing number of African writers of international stature and reputation. Born James Ngugi in Kamiriithu village, twelve miles northeast of Nairobi, to Thiong’o wa Nducu and one of his four wives, Ngugi came of age during the Mau Mau resistance to British colonial rule. His father was one of many Gikuyu farmers who, dispossessed of their land in the Kiambu District, were forced to become laborers on their own farms. One of twenty-eight children in the extended family, Ngugi was until the age of nine raised with a mixture of Gikuyu traditional customs and Christian values. From 1947 to 1949, he attended the mission school in nearby Limuru, and he completed his primary education in Maanguu at one of the schools founded in the Independence Schools Movement, a cooperative undertaking by those who viewed education as essential in their fight for freedom from British rule.{$S[A]Ngugi, James;Ngugi wa Thiong’o}

Ngugi’s secondary education continued his development of dual perspectives inherent in the colonial and nationalistic curricula at the previous schools. From 1948 to 1954, he studied at Alliance High School in Kikuyu, eight miles northwest of Nairobi. There he encountered the missionary headmaster Carey Francis, whose rigid views and disdain for Gikuyu customs Ngugi later depicted in fictional form. Although Ngugi eventually acquired a complex religious but humanistic sensibility through his examination of biblical lore and Christian teachings, the Protestant bias against Africans and their beliefs left a bitter legacy that influenced him long after his adolescent years. During this period, Ngugi’s family was engaged in the Mau Mau struggle. His brother, Wallace Mwangi, fought with Mau Mau forces from 1954 to 1956. His parents and other relatives were detained as subversives, and a stepbrother was killed in the fighting. His entire home village was relocated by the British during the warfare between 1952 and 1956. Although he himself did not fight because of his young age and the responsibility to pursue his education, Ngugi came to view the Mau Mau struggle as a model of the heroic quest for independence and as an idealized example of the worldwide fight against social injustice. Indeed, the Mau Mau war became the central theme and subject for much of his later fiction and drama.

After he graduated from high school, Ngugi in 1963 completed work in the honors English program at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, then the only school in East Africa that conferred degrees in English literature. Productive in his own creative efforts, Ngugi drafted his first two novels, several short stories, his first play, and two additional one-act plays. He was also active in literary circles and contributing to the Nairobi newspaper Daily Nation, and in his creative writing he showed the influence of the novels of D. H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad; he did not seem to object to the conventional colonial syllabus under which he studied. In 1961, he had married Nyambura, and during this time they had two sons, the first of five children. In 1964, Ngugi left Africa to pursue a degree in English studies at Leeds University in England. There his exposure to socialism and the radical views of students who openly debated issues of social and political justice set him on a transformatory journey. He had reached a point of crisis, and, pondering the issue of universal values, he began to question the value of continuing to...

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Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born James Ngugi in Kamiriithu village, twelve miles northeast of Nairobi, on January 5, 1938. His father, Thiong’o wa Nducu, was a farmer who had been dispossessed of his land in the White Highlands of the Kiambu District and forced to squat as a laborer on what had been his homeland. As a result of the British Imperial Land Act of 1915, many Gikuyu farmers—deprived of legal rights—had been reduced to farming the land of well-to-do British settlers or influential Africans who had been granted parcels in the confiscation of the fertile area by the British governor. Ngugi’s father farmed for one of the few Africans who had retained property. His mother was one of four wives, and he was one of twenty-eight children in the extended family.

Until about the age of nine, Ngugi was reared according to a mixture of traditional Gikuyu customs and Christian principles. Beginning in 1947, he attended the mission school of Kamaandura in nearby Limuru for two years; subsequently, he completed his primary education in the village of Maanguu at a school established by the Karing’a, the Independence Schools Movement, a cooperative undertaking by Kenya’s Africans who viewed education as a vital component in their struggle for freedom from British rule. From his earliest years in school, Ngugi experienced both the colonial and the nationalistic perspectives inherent in the respective curricula.

Ngugi received his secondary education at Alliance High School in Kikuyu. There Ngugi encountered principal Carey Francis, a man with rigid missionary views and a strict bias for the values of European civilization, who would become the prototype of the missionary headmaster in Ngugi’s fiction. There, too, Ngugi acquired a complex religious sensibility, integrating biblical study and Christian mythology with his Gikuyu background. His experiences at Alliance High School constitute one of the shaping influences of his adolescent life.

