- POSITIVE NASILIAN CULTURE/TRADITIONS
- NEGATIVE CULTURE/TRADITIONS
- CULTURAL CONFLICT
- FEMALE ASSERTIVENESS
- MORAL DECADENCE
- MATERIALISM/GREED AND OPULENCE
- MALE CHAUVINISM
- GENDER INEQUALITY
- LOVE, MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
- RELIGION AND SUPERSTITIONS
- WOMEN AS THEIR OWN ENEMIES
- WAR/ VIOLENCE
- DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ON THEMES
Themes are issues that are consistent in a creative work. They are sub categories or sub topics of the subject matter or the main idea in a work of art. They constitute the entire message the writer wishes to put across to his or her readers. Therefore, themes are the messages put across by a writer in a work of art. There are major and minor themes. Major themes cut across the text and are the main ideas the writer intends to pass to the readers. Minor themes are minor ideas which are still important in the text.
Culture refers to the customs, habits and behaviors that characterize a society’s, community’s or nation’s way of life. On the other hand, traditions form part of the culture of a people and are handed down from one generation to the next.
Positive aspects of culture in Nasila are important in holding people together. There are many aspects of Nasilian culture which are positive. The songs the young people and children sing during Ole Kaelo’s homecoming ceremony attest to the rich Maa culture. The narrator says, “From the children’s performance, it was evident that the cherished Nasilian traditional dance would stand the test of time.” (p.44). The writer says that the party was full of pomp and gaiety. This is brought out by jewelry won by the guests such as ivory, beads, coloured lesos, kangas and shukas (p.47), all attesting to the rich cultural heritage of the Maa. Generosity as a virtue is seen in Simiren who invites all those present in the party to savor his brother’s lavish hospitality (p.46). Food and drinks are served in generous measures to all those present (p.47). Ole Musanka, an elder who blesses Ole Kaelo’s home, glorifies Maa’s culture saying that it was the blood and marrow that gave sustenance to the body” (p.51). According to him, home is Maa, Nasila, family and children (p.52). His only problem is that he supports FGM, a cultural practice that does not assist women in any way.
When Resian and Taiyo go to stay at their uncle’s place for some time, they witness some positive aspects of communal life and unity at their uncle’s home. We are told that, “Life and work in that home was communal. Although each mother had her own house and cooked her own food, all grown up daughters helped each one of them” (p.148). There is well laid down chain of command with the first wife being the deputy to their uncle. There are hardly any disagreements and virtues of selflessness and sharing are emphasized (p.149). When Ole Kaelo’s daughters are assaulted by two men, the communal way of life comes in handy. All Ilmolelian men join him in pursuing the men and meting punishment on them. He is not left alone to deal with the matter. During Ole Kaelo’s homecoming ceremony, young men and women from the clan work together to make the day successful. Ole Kaelo is touched after discovering that brotherhood, honour and selflessness still existed in Nasila and this makes him swear that he would never abandon the culture of his people or live outside his clan (p.40).
Nasila culture clearly defined relationships. “The founder had intended that the culture would regulate the lives of the people…It charted out the way for everyone, from cradle to the grave. It defined relationships, it created laws that governed the ownership of property and settled disputes. It did not discriminate, it did not favour anyone over the other, it gave everyone a chance to live a full life; it protected everyone within its confines and provided cleansing procedures for those who defiled it. It was simply a cherished way of life for all the Maa people…” (p.118).
Mama Milanoi appreciates Nasila culture which spares her nephew from death. She “…began to see the wisdom of the Maa founder who ensured that justice was always tempered with mercy” (p.163). According to Nasila culture, if a man sought refuge between the legs of an old man, he was to be spared despite the crime committed (p.162). Anybody who violates cultural values of Nasila culture is faced with laid down punishment. Both Ntara Muyo and Lante who had attempted to rape Resian and Taiyo are forced to pay fines to the girls and their father and somehow, justice is done. “The two boys had been fined two heifers each” and Ntara Muyo “…an extra heifer to cover the shame that he had occasioned by accosting his own sister” (p.164). Mama Milanoi also reminisces the old aspect of her culture which gave room for mass action in case somebody misbehaved and went against the expected conduct. A case in point is where an old man got infatuated by a girl of fourteen years. When women realized it, they attacked the man, stripped him naked and beat him up to death. That served as a detractor to any other man who would harbor such intentions. Mama Milanoi wonders where such good aspects of Nasila culture had gone for they would shield her daughter from being forced to marry an old man like Oloisudori (pp.115-117).
A girl was always protected from men with evil intentions. Girls were kept away from male visitors in their homes and there was hardly any interaction between fathers and daughters (p.175). The rich Maa culture has different types of love. There is elangatare where boys did anything possible to win girls’ admiration (p.124). The elangatare love included feats by boys such as killing lions and defending people and their cattle from their enemies. There is also patureishi type of love where a girl and a boy were allowed to have a love affair alongside the conventional love. Such boys were the darlings of the girls and a song of praise would be composed by the girlfriend in praise of the valorous deeds of her boyfriend (pp.124-125). This relationship ended in marriage after a marriage ceremony. On the other hand, the patureishi did not end in marriage. It was meant to check the conduct and behavior of young people and keep them disciplined (p.126).
