Kenda Muiyuru (The Perfect Nine) by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is a giant in the global literary scene. In Africa, he sits at the very top with others like Achebe, Soyinka, Mariama Ba, Tsi Tsi, Leila Abouleila, Ngozi Chimamanda, you know the calibre. Some other works by Ngugi include A Grain of Wheat; Weep not Child, The River Between, Devil on the Cross, I Will Marry When I Want, Matigari and the international bestseller, Wizard of the Crow. Ngugi is also regarded highly for his philosophical book Decolonizing the Mind in which he champions for the use of our mother tongues to write African literature. His works have been translated into more than 30 different languages.
Kenda Muiyuru (The Perfect Nine) is an epic that documents and celebrates the valorous feats of the 9 heroine daughters of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the originators of the Gikuyu community of Kenya. It’s a spiritual story set thousands of years ago during the great community migrations in Abirika (Africa). Gikuyu and Mumbi delight in Mugai (The Creator) for guiding them to the fertile lands that are surrounded by mountains, ridges, hills, valleys, rivers and creations of all natures (Present day Central Kenya and Mt. Kenya regions)
Thathaiyai Ngai thaai niwe mugai (p.13)
May peace prevail between God and Men
Reading this book, you will get the feeling that the nine daughters transcend beyond normal humans. They are goddesses of some sort. They almost operate on demigod lanes. Mumbi, Gikuyu’s wife’s name, translates to Creator. Gikuyu tells his wife:
Riaku no Mumbi wanyumbire (pg.7)
Your name is Mumbi, my creator
When they settle at Nyagathanga, Gikuyu and Mumbi have nine goddess daughters. Actually it’s 10 daughters but the Gikuyu people never disclose the exact figure for taboo’s sake. Furthermore, the 10th daughter Wairigia (also Wamuyu) has feeble legs therefore she cannot walk. Nonetheless, the beauty of the perfect nine spreads all over Africa making 99 lands cross The White Nile, Blue Nile, The Niger, Senegal river, Ubangi, Kasai as well as The Orange to sojourn at the abode of Gikuyu and Mumbi for a common reason; to court the goddesses.
Muki niwe ukaga na uhoro (pg.28)
The one who comes comes with news
This is the gist of this whole matter: Each of the 9 goddess daughters bears a unique quality like the Greek goddesses such as Athena, Hera, Artemis, Calypso… name them. Gikuyu and Mumbi set the 99 young men together with the perfect 9 to climb Kiri Nyaga (Mt.Kenya) on a life or death sort of mission; to find a and pluck a strand of hair that can only be found in the middle of the tongue of a rare monster (ogre) called Mwengeca. This strand apparently cures all.
Kihoria ciothe kirunge maguru ma Wairigia erugamie. (pg.59)
The healer of all to mend the legs of Wairigia to make her stand
As the book develops, Wairigia becomes the central character; the story of the rest of the group revolves around her situation. All the same, each of the 9 has a unique almost super human quality that aids the journey.
The part I appreciated most about Kenda Muiyuru is the application of oral tradition. Ngugi couldn’t have done better with his use of songs, proverbial wisdom, tongue twisters, mantras, all which equip the text with elegant lyricism.
Mundu ni mundu tondu wa mundu uria ungi (p.39)
A human being is human because of the other humans
Ngugi, in this text excels at elevating the women folk. While the beauties excel, the men falter, give up and others die. What the men can do, the women are portrayed to be miles better.
While this text tells the original story of the Gikuyu people, it goes beyond the context of the Gikuyu as a lone community. Ngugi attempts as much as possible to trace certain multicultural (pan African) dimensions that are essential to the Gikuyu story. Features of History, Geography and Religion from other tribes and countries like Egypt and West African nations offer a backbone to this story.
The form of The Perfect Nine also stands out. Ngugi adopts the classical poetic structure of narration that was initially used by the likes of Homer and Dante in their classical epics such as The Odyssey, The Illiad, The Divine Comedy and Inferno.
After enjoying this read as well as many other works by Ngugi, I hope and pray that the don wins the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, or at least soon.
I encourage you to look out for the translated English version and grab a copy to enjoy the whole story.
(As Reviewed by Murimi Kinyua)
Publisher: E.A.P.E, 2019
Murimi Kinyua is a Writer, Teacher of Literature and English and Contributor with Mehara Lit. He holds a Bachelor of Education Arts Degree from Egerton University, Kenya. He has a passion for reading and writing, and takes keen interest in serious Philosophical Literature. He also loves sports and hopes to travel the horizons of the world one day. He is currently based in Nakuru and Embu, Kenya.