Jomo Kenyatta

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What does "The Gentlemen of the Jungle" reveal about Africans' view of colonial powers?

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What the fable "The Gentlemen of the Jungle" reveals about the Africans' view of the colonial powers is that they view the period of colonialism as a time when Western nations came into Africa under the guise of friendship but soon took it over. In the fable, the man represents the African people, the elephant represents the British Empire, and the animals represent the colonial powers of other nations.

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The fable "The Gentlemen of the Jungle" by Jomo Kenyatta is an allegorical tale about colonial expansion in Africa. It uses a very simple story about a man displaced from his hut by animals to illustrate the way that the peoples of Africa were displaced from their homelands. The man represents the people of Africa, while the various animals represent the European colonial powers that dealt with Africans so unjustly.

The story is written by Jomo Kenyatta, the first prime minister of the nation of Kenya and then its first president, so we can say that the fable is written from the perspective of Kenya. With this in mind, we can say that the elephant probably represents the British Empire, which ruled Kenya before its independence.

The story begins with a man residing peacefully in his hut. During a rainstorm, an elephant, supposedly a friend of the man, asks to protect only his trunk from the rain, but soon it pushes the man out and takes over the entire hut. This shows the way that the British came into Africa under the guise of friendship: once they were inside, they ruthlessly took it over. The other animals represent the other western nations of the world. They first launch a commission to look into the matter, but the commission is one-sided and sides with the elephant against the man. This shows the unfairness of world opinion regarding colonization.

The man has no choice but to accept the ruling of the commission, because he does not have the strength to fight against the might of the animals, just as the Africans had to submit to colonial powers because they did not have the military might to resist. The man tries to build other huts for himself, but other animals take them over. This represents the incursion of other colonial powers into Africa.

Finally, the man builds a large hut that all the animals try to inhabit at once. While they are fighting, the man burns the hut down with the animals inside. This symbolizes the world wars of the twentieth century. The western powers fought and weakened each other, and only after these wars were the African nations able to achieve their independence.

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Jomo Kenyatta's fable Gentlemen of the Jungle is an indictment of European colonialism and a warning to Kenyatta's fellow citizens of Africa against naively opening their metaphorical door to outsiders bearing flowers.  In his story, the animals, ironically given their history on the continent, portray the European imperialists who will slowly but surely insinuate themselves into Africa only to impose harsh, alien policies intended to subjugate the indigenous peoples and exploit their lands.  The fable begins with the introduction of an elephant seeking refuge from a storm in a man's hut.  Soon, but inexorably, the elephant moves further and further into the hut until it occupies the whole of the structure.  Unable to evict this enormous interloper from his hut, the man appeals to the king of the jungle, the lion, for assistance.  The lion appears reasonable and willing to help, but it soon becomes obvious that this all-powerful beast is simply another manifestation of the imperialism that has taken the man's property.  The lion establishes a commission of inquiry to investigate the man's grievance, but appoints only other animals as commissioners.  Recognizing the slanted perspective of any such commission that comprises all animals and no men, the man voices his complaint, to which the lion replies in a manner suggestive of the arrogance and condescending attitudes of whites who impose themselves over native tribes:

"[T]he 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."

What Kenyatta, the founder and future prime minister of Kenya, is stating in Gentlemen of the Jungle is that, despite the refinement and declarations of good intentions of the Europeans who came to Africa, the result of their arrival will not augur well for the indigenous tribes.  Kenyatta's fable represents the broader African perspective of the arrival of European colonialism.

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The fable is about a man who shares his hut with an elephant, only to be pushed out of his own hut.  The Africans are represented by the man, and the animals represent the countries who colonized Africa.  Clearly the Africans felt taken advantage of and felt helpless against the greater power of the Europeans.  In the fable, the human tries to get his hut back, but the elephant lies to the committee.

The Africans viewed the European interests as self-serving, and rightly so.  The fable notes that the man has no one to represent him, because none of the men are versed in jungle law.

He came along with a superior air, brushing his tusks with a sapling which Mrs Elephant had provided, and in an authoritative voice said: 'Gentlemen of the Jungle, there is no need for me to waste your valuable time in relating a story which I am sure you all know. 

The elephant pushes his weight around, and ends up keeping the hut.  Not only that, the other animals know a good thing when they see it.  They end up with their own huts too, and the man still has no hut.

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