Kamĩrĩĩthũ and Ngũgĩ’s Innovative Aesthetic in Devil on the Cross (1982)
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s work with the Kamĩrĩĩthũ people on an interactive community theatre project in the Gĩkũyũ language has been acknowledged as an important threshold in his development as a writer. This paper takes recourse in postcolonial theory to show how the author’s experimentation with peoples’ theatre in his mother tongue awakened him to the potential of Gĩkũyũ as a literary language culminating in his decision to henceforth write in his mother tongue. This was a significant aesthetic shift which turned the author into the foremost advocate of writing in indigenous languages in the postcolonial world. However, the paper argues, it remains relatively unappreciated how Ngũgĩ leveraged on the experience of working with the people on the popular theatre in their own language to craft his first post- Kamĩrĩĩthũ novel, Caitaani Mũtharaba-inĩ (1980). Later translated into English as Devil on the Cross (1982), the novel is significant because it is the first modern novel in the Gĩkũyũ language. This paper reads the Gĩkũyũ original alongside its English translation with a view to showing how through the use of the linguistic and aesthetic codes of his indigenous language, Ngũgĩ jettisons European literary conventions to create an innovative novel whose inspirations and aspirations might rightly be described as African in both spirit and form.