I Will Marry When I Want (originally published as Ngaahika Ndeenda) by Kenyan playwrights Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Ngugi wa Mirii examines the politics and society of postcolonial Kenya. The play was considered controversial upon publication and during its run on stage due to its political commentary, which irked the Kenyan government.
The play is told from the perspective of the common Kenyan citizen just after the country won its independence from British rule. Before the British ruled present-day Kenya, the territory was colonized by Portugal. The long history of imperialism in the country has deeply changed the social structure and collective psychology of the people.
This is what the play examines throughout its narrative. In particular, the play analyzes and criticizes neocolonialism, which is a form of imperialism that uses proxy strategies—such as pressuring the government with economic and political sanctions—to suppress development or manipulate the government. The leaders of the newly-independent nation use the same imperialist tactics employed by past foreign colonizers in order to oppress their own people. Bitter infighting and power struggles are the norm in the government, and the people of the country suffer from it.
The main conflict in the story, the competition among several actors to seize control of real estate from the locals, is a metaphor for the colonial mentality. Each antagonist has their own interests, all of which stem from greed and thirst for power. The farmer at the center of the story fights off proposals and schemes, and the play depicts the others as similar to jackals preying on a wounded animal. Ahab Kioi wa Kanoru is the representation of colonial greed and general immorality. Like past imperialists, he uses his connections and position of power to defraud the farmer in order to take the latter's property.
The then-current government and social elites in Kenya were enraged with the play on its performance, and the government shut down the play's run was shut down after just over a month. The playwrights were subsequently arrested, and they were forced into exile abroad.
The set of the opening scene in I Will Marry When I Want reveals the stark living conditions of Kiguunda, a common laborer, his wife, Wangeci, and their teenage daughter, Gathoni. The three of them share a one-room house that is sparsely furnished and decorated. It consists of a bed for Kiguunda and Wangeci, a broken folding chair, and a cooking pot that sits on three stones. A pile of rags on the floor establishes that “the floor is Gathoni’s bed and the rags, her bedding.” Prominently displayed on the wall is a framed title-deed for one and a half acres of land, a plot that was purchased after the Mau Mau Revolution of the 1950’s, a guerrilla war waged by the Kikuyu, along with members of other tribal groups of Kenya, to reclaim the land from British settlers.
As the play opens, the family is making preparations for the arrival of important guests. Kiguunda is repairing the broken leg of a folding chair, while Wangeci is busy preparing a stew to serve to the guests. The makeshift nature of their accommodations reinforces the impression of the family’s substandard living conditions. Wangeci, who has spent thirty cents on cooking oil and sugar, discovers that another important staple, salt, is missing and has to send the daughter, Gathoni, to borrow from the Gicaambas. During this bustling activity, the title-deed falls to the floor of the hut. Kiguunda picks it up gingerly and studies it carefully before returning it to the wall, his actions as well as his words identifying him as a proud landowner, despite the family’s humble living conditions. In response to Wangeci, who asks why he gazes at the title-deed, Kiguunda explains that “these [one and a half acres] are worth more to me/ Than all the thousands that belong to Ahab Kioi wa Kanoru.”
With the entrance of Kioi, a wealthy landowner, who is accompanied by another...
(The entire section is 1,856 words.)