Negative aspects of culture in Nasila are strongly opposed by the young generation. To them, such practices should be shunned because they have outlived their usefulness in a society that is slowly but surely embracing modernity and civilization.
Female Genital Mutilation (F.G.M) is an outdated cultural practice that has no standing in the changing Nasila. To those that support it, it is meant to tame a wild gender just as cattle that require to be dehorned (p.22). When it was discovered several years back, it was to find a lasting solution to the exploitation of the Maa women by the Ilarinkon warriors. “…that gave birth to enkamuratani (the female circumciser). And her Olmurunya was shaped, sharpened and handed to her” (p.87). Mama Milanoi also affirms the origin of this cultural practice saying, “It was the shame and anger that was provoked by Ilarinkon taunts, lewd teasing and provocative posturing that made the women do what they did to curtail those desires the worthless predators exploited to prey upon them” (p.90).
Resian is very much opposed to this retrogressive practice. She says, “I would rather live in the noisiest place on earth, than live anywhere near a vagabond who would accost me…with the intention of mutilating my sexuality (p.33). At this early point, she makes her stand clear that she is opposed to the practice that disfigures and damages female sexuality. She is bitter and has pain in her heart due to threats of undergoing F.G.M. The olmurunya, the instrument used to conduct is scary. The writer reveals that it “…was a bladelike tool shaped like a smoothing plane blade” and the enkamuratani “showed the way she went about her profession of transforming young girls into young women through the cut of olmurunya” (p.58). She wonders what the use of F.G.M in today’s woman is (p.90). She observes that the practice is being fueled by men who use it to continue oppressing women. “…one of their ways of oppressing us is to demand that F.G.M be perpetuated against us forever” (p.91). The enkoiboni, mother to Olarinkoi tells Resian, “As soon as we clip that erogenous salacity from you that destroys homes, you will become a respected woman…” (p.229). This was not the original reason why F.G.M was invented but the practice has been maintained to purportedly keep women faithful.
F.G.M is so highly regarded that no girl would get married before getting circumcised. Such a girl was derogatorily referred to as entaapai and her family was not spared ridicule. To make matters worse, if she got pregnant, she would be circumcised at birth and married off to the oldest man in the village (p.63). According to enkoiboni, no mother would want an uncircumcised girl as a wife for her son (p.235). This would prevent any other girl from doing such a thing. Circumcising the girl at birth is painful, dehumanizing and traumatizing. Joseph Parmuat opines that negative aspects of culture such as throwing the dead and the dying to hyenas or abandoning the old and very sick in deserted homesteads to be eaten by wild animals have already been expunged from Nasila culture (p.128). Resian is optimistic that soon, Nasila culture would do away with F.G.M as a cultural practice. Minik cites horrible and outdated cultural practice such as emuata that forced young brides to wear heavy copper around their limbs, legs, arms to make them beautiful and which had been discarded hence freeing women from pain. She opines that even girl child circumcision should be discarded for it has outlived its usefulness (p.263).
Sexism refers to preference given to either the male or the female gender child. It is an outdated tradition that is still embraced by individuals such as Ole Kaelo. We are told that he wanted at least three boys but instead gets two girls. This shows his preference for boys. When his wife gets pregnant again, he hopes for a boy who would carry his name to the next generation but instead, he gets a girl that he lives to loathe (p.10, 174).
The communal way of life in Nasila and clanship system also has negative effects. Its major negative effect is that it offered no privacy to those who needed it. Taiyo and Resian realize that in Nasila, home belonged to all members of the clan. We are told “It was not an unusual thing to get up in the morning to find the living room full of men and women who came that early…to share a sumptuous breakfast with their kith and kin” (p.35). Some intrude their homes even without being invited (65). Although they adjust to such a negative aspect of culture, it still remains a bad aspect of culture for it interferes with their privacy.
Taiyo is unhappy with the tradition that disallows marriage of young people from the same clan, however remotely related they are. According to Nasila culture, if such people married, there would be untold consequences (p.49). ) Taiyo finds this as a “gross unfairness of the outdated culture” and “a searing torment to her and to all others who were of progressive minds” (p.56). Joseph fears going against that tradition because he would be castigated and punished for doing such a thing. He would also be forced to pay cattle to Ole Kaelo as compensation and undergo a demeaning cleansing ceremony as well as a public rebuke (p.123). On the contrary, according to Taiyo, culture and traditions are never static but are dynamic in that culture “…shades off aspects that become irrelevant with time” (p.127). She cites F.G.M and the clan system that prevents people from the same clan from marrying (p.128). She observes that such practices should “…have disappeared at the turn of the last century” (p.128).
Another aspect of culture that Resian and Taiyo condemn is the practice of booking unborn baby girls (p.129). This denies women a chance to choose their marriage partners based on love but not what is dictated upon them by their parents. Apart from booking unborn baby girls, young women are also subjected to early marriages. Resian and Taiyo are the best cases in point. Ole Kaelo forces Resian to marry Oloisudori, his business friend against her expectations. She undergoes several challenges in order to overcome this plan. When she escapes from Oloisudori’s net, she is subjected to another forced marriage to Olarinkoi but she also escapes it. Taiyo is also not spared the practice. She is forcefully circumcised in order to be handed over to Oloisudori as a wife, although she is rescued by Minik.
