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Postcolonial Fiction: The Empire Writes Back

April 13, 2010“Until the lions produce their own historian, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter”

I was reading Chinua Achebe’s Home and Exile (2000) and came across a short story written by Jomo Kenyatta entitled The Gentlemen of the Jungle (1983) written in the style of a folk tale. I have always loved the tongue in cheek nature of folk tales and their way of conveying a sharp message or moral concisely. Hopefully this piece of postcolonial fiction will invite others to read and contribute their own.

The Gentlemen of the Jungle was written by Kenyatta while working on his PhD at the LSE and takes on the form of a political satire or fable, while representing a tale of dispossession that began with a little act of hospitality by the dispossessed man (does that sound familiar?):

On a rainy day, a man allows his friend Mr Elephant to put his trunk in his hut to get it out of the rain. The elephant does so, and in stages starts to edge into the hut until finally he is entirely inside the hut forcing the man outside. The man then protests to the King Lion, who puts together a royal commission of inquiry to investigate the man’s complaint. The commission is made up of Mr Elephant’s cabinet colleagues: Mr Rhinoceros, Mr Buffalo and the Rt. Hon. Mr Fox as chairman. The commission heard the evidence, but cut the man short because they said he had not confined himself to the relevant facts. Their subsequent ruling was that unoccupied space existed in the man’s hut and was put to use by Mr Elephant, whose action was ultimately good for the man. They also gave the man permission to build another hut. Afraid to antagonise the commission, the man accepted the ruling.

The next hut the man built was appropriated by Mr Rhinoceros, and was followed by another commission inquiry with the same ruling. And so it continued until all the lords of the jungle were accommodated in the huts the man built for himself.

Finally convinced that he would get no justice from the animals, the man sat down and said: “Ng’enda thi ndeagaga motegi,” which literally means, “there is nothing that treads on the earth that cannot be trapped,” or in other words, you can fool people for a time, but not forever.

And so the man set out to build the biggest, grandest hut of all. No sooner was it done than the rulers of the jungle each rushed to appropriate it. Soon they were fighting and “while they were all embroiled together the man set the hut on fire and burnt it to the ground, jungle lords and all. Then he went home, saying: “Peace is costly, but it’s worth the expense” and lived happily ever after”.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ladysuperior permalink
    April 18, 2010 7:35 am

    A few good books I would recommend, in the spirit of the Empire Stirkes Back:

    1) Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

    2) Disgrace by JM Coetzee

    3) And also check out Beirut 39 – a group of the most well know new Arab authors under the age of 40.


  1. Postcolonial Short Stories

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