Based on Jomo Kenyatta's The Gentlemen of the Jungle:
I'm to imagine that my community is occupied or taken over by a foreign power. What might be in a short paragraph about the ways in which my daily life might change?
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Jomo Kenyatta’s was a leader of modern-day Kenya’s independence movement during the years of British colonization of East Africa, and would become the newly-independent nation’s first president in 1964. Gentlemen of the Jungle, the fable he penned during the early 1950s, was an illuminating insight into the indignities endured by the victims of European colonialism. While the Kikuyu tribal lands that would form the basis of the future nation of Kenya were spared the worst of colonialism’s excesses by virtue of Great Britain’s slightly more enlightened approach to rule (all things being relative), it was still imperialism, and it did in fact fundamentally alter the natural progression of tribal societies throughout the region. In a way, Kenyatta’s prose was lacking in the degree of bitterness generally associated with repression and occupation, depriving his fable the naked brutality that was associated with most other foreign occupations. That said, Gentlemen of the Jungle certainly provides insights into the bureaucratic and racially-motivated nightmares into which many a less-developed nation was thrust courtesy of the age of colonialism.
Kenyatta’s story is sophisticated in its nuance. Note that the elephant, representing European imperialism, does not immediately seize the man’s hut. Rather, the elephant insinuates himself into the man’s good graces, enabling him, to borrow an animal-inspired metaphor, to ‘stick the camel’s nose under the tent.’ Once invited inside, however, the elephant’s true nature is revealed:
“As soon as the elephant put his trunk inside the hut, slowly he pushed his head inside, and finally flung the man out in the rain, and then lay down comfortably inside his friend's hut . . .”
It is here where the fable becomes particularly enlightening, displaying Kenyatta’s keen grasp of the intricacies of colonial rule. Addressing the man’s complaints regarding being evicted from his own hut by the elephant, the lion, King of the Jungle, seemingly offers the man a chance at a satisfactory and just resolution:
“Do not grumble any more, your hut is not lost to you. Wait until the sitting of my Imperial Commission, and there you will be given plenty of opportunity to state your case. I am sure that you will be pleased with the findings of the Commission.'
That the “Commission of Enquiry” formed to adjudicate the man’s case would be formed entirely of other animals predictably leads the man to question the fairness of the proceedings. Sensing, to borrow another animal metaphor, that the commission’s hearings would be tantamount to a kangaroo court, the man objects:
“On seeing the personnel, the man protested and asked if it was not necessary to include in this Commission a member from his side. But he was told that it was impossible, since no one from his side was well enough educated to understand the intricacy of jungle law. Further, that there was nothing to fear, for the members of the Commission were all men of repute for their impartiality in justice, and as they were gentlemen chosen by God to look after the interests of races less adequately endowed with teeth and claws, he might rest assured that they would investigate the matter with the greatest care and report impartially.”
Kenyatt’s prose fairly captures the condescending attitude of European colonial administrators towards those whose territory and wealth they had seized. As Gentlemen of the Jungle progresses, however, Kenyatta provides a resolution that admirably captures the disintegration amidst internal dissension over the spoils of empire that would lead to decolonization. Observing the various animals competing for a piece of the pie in the form of the man’s seized territory, Kenyatta concludes his fable as follows:
“Presently they all began disputing about their rights of penetration, and from disputing they came to fighting, and while they were all embroiled together the man set the hut on fire and burnt it to the ground, jungle lords and all. Then he went home, saying: 'Peace is costly, but it's worth the expense,' and lived happily ever after.”
European powers competing for overseas colonies would set the stage for the emergence of what would become known as “Movements of National Liberation” throughout Africa. These were the guerrilla armies, often supplied by the Soviet Union and its satellites, that waged war on European imperialism, ultimately prevailing in their struggles as the costs associated with holding colonies became increasingly expensive in both blood and treasure.
So, the question of what would change in one’s life under foreign occupation can be considered in light of Kenyatta’s depiction of such an existence. This, however, is where the assignment can be misleading. By focusing on Kenyatta’s fable, the worst of foreign occupation is not illuminated, for example, Afghanistan following the Soviet Union’s invasion in December 1979, or Nazi Germany’s invasion and occupation of Russia, Holland, and various other victims of Hitler’s aggression. Life under such occupations was a great deal worse than anything experienced by those occupied by Great Britain. That said, foreign occupation invariably leads, obviously, to a loss of rights, including loss of one’s ability to move about freely on the streets of one’s town, the loss of the freedom to speak one’s mind, even in private for fear of government informers (see, for instance, life in East Germany during the Cold War), the imposition of forced labor or slavery for the benefit of the foreign power, and the total absence of an impartial and empowered judicial system, with the accompanying elimination of the right of Habeas Corpus, which would allow for indefinite detention without being charged with a crime. In short, it would be life under a dictatorship, in which one’s family could be kicked out of one’s home at any time for any or no reason at all, with no recourse to a government agency.
Kenyatta’s story is a parable about colonialism. Similar stories from victims of other, more brutal occupations can provide greater insights into the nightmares associated with life under dictatorship.
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