Alienation is becoming a stranger to what one initially belonged to or being isolated from others. Alienation in the novel, Blossoms of the Savannah is as a result of embracing new culture.
Ole Kaelo and his family have lived for thirty years in Nakuru where he has brought up his daughters until his retrenchment. This has alienated him from many cultural practices which he comes across with once he returns to Nasila. During his absence from Nasila, it was his brother Simiren who represented him in the Ilmolelian clan in sacred rituals such as girls’ initiation (p.11). While his brother has married four wives for the culture permits polygamy, Ole Kaelo has one wife and is contemptuously likened to a mono-eyed giant who stood on legs of straw (p.13) showing that his position and stand in Nasila is precarious and unstable. He regards himself as civilized and calls the clan elders “megalomaniacs” who were still trapped in archaic traditions that were better buried and forgotten” (p.13). During Ole Kaelo’s homecoming party, his daughters jokingly observe that he does not know how to dance and that he should be coached (p.45). His inability to dance, perhaps, is a result of being away from Nasila for many years. After settling in Nasila, the writer says that a new Ole Kaelo was emerging and he was becoming a Nasilian very fast (p.62). Mama Milanoi reveals that her husband was not a strict follower of Nasila traditions only prescribing to those aspects that he considered decent (p.60). Perhaps, that is why he allows Oloisudori to marry his daughter Resian, a thing that goes against the cultural grain of Nasila. She asks, “How could a man who was the age of her husband be her son-in-law? Where was Nasila culture?” (p.114).
Resian blames the tension which continues to be witnessed at their home to their father. She blames these developments and changes in their home on “a newborn mongrel; a new culture that was partly Maa and partly a combination of a myriads of cultures found in Nakuru town.” (p.174). She argues that that was the animal her father introduced into his home in Nasila and which was “…threatening to devour her first and thereafter everyone else, one by one” (p.174). By embracing the two cultural divides, he sees no problem in planning to marry his daughters to an old man, a plan that costs his family a lot including losing the trust of his two daughters.
One of the cultural practices he embraces is Female Genital mutilation. It is a practice he didn’t think about in Nakuru but which confronts him after he returns with his two daughters as Intoiye Nemengalana or uncircumcised. This has made them alienated from the people of Nasila. They contemptuously refer to them as Intoiye Nemengalana and they cannot be easily married in the culturally rich Nasila community (p.8, 58). Being not circumcised earns the girls constant ridicule and contempt because they are unlike other girls. The enkoiboni asks Resian contemptuously, “Are you not ashamed to be among intoiye nemengalana at your age” (p.228). Their state, which physically alienates them from other girls, has been a constant cause of harassment from all sorts of people “…all trying to discredit them for not having undergone the cultural rite of circumcision” (p.261). As a result of not having circumcised his daughters, Ole Kaelo is derogatively called the father of Intoiye Nemengalana.
Ole Kaelo has also alienated himself from his culture by marrying only one wife while the community allows polygamy. He is likened to a mono-eyed giant who stood on legs of straw (p.13). He is in constant clash with the Nasila culture which if he adhered to; he would not give his daughters to an old man like Oloisudori. For instance, culture prohibits girls meeting with male visitors but he insists that Resian should serve Oloisudori and his friend during his visit (p.175).
Both Resian and Taiyo clash with FGM tradition, forced early marriages and coaching about Nasila culture. Resian is very rebellious of FGM and forced marriage to Oloisudori. She also rejects cultural coaching saying, “I refuse to be taught to solely please male counterparts” (p.77-78). Resian and Taiyo have lost touch with Nasila culture as a result of being brought up in the city of Nakuru and being educated. They don’t know the types of love that exist in the rich cultural heritage of their community. Resian asks Joseph Parmuat whether patureishi really exists (p.127) showing her ignorance about the matter. Taiyo’s modern cultural values clashes with traditional Nasila culture. She falls in love with Joseph who is of her clan, a thing not allowed in the Nasilian culture. She does not care about her disregard of such a cultural restriction arguing she cannot care about a primitive culture which also violates her right to marry anybody she falls in love with (p.133).
The positive aspects of Nasila culture are under threat from the imposing modern culture. The writer puts that this culture, “was no more … and just Nasila River has been polluted by chemicals, by the likes of Oloisudori. It had …” become mutable and now it contained defiant mutants that it could not regulate and which were above Nasila laws” (p.118). Mama Milanoi admits that her daughters were operating under a different culture from hers. She says they, “…knew very little of Nasila culture. They were children of a new undefined culture. Theirs was a mutant of another kind” (p.118).
Education is one of the causes of alienation. The Kaelo’s, for instance, want their daughters educated but at the same time are wary of the influence of education on them. We are told that the sons of Nasila who got educated “…got alienated and hardly came back home” (p.150). There is a clash between formal education, which is an aspect of modern culture, with traditional Nasilian culture. This clash makes Nasila culture to be “…grappling with the changes education brought.” These changes, according to the narrator, were “…threatening an explosion in the not too distant future” (pp.150-151).
Several characters undergo cultural conflict or dilemma in the novel as a result of encountering and embracing the modern culture. Nasila culture, which is part of the larger Maa culture, is also in crisis as a result of clashing with modernity.
