Here is a saga in the “traditional” sense of showing family as destiny, and yet as contemporary as AIDS and depression and discos. With Kintu, Makumbi has given readers a rich feast of reading, in which the large and hugely varied cast of characters depicts Ugandans (mainly but not only Buganda) in all their quirky individuality, observed in detail and depicted with ironic empathy. The five central chapters are all named for the characters that dominate that section of the narrative, preceded by a prologue introducing contemporary Kampala via its poor, swampy, downhill area, Bwaise, and ending in a mainly rural setting, where a first family reunion of the sprawling Kintu clan is held, producing a few further consequences as the narrative winds down.
The opening section, or prologue, of Kintu (initially published in Kenya by Kwani Trust in 2014) provides an altogether mundane scene of everyday shanty life, when five local councillors, known for their often pointless authoritarian behaviour, arrive in the early morning (on a Monday) to summon a young man named Kamu to accompany them to their offices. He surmises that he is under suspicion because of his relatively expensive music installation, though clearly he has no anxiety about having wrongfully acquired these possessions. On the way, however, the councillors suddenly tie his hands behind his back. When he objects that he’s being treated like a “thief”, a feckless crowd of layabouts pounce on him – a scene evoked as follows:
The word thief started to bounce from here to there, first as a question then as a fact. It repeated itself over and over like an echo calling. The crowd grew: swelled by insomniacs, by men who had fled the hungry stares of their children, by homeless children who leapt out of the swamp like frogs, by women gesturing angrily, “Let him see it: thieves keep us awake all night,” and by youths who yelped, “we have him!” (4)
Kamu ends up stoned and beaten to death by a mob to whom the term “thief” sums up all those who deprive them of a decent life. Initially, Kanu’s body is abandoned by the roadside, even as the extremity of their misdemeanour strikes the participants of his accusation and murder. Subsequent sections of the text are all led in by short sections indicating the location of his initially unidentified corpse, later placed in the mortuary, and in the end identified, claimed and given decent burial. The many bodies in the hospital mortuary, only a few of which are collected, testify to the prevalence of violent death and family breakdown sadly typical of urban life at the low end of the economy, but also serve to contextualise the tragedies that beset the Kintu clan members as hardly unlike what all too many individuals and families suffer, in Uganda and elsewhere.
The first “proper” chapter is dated The moon of Gatonya, 1750 and starts with the departure of the Ppookino, or provincial ruler of Buddu – a region federally linked to the central Buganda power, with its royal seat on one of the hills in what is now Kampala. The Ppookino is named Kintu Kidda; he is the ancestral male figure in Makumbi’s text. While her account is acknowledged to be “inventive” rather than historically precise, it is clear that Makumbi’s perspective will differ markedly from the condescending and dismissive perspective of the British explorer John Hanning Speke, cited in an epigraph “profess[ing] accurately to describe naked Africa”, but immediately showing its slant in the identification of Africans with the Biblical Ham, cursed by Noah and condemned to be the slave of his two brothers – a condition, claims Speke, that is strikingly illustrated in the state of contemporary indigenes (he wrote this in 1863)! Kintu is a fine man in all senses of the term; he deeply loves his first wife (the only woman he had wanted to marry), and is a good father and a just, responsible ruler. The arduous journey he is undertaking with his retinue is to pay his ritual allegiance to the new king, or kabaka, who is his overlord, though he is widely known to have gained his position by having his brother (the previous kabaka) murdered. Kintu is apprehensive about his political standing, since his large province is known to be fairly recently aligned to the Buganda – he is also uneasy because his first wife’s twin, Babiriye (whom he was forced to marry after defying custom, since Nnakato, the only woman he loves, appeared to be barren), gives him a foul look just before their departure. Babiriye’s resentful, baneful presence always causes him unease; he and Nnakato have created the fiction that the five sets of twins that Babiriye have given birth to are the chief ruling couple’s offspring.
