There is something about me and old books. Books that are not only old in that they were written a long time ago, but also old in that the book itself, the physical copy is old. I found this book sitting in my aunts small library that she inherited from her mother in law. The whole library is filled with the African classics from Ama Ata Aidoo to Charles Mungoshi. I was drawn to ‘Weep not, Child’ because it still had the receipt inside it. The copy I read was bought in Kenya, in a city on the coast called Lamu for 35 Kenyan Shillings in 1988 at the Lamu Book Centre.
Weep Not, Child was written in 1962 and published in 1964. It was written before the authors more famous works such as A Grain of Wheat, published in 1967 and Decolonizing the mind in 1986 and it shows. There is something about this novel that is unpolished and rough, the words of an impassioned 24 year old who could see through the injustices of his world in the then colonial Kenya. His later texts have become increasingly more academic with his great interest in language and so it was refreshing to read a text that glimpses into the younger version of this now well know African literary giant.
The book tells the story of Ngotho’s family in colonial Kenya. The family sets their hopes in the youngest son, Njoroge, who at the beginning of the book has just started going to school. It just so happens that his schooling period is, for lack of a better word, interrupted by the independence war. The Mau Mau, the Kenya African Union (K.A.U), the colonial government and Ngotho’s whole family, voluntarily or involuntarily get caught up in the war. The war takes away Ngotho home, his sons lives and his own will to live in one way or another. In the case of Njoroge, his life is lost in that he can no longer go to school as his brother who supports his education is arrested as a murder suspect.
‘For Njoroge had now lost faith in all the things he had earlier believed in, like wealth, power, education, religion. Even love, his last hope, had fled from him.’ (Chapter 18, p.134).
This quote encapsulates the message that Ngugi puts across in the book. Njoroge, did everything that was expected of him, he was good at school, a hard working boy and obedient to his parents. However, even with his education he was not able to save his family. This made of him a pessimist as he slowly came to the realisation that the colonial system was designed for him to fail and in this way he too loses his will to live.
I personally think that, this is the most impressive aspect of the book as Ngugi was courageous enough to claim that education is in fact not the key to success. Considering the time when this book was written and where it was published this message was truly revolutionary. In colonial Kenya education was regarded, and is perhaps still regarded, as one of the only ways in which a black person could rise out of poverty or gain political power. It was in many cases the only hope for a brighter and richer future. Hence, casting institutionalised education to the side, being an educated man himself, Ngugi was rejecting the colonial regime and its propaganda.
Although the book was written almost 60 years ago, the message of formal education as a key to success is still a very strong doctrine being shared across the African continent. Hence, it may be worth considering ‘Weep not, child’ in contemplating what education can do for African people receiving it today, what education is useful and how institutionalised education has been an instrument of colonialism in Africa since its establishment.
The powerful message that resonates throughout the decades is reason alone to read this book. The book is timeless in offering no solutions but, in the ways of the wise, analysing the problem with such precision that the reader is forced to think for themselves.