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Legson Kayira: Jingala

Two standard themes run together in this novel. The first is the very common generation gap story. The younger generation are going to do things differently from their parents and the parents are not going to be happy about it. The second one, particularly common in African novels, is the effect of the coming of the white man on local customs and traditions. Jingala is the older generation. He is fifty-five, well-respected and, by the standards of his village, quite well-off. He had been a tax collector and, by all accounts, not a scrupulously honest one. He is now a widower, with a son, Gregory. When his wife died, her sister and the sister’s husband felt an obligation to him and agreed that he could marry their daughter, Liz. Liz was only seven at the time, so he would have to wait till she menstruated. All this time, he has been waiting for his Liz, whom he visits every day. She has been told that this is her duty and, at least initially, she does not seem to object.

Jingala’s money had enabled him to send Gregory away to a school, run by missionaries, though Jingala had made it a condition that Gregory would not be converted. Gregory has not returned home for two years, staying on during the holidays for extra tuition. At the beginning of the novel, Jingala is setting out on the long journey (two whole days) to fetch Gregory home. However, when he arrives at the school, he is not made welcome. Gregory is ashamed of him. More particularly, Gregory has decided he wants to be a priest. Jingala is furious and, after arguing with the headmaster, takes Gregory out of the school, vowing that he will not return.

Back home, Jingala hopes Gregory will soon fit in with the local traditions, helping his father in the garden and, eventually, building his own house (which local custom demands he do on his own) and find a wife. Indeed, Jingala suggests a wife for him, the daughter of his best friend but though the girl is interested, Gregory is not. He more or less goes along with his father’s plans but is always looking for ways not to work and only reluctantly goes along with his father’s plans. Meanwhile, Liz is doing what she is meant to do but when she meets Muchona, a younger man, who promises to take her to the city, where he has been working in the mines and where she can have various modern conveniences, she is hooked. The two young people – Liz and Gregory – nominally go along with their parents but end up doing what they feel is best for them, leaving Jingala and the older people to realise that the world has changed. It is a straightforward story but well told.

Publishing history

First published in English 1969 by Doubleday