On the journey with Kintu is his young adoptive son, Kalemanzira, called Kalema to disguise his Rwandan (Tutsi) origins. His desperate father, Ntwire, had arrived in Buddu seventeen years earlier with the newborn boy, his wife having died in childbirth, and the baby was given to Nnakato to nurse; she had only days earlier had her first and only child, Baale, and the boys have been brought up to believe themselves the youngest set of twins in the ruling household. Ntwire has asked Kintu to take Kalema with him to the royal capital to seek employment for the youngster, since, not being a genetic Kintu son, he cannot, like Baale, succeed Kintu in the rulership of Buddu. On the very first night of their arduous journey, Kintu’s unease is awfully confirmed. Spotting Kalema taking a glug from the ruler’s ritual gourd, which is taboo, Kintu acts instinctively. The terrible moment is vividly evoked:
Out of nowhere, Kintu’s backhand crashed into Kalema’s jaw. Kalema’s hands let go of the gourd and it fell to the ground, shattering into fragments. Kalema looked up at his father, surprised, but his eyes kept rising as if the slap had come from the sky. He started to blink rapidly and then sank to the ground. He made to stand up, but fell back onto a rock. He raised his right hand, trying to get up. His hand rose and rose, but then he fell forward, face down and thrashed. The force of his thrashing flipped him, turning him onto his back. The back of his head rolled in the mud. Small shards of the gourd stuck in his hair. His eyes stared wild. For a while Kalema writhed like a caterpillar whose hairs were set on fire. Finally, he slowed down until only his fingers twitched. A long rush of breath drained from deep inside him. Then he stopped. (39)
“Abange” is all that the choking Kintu manages to utter to summon his men. But the boy is dead. Even though he knows Kalema’s death was accidental, Kintu acknowledges that it was he who killed him. His men bury the deceased, but the journey must continue.
At the newly built palace of the ruler, Kintu and the other gathered provincial governors are deliberately horrified and intimidated when the head of the kingdom’s most famous and successful general is exhibited, freshly bleeding, on a tray on the royal stage. But Kintu manages not to offend this cruel, ruthless kabaka, and makes his way home, there to face the dilemma of how to convey the dreadful news of Kalema’s death – to Ntwire, his father; to Nnakato, who has loved him as her own son; and to Baale, who has had a deep and lifelong friendship with and brotherly love for and loyalty to Kalema. In the end, Kintu simply cannot bring himself to tell anyone (his men have been sworn to secrecy), but Ntwire senses the truth. He confronts Kintu, and he curses him and all his descendants – this is the cue that Makumbi uses to trace the lives of all her contemporary Kintu clan members in the novel’s 21st century setting. (Most of them are unaware of the familial collection and this history.)
For many years, no ill luck appears to dog Buddu or Kintu’s family, but then, on the eve of Baale’s marriage, the young man is struck down by a strange, inexplicable, sudden and fatal infection. The death of her only son by blood drives Nnakato insane with grief, and she hangs herself; her death, in turn, makes Kintu desert his remaining family and his governorship. He is later rumoured to have sheltered in the cave at the place where Kalema was buried, eking out his remaining days as a hermit, obsessed by the illusion that his dead wife and sons are there with him.
These bare bones of plot can in no way convey the vigour and compellingly imagined scenes of this opening narrative. Makumbi manages to evoke a distant past and its culturally different ways as if these were the everyday conditions of any reader’s life, taking us especially into Kintu’s mind, on which the apparent privileges and advantages of maleness and rulership mostly weigh as arduous burdens. Heaviest of these is his obligation to marry Babiriye – long after she had borne him four sets of twin children as surrogate for his first wife, her twin, Nnakato. But he also suffers from a complete lack of sexual interest in all the other women he has had to marry in cementing political alliances, involving the obligation to give each of them a child every three years and to visit each for at least a week per year – an exhausting marital round. Furnishings, dress codes, conversations and a variety of social situations are evoked as if in passing and as they naturally present themselves, such as the all-male advice session for Baale preceding his betrothal, vividly and very amusingly evoking how husbands struggle to read their wives’ sexual signals and the dreadful consequences of getting this wrong! They also successfully deflate the youth’s overestimation of his own (and other boastful men’s) sexual prowess, and teach him to have more modest expectations. It is such descriptions that make the early death of the young man and both his parents’ subsequent emotional collapse so sad, even to the reader in remote times.
