Themes - Guide to the Inheritance Play by David Mulwa

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Authoritarian and Oppressive Leadership

  • In the prologue the authoritarian and oppressive leadership of the colonialists in Kutula is portrayed.
  • Mulwa portrays the colony of Kutula as one under the harsh rule of Governor Thorne who is apparently angry with the colonial office that has abolished whipping the natives. He is displeased with the colonial officer in London for his advocacy on simulated humanitarianism for declaring the whip as obsolete. He says, "The fool drinking coffee in London while I mollycoddle natives . they down their tools and nothing gets done. " (page 3)
  • The Governor mistreats and abuses the native black servant and calls the attendant, a "dithery idiot" and regards him as impudent and then compares him to common animals. His leadership is excessively zealous and humiliating.
  • A conflict has ensued between the Africans and their white masters over land, leadership and resources. The Whiteman has been robbing the Africans of their valuables and exporting them to his motherland.
  • King Kutula XV takes displeasure in the apparent inheritance and insists that natives must share what comes from their land. It is clear that in case of a revolution, the British Empire stands to lose in the event that the natives take over governance. This is because "Africa supports the empire... " (p.4).
  • Melissa's disinterest in the ritual in scene one of movement two is basically because Lacuna has chosen Lulu, a nineteen-year-old school going girl, as the messenger. He is set to get intimate with her in the process.
  • International business practice between Kutula and imperialists, which has no human face, is putting pressure on both Lacuna and the citizens and working to the detriment of the welfare of Kutula. Residents have to be evacuated from their homes to pave way for agriculture, salaries have to be slashed, people have to be retrenched and more income has to be generated at the expense of the people.
  • Lacuna declares martial law, declares a dusk to dawn curfew, freezes salaries and fires people en-masse and continues to detain Lulu, and issues a shoot on sight order for thieves and looters

Interracial Conflict and Revolution

  • It is demonstrated by the reprisal and escalating violence between the natives and white settlers. The natives destroy the White's property and molest their children and women.
  • The author brings out the conflict of attitude where the white settlers consider themselves civilized, democratic and modernized. They also claim to have brought change through education, hospitals, roads, churches, employment to the primitive, ignorant and ungrateful natives.
  • However, Kutula insists that just as a beetle carries its house on its back whether stinking or not, the natives will govern themselves despite their ignorance and inability.(pg 11)
  • There is a revolution as people overthrow their leader. A successful coup is staged where the palace is surrounded and Lacunataken hostage by the people and for the people. They declare, "... united in a single just cause, we, by our own effort, can raise ourselves up again... " (p. 133)


  • The natives are bitter.
  • Tamina's bitterness is born of the miseries she has been through, brought by Kutula's poor leadership marred by greed and dictatorship.
  • She is bitter with Bengo whose role as an activist plunged her family in misery.
  • Her husband is exiled, her sons are away in search of jobs and her daughter is in and out of school due to lack of school fees.


  • The natives are living in fear. There is fear of being assassinated in case one falls out with the leader. Bengo is nearly killed for fighting Lacuna's leadership.
  • Judah Zen Melo goes into self- exile for fear of being killed out of disobeying Lacuna.
  • Tamina says, "You must sit on the right side of Leader Lacuna... if you are to live." (pg. 21 )
  • Sangoi takes up the appointment as a minister for fear of being killed by Lacuna.


  • Lacuna thrives on nepotism. He rewards sycophants and clansmen leaving most qualified citizens unemployed.
  • Those that are employed are poorly paid and overtaxed. Zen says, " pays to know the leader's tribesmen" (pg. 34 ).

Poverty and Despondency

  • Tamina still lives in her old grass-thatched hut.
  • She wakes up before cock-crow to pick coffee beans far from home.
  • She has to walk fifteen kilometers to fetch water from Bukelenge Mountains.
  • Has only two acres of land left after Chipande buys her land for peanuts to start his monopoly of growing coffee.
  • Lulu is sent home for school fees balance of two thousand shillings. Tamina has no money. The leaders have told the people that there are "no free things" and they should 'tighten your belts."(pg.27)

Misrule and Greed

  • Seen through the leaders. Lacuna demands unyielding loyalty from his subjects.
  • He wants his spokesman, Judah Zen Melo, to kill his own brother, Bengo, who is the leader's thorn in the flesh.
  • Judah is almost killed for disobeying Lacuna. Bengo is jailed for many years.
  • Lacuna is preoccupied with helping his clansmen and has little regard for Kutula citizens.
  • Children are sent away for school fees for the school to erect a perimeter fence, construct a computer laboratory and pay for the teachers' extra work when residents lack water and basic needs.
  • Melissa and Sangoi's criticism of Lacuna's crown indicates a disapproval of leadership and a lack of respect and support for him. "...The crown does not fit him..." (p . 55). "...It is lop-sided on his head..." (Pg. 55)
  • Lacuna and his leaders demonstrate insatiable greed. They grab every available chance to steal from the state. Lacuna and his cronies embezzle billions of shillings advanced as loans leaving white elephant projects and industries that have suffered dire mismanagement.
  • Lacuna uses part of the loans to buy himself an aircraft and he abdicates the management of the money to his cronies who share it ravenously. (He demands for certain percentages for personal use from every loan advanced). Goldstein describes these cronies as " ... a greedy bunch of incompetents who can't see a dime without getting libidinous convulsions down their midriff?" (pg 76)
  • It is because of greed that Lacuna falls prey to Goldstein's mission of eliminating his father.


