Introduction and Background
Kintu Saga was a Kwani? Manuscript project winner in 2013 that was written as a doctoral novel by a Ugandan visionary Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. In 2014, Kwani Trust published the periodic masterpiece titled Kintu pronounced as Chin-two that simply means “thing”. The title caught my attention because I thought it was a misspelling of a Swahili word “kitu” that also means thing. The writer, however, goes back to the roots of the word in Ganda creationist myth in Buganda mythology, where Kintu is the name of the first man, Kintu ne Nambi.
Kintu is a story of a multigenerational saga that is centered around a curse that covers a period from 1750 and ends in 2004. This novel is exclusively Ugandan with no European characterization, which was a deliberate choice by the author.
The story starts in modern day Uganda, in the year 2004, where one of Kintu Kidda’s descendants, Kamu Kintu, is woken up by local officials knocking at his door, a woman opens, and the officials ask to see Kamu. As he was leaving the house Kamu thought these officials were debt collectors sent by one of his creditors. However, things change dramatically once they reach the marketplace, suddenly his hands are bound and Kamu protests asking, “why do you tie me like a thief?” His plea turns to a rumor, thief, thief, that spreads in the marketplace and triggers mob reaction like a match lit to kerosine. Kamu is rushed by the mob who without second thought brutally beat him to his death. The sudden death of Kamu Kintu introduces us to Kintu Kidda’s generational curse manifested in three ways to Kintu’s descendants; mental illness/madness, sudden death, and suicide.
The author then takes us to the 18th century where Kintu Kidda, a ppookino or governor of the Buddu province, must travel across the desert to greet the new Kabaka, a traditional king, loyalty. Kintu Kidda travels with an entourage amongst which is his Rwandan adopted son, Kalema. In a moment of rage Kintu Kidda slaps Kalema who accidentally falls down dead. In haste Kintu’s men secretly bury Kalema’s body, not realizing that they have buried him next to a burial site for dogs. This secret murder and desecration of the body is unveiled by Kalema’s biological father, Ntwiire, who places a curse over Kintu Kidda and his descendants.
The author shows how Christian religion is viewed from an African perspective. The first perspective is of Christianity as an invasive religion that is brought to undermine the way of life of the people and their beliefs. This is well captured by Suubi Nnakintu, a twin to Ssanyu Babriye who died as a child and haunts Suubi, as she captures what religion means in her poor community in this phrase, “Preaching the word of God here is like ordering porridge at the bar”. Contrary to Suubi Nnnankitu’s perspective of religion, Kanani Kintu and his wife Faisi, accept Christian religion. They join an extremist evangelical group called awakened, to distance themselves from the Kadda Kintu clan by abandoning its traditional ways.
The author also does not shy away from depicting poverty and its impact, especially in the African continent. Poverty is a daily struggle among most Ugandans in Suubi Nnakintu’s life that brings a lot of grief and mischief. However, the author captures a sense of defiance that is common among those in the society who are lacking in material things captures using a common Ugandan phrase to show resentment to class, “Go die your own death rich dog. We will die our own.” This reminds me of a Swahili saying “maskini jeuri” which means being prideful/dignified even though you are poor.
The author shows the limitations of education over tradition as Misirayimu (Miisi) Kintu a writer raised by colonial priests, educated in Russia and at Cambridge, struggles to reconcile modernity and tradition. He is a family shrine custodian who tried to ignore traditional knowledge at his own peril. Miisi with a daughter in the army loses eleven of his twelve children to war, AIDS and senseless violence that took his son Kamu Kintu in the beginning of the book.
Towards the end, the descendants of Kintu Kidda come together to break the curse where family traditions are intertwined with the new Africanized Christianity that has duality. The author shows the power of unity and brings different characters in homecoming some of which find closure while others do not find closure, just like in real life. Miisi embrace traditional ways and is visited through vision by his ancestor Kintu Kidda who appears as a man covered in bees and give specific instructions on building a shrine to appease and break the generational curse that has wreaked havoc among Kintu Kidda’s descendants.
What stood out for me is the traditional ceremony where men come together to give the rite of passage by grooming and initiating young boys into responsible members of the society and good husbands. The author shows what is not common in modern African society where older men create platforms that take charge of mentoring boys into informed younger men. If African elders, created an organized space where they shared their experience on what it takes to be a man and how to shoulder pressures imposed by society’s expectations, younger men in Africa would have benefited tremendously.