The Kintu descendants in the four subsequent chapters all have dreadful childhoods caused (it seems) by the manifestations of the clan curse, along with minor ailments, such as a tendency to hay fever attacks. We meet Suubi Nnakintu Kiyaga as a young woman on her way home from a good job to buy and prepare food for her boyfriend of several years, Opolot, who is of a different ethnicity – but Suubi is haunted by a young woman, who later turns out to be her dead twin sister, a sibling of whom she has no memory because she was too young when her parental family was struck by the curse. Her mother appears to have died in childbirth and her twin not long after, but her father, the carrier of the Kintu gene and the curse, went insane and chopped his twin brother to death, soon afterwards committing suicide. The orphaned Suubi has only a vague remembrance of her loving grandmother, but she was only five when the latter died, and then the amazingly resilient little girl was dumped (by more distant, unknown relatives) on her embittered and utterly unwelcoming aunt, who mostly shuts her out of even the meagrely furnished room she rents, and barely feeds her – but Suubi does well at school and manages to scrounge food and occasional affectionate gestures from neighbours and strangers. When Suubi’s [maternal] aunt dies of an AIDS-related illness, the girl of thirteen is pawned off (by her aunt’s landlady) onto a rich Ugandan family, newly arrived and in need of a kind of “interim” servant. Suubi eventually partly ingratiates and partly forces her way into this family as the purported second youngest child and half-sister to the three actual offspring.
Opolot, her boyfriend who intends marrying Suubi, is keen to help her to unearth her family history, although she herself is most reluctant, fearing to strengthen the dismayingly intrusive presence of the as yet unidentified dead twin. But Opolot tracks down the address where Suubi used to live and, when they go there, her elderly paternal aunt, therefore of the Kintu clan, recognises the younger woman:
Opolot was disappointed that nothing had jolted Suubi’s memory. […] [H]e had seen nothing in her body language to suggest that she was hiding anything. […] “I must have been very young, no more than four or five perhaps,” she said, casting a final look at the house. […] [J]ust then, someone tapped Opolot’s shoulder. He looked back. The old woman who had smiled at them beckoned him quietly and slipped back into the hedge. Suubi did not see her and carried on walking. Opolot said to her, “Just a moment, Suubi,” and ran back. (167)
This woman, named Kizza, was also Suubi’s mother’s best friend, but realises that she (and Opolot) have to step warily to reconcile Suubi to her heritage. The aunt tells Opolot about an intended family reunion at the Kintu clan’s ancestral village, and they conspire to persuade her eventually to attend the event, planned for the impending Easter weekend. Opolot smiles at Aunt Kizza’s not-too-subtly probing the extent of his commitment to Suubi, describing her as “a typical Ganda aunt. She finds out you are dating her niece and she treats you like you’re an in-law already so you marry her girl” (171). He is less amused at her subconscious but, in his view, typical “Ganda condescension” towards his Atesot ethnicity as she praises his Luganda pronunciation and his good looks.
The Kintu character in the next section is a completely different kettle of fish, so to speak. He is Kanani Kintu, a fundamentalist Christian and an adherent of a very old fashioned, as well as literal-minded, Anglican sect who call themselves the Awakened (all other and less fanatic Christians are considered by them “Asleep”; non-Christians are “heathens”). His wife, Faisi, is even more single-mindedly devoted to living and preaching their faith than Kanani is. Faisi was an orphan – she, too, was since childhood an “apprenticed” servant in different households, finally with an “Awakened” family, presumably from whom she derived her religious orientation, and one assumes this shared faith was the reason she initially accepted Kanani. They are a devoted couple in every sense of the term. Kanani works as verger at the nearby cathedral, the spiritual home of the Awakened; Faisi spends her days spreading the Word by claiming to have committed sensational sins and crimes before being saved. The couple’s only initial cause of shame and guilt is their secret addiction to passionate sex. Faisi, of course, eventually falls pregnant; they name their twins Job and Ruth. Since they are almost totally ignored by the parents, who seem to have either no (in Faisi’s case) or little (in Kanani’s case) interest in their offspring (though they do the basic practical things such as feeding and dressing and sending them to school), and the twins are subjected to willy-nilly overhearing their parents’ sexual antics in this austere home where there are no ceilings, they inevitably resort to the same in their shared bed and bedroom when they reach puberty. Ruth’s resulting teenage pregnancy – only discovered by a doctor seeking to diagnose a different ailment – is ascribed to impregnation by a Tutsi water carrier in their neighbourhood, and the girl is sent off to the country, to the home of Kanani’s “heathen” cousin Bweeza, where she gives birth to a boy she names Yobu. Uncharacteristically acting against Faisi’s wishes, Kanani brings Ruth back home when the boy is a toddler, taking a year’s paid leave to look after him so that Ruth can go back to school. He names him Paulo instead of Saul (as Kaisi had wished), but the boy replaces his Ganda “surname” Nsobya (meaning “error” and, of course, chosen by Faisi!) with the Tutsified name Kalemanzira, because he, too, is told the story about his water-carrier Rwandan father that has been put about by Kanani.
