Character Sketch of Kihika in A Grain of Wheat
Kihika was the elder son of Wanjiku and Mbugua, a warrior in Thabai. Kihika was sent to Mahiga, a Church of Scotland school. From school days, he was a bold boy and expressed himself unhesitatingly. However, Kihika left school at an early age due to an untoward incident at school. In a Bible class on a Sunday, Kihika had challenged teacher Muniu’s statement that circumcision of women was a heathen custom. Suddenly, the class had become silent as the other children had feared that the wrath of the teacher would fall on them. However, Kihika’s “immense arrogance” and his “love for attention” helped him to blurt out that it was not said so in the Bible. When teacher Munia had realized that he was wrong, he had been embarrassed in front of his class. Two days later, the teacher with the consultation of the church members, decided to grant Kihika a chance to save his soul’. Kihika had to recant his words in open after bearing the whipping. However, Kihika had protested; he had swiftly clambered on to a bench and was out of the window running to his freedom. He had refused to join any other school and had learnt English and Swahali himself. After the war, he had gone to work in Nairobi, attended public meetings and soon was a part of the Movement. He was moved by the story of Moses, and as soon as he learnt to read, he bought a copy of the Bible and read it several times. He would narrate it to Mumbi or any other listener.
Kihika from his childhood was fed on stories about the white missionaries; Warui had told him that slowly and steadily the whites gained power and the natives lost control over their lands. He had listened to the deeds of Waiyaki and other warriors who had tried to curb the white power. Waiyaki, by 1900, had been killed in the struggle to drive out the white man from the land. He was told about Young Harry and the failure of the 1923 Procession. He had also heard stories from soldiers who returned from World War II and Gandhi’s movement in India against the English. Kihika’s heart hardened towards “these people”, the whites and he had “visions of himself, a saint, leading Kenyan people to freedom and power.”
Kihika was courageous, with leadership qualities and had a rationalistic mind. He was a small man with a sad face but his voice captivated the others. As a young man, he was serious about the cause and took every opportunity to address the people and put forward his arguments. He had knowledge about the struggles that had taken place in other colonized countries. Hence, he frequently spoke about Gandhi’s capability of uniting his fellow citizens in his protest against the white rule, of men sacrificing themselves for the sake of their Mother land-India. He added, “With us, Kenya is our mother”. He did not lose temper when antagonized by Karanja, at the railway station. Rather, he justified his statement about the failure of Christ’s death by saying, “Had Christ’s death a meaning for the Children of Israel?” He believed that “All oppressed people have a cross to bear.” In addition, that anyone who takes the Oath of Unity to change things in Kenya is a Christ”. He underlined lines in the Bible variously, used it as his guide in his diary; he saw himself first as Moses whose task was to lead his people from the yoke of slavery.
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Kihika had been marked out as one of the heroes of deliverance”. Eileen Julien, in an article entitled “Heroism in A Grain of Wheat observes that, “Kihika can he likened to heroes typical of romance or epic”.
In a party meeting, at the Rung’ei market, Kihika spoke vehemently against the white rulers and of the great sacrifice” when each one will respond to the call of a nation in turmoil.” He had given a call “for blood to rain on and water the tree of freedom”. The crowd had applauded him.
Noble, passionate, single-minded, caring little for his own material existence, Kihika dominated the pre-independence world of Thabai. Kihika had lived up to his words. Soon after the arrest of Kenyatta in Oct.1952, Kihika had disappeared into the forest and started his activities against the white government. His greatest triumph was his capturing the big police garrison, in the Great Rift Valley, in Mahee. He and his men had taken the place unawares. They had released the prisoners there, set the garrison on fire and done away with arms and ammunition into the forest. This victory over Mahee was a great achievement for Kihika and people considered him “the terror of the white man. They said he could move mountains and compel thunder from heaven.” Later, he had shot and killed the D.O. Robson.
Kihika’s capture and death had shocked the people of Thabai: there was much conjecture about the circumstances which had led to his capture. The police had put a huge sum of money, as prize on his head. However, one year later, he was captured at the edge of the Kinenie Forest. Finally, he was hanged to a tree one Sunday, at Rung’ei market. People were driven from their homes to see “the body of the rebel dangling on the tree, and learn”. There were rumours that he was tortured to wrest the secrets of the forest; some said that the neck of a bottle was wedged into his body through the anus: others said that he was offered a lot of money and a free trip to England.
The most important flaw in Kihika’s character is his naive trust in the traitor, Mugo. It was his over-confidence and carelessness in trying to recruit Mugo that cost him his life. Fortunately, for the movement his death was seen as martyrdom, his hanging symbolically paralleled the crucifixion of Christ and provided the impetus for General R. and Lt. Koinmandu to continue the fight for independence.
Kihika’s love affair with Wambuku was short lived. He preferred her to Njeri; he danced and shared his vision of a free Kenya. He expected that she would stand by him and be supportive but she was a girl who lived in the moment and had no vision. She was not ready to sacrifice her future with his plans. However, Njeri hero-worshipped him; he was her “handsome warrior”; she followed him to the forest to fight by his side.