Mama Milanoi, wife to Ole Kaelo, is at cultural crossroads. She is in dilemma as far as the question of FGM is concerned. She understands the danger she would expose her daughters in Nasila where there are both positive and negative cultural practices and wishes she could “…shield them and protect them” (p.30). She knows this would not be possible because “Nasila people were very intolerant of those who ignored their cherished cultural sensibilities” (p.30). She knows that she is in breach of Nasila traditions by not having circumcised her daughters by then (p.60). While back in Nakuru and before her husband’s retrenchment, Mama Milanoi admits that FGM was a non-issue in the family for “She had regarded the practice as an archaic rite that had been discarded and forgotten. But there it was now, rearing its ugly head and threatening to wreak havoc in the young innocent lives of her daughters” (p.63).
Mama Milanoi is torn between yielding her daughters to the barbaric culture and losing their faith, love and confidence and going against Nasila culture and becoming an alien in the clan. She fears doing anything that would wrong her husband and hence chooses to tread carefully around the matter. She comes out as a weak woman who shies from declaring her stand on Nasila culture when she meekly tells her husband, “Our culture is everything and its rules, our lives” (p.61). Her dutiful role of a faithful and obedient wife to Ole Kaelo comes before her duty to her daughters hence chooses to obey his edicts. She wishes to join forces with the likes of Minik or Emakererei, and fight against practices like FGM but then fears for her marriage, “If she aligned herself with a person who Nasila regarded as having such an obnoxious reputation, where would her marriage stand?” (p.62). She even wonders whether as a family, they are traditionalists or modernists especially by embracing retrogressive cultural values (p.62).
Joseph is faced with cultural conflict when he falls in love with Taiyo who is from his clan. His culture does not allow such a union and hence he is torn between loyalty to that culture or love for Taiyo. He asks himself several questions that reveal this crisis. “Did he have to abandon Nasila culture in exchange of a woman who sneered at its tenets? He considered running away from Nasila and its culture but that left a sour taste in his mouth.” (p.137). He finally opts to stick by Nasila culture arguing that it was too valuable to be abandoned in exchange of a woman’s love. He finally resolves this conflict by declining Taiyo’s love (p.137).
Ole Kaelo’s alienation from his culture and embracing a culture that was neither modern nor traditional creates internal conflict in him. He is torn between marrying his daughter Resian to Oloisudori or turning down his request, thereby losing his business. He keeps wondering what sort of a man Oloisudori is and at some point, he has to assure himself that he is a morally upright man so that he can marry his daughter to him (p.194).
At the centre of fighting retrogressive cultural practices is Resian, Taiyo and Minik ene Nkoitoi who is commonly called Emakererei.
Both Resian and Taiyo resist F.GM and do all they can to fight the outmoded practice. Resian says she would not live anywhere near a man who would want to mutilate her sexuality while Taiyo says she would only be mutilated if only she were dead (p.33). This declaration sets the mood and tone in the rest of the novel where the girls fight various individuals that try to force them in taking a path they do not wish. Resian resists being circumcised by force in a dream by fighting the enkamuratani and the enkoiboni (pp.244-254). She tells Minik that she had heard of her relentless fight against F.G.M and underage marriage (p.262). Her stand is that girl child circumcision should disappear from Maa language and regarded extinct and that Intoiye Nemengalana (uncircumcised girl) should stop being derogatory (p.263). Minik is bitter and angry about the continued practice of F.G.M at a time she believes the rite has stopped being useful to women. She blames the practice on the neo-culture of wealth which was dampening the fight against such outdated practices. Her take is that “…there was need to plan new strategies to battle the new monster that was rearing its ugly head” (p.269). Resian has a different way out of the problem. She believes that if all women said no to the detestable culture, men would do nothing about it (pp.277-278). Women who have undergone F.G.M such as Minik and Nabaru agree that they are not different human beings hence downplaying its importance.
Resian is opposed to cultural coaching by Joseph Parmuat. Her father observes that though they may find some cultural demands detestable, it is such practices that nurtured and bound their people together (p.71). To Resian, the coaching is worthless and she says that if they were sons, they would not be subjected to cultural coaching. She says, “I refuse to be taught. I will either be taught at the university what is universally beneficial to all mankind or be taught nothing” (p.73). She is opposed to informal education to girls meant to please men saying, “I refuse to be taught to solely please male counterparts. They can also cook, and they can, and should also learn to please us females” (p.77). She is described as someone who knows her rights by her mother and that she would not allow anyone trample on them (p.118). Later, she accepts to be coached but only after Joseph introduces interesting topics such as those of love.
When Taiyo falls in love with Joseph, she does not care about what others or the culture says about it. She boldly tells Joseph, “No, I don’t care about the oppressive Nasila culture. Why should I care about violating the backward culture when it does not care when it violates my own rights?” (p.133). She says this despite knowing very well that her culture does not allow inter-clan marriage. She assertively tells Joseph she does not care about her culture’s position on the matter when he tells her they cannot marry (p.134). She is ready to defend her love for Joseph including eloping with him to join others who share with her neo-cultural persuasion.
