The cultural resistance to missionary schools in Kenya: a study of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's The River Between and A Grain of Wheat.

Author:Diouf, Christophe Sekene
Position:Critical essay


The River Between (1965) is mainly concerned with the religious conflicts between two different communities: the traditionalists and the converted to Christianity during the colonial period. In A Grain of Wheat (1967) Ngugi underscores the coming of independence, and the revolutionary struggle for the liberation of Kenyan people. Both novels evoke the dilemma of education in the lives of the masses. Indeed, education is still a major problem in many African nations as the continent continues to be confronted with difficulties in implementing efficient educative systems.

Despite the different policies of successive government and educative authorities, one can notice that many nations face undercurrent situations concerning education. This fact leads us to re-examine the Independent Schools in The River Between and A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Indeed, analyzing the educative systems inherited from colonial powers in the quasi-totality of African countries is of paramount importance in reviewing the particularities of Independent Schools.

In the globalizing world, it is necessary to raise questions, such as: are the implemented systems of education adapted to the realities of people? How can some systems be reevaluated in accordance with the social, cultural, economic and political differences of countries? What effect has the curricula had on African identity? Thus, to better grasp the commitment of the Independent Schools in this review, our theoretical framework will be guided by authors like Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko who were at the forefront of the struggle against the cultural alienation of the African masses. In this approach, Ngugi's basic concept of decolonization of the African subject is at the core of this cultural resistance. And furthermore, this paper proposes to outline the positive aspects of Independent Schools in the domain of education in relationship to their importance in the struggle against psychological and cultural oppression. Currently, the Independent School conceptualization can represent a source of inspiration in order to adjust education to the realities of African people in regards to their function as a strategy of resistance to cultural oppression and a way to advocate an ideology of nationalist commitment to nation building.

Independent Schools: A Strategy of Resistance to Cultural Oppression

In Ngugi's novels: The River Between (1965) and A Grain of Wheat (1967) Independent Schools are created to resist the brainwashing system of education in colonized spaces. Given that colonizers use education to alienate people, the determinant actors installed new forms of schools which claimed their independences from missionary schools in their practice of excluding those who honored the customs of initiation of boys and girls in African culture.

In The River Between, with Siriana school, Joshua (the converted) and Livingstone (the missionary) refuse to welcome people who are attached to their cultures. Their projects are based on a process of indoctrination and an open opposition to African culture. And according to missionaries, the initiations rites were contradictory to the principles of their schools as the politics of the leaders of the colonial schools were based on a total assimilation of young people to European civilization, thus, representing a form of marginalization, a phenomenon that draws the attention to the threat of African culture in an era of globalization. Thus, in the Siriana school in The River Between, teaching and learning was focused on missionaries and converted people like Livingstone and Joshua rejecting rituals initiation, a practice they regarded as practices of paganism, stating:

The children of those who defied the laws of the Church and continued with their tribal customs would have leave Siriana. And no child of a pagan would again be allowed into school unless the child was a refugee. Even then the child would have to renounce circumcision. Waiyaki knew that to be the end of him. He had hoped he would finish his final year, for he loved learning (69). Indeed, being aware of the power of the Siriana school, Waiyaki and his people have understood that "The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed" (Biko 1972: 92). Hence, according to South African activist Steve Biko, it is through psychology that the oppressors succeed in imposing their powers to the dominated. In other words, Biko shed a light to the ways White dominators managed to have control of the mind of the Black community during the Apartheid era in South Africa. Beyond this, he appeals the oppressed to bear in mind the necessity to decolonize their consciousness. As such, similarly, in The River Between, a new school is opened within this framework as Marioshoni is built in Kameno, as an environment of traditionalists in an attempt to challenge colonialism and restore the lost values inherited from the Siriana school, a resistance that is above all, cultural.

Such a resistance is in opposition to efforts to assimilation people via...

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