Discuss how The Trial of Dedan Kimathi is an attempt to rewrite official history.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In outlining the nature of the drama, Ngugi wa Thiang'o asserts that his primary purpose in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi is to reconfigure historical understanding.  Ngugi concedes that recreating official history is not a primary concern in the construction of his work:

The play is not a reproduction of the "farcical" trial at Nyeri.  It is rather an imaginative recreation and interpretation of the collective will of the Kenyan peasants and workers in their refusal to break under sixty years of colonial torture and ruthless oppression by the British ruling classes and their continued determination to resist exploitation, oppression, and new forms of enslavement.

Such a statement shows how the play is an attempt to rewrite official history. The official history speaks of Kimathi as a terrorist against those in the position of power.  However, the "spirit of patriotism" and "hatred of imperialism" are critical forces within Ngugi's writing.  This underscores his attempt at presenting a new dimension to the official historical aspect of Kimathi's characterization.

The movements through which Ngugi depicts Kimathi's narrative help to rewrite official history.  They show a main character who is surrounded with the reality of external oppression.  Kimathi is shown to have personally witnessed the horrors of imperialism and denial of voice.  Ngugi wishes to impress upon the audience that these experiences helped to move him to a stance that would be deemed as terrorism by those in the position of power.  This is enhanced in Ngugi's writing.  Dedan Kimathi is not present in the entire first movement.  This helps to develop the idea that the conditions that surround Kimathi are more important than Kimathi, himself.  Kimathi is depicted in the official history as a rogue agent who thrived on violence and chaos.  Yet, Ngugi is asserting that the conditions and context of denying voice were critical factors in forming his stance and developing his way of thought.  Action was taken as a consequence of such reality.  It is for this reason that Ngugi makes clear that the trial of Dedan Kimathi was an extension of colonial imperialism.  It is significant that Ngugi has Kimathi declare that the judge who presides over him is a "colonial judge in a colonial court."  In doing so, Ngugi wishes to rewrite or challenge the official history that surrounds Kimathi.  It is for this reason that what Ngugi offers is a counterpoint to the official historical narrative that surrounds a challenging figure in a challenging context.

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