Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, written in collaboration with Micere Githae-Mugo, is Ngugi’s response to colonialist writings about the Mau-Mau movement, which traditionally depicted the movement and its leader, Dedan Kimathi, as mentally unbalanced and vicious. Ngugi and his collaborator choose to counter this image with a portrait of Kimathi as a man of great courage and commitment. This was how he was seen by many of the peasants and laborers of Kenya.
Kimathi was captured and put on trial in 1956. The two playwrights make no attempt to re-create the trial realistically. In place of a tightly woven dramatic narrative, the plot consists of disparate but thematically connected episodes. The scenes in the courtroom are interspersed with others that depict episodes from Kenyan history of the preceding two hundred years, scenes of Kenyan people attempting to help Kimathi escape, scenes of Kimathi’s interactions with guerrillas, scenes of Kimathi in prison, and scenes of his torture. The play includes Gikuyu songs and dances, and even mime. Ngugi’s portrayal of the Mau-Mau movement, ambivalent in other works, is less so here.
In this play Ngugi looks back at history in an effort to revise it and to expunge deliberately propagated falsehoods. In this way, he attempts to help his country cast off its legacy of oppression.
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