During this period, Ngugi’s family was deeply involved in the Mau Mau resistance. His brother, Wallace Mwangi, fought with the clandestine Mau Mau forces in the forests from 1954 to 1956. His parents, as well as other relatives, were detained for the subversion of colonial rule. A stepbrother was killed by government troops, and his home village was relocated. Ngugi himself did not engage in combat, and although his youth provided him with a measure of justification, he suffered considerable guilt. Reflection on the Mau Mau as an ideal model for the fight against social injustices would be a central theme in his work.

After Ngugi’s graduation from high school, he entered Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, the only school then conferring degrees in English literature in East Africa. An outstanding student, he completed work in the Honors English program in 1963. During this period, Ngugi began his creative writing, editing the student journal Penpoint, writing several short stories, drafting his...

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Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who published as James Ngugi until 1970, was born in 1938 near Limuru, a Kikuyu region of Kenya. He received a varied education, alternating between mission schools and an institution that grew out of the independence schools movement, the aim of which was to prepare Kenya’s young people for freedom from British rule. The Mau Mau war disrupted Ngugi’s education and had a profound impact on his family: His brother Walter fought with the Mau Mau, and his parents were detained as subversives. Ngugi’s experiences during the war made a lasting impression on him and served as the basis for his first three novels.

In 1955, Ngugi entered Alliance High School, a missionary institution from which he graduated. His literary career developed rapidly once he became a student at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda. There he edited the student literary magazine, Penpoint, and wrote The Black Hermit, a play celebrating Uganda’s independence.

In 1964, Ngugi published his first novel, which won two prizes, one from the 1965 Dakar Festival of Negro Arts and one from the East African Literature Bureau. After working for the Sunday Nation, a Nairobi newspaper, he attended graduate school at the University of Leeds in England. He returned to Kenya in 1968 to take up a lectureship in the English department at University College, Nairobi, and in 1969 he resigned that post in protest against government...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o (ehn-GEW-gee wah tee-ONG-goh) is a member of the Gikuyu tribe of Kenya. He was born James Thiong’o Ngugi in Kamiriithu village, near Limuru, Kenya, on January 5, 1938, to Thiong’o wa Nduucu and Wanjika wa Ngugi, the fifth child of the third of his father’s four wives. He lived for a while in a household of almost thirty children. His father was a tenant farmer and the family lived in poverty. His parents separated when he was about eight years old; he lived afterward with his mother and six siblings. His family neither converted to Christianity nor practiced the religious rituals of the Gikuyu because of his father’s religious skepticism. As a young man, Ngugi practiced Christianity for a while but later...

(The entire section is 1269 words.)

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s body of work portrays precolonial, colonial, and postindependent Kenya. He movingly depicts the deadly effects of imperialism on an indigenous people, both in the clashes between cultures and the conflict created within the native culture. In Ngugi’s fiction, once Kenyans have freed themselves from the domination of the white colonists and have reclaimed their sacred trust—the land—they must then confront the problems that come with independence. There is great struggle and suffering in Ngugi’s fiction, and it is not always neatly balanced with hope.

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Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (eNotes Publishing)

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born in 1938 in Kamiriithu, just north of Nairobi, in Kenya. Ngugi’s family belonged to the Gikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group. Ngugi attended a mission school and became a devout Christian. At school he also learned about the Gikuyu history and values and he completed the Gikuyu rite of passage ceremony. Later in life, he rejected Christianity.

Ngugui attended Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda in 1963. He also completed graduate studies at Leeds University in England. He first gained attention in East Africa for his performance of his first major play “The Black Hermit” in 1962.

He completed the manuscript for The River Between before completing what...

(The entire section is 368 words.)

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Ngugi was born James Ngugi in 1938 in Limuru in the Gikuyu Highlands of Kenya. Like many of the dispossessed peasants in Petals of...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Ngugi wa Thiong'o Biography (Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

East Africa's most prominent writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, was born James Thiong'o Ngugi, in Limuru, Kenya, on January 5,1938. In order to shed...

(The entire section is 537 words.)