Bweeza, who is a hearty traditionalist and third wife who surrounds Ruth – and later her baby – with love and warmth when they live with her, has been cut out from her fundamentalist cousin’s life because she turned her back on Christianity and refused to keep the name Magdalene, which the family had imposed on her. She is very proud of the Kintu heritage, though, and when she gets word that the reunion is happening, she takes the letter announcing it to Kanani, since he is, in fact, a clan elder – for all his rejection of traditional spirituality, his disdain of African ways and his worship of Western Christian civilization. She takes care to deliver the letter “anonymously” and on a Sunday so that Kanani won’t simply tear it up, being away and at church; but Paulo is home, since he lives with his grandparents. Bweeza soon works out that this is the baby she helped bring into the world, and makes friends with Paulo, who drives her home and returns with a car full of fruit and vegetables his great-aunt pressed upon him. Back home, Paulo maintains the fiction that the letter was shoved under the door. After Kanani has read out the family reunion invitation or summons to Faisi and Paulo, Faisi at once pounces on what she unrealistically sees as an amazing mass conversion opportunity:
“I see a multitude of relations hungering for salvation. I see you well placed as a clan elder, as God’s chosen, to feed this multitude.”
“But you know that in his hometown, among his relations, a prophet is without honor,” Kanani argued.
“Now you’re being a Jonah,” Faisi stood up impatiently. “Remember that God will send a whale and you’ll still go.”
In spite of Faisi’s compelling argument, she was not a blood Kintu. Kanani knew the family curse. Maybe he should have warned the twins about the evil inheritance, but then to tell the twins was to suggest that he did not trust God to take care of the family. In God, the curse is obsolete, Kanani told himself. Nonetheless, doubt plagued him. Had God withdrawn his protection? Was Paulo a coincidence? Kanani was ashamed of himself. How could he think that his grandson was anything but his grandson?
He sighed. (241-2)
The family reunion still being seven weeks away, Kanani defers his decision.
The unusually named Isaac Newton Kintu is the main character in the next section. His is perhaps the most dreadful childhood of all those depicted in this text – a child so unloved and lonely that he finds affection only in an imaginary “visitor” who sometimes manifests as a leaf or a snake. He does not walk or speak before his seventh year. When Isaac is begotten in a teacher-pupil act of sexual abuse, his mother’s father takes the teacher concerned, a Mr Puti Kintu, to the police for “spoiling” the clever, pretty daughter he had considered his “meal ticket” (to Puti, Nnamata – the daughter – is a mere slum girl whom he refuses to marry). Puti is imprisoned and eventually certified insane, as the reader and Nnamata discover much later, when she musters the courage to track him down in order for him to atone for, at least to some extent, abandoning the troublesome and ugly baby she had borne after the rape. Isaac is an intellectually gifted child, but ostracised by girls for his unattractive appearance. His adult life is at first somewhat happier; while studying as an older student at Makerere University, he earns extra by working as a deejay for a disco and equipment owner, known to him only as Sasa. Sasa, as Isaac will work out later, may be a remnant of the Amin period, when a part of Tanzania was invaded and this country retaliated in kind. Because Isaac is loyal and diligent, despite Sasa’s occasional drunken abuse, and wins the older man’s admiration for his brilliant school-leaving results, Sasa all but adopts Isaac and supports him in his tertiary studies. When he suddenly dies, Isaac expects relatives to turn up to claim the money and property Sasa has left, but no one comes. He is now a fairly wealthy businessman and, although his mother had slunk back after the war to her mother’s home (this grandmother of his had given Isaac some love), Isaac remains aloof towards her – but he does set her up in a grocery business he buys, and this gives his mother (Nnamata) some income to feed and educate her three younger children from a second relationship that did not last.
