The title of the book is mentioned a few times throughout the story. The first time it appears is before the story begins. The phrase pops up in an epigraph. Remember, an epigraph is a quote from a poem or another work that kicks off the narrative. The epigraph is significant become it helps contextualize the narrative.
The quote from “The Swamp”—the Derek Wolcott poem that uses the phrase “petals of blood”—supplies an important backdrop and frame of reference for the story. It demonstrates that Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s novel is a part of a larger canon of postcolonial literature and it's in conversation with those works.
As for the story itself, the first time “petals of blood” appears is early on. When Munira leads the children to the field to learn about nature, one child finds a peculiar flower.
“Look,” the boy yells. “A flower with petals of blood.”
Munira challenges the boy’s description. He tells him that there is “no color called blood.”
Yet then another child finds another flower with “petals of blood.”
This moment is significant because it foreshadows the violence that’s to come. Their beautiful village (the petal) will soon experience exploitation and violence (blood).
Indeed, later on, Munira makes the link between Ilmorog’s imputed development and real violence clearer when he reminisces about how he himself observed
the growth of Ilmorog from its beginnings in rain and drought to the present flowering in petals of blood.
These parts also show that the title is not separate from the work itself. The title is literally part and parcel of the novel and reflects its primary themes, including the problematic relationship between progress and plunder .