The two girls are ready to fight and resist forced marriages and Oloisudori’s advances on them. They plan and succeed in returning the gifts that he had brought them saying, “Woe to him if he thought she was a chattel to be secured by the content of a briefcase!” (p.198). She flatly rejects Oloisudori’s plans to marry her saying, “You are stark mad if you think I am your wife. I can only be your wife over my dead body” (p.204). She boldly tells her father that she would rather die than get married to a monster” (p.209). When Resian is abducted by Olarinkoi, she continues in her fighting and resisting spirit. The writer says, “Olarinkoi and his demonic mother may physically take her to Tanzania…take her as his wife…physically circumcise her, but mentally she was going to resist… She was going to refuse to be subdued…she was going to physically resist” (p.230).
The song by the girls from Intapuka-e-Maa during Taiyo’s and Resian’s farewell party is full of female assertion. They say they are proud to be uncircumcised and that they would be doctors, teachers and engineers and would build the nation together with men (p.281). This is a song of hope and optimism hence revealing a generation of young people that are not ready to be daunted by retrogressive cultural practices.
Despite the rich cultural setting of the novel, there are many cases of immoral conduct or behavior that falls short of the morals of any society. This can be largely attributed to the clash or encounter between the traditional culture and modern culture. Many evils are perpetrated by Oloisudori and other characters with warped morality.
Oloisudori is totally morally decayed. He engages in all sorts of vices in order to amass wealth. He is corrupt, immoral, an extortionist, a smuggler, a poacher, a blackmailer, a thug and even a killer (p.101, 236). He is also suspected by Ole Kaelo to belong to the cult of ilmasonik, a cult that thrived on extortion and blackmail (p.107). These vices, allegedly associated with him, point at his moral deficiency.
When Ole Kaelo asks his friend Supeyo if Oloisudori is a man of integrity, he replies, “Don’t trust him any further than you would a hyena in your homestead…keep the fellow away from your daughters” (p.26). When Oloisudori meets Resian for the first time, his amorous character is evident. He openly scans her body (p.92) and cranes his neck to watch her (p.95). In his presence, Resian is uncomfortable for she felt from his looks as if her blouse was unbuttoned (p.96). She also feels as if he was caressing her entire body with his hands against her will (p.96). He tells Ole Kaelo his intention to marry his daughter very callously and as if he was talking about a goat or a sheep (p.110). In his first visit to Ole Kaelo’s home, “…he took a long time washing his hands as he gloatingly peered at her” (p.179). He has no shame taking the hand of Resian and kissing it without her consent. He looks at her in a sexually suggestive manner “…his gaze deliberately dropped from her face to her bosom and lingered there” (p.203). This is before he drops the bombshell; which is marrying her and making her the happiest woman in East Africa. He shamelessly tells Kaelo of his intention to circumcise Resian before marrying her. Ole Kaelo regards such talks as very abnormal between a father-in-law and a would be son-in-law. From such immoral talk, Ole Kaelo believes that the world had come to an end (p.112).
Apart from Oloisudori, there are many other morally rotten characters in the novel such as Olarinkoi warriors, Olarinkoi, and enkoiboni. The Olarinkoi warriors, who subdued the Maa for long, are morally rotten. They forced the Maa women to “…compose lewd songs which they had to perform in the most outrageous and indecent postures and styles” (p.86). They took advantage of the compromising situation of the Maa women to exploit them sexually knowing that “…they were not able to resist their natural instinctive desires…” (p.86).
Taiyo and Resian’s near rape by two men as they come from their father’s shop in Nasila points at moral decay in Nasila. (p.140). This incident causes the girls mental torture. Some of these deeds are done to them because they are uncircumcised. Olarinkoi is also immoral. He abuses Resian by telling her: “Today we shall see how educated your body is” (p.221). This is before physically assaulting and raping her after she passes out.
The foul language that enkoiboni, the mother to Olarinkoi, addresses Resian with is full of moral rottenness. Her language is full of abuses and bitterness. Enkabaani, Resian’s nurse does not support enkoiboni’s foul language and urges Resian to ignore her. She does not respect Resian’s privacy when she feels her stomach with her hands to check whether she was pregnant. All this time, “Resian seethed with anger at the blatant intrusion of her privacy and total disregard for her feelings” (p.235).
Betrayal is breaking of the trust that existed between individuals before. The greatest betrayal in the novel is that of Ole Kaelo to his daughters. On page one, we are told that Ole Kaelo refused to allow his daughter Taiyo to travel to Mombasa with other young men and women selected by an FM radio station for a music extravaganza (pp.1-2). He refused to allow her saying that no daughter of his “…would so demean herself and her family as to perform in public in exchange of monetary gain” (p.45). To him that would be like engaging in harlotry. In addition, he betrays his daughters’ ambitions to join Egerton University preferring instead to marry them off to Oloisudori, a very rich man. This shows he is not ready to help them realize their dreams as a father should do.