Isaac is still very awkward sexually and around women, though his prosperity gives him access to nightclub girls. One such young woman, Nnayiga, who pretends to be an innocent recently come to Kampala from the countryside, manages to ensnare him, and they are married when she falls pregnant, though sadly, their twin daughters do not survive. Eventually, they do have a boy whom they name Kizza. He is four when this chapter opens on the dreary scene of Isaac in his recently deceased wife’s bedroom. She has, he firmly believes (without having tested for it), died of AIDS complications, and he believes, too, that he had infected her and that he himself will soon succumb, because a woman with whom he had had unprotected sex long ago had died of this affliction. Nothing his sensible friends tell him can break his depression and his anxiety about dying and leaving his son to suffer as unprotected a childhood as he himself had had. The “introduction” organised by Isaac’s mother Nnamata and the Kintu family members most closely related to his father Puti goes badly wrong. The other Kintus are delighted to meet Isaac ...
But Mr Kintu burst into tears when Isaac was introduced to him.
“He’s mine, you say?” and he got agitated, refusing to sit down, clutching his books as if someone was trying to take them from him. “I swear I’ve got no child.” There was an uncomfortable silence as Mr Kintu cried. “Do you remember Nnamata?” a relative asked. Mr Kintu stopped crying. He went to a desk, sat down, and picked up a book. “Silence, I am marking homework,” he said. But a mischievous child was not put off by his stern voice. “What time’s your first lesson, Uncle Puti?”
“I’ve told you – math is the first lesson of the morning, double period. Always.” Then he turned to Isaac and asked, “Is Nnamata all right? She has problems with fractions, but I think she’ll pass.” […] “You haven’t heard, have you?” “Heard what?” “She’s pregnant.” Isaac nodded then asked, “Do you know who the father is?” Mr Kintu sprang up as if suddenly alert. He peered through the windows fearfully as if he had heard someone coming to take his life. Then he bolted through the back door, leaving his satchel and books behind. “That’s it! We’re not going to see him for at least three days,” Mr Kintu’s sister said. “He will be hiding in the bushes around the house watching for the police.”
Silence fell after those words. It was as if the word “rape” had fallen large and loud in the center of the room. […]
[Isaac] blinked the tears back. He decided that no human being should ever be as torn between right and wrong, fair and unfair, as he was at that moment. He needed someone, some object, something to blame, but all he could find in that room was sadness. (300-1)
Nevertheless, Isaac accepts the call to attend the Kintu reunion, taking little Kizza with him, and leaving the envelope reporting the results of the AIDS test he and Kizza have eventually gone for, unopened in his van’s cubbyhole. Isaac will represent his father Puti (the actual Kintu elder in his line, but of course incapacitated) at the reunion.
Book Five introduces Dr Misirayimu (Miisi) Kintu, a highly educated Ugandan who, after a brief spell of university teaching at Makerere, decided to withdraw into his rural region of origin. His narrative opens with a strange invasion by a bee swarm, taken as an omen of death or disaster when the bees die. Miisi lives with his wife, sister and ten grandchildren in a large double-storey home in the village. He is vehemently opposed to religions of all kinds, even though he wishes Ugandans to keep up traditional practices while modernising; the greater paradox is that he turns out to be a “medium” or receiver (in dreams) of the ancestral history of the Kintu clan. He, too, has a tragic and dreadful childhood behind him; his father, as is obscurely and gradually revealed, killed his older brother Baale and kept the boy’s embalmed body in the ceiling of their home, as a spiritual advisor (one who is derided as a “quack” by Kintu elders of a later generation) instructed him, supposedly to ward off the Kintu curse. Miisi’s mother went insane with the grief of this loss, and (although she saved baby Miisi by placing him far away from their home beside a river) burned down the house with everyone in it including herself. He was brought up in a Catholic seminary and later studied in the USSR and subsequently in the UK, obtaining his doctorate on the theme of blood sacrifice being endemic to all religious systems. [In the village, Miisi has retained the reputation of being “a Russian idiot and a communist waste of education” (317), as local youths mock.] But Miisi grew extremely disillusioned with the severely under-resourced and corrupt tertiary education system in post-Amin Uganda, and withdrew from it; he still writes a regular newspaper column on cultural and political issues as a type of public education venture. He had twelve children, but believes that two have survived – unaware till much later that his last remaining son, Kamu, was killed by a mob on the same day the bee swarm arrived. While five of his children died of AIDS, most of his sons died in the war to oust Amin; his daughter, Kusi, also fought in the war. She remained in the army and has become the famous, feared “General Salamander”. Childless, she is lovingly devoted to Miisi, paying him visits when able.
