The majority of the disputes and tensions that arise in Weep Not, Child have to do with land ownership. Because white settlers like Mr. Howlands came to Kenya and took possession of farms belonging to black families, it’s obvious they don’t have a true right to the land. Unfortunately, though, this doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from their newly acquired property. In keeping with this, Ngotho correctly believes that land ownership leads to power, since having a farm is the only form of stability in a country that is at odds with itself. Mr. Howlands, for his part, recognizes this connection between land ownership and power—so much so, in fact, that his conception of what it means to have a farm is wrapped up in notions of dominion and authority, as if by claiming a plot of earth he can assert his will and subjugate not only the people who work for him, but the land itself. This stands in stark contrast to Ngotho’s ideas about land ownership, since he approaches the matter with a spiritual kind of reverence, understanding the instrumental role the earth has played in shaping his culture. As such, Ngũgĩ presents readers with two ways of looking at land ownership, ultimately demonstrating that Mr. Howlands’s notion of using the earth for his own benefit is a power-hungry and exploitative way to engage with nature.
Ngũgĩ emphasizes the importance of land ownership early in Weep Not, Child. “Any man who had land was considered rich,” he writes. “If a man had plenty of money, many motor cars, but no land, he could never be counted as rich. A man who went with tattered clothes but had at least an acre of red earth was better off than the man with money.” This is no doubt because the Kenyan government is in such turmoil that only the ability to produce one’s own wealth is valuable. Indeed, people like Jacobo plant pyrethrum (a plant that makes insecticide and medicine), thereby creating a source of riches that they can sell on their own instead of working for low wages on someone else’s farm. The problem, of course, is that many Kenyans are unable to do this because white people like Mr. Howlands moved onto their land while they were absent during World War I. “We came home worn-out but very ready for whatever the British might give us as a reward,” Ngotho says, telling his family about what it was like to return after the war. “But, more than this, we wanted to go back to the soil and court it to yield, to create, not to destroy. But N’go! The land was gone. My father and many others had been moved from our ancestral lands. He died lonely, a poor man waiting for the white man to go. […] The white man did not go and he died a Muhoi on this very land.” Not only have Ngotho and his family been dispossessed of their land, they’re also forced to work on the very soil to which they are entitled. When Ngotho says that his father “died a Muhoi” on his own land, he means that the old man was essentially a serf, someone working for a place to live. By outlining this injustice early in the novel, Ngũgĩ shows readers why Ngotho is so insistent upon reclaiming his land. After all, it belongs to him and his family.
At the same time, Ngotho’s motivation to win back his land isn’t a simple matter of justice and ownership. Rather, he wants to nurture the earth, using the “soil” “to create” instead of “destroy.” As such, readers see that he has a profound respect for the land, one that transcends selfish notions of proprietorship. This is why he works for Mr. Howlands. Simply put, he will take any opportunity to interact with the land that belonged to him and his ancestors, as he feels a responsibility to maintain this slice of earth. For example, when he walks alongside Mr. Howlands and surveys the grounds, he is acutely aware of his connection to the land. “For Ngotho felt responsible for whatever happened to this land. He owed it to the dead, the living, and the unborn of his line, to keep guard over this shamba,” Ngũgĩ notes. The bond Ngotho has with this farm goes beyond the superficial notion of ownership, especially because he feels indebted to “the unborn of his line,” who he hopes will benefit and prosper because of his commitment to the land.
Like Ngotho, Mr. Howlands also feels strongly about the farm. In fact, his connection to the land is rather surprising, considering that he didn’t grow up in Kenya and could most likely buy and operate a farm almost anywhere in the world. Nonetheless, he is devoted to what he sees as his corner of the earth. Rather unexpectedly, he even conceives of his connection to this land in spiritual terms. “There was only one god for him—and that was the farm he had created, the land he had tamed,” Ngũgĩ writes. Strangely enough, this kind of spiritual bond to the earth is similar to the way Ngotho approaches the notion of land ownership, especially considering the fact that Ngotho thinks about losing the farm as a “spiritual loss.” However, there is a notable difference between the way these two men conceive of the earth. Whereas Ngotho sees the land as part of his cultural and familial heritage—part of a way of life that existed before him and will go on existing after he’s dead—Mr. Howlands mistakenly thinks that he has “created” this farm. In other words, he thinks he has total dominion and control over something that in reality is much bigger and more significant than his temporary and arbitrary ownership. This, Ngũgĩ insinuates, is a foolish and egocentric way of thinking, a worldview that springs from the false belief that land ownership means anything other than treating and maintaining the earth with respect.
