Devil on the Cross
is a 1980 novel by the Kenyan novelist, playwright, and activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, written originally in Gikuyu (under the title Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ) and translated into English by the author himself. The novel follows a long-suffering young Kenyan woman Jacinta Wariinga as she attends the “Devil’s Feast,” a celebration of Kenya’s exploitation by the forces of Western capitalism, attended by both Western businessmen and the Kenyan bourgeoisie who aid and abet them in their expropriation of Kenyan wealth. The novel blends allegory, dream-narrative, and a realist
story of ordinary Kenyan life to comment on the involvement of Western businesses in Kenyan economic life.
The novel opens as the narrator introduces his story in a reluctant tone: it is his duty to relay this sad and maybe even shameful account of events in the town of Ilmorog.
In Chapter 2, the narrator introduces his protagonist, Jacinta Wariinga, who is at the end of her tether. During an affair with the “Rich Old Man of Ngorika,” she became pregnant. The Rich Old Man abandoned her. Wariinga had her baby and returned to secretarial school, finding a job at Champion Construction. Soon, her boss Kihara made advances on her, and Wariinga was forced to leave her job. This didn’t stop her from losing her boyfriend, John Kinwana, who believed she had slept with Kihara. Unable to pay her rent, Wariinga has been thrown out of her studio apartment by three thugs acting on her landlord’s orders.
In despair, Wariinga takes herself to the railway tracks, where she intends to kill herself. However, she is prevented by the arrival of a man named Munti, who persuades her to give life another chance and hands her an invitation to the “Devil’s Feast.”
When Wariinga realizes that this Feast is taking place in her parents’ hometown of Ilmorog, she decides to go. She travels by “matatu” (taxi-bus), and on the long journey, she bonds with her fellow passengers: Gatuīria, an African Studies professor who works overseas; Wangarī, a peasant woman from the deep country; Mūturi, an industrial worker, and Mwĩreri wa Mũkiraaĩ, a businessman. They also get to know the driver, Mwaūra, a hard-working man who worships money and idolizes the rich.
Businessman Mwĩreri explains that the Devil’s Feast is a competition: the guests will choose the seven cleverest thieves and robbers in Ilmorog. Mwĩreri thinks this competition is a good thing. It is not really organized by the Devil, he explains, but by the Organization for Modern Theft and Robbery. The occasion for the Feast is a visit by foreign guests from the Thieves’ and Robbers’ associations of America, England, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, and Japan.
The passengers agree that they will all go together to the Devil’s Feast.
At the Feast, Wariinga and the other passengers witness the local Kenyan bourgeoisie (the members of the Organization for Modern Theft and Robbery) each set out their case for the title of cleverest thief. Each man boasts of a different scheme that he has used to rob Kenyan workers of the value of their labor.
Mwĩreri proposes that the Organization chase the foreigners out of Ilmorog in order to take a bigger slice of the wealth for themselves; an uproar breaks out.
Wariinga and Gatuīria decide to remain as observers, while Wangarī and Mūturi, horrified by what they have heard, decide to summon the police to arrest the self-proclaimed Thieves and Robbers. However, when the police arrive they arrest only Wangarī, and drag him away.
Mūturi raises a mob of local workers, students, intellectuals and peasants, who march on the cave where the Feast is taking place. They manage to break up the event, but the members of the Organization and their foreign guests all escape.
Two years pass. Wariinga is engaged to Gatuīria, and through lengthy and expensive training, she has fulfilled an old dream of becoming an engineer at a garage. Meanwhile Gatuīria has finished the musical composition he has been working on, honoring Kenyan history.
Wariinga’s old boss, Kihara, with the backing of businessmen from America, Germany, and Japan, buys the garage where Wariinga works, so he can demolish it and construct a tourist hotel on the site.
Gatuīria takes Wariinga to meet his parents. There she learns that Gatuīria’s father is the “Rich Old Man” who left her when she was pregnant. Finally Wariinga snaps. She shoots Gatuīria’s father and several other guests, whom she recognizes from the Devil’s Feast. Gatuīria is left standing, unsure whose side to take, as Wariinga strides from the house.Devil on the Cross
explores economic exploitation along many different axes: its characters allegorize the roles of the working classes and the peasants, the business elites and the petit bourgeoisie, as well as the specific forms of exploitation suffered by women, and the forms of abuse perpetrated by intellectuals and liberals—like Gatuīria—who might consider themselves neutral. Devil on the Cross
is the fifth novel by Ngūgī, who is widely considered a front-running candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.