Miisi receives an unexpected visit from two distantly related Kintu men, who reveal that the Kintu “ruling” bloodline survived because Baale, before he died, had impregnated a young woman in his father’s household. She bore a son called Kidda, through whom the three of them “connect”. They invite Miisi, “the only surviving son of the heir lineage as it comes down the bloodline” (352), hence the most important elder in the clan, to join the council of Kintu elders in organising the reunion – a task Miisi accepts. He suggests scoffingly that the deaths of most of his children might be related to the Kintu curse, himself averse to accepting the belief, and yet he startles the visiting elders by asking, “Who is buried in o Lwera?” (354) – this being the desert region where Kintu the Ppookino’s son Kaleman/Kalemanzira died of the chastising blow his father gave him, and where Kintu also lies buried, though no one else knows this. Miisi informs the startled elders that he had dreamt that “[a] man covered in bees took me to an old place, a hill. He showed me where a Nnakato and a Baale are buried. Then he took me to a moor where a lad Kalemanzira and my father are buried” (354). This dream man also instructed Miisi about a “dwelling” to be built according to specific measurements, and with the help of his “brothers”, near the place where Nnakato had hanged herself and lay buried. Miisi, himself now surprised by how seriously his visitors take these revelations, tells them that he may have sounded like a “spiritualist”, but that his dreams are “nothing but the rumblings of a disturbed mind”, but in turn they tell him that it is for the “elders” to decide (355). All the same, Miisi urgently summons his children, Kamu and Kusi, to visit him, to ask them to join him at the reunion, but of course only Kusi comes – with her military entourage. She, too, has been struggling to contact Kamu, and has been away on military duties fighting Kony’s rebels. Half-heartedly, she promises to join Miisi, who speaks of the reunion from the perspective of a sociologist fascinated by “customary practices”.
The greater part of the final section of Kintu describes the preparation of the village site, far to the south of Kampala and very close to the border with Tanzania, with the elders finding that the local inhabitants have only the vaguest of knowledge of Kintu, the ancestral father of the clan (who no longer live in the area), but revere Nnakato as a local spirit who may sometimes be glimpsed, followed by her pet leopard. The reunion rituals are fairly simple, on the whole, and are led by a medium invited for the purpose by Miisi, who knew the man (named Muganda) at Cambridge, where he, too, had studied; with him is his assistant. Muganda says he is merely a conduit and has no conscious awareness or memory of the ancestral “information” conveyed through him (unlike Miisi’s dreams), but he has already pointed out where Nnakato was buried, and leads the expedition to exhume also the remains of Kintu and Kalemanzira in o Lwera, so that they can be reburied in a plot consecrated by the clan, near the shrine and next to where Baale was buried. Kanani has come to the reunion with Paulo, and is attempting with very little success to recruit Christians to celebrate Easter with him; Isaac, too, is there with Kizza, happily off playing with the horde of newfound “cousins”, and Suubi is a later arrival, reluctantly and somewhat grudgingly participating in the rituals. The reburial of the three ancestors is also an exorcism ritual, with the Kintu descendants “whispering” their respective afflictions “into” prepared sticks that are then ceremoniously burnt with the three sacrificed lambs provided.