Land Ownership and Power ThemeTracker
Land Ownership and Power Quotes in Weep Not, Child
The first two valleys went into the Country of the Black People. The other two divided the land of the Black People from the land of the White People. This meant that there were four ridges that stood and watched one another. Two of the ridges on the opposite sides of the long sides of the plain were broad and near one another. The other two were narrow and had pointed ends. You could tell the land of Black People because it was red, rough, and sickly, while the land of the white settlers was green and was not lacerated into small strips.
“Blackness is not all that makes a man,” Kamau said bitterly. “There are some people, be they black or white, who don’t want others to rise above them. They want to be the source of all knowledge and share it piecemeal to others less endowed. That is what’s wrong with all these carpenters and men who have a certain knowledge. It is the same with rich people. A rich man does not want others to get rich because he wants to be the only man with wealth.”
“All of us were taken by force. We made roads and cleared the forest to make it possible for the warring white man to move more quickly. The war ended. We were all tired. We came home worn-out but very ready for whatever the British might give us as a reward. But, more than this, we wanted to go back to the soil and court it to yield, to create, not to destroy. But Ng’o! The land was gone. My father and many others had been moved from our ancestral lands. He died lonely, a poor man waiting for the white man to go.”
When the war came to an end, Boro had come home, no longer a boy but a man with experience and ideas, only to find that for him there was to be no employment. There was no land on which he could settle, even if he had been able to do so. As he listened to this story, all these things came into his mind with a growing anger. How could these people have let the white man occupy the land without acting? And what was all this superstitious belief in a prophecy?
In a whisper that sounded like a shout, he said, “To hell with the prophecy.”
Yes, this was nothing more than a whisper. To his father, he said, “How can you continue working for a man who has taken your land? How can you go on serving him?”
He walked out, without waiting for an answer.
He just loved to see Ngotho working in the farm; the way the old man touched the soil, almost fondling, and the way he tended the young tea plants as if they were his own . . . Ngotho was too much a part of the farm to be separated from it. Something else. He could manage the farm labourers as no other person could. Ngotho had come to him at a time when his money position was bad. But with the coming of Ngotho, things and his fortune improved.
Mr Howlands was tall, heavily built, with an oval-shaped face that ended in a double chin and a big stomach. In physical appearance at least, he was a typical Kenya settler. He was a product of the First World War. After years of security at home, he had been suddenly called to arms and he had gone to the war with the fire of youth that imagines war a glory. But after four years of blood and terrible destruction, like many other young men he was utterly disillusioned by the “peace.” He had to escape. East Africa was a good place. Here was a big trace of wild country to conquer.
“Education is everything,” Ngotho said. Yet he doubted this because he knew deep inside his heart that land was everything. Education was good only because it would lead to the recovery of the lost lands.
Ngotho rarely complained. He had all his life lived under the belief that something big would happen. That was why he did not want to be away from the land that belonged to his ancestors. That was really why he had faithfully worked for Mr Howlands, tending the soil carefully and everything that was in it. His son had come and with one stroke had made him doubt that very allegiance to Mr Howlands and the soil. And with this doubt had now come an old man’s fear of his son. Boro had changed. This was all because of the war. Ngotho felt the war had dealt ill with him. It had killed one son! And the other was accusing him.
Mr Howlands felt a certain gratifying pleasure. The machine he had set in motion was working. The blacks were destroying the blacks. They would destroy themselves to the end. What did it matter with him if the blacks in the forest destroyed a whole village? What indeed did it matter except for the fact that labour would diminish? Let them destroy themselves. Let them fight against each other. The few who remained would be satisfied with the reservation the white man had set aside for them. Yes, Mr Howlands was coming to enjoy his work.