Wangeci remembers the Olengurueni women, driven from their lands, full of sad songs, but fearless and full of faith that their lands would be returned to the people. Women enter, singing praises of the women Wangeci spoke of. They leave.
Kĩgũũnda remembers that this was when the state of Emergency was declared over Kenya -when houses were burnt, people jailed and put into detention camps, women raped, and men castrated and beaten. The whites were defeated, though, and freedom came.
A procession of men, women, and children come on stage and sing praises of the Kenyan flag. They sing as they walk back offstage.
Kĩgũũnda says it has been over ten years since independence, and he is just a laborer and Wangeci has grown old and lost her beauty. Wangeci, annoyed, says women lose their bloom when they bear children. She changes the subject, wondering what Kĩoi and his family want. Kĩgũũnda speculates they might want to want them to have Gathoni stay away from their son.
He pauses, though, and runs to grab a letter, which he reads silently. At Wangeci’s prodding, he tells her that a rich man named Ikuua wa Nditika wrote him the letter explaining that a company belonging to foreigners (Americans, German, Japanese) that manufactures insecticide to kill bedbugs wants to open here, and they want to buy his land because it is a good piece of dry, flat plain and located near a railway line. He assumes that this is what Kĩoi wants to mention.
Wangeci replies that those men are the real bedbugs, always looking for poor man’s land and giving it to foreigners to desecrate.
A knock at the door sounds, and Gĩcaamba, a poor laborer, and his wife Njooki, a peasant, enter. They ask for food.
The women and men separate. Njooki asks Wangeci about the impending visit from the rich man and his wife, wondering why they would be visiting their servants. Wangeci admits she does not know what they want. Njooki cautions her to have Gathoni cut off the relationship with the young man, since rich and poor never truly mix.
The conversation shifts to the men. Kĩgũũnda is wondering about his friend not being happy because he thought he was paid every fortnight, but Gĩcaamba replies “Wages can never equal the work done. / Wages can never really compensate for your labour” (33). He says the owners of a company only know how to oppress workers, take their rights, and suck their blood.
As everyone is listening, Gĩcaamba begins to speak with conviction and using a lot of gestures. He outlines his day, saying the company for which he works has become his God. He wakes before dawn, toils and sweats at the machines, has a short break, toils again. This is every day, every week. He makes money but the real profits go back to Europe. He rarely sees his family and is drunk with fatigue. A man feels as if he has “sold away / Your body, / Your blood, / Your wife, / Even your children!” (35.) A man he knew went crazy from chemical dust, and is more in his grave than alive.
He continues his monologue, saying he would not mind laboring if his village benefited, but the factory swallowed up the forests, took their land, used their natural resources, used their animals and men, and took their blood and gave it in profits to Europe to develop their own countries. If the wealth remained, they would have good schools here, as well as good houses for workers and peasants. Now, though, they are out of clothes and have no shelter.
He tells them “a fool’s walking stick supports the clever” (37) and that the rich men, and the country, need them. He excoriates all the things the rich have.
Wangeci breaks in and says at least independence came, but Gĩcaamba brings the focus back to his words. He speaks of the factory bringing disease and pollution to the land. Kĩgũũnda comments that he did not know things were so bad for the industrial workers.
Gĩcaamba clarifies that is good for the country to have industry but they must ask who owns the industry and who benefits from it. The industries exploit workers and pay them too little and charge too much for goods.
Njooki scoffs at her husband and reminds him that he was beaten yesterday, and his rumormongering may cost lives. Wangeci adds that this is the same language people used to talk about wealthy whites when they ruled. She thinks, “Dwellers in the land of silence were saved by silence!” (41.)
Gĩcaamba and Kĩgũũnda sing together of foreigners needing to leave the land.
A knock sounds. Kĩoi and Jezebel enter, well-dressed. Ndugĩre and his wife Helen also enter, dressed more simply, as they only recently have been acquiring properly. There are not enough seats. One of them bumps into the title-deed and it falls. Gĩcaamba picks it up, hangs it back up, and he and his wife leave. Wangeci breathes a sigh of relief.
Kĩoi and Jezebel sit on the chairs, and the other two sit on the bed. They are on the other side of Kĩgũũnda and his wife. Wangeci starts to get the food ready for the visitors.
Kĩoi starts to talk, and the subject of a tractor driver on his lands is brought up. Jezebel comments that the driver is very mature because he never complains or demands higher wages, only thanks God and believes in hard work.
Ndugĩre confirms, saying if people were saved then all the conflicts would cease.
Wangeci prepares to serve food but Jezebel sniffs that she is not hungry. Wangeci insists she must have a bite at least. Helen prays a lengthy prayer, asking God to end the wickedness of the land and to let everyone be content with their own lot.
Kĩoi says he knows they must be wondering why they came today. He introduces Ndugĩre as his brother-in-Christ. Ndugĩre begins to tell his story. He explains he used to be a home guard and kill people until he discovered Christ. Then his affairs improved and God gave him a few shops and the ability to get a loan. Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci marvel as the other four sing of God making them safe and helping them.