Ole Kaelo has betrayed Resian in many ways. He has not loved her as he should from her birth. We are told that “From the moment she was born, mute and helpless, he detested her” (p.10). This has contributed to Resian growing up “…sullen, bewildered and resentful” (p.10). He is biased in his treating of the two daughters for he does not love her as he loves Taiyo. Taiyo admits this emotional betrayal: “For reasons she did not understand, she had always found their father strangely and harshly impatient towards Resian” (p.34). However, she knew that he despised her ever since she was young (p.173). Ole Kaelo is strongly hateful and unappreciative of her: “…he wondered where in the world they fetched that awkward, overblown, stupid child…And the very look in her eyes, half-fearful, half-defiant and wholly troubled, was always enough to raise his temper to the highest pitch” (p.41). He also abuses her at the slightest provocation. He tells her: “While Taiyo works herself to the bone, she lazes about like an over-fed lizard in the hot afternoon sun!” (p.64). He goes on “Look at the way you slouch…I’ll not be surprised if you soon become a hunchback” (p.64). Even her mother fails Resian for we are told: “Even stranger was their mother’s failure to come to Resian’s defense. It was as if her motherly instincts could not extend her protective wings to cover Resian. Seeing her parents’ betrayal of her sister, Taiyo takes over to comfort Resian and reassure her when hurt especially by her father. Her role in Resian’s life is very important because she relies on her to make requests to their father on her behalf for she cannot approach him directly. The case in point is her quest to join university which she keeps pestering Taiyo to ask their father to do on her behalf. A parent that cannot communicate with his child has definitely failed in his parental responsibility.
Ole Kaelo and Oloisudori mercilessly hatch a plan to abduct Resian and marry her off without her consent if she does not cooperate. The plan is “If she declined, he would leave it at that until the evening when his men would pounce on her and abduct her” (p.191). After such a heinous plan, “The three of them …roared with rich laughter” (p.192). He is even ready to have her circumcised so that she can get married to a man she does not even love. Mama Milanoi is not blameless because she is inwardly opposed to the abduction plan; but does not speak out to condemn such a wicked plan. When Oloisudori reveals his plan to marry Resian, it “dawned on her that her father had already sold her” (p.204). This greatly shocks her because she never thought that her father could go to the extent of selling her (p.205). He confirms the plan to marry her off to his friend Oloisudori and also shatters Resian’s dream of enrolling as a student at Egerton University. He tells her: “I thought about it alright, but decided that I am not sending you there!” (p.207). This discovery makes her cry, “accusing her father of hatred and betrayal by betrothing her to Oloisudori” (p.208). Resian does not absolve her mother from blame for she believes she also failed her (p.230) especially due to her silence when all those plans against her were being devised. She reasons that her mother should not have been silent when her daughter was being sold to the highest bidder for “Even the hyena’s greed spared its own young ones” (p.231).
Mama Milanoi also betrays her daughter Taiyo by allowing her to accompany three women to take her to Resian only for her to end up being forcefully subjected to F.G.M. We are told that “When she came to, two days later, she was sore, bitter and angry” (p.273). Her mother does all this out of her docile submission and fear of her husband. In addition, she has to play along with Ole Kaelo in his devious acts so that they cannot lose the wealth Ole Kaelo has corruptly acquired by doing business with Oloisudori. Later, when Resian and Taiyo are reunited, they blame their mother for their ordeals saying “She was an example of a wife they never wanted to become” and that they knew she was always in “awe of their father who held her captive and never for once allowed her to express her own opinion on any matter however small it was” (p.277).
Materialism is putting material possession before anything else in one’s life while greed is insatiable want for material possessions. Opulence in this novel refers to exaggerated display of wealth by characters.
Ole Kaelo’s house in Nasila is so magnificent that Mama Milanoi exclaims, “Father of all creation! This is but a dream” (p.30). Taiyo says that the house is magnificent while Resian exclaims she had never seen anything like it before (p.31).He has furnished his shop at Nasila extravagantly. We are told “It was splendid, large and well stocked. The décor was discreetly and fashionably done while taking into consideration the kind of customers that were expected” (p.65). This is a show of extravagance and opulence which the rich in this society strongly believe are indications of a wealthy man. Taiyo tells her ever critical sister: It’s important that the shop displays a certain measure of opulence” (p.65). This is so that their father can attract rich customers.
The genesis of Ole Kaelo’s troubles is his signing of a contract with Oloisudori to start a business in Nasila. We are told that “He had long realized the choice was between remaining a nobody; self-righteously and accepting, sensibly, that the man with the meat was also the same man with the knife” (p.25). He therefore gets into business with him. His friend, Supeyo, warns him in advance what kind of man Oloisudori is “…and Oloisudori is probably the most corrupt…keep the fellow away from your daughters” (p.26). Despite the early warning, he is unheeding a thing which makes him lose his two dear daughters finally. Oloisudori has his hands on all sorts of businesses both legal and illegal. These are; agriculture, finance, tourism, import and export, mining and motor trade, extortion, poaching, smuggling and robbing (p.101). When he comes visiting Ole Kaelo, his show of extravagance cannot fail to be noticed in his extravagant dressing. He has a pin-striped designer suit, a gold watch, gold bracelet and a gold chain. (p.177). He shows off his wealth by giving generous gifts to Ole Kaelo, Mama Milanoi, Resian and Taiyo. (p.178). He also hands over a briefcase to Ole Kaelo which is later revealed to have contained a half a million shillings (p.188).
