Title: The Brethren of Ng’ondu
Author: Martin Njaga
Reviewed by JOSEPH NGUNJIRI
The church is a convenient place where all manner of characters congregate, some in pursuit of a higher spiritual calling, and others to camouflage their dark ways. What makes the church an especially attractive place for people with something to hide is the fact that it operates on the basis of faith.
Here, image matters a lot. Thus, as long as one projects the “right” image, their word is to be believed even by those who do not got to the church. It is this moral high ground that gives the Church the authority to pass judgment on society.
Martin Njaga’s novella is set in Ng’ondu, a typical rural village where the church holds sway over people’s lives. And the uncompromising attitude adopted by the church in Ngo’ndu is; “you are either with us or you are not.”
There are three different denominations in Ng’ondu, meaning there are invisible boundaries demarcating the three setups. In fact, the three main shops in the area are owned by people from the respective churches, which in effect means shopping is done along denominational lines
The Brethren of Ng’ondu is the tragic love story of Kimando and Mukami set in a vindictive and cynical society.
Before he met Mukami, a regular churchgoing girl, Kimando used to “serve the devil” at Wahoro’s Bar. Until then, the idea of being in a serious relationship had never crossed his mind.
Mukami appears to be a pretty strong character, sticking to her principles and has a sobering effect on Kimando, who starts frequenting the church. She even opts to stop attending the church, than compromise her principles when church members ridicule her for associating with Kimando.
Ironically, Mureithi, the church youth leader who led the assault on Mukami, has put Ng’endo, the priest’s daughter in the family way. Worried that she would bring shame to her father and by extension the church, she seeks out her old friend Mukami for help.
Here, cracks start appearing in Mukami’s otherwise strong character. Though older than Ng’endo, she succumbs to the younger girl’s pressure and offers to take her to the local abortionist. All this is done behind Kimando’s back.
Fails to convince
But here, the author fails to convince the reader what obligation Mukami has in helping out Ng’endo. Hadn’t she forsaken Mukami when Mureithi and the rest of the youth in church hounded her out of church?
The abortion turns awry and Ng’endo loses too much blood. In a panic, and in a bid to cover his tracks the quack seeks to silence Mukami. The result is that both girls end up dead. Kimando finds himself in the thick of things when he goes to rescue his girlfriend.
In the hypocritical judgment of the church, Mukami takes the blame for what happens. Even in death, she gets no justice from the church.
While Ng’endo, the “innocent” daughter of the pastor, gets a decent church burial, Mukami is shunned by the church and is buried in a lonely, almost shameful, ceremony attended only by close friends and relatives.
And, in a cowardly move, Kimando takes poison to end his life. He is, however, rescued in time and rushed to hospital. And, as if he has not suffered enough in the hands of church people, he wanders back to church, where the same people who tormented him and his girlfriend, usher him into “salvation”.
Oddly, it is Mureithi, the villain in the book, who comes out with his head held up high – and for good reason. Since the dead tell no tales, there is no knowing who fornicated with the pastor’s daughter and put her in the family way, necessitating the abortion.
Incidentally, Mureithi’s name in Gikuyu means the shepherd. And when Kimando delivers himself to church, we are told that “Mureithi began to prepare mentally for the lessons he would deliver to Kimando.
As a senior leader in church, it was his job to coach new converts.” With shepherds like Mureithi one fears for the spiritual wellbeing of naïve “sheep” like Kimando.
Njaga’s book is a narrative of the rot, fuelled by hypocrisy, that has taken root in society, abetted by the Church. One wonders, after reading the novella, why the Church and society at large would shamelessly punish a dead girl, while the real culprits are left to go free, just because they occupy important positions.
We do not need to go far to see how hypocrisy in church manifests itself in real life. The Church in Kenya knew very well that the campaigns for the 2007 elections were largely informed by ethnicity and ethnic hatred but they went ahead and took sides, depending on which side of the ethnic divide they came from.
Had they played their rightful role in condemning the ethnic hate speech being served by politicians, it is doubtful our country would have descended into the kind of violence we witnessed last year.
It is also doubtful the public apology the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) issued on behalf of churches, will move Kenyans, most of whom felt betrayed by the Church.