Suddenly Kĩgũũnda shouts out, asking what they want. This startles Jezebel and she falls off her chair onto the floor. Helen helps her and Wangeci decides to make tea to make everyone feel better but realizes they ran out of tealeaves.
Kĩoi explains the Lord told them to enter the church altogether to pray, and that he wants Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci to enter the church. They need to be baptized and have a church wedding. The two are surprised, especially when they are told their children come from sin. Kĩoi urges them to come out of the darkness.
Kĩgũũnda is irate and begins screaming at everyone. As they become flustered and try to leave, they stop to stare at Kĩgũũnda. He then grabs the sword and proclaims that Wangeci is his wife, and they are properly married and their bride wealth was paid. He tells Kĩoi each household has its own head and no one should meddle in it.
Everyone flees in fear as Kĩgũũnda laughs. Wangeci is upset and wonders if he will lose his job.
Gathoni comes in, wearing new clothes and shoes. She smiles and says John Mũhũũni, son of Kĩoi, bought them for her. Her parents are angry and say she looks like a whore. Gathoni replies that all girls want to be well dressed and pretty. She says John invited her to Mombasa and she wants to go, and Kĩgũũnda retorts that if she leaves she had better not come back. She looks at them, says goodbye, and leaves.
Wangeci looks upset but then starts to appear happier. She tells her husband excitedly that the reason why their rich visitors might want them to get married is that that John and Gathoni can get married. She says nothing was mentioned of the insecticide factory or warnings for Gathoni to keep away. Kĩgũũnda slowly comes to agree with her.
It is oftentimes difficult for Western readers/audiences to appreciate African drama, as there are dramatic elements they are not used to -- in particular, the songs and dances that permeate the text. Ngugi uses these strategies to flesh out the events and themes of his play, as well as universalize the drama. Additionally, the songs and dances exist to put us back in another time and place (as with the Mau Mau uprising) or to get into the minds of the characters (as later in the text when Wangeci and Kĩgũũnda imagine their church wedding). Songs and dance are intrinsic to the culture of Kenya, so Ngugi is also incorporating these elements to celebrate his culture and to create works of drama that do not adhere fully to the standards of Western drama.
Songs and dance also advance Ngugi’s comedic agenda. Many critics are more inclined to consider his works more dramatic than comedic, especially as they deal with suffering, violence, poverty, etc. However, as scholar Roger A. Berger elucidates in his article on Ngugi’s comedic vision, the playwright’s “political vision is in the final analysis a comic one.” Berger uses the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin to parse Ngugi’s work. He begins by stating his thesis that Ngugi’s works are “novels of the people” because they “employ folk culture, laughter, and a carnival utopian spirit to oppose the ‘comprador’ and ‘imperialist’ bourgeois neocolonial authorities” and that they use “strategies of popular subversive culture.”
Berger then moves on to discuss Bakhtin’s studies of the medieval and Renaissance folk culture (with the disclaimer that the two milieus are obviously not too similar, but are close enough to have the argument be relevant). He discusses the two lives of people: the official life and the carnival life. He details the pervasiveness of the vernacular and its displacement of Latin, the carnival life of song, proverbs, stories, etc. He focuses on what scholars deem “grotesque realism” where Carnival and its surrounding literature delight in the excremental, the scatological, the body in all of its activities and functions. It involves “exaggeration, wild hyperbole, the immeasurable -all of which have a ‘positive, assertive character’...the leading themes of these images of bodily life are fertility, growth, and over-brimming abundance.” Berger writes that Bakhtin’s analysis of Rabelais (the main French Renaissance writer and chronicler) that “the grotesque...connects death and life, decay and rebirth, the body and the earth. The grotesque image degrades, but also frees: it is utopian and organic.”
As for Ngugi, he certainly employs folk culture in this play and others. He uses the language of the people as well as curses, jokes, witticisms, paths, swearing, and more. There are references to the body (he likes to talk about farting), to the earth, to folk wisdom and humor and religion. Berger mentions that the comedic also comes when an author uses a “blocking character” that tries to force events into those of his preference and to get in the way of others. He writes that “much of Ngugi’s comic irony can be found in absurd interactions between blundering settlers or the now wildly hypocritical new black Kenyan elite and frequently bewildered (and often terrified) peasants.”
Ngugi uses Kĩoi, quite obviously, as such one of these “blocking” characters. In the second half of Act I, Kĩoi has invaded Kĩgũũnda and Wangeci’s lives, told them that they must become Christian and have a Christian wedding, and, later, destroys their land and small bit of wealth. Wangeci occupies one side of the spectrum -she is awed and frightened and envious of Kĩoi and his wife -whereas Kĩgũũnda (at least in this scene) occupies the other -he is indignant, angry, and mocking of the rich man’s audacity. This entire scene is filled with the comedic, as evinced in the amusing, inflated pretentiousness of the rich couples, Jezebel falling off the bed, and Kĩgũũnda’s angry, sword-wielding response. Clearly, Ngugi is infusing his work with humor as well as creating a potent, Marxism-laden commentary on post-colonial Kenya’s troubles.