Despite these ugly businesses, Ole Kaelo still deals with him in order to save his business from collapsing. He is not sure whether Oloisudori does not belong to a cult that thrived on blackmail and extortion and which after helping a businessman grow his business, would come back making outrageous demands like sacrificing their beloved ones to the gods of the cult (p.107). Despite knowing all these about him, Ole Kaelo comforts himself in order to defend the material path he has taken. The narrator observes: “He knew it was pursuit of success that made him interact with Oloisudori….Success was attainment, fortune and prosperity; it was triumph and it gave one happiness. It did not matter how it was obtained….the end…justified the means” (pp.108-109). He consoles himself for having decided to marry his daughter to Oloisudori saying, “Where else would he ever get such a business offer as the one Oloisudori had offered him” (p.165). He decides that he is not ready to lose his business premises and home for these were a matter of life and death to him. In order to survive, “…he realized with finality, he had to change his attitude towards Oloisudori; he had to embrace him” (p.165). He sees the material side only if his daughter married Oloisudori, saying, “…she would soon have her own establishment and a wealthy husband who had much ambition” (p.166).
When Ole Kaelo visits one of the homes of Oloisudori and the house he is building for Resian, he falls instantly in love with the might of wealth that he witnesses. Ole Kaelo’s house is lavishly furnished and the writer says it “…must have been done by a person whose mind must have been preoccupied by the need to be showy, and ostentatious. On the other hand, the house being built for Resian leaves Ole Kaelo speechless and Mama Milanoi stupefied by its grandeur and magnificence (p.190). Attracted by wealth, he concludes that “…it was only a stupid woman, like his daughter Resian, who would turn down the offer to own the riches they saw in Oloisudori’s home” (p.188). He also hopes that Taiyo, his other daughter would get a rich man to marry her and give him hefty sums of money just as Oloisudori had done. (p.188). After witnessing Oloisudori’s wealth, he decides that Resian must be married by Oloisudori and that “…he was not going to allow his daughter’s ignorance to destroy her future” (p.191). He so much wants the marriage plan to work that he devises a plan with Oloisudori to abduct Resian by force if she did not cooperate (p.191).in fact they agree on usage of a anesthesia to make her unconscious. The only saving grace that can prevent losing his business and house is the success of the marriage. He admits that, “the success or failure of the event would determine the fate of his business” (p.194). He fears being reduced to poverty by Oloisudori and therefore, betrays his own daughter in exchange of material possessions.
Not giving up in whatever one decides to do is very instrumental in achieving success. Resian’s determination to go to university from the beginning of the novel to the time her dream is achieved is remarkable. This determination is seen from the time they are in Nakuru to when they relocate to Nasila. As her father and family is busy packing so that they can go to their rural home in Nasila, she tells her sister “I don’t want to work at the shop…I want to come back to Nakuru and join Egerton University. I want to take a course in Veterinary Science and become a veterinary doctor” (p.4). She keeps urging her sister to talk to their father so that they can be enrolled at the university. To escape FGM, she tells her sister: “That’s why it’s imperative that you persuade Papaai to allow us go back to Nakuru and enroll at the university” (p.33). She is worried that her father had spent all the money in decorating the shop and left with nothing for their university education (p.65). Sometimes, she would imagine herself admitted at the university “…and walking majestically with other students into one of those awesome lecture theatres, while donning her academic regalia” (p.89). After their near-rape by two young men, Resian tells Taiyo to use that incident to compel their father to take them to university (p.144).
She dreams of graduating and getting a chance to work with Minik ene Nkoitoi, her lifelong role model. (p.153). She is determined to face Oloisudori and resist his advances on her. We are told that “She had vowed to face the monster gallantly…She was in the battle front and success or failure was in her hands” (p.200). Her optimism to join university does not reduce even at her lowest moment when she realizes her father’s intention to marry her by force to Oloisudori. She says, “If I don’t die and live to be eighty, I will still go to the university. I’ll go to Egerton University, Papaai…I hope you will be there to witness my graduation” (p.210).Even in her dream while held captive by Olarinkoi at his hut, she has a dream that showcases her gallant and determined nature. “She was determined that the old enkamuratani would never circumcise another girl again” (p.244). In the dream she fought both the enkamuratani and enkoiboni with a mallet.
Resian’s determination to get university educated and resistance against FGM start bearing fruits when she and Nabaru reach Ntare-Naaju sheep ranch. “She remembers the Maa adage that said: home was never far for one who was still alive” (pp.256-257). Her dreams of joining Egerton University are fulfilled when Minik promises that she would ensure that she and Taiyo get enrolled at the university as they wanted. This is fulfilled when she brings them letters of admission to the university towards the end of the novel. The song that the girls from Intapuka-e-Maa sing is full of determination. The girls are proud of being uncircumcised and have hopes of being doctors, teachers and engineers and contribute in building the nation with men (p.281). Taiyo is determined to be married by Joseph. She says she won’t be dissuaded by Nasila culture that prevents inter-clan marriage saying, “…I cannot accept its verdict…I am too, ready to face any eventuality that may arise out of our love for one another” (p.134).
The overcoming of difficult situations by some characters would not be possible without help and benevolence from other characters. Some of these incidents of help and benevolence, though coincidental, are very important in not only shaping characters’ lives but also in shaping the novel’s plot. When Taiyo and Resian are about to be assaulted sexually by two men, we are told, “Suddenly and unexpectedly, a third man sprang out of the bushes like a ghost” (p.141). This man is Olarinkoi and he is the one that saves them by fighting the two men. The girls cannot imagine what would have happened to them if he had not come at that moment (p.142-143). Later, it is the same Olarinkoi who saves Resian from Oloisudori’s men. His appearance is timely because Resian has even been contemplating to commit suicide by jumping into a river (p.210).