  • The author demonstrates the superstitious traditional practices of commemorating the departed leaders in Kutula. The current leader is given the mandate to lead, by the youth, after the performance of a ritual. "...Our ancestors demand that our youths give us mandate to lead them to their future..." (p.53)
  • Traditions demand that the dead must not be offended. " ..lf our fathers would have us share the same platform..." (p. 55). The displeasure of the dead can be unbearable to the living.
  • Lacuna's faith in the superstitions pegged on the yearly ritual of uniting the powerful dead and the unborn children remains his only hope of sustaining his leadership position by making the midnight sacrifices of political perpetuation.


  • Evident through Robert who not only undermines the natives but is also sickened by their way of life. He cannot stand their customs and their nauseating suffocating loyalty of "...crawling on the floor... fawning... mothering..."(p.60)

Betrayal, Assasination

  • Lacuna kills his own father to take over leadership in Kutula. It is an act of betrayal, assassination. He claims that his father ran down the country and needed to pay up with his life. 
  • The state has betrayed its own. Zelo dies with the effort to increase the production of silver to meet the conditions of the imperialists yet the state won 't protect its own with the right working conditions
  • Betrayal of loyalty is seen when Chipande disowns Lacuna and says that his role as adviser was overruled by his orders.

Embezzlement, Corruption and Mismanagement of the Economy

  • Lacuna and his leaders grab every available chance to steal from the state. Lacuna and his cronies embezzle billions of shillings advanced as loans leaving white elephant projects and industries that have suffered dire mismanagement.
  • Lacuna uses part of the loans to buy himself an aircraft and he abdicates the management of the money to his cronies who share itravenously.
  • They have run down the country to shambles

Leadership Conflict

  • The author depicts the leadership conflict between Sangoi and Lacuna resulting from the issue of evacuation of the occupants of the Bukelenge valley to "re-organize our land and boost production." (p. 84).
  • Lacuna begins to experience the opposition of the opinion leaders who disagree with his request to have them convince the residents "as to our national reasons for such a move" (p.85).

Political Sacrifice

  • Starts when Bukelenge occupants organize a peaceful march to the palace carrying doves. Not even the army can disperse or hurt the women and children because they are harmless. "They carry twigs and farm tools instead of guns!" (p.91 ).
  • The occupants of Bukelenge are portrayed as peaceful and harmonious. They all agree to express their grievances just as their leaders advice and direct them, peaceful and bloodless.

Hopelessness and Despair

  • The news of Zelo's death creates the atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. The straws of hope that Tamina had left are all gone. Zen Melo's death is a mark of her imminent misery.


  • Patriotism is portrayed by Sangoi who insists upon Bengo to ensure that 'no life is lost' in their protest mission against Lacuna's leadership.
  • Bengo also shows patriotism when he fights the government's dictatorial rule that oppresses the citizens. He is jailed for years and now that he is back, he vows to "take up the fight where I left off." (pg.22)He is optimistic in that after being jailed for years, he returns ready to continue the fight hoping to liberate the people.


  • Lacuna is desperate and disillusioned as everything is working against him. Lulu won't give in to Lacuna; Robert and Goldstein clear his foreign accounts to pay the accruing debt; citizens are against his leadership and the silent ones are about to unleash their wrath on him setting him up för desperation. He makes desperate moves.


  • Robert and Goldstein effect their threat after their failure to meet the conditions and the impact trickles down to the citizens. Evacuation will affect them, by emptyingLacuna's accounts, all organizations will be taxed by 100%. Robert is aware that Judah was murdered in the mine; the whites seemingly know the nitty- gritty of Lacuna's administration. They are in control. "It was murder for poor Judah..."(p. 109).


  • It is evident that the leaders are determined to bring change in Kutula. Bengo says they are ready for any eventuality . "If we lose, posterity will know that at least we died saying, "no" to tyranny . . . if we win, we shall rejoice ... know ... we are a united people." (pg.125)
  • The change in Kutula is not only the responsibility of the leaders but every citizen's concern. Unity of purpose is evident as the elderly leader says, "And we've been joined by millions from all ethnic groups and religious faiths" (pg.124). Bengo reports that, "many are with us right across ... the land." (pg.125).
  • The need for change is motivated by the continuous predicament the natives have faced over time. They are landless and servitude, "A mad hatter continues to sell us out-slaves on our own soil." (pg.123), unemployed, "...look at me waiting here for all my education. Me! A graduate." (Pg.123) among others.

Freedom and Liberation

  • Freedom and liberation come to the people when the austere leader is taken hostage.


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