The rainbow is beautiful despite its variegated colours that portray a spectrum of diversity. Ng’ang’a Mbugua appears to have dipped his pen into the ink of imagination and creatively captured the disparate mores and cultures of the people of Kenya. The novel has its setting in Banana County which is also home to a River Orange rekindling memories of the politically defining moments of the 2005 constitutional referendum history. All the events in this text are fictional but the vision of the writer for a unified Kenyan community and a protected environment cannot be overlooked even though this is captured through the stroke of genius in the writer’s pen.
Miguel, a dreadlocked artist, is the protagonist of the novel. He not only possesses a deep baritone, but he also happens to be a handsome, sensitive and overtly romantic hunk rendering him the stereotypical magnate of women. Miguel is drawn to Banana County by a deep desire to immortalise a waterfall whose description eludes the right words because her beauty is beyond human imagination. The waterfall is so alluring, mysterious and historically rich that every villager harbours their individualised gaze towards it: some see it as a safe haven that offered protection to Mau Mau freedom fighters, others consider it as a home to their moment of initiation, some were courted and eventually got married owing to the charm of the fall and yet for others like Sister Gloria “It is a good place to die” as Miguel muses.
Unfortunately, it is not everyone who appreciates the fall and this is why Dick Teita, punning on the English word dictator enlists the services of the village goons, Vu Tabangi, a word play on smoke bhang or a bhang smoker, et al to excavate building rocks on his behalf. Miguel stumbles upon them by chance and is shocked at their ignorance of the disaster in the making that they seem not to be privy to. According to Miguel, the chipping away of the rocks, which happen to be the backbone of the fall, will eventually lead to the collapse of the fall something that might lead to the demise of the entire village because the river would sweep them away. Dick Teita devises means to keep Miguel away from the fall but its charm supersedes these excuses driving Miguel to prise open the Pandora’s Box.
The novel highlights the possibility of the marriage between the old/traditional with the new/contemporary. This possibility is envisioned in the coming together of the villagers with Miguel and his friend, Derek, as they engage the village and the universe at large through word of mouth, gossip, internet, newspapers and other social media networks to mobilise people to come together in solidarity in stopping the destruction of the fall. The text underscores the centrality of art and other forms of media communication in the preservation of the environment. The fact that old people like Zebedayo, the village taxi operator, and Mama Rembo, the typical groceries lady are keenly involved in the call to safeguard the fall is testimony that no one can be overlooked in the preservation of the environment. It is also an indication that any programme that affects people directly must always be home-grown.
Romantically contextualised in this story are the love stories of Miguel and his land lady, Angela, not forgetting the passion between Billy Joe and Juliana. Billy Joe is the one responsible for having drawn Miguel’s interest towards the water fall in the first place. Sadly, the novel also depicts the fated death of the village beauty, Sister Gloria, who drowns herself and her baby in the fall owing to her husband’s act to kick her out of their matrimonial home. Sister Gloria’s death adds to the number of myths that colour the stories surrounding the fall. This theme of love adds to others of betrayal, greed, humanism and death that are woven in the multilayered text whose descriptions are vividly colourful like the text’s title/cover.
Call it a novel propagating activism for the environment, a text prescribing a rainbow nation, an allegorical text, a futuristic novel, a romantic tale or whatever other description you may deem fit, but one thing stands out: it is a beautiful story pregnant with possibilities. The hues, shades of colours and varied viewpoints indicate the fact that we can find unity in our diversity. This is given impetus by the knowledge that Miguel does not even belong to Banana County but he is the one who spurs the call for the preservation of the fall even though his initial interest was just to paint it and desert the village. The finished product of his painting of the water fall is described by Angela’s son, Tom Tenge, as ‘Different Colours’. His reason being that the “different colours [in the painting] are coming together to form one big and beautiful painting. It is just like our county and our nation. We have people who are so different from each other but they are all part of one nation.” Do you agree?
PS: This review of Mbugua's Different Colours was first posted to Daystar Language and Performing Arts website.