Resian is nursed by Nabaru, a motherly woman after her sexual abuse by Olarinkoi (p224). “At times she held her up, giving her drinks of water, or milk, or feeding her; putting bits of olpurda dipped in honey into her mouth…” (p.224). Nabaru also promises to help Resian in whatever her plans are: “ I am willing to help you to do what you intend to do or go where you want to go once you are back onto your feet” (p.233). She keeps her word by coming to rescue Resian when Olarinkoi’s mother is just about to attack and have her circumcised (p.246).
Further, Taiyo and Resian get help from Minik when she promises to have her enrolled at Egerton University (p.264). She keeps her promise when she gives the two girls letters of admission to the university. Resian also qualifies for a scholarship from the ranch which is managed by Minik to fund her education. She in addition gives her a job in the ranch, an advance salary, as well as a fully furnished house. Resian is sincerely appreciative of Minik’s benevolence, saying, “Your voice dear Emakererei is truly the voice of God” (p.265). Taiyo is rescued from the hands of her circumcisers by Minik. Both Nabaru and Minik are very instrumental in the physical and psychological healing of the two girls. We are told that with Nabaru’s nursing care, Minik’s encouragement and counseling sessions from a teacher from Intapuka-e-Maa school, Taiyo is able to fully recover (p.276).
Male chauvinism refers to the feeling of superiority by men and their domineering attitude over women in the society as a result of general male domination or patriarchy in a given society. Ole Kaelo is a male chauvinist. He beats his wife to submission to coerce her follow his decisions without any resistance. When his wife reasons that they should think of the family interests first with regard to adhering to Nasila culture, he irritably asks her, “What do you mean?” (p.61). When she realizes that he is getting angry, she beats a hasty retreat saying, “Our culture is everything and it rules our lives” (p.61). Although Mama Milanoi realizes when it is too late the role Oloisudori has played in shaping their material lives, she admits that she would not have helped to separate him from such a man because it “…Was the man who made decisions as to which direction their lives took” (p.114).
According to Resian, the ancient Ilarinkon were no different from the current ones. She is of the view that the current Ilarinkon are worse and that they are despotic oppressive tyrants who oppress women by ensuring that they are subjected to FGM for ever (p.91). The current Ilarinkon include Ole Kaelo, Oloisudori and Olarinkoi. Ole Kaelo forces Resian to attend to and serve his friend Oloisudori when her mother says nothing about it. He orders: “You have to be there…it is important to me that you are there” (p.171). Olarinkoi’s chauvinism is seen in his changed attitude towards Resian when he takes her to his house far from Nasila. He tells her, “You woman…You can either cook or keep standing stupidly or die of hunger…and Resian stared “…at the man who seemed to have suddenly turned from a person she had known for quite some time, to a beast” (p.218). He later molests her sexually after returning drunk. Oloisudori is a male chauvinist. This is seen in his address to Resian when she refuses his marriage offer. He tells her “You can never escape Resian…Whether you scream your heart out, or jump into the deep sea…you are mine. You are my wife from now henceforth” (p.204). He arrogantly tells her: No one plays games with Oloisudori. Ask your father, he will tell you” (p.204). (add more illustrations).
Men and women are not equal in this novel. Women’s position is lower than that of men who dominate over everything and suppress women. This is especially seen at the family level where the husband is the sole decision maker and the wife just accepts those decisions without question. Ole Kaelo has a very easy time courting and marrying his wife. A woman is not supposed to resist a man who wants to marry her as per Nasilian tradition whether she loves him or not. We are told “She accepted him without any resistance. Tradition did not allow her to offer any and as expected of her, she did not resist” (p.29). Mama Milanoi is an unequal marriage partner to Ole Kaelo. She leaves decision making to her husband and does not oppose any of his decisions. She refuses to be drawn into the discussion about the coaching of her daughters by Joseph saying “It was Taiyo’s father’s territory” (p.56).Mama Milanoi cannot oppose him for “…in her culture there was no room for dissent, especially if the subject was in conformity with the culture” (p.61).
In this society, “…women had no say. It was a patriarchal society where the Emakererei and her ilk were fighting to find relevance with little success” (p.62). Such gender imbalance uplifts the man over the woman. In their case, it leaves Ole Kaelo with the sole responsibility of making final decisions on all matters affecting the family. We are also told that Mama Milanoi has been held captive by her husband who “…never for once allowed her to express her own opinion on any matter however small it was” (p.277). This suppression has prevented her from speaking her mind and opposing the subjection of her daughters to outdated cultural practices. Resian is opposed to her father’s hiring of Joseph to coach them about Nasilian culture. She says “I am beginning to think it is disadvantageous being a woman in this society” (p.73). She finds fault with the plan reasoning that if they were sons, they would not be subjected to such cultural coaching. Resian regrets living in a society where men thought they had right to every woman’s body (p.143). This is after their near-rape by two men. Such unjustified rights emanate from the fact that men deem themselves as superior to women and can do whatever they want with women.