A first crisis occurs when Suubi falls into a fit, caused, the medium establishes, because she had attempted to “bind” and destroy the dead twin sister haunting her. The elders – under Muganda’s guidance – shelter her, and she is returned to consciousness and reconciled to accepting the presence and identity of the twin’s spirit; broken bones are nursed by Aunt Kizza, and later a necklace and other ornaments are made from the stick into which the dead sister had been bound. The following morning, Easter Monday, Isaac is woken early and urgently summoned to the shrine, for a greater crisis has occurred: as Muganda himself had warned the clan, Ntwire, the spirit of the grieved Tutsi father of Kalemanzira, would not easily yield to the exorcism of his curse on the Kintu descendants and even their associates. He has struck a heavier blow by appearing to have killed Muganda (the medium) himself. No one can intercede with this vengeful spirit; it seems they require Tutsi blood, and no one here is known to have it. Paulo, on hearing of the crisis, and believing himself the son of a Tutsi father (the water carrier), volunteers his blood before his grandfather Kanani can stop him. To save the young man from the terrible danger he sees him running into, and also possibly to rescue the life of the medium, Kanani is forced to reveal at last that Paulo’s father is his mother’s twin brother, Job – that he is “the kind of child our culture calls mawemuko” (407) – a product of incest. While the dreadful revelation (as Paulo feels it to be) initially estranges Paulo from his “uncle” (father) Job, he exonerates Ruth, even though she tells him the sexual union was as much her will as Job’s; Paulo will later, if tentatively, adapt to the knowledge. But to Kanani himself, the confession appears to be fatal. He has been brought to reveal in public that his performance as the “impeccable” Christian was a fraud; he has misrepresented the truth, and it was within his and Faisi’s household and family, and due to the lack of proper care from them, that the covered up teenage incest took place. The day after Kanani’s return from the reunion, he drops dead on the steps of the cathedral where he used to work. However, when it is discovered that Miisi’s daughter, Kusi – General Salamander, who turned up on the last day of the reunion – has Tutsis in her retinue, one of them provides the required blood offering, and Muganda the medium is safely revived.
On his way home from the reunion with his boy Kizza, Isaac’s depression returns. He is still convinced that he will soon die of an AIDS-related infection, and either that Kizza will succumb to it as well, or that the boy will be left a neglected orphan, despite his contrite mother’s reassurances and attempts to compensate for her own abandonment of Isaac in his early childhood. He decides that he will contrive to crash into the “right” kind of truck, so killing both himself and his son. When the accident happens, however, the boy is flung through the window with barely a scratch, while Isaac is driven to hospital with a head injury and other less serious consequences. His mother rushes to his bedside. When the doctor treating him requires information about Isaac’s AIDS status, Isaac, albeit reluctantly and in embarrassment, has to confess that he could not bring himself to read the results of the test. The doctor opens the certificate, and it is revealed that both Isaac and little Kizza are free of the infection. A close friend later informs Isaac that his wife had shown all the symptoms of lupus – a disease a boy is safe from, since it is inherited through the female line. At last, this late in his life, Isaac can accept happiness and embrace his mother and son.
Miisi is given the dreadful information that Kamu, his last remaining male offspring, died in mob violence in Kampala, more than two months earlier. It is Kusi who breaks the news to him as she drives him home. When Miisi later works out that a recent reported, but unsolved, “mass murder” in Bwaise, Kampala (where Kamu used to live), was his daughter, the General secretly executing every one of the men most responsible for her brother’s death, he is horrified to find that he instinctively approves of her “blood sacrifice” – having always, on principle, denounced this aspect of religious practice. At and after Kamu’s funeral, the eleventh of his twelve children to die, Miisi’s mind begins to give way. He flees his home, and is much later found to have taken up the role of the custodian of the Kintu clan shrine, sleeping outside but looked after by a self-appointed Kintu “caretaker”. When a heartbroken Kusi drives down with Miisi’s sister and wife to try and persuade him to return home, the attempt proves to be futile. But in the short period of lucidity in which they initially find him, Miisi declares Kusi his heir, and worthy of it – another instance of a shift from the traditional androcentric perspective. The text concludes with the following discussion among Miisi’s wife, sister and daughter:
“He pushed the gods too far. He kept prodding and prodding until they snapped,” his wife says as they pull away. No one responds. Kusi drives down the rough track until they come to the kitawuluzi [the villagers’ meeting hall]. She looks back. Miisi is still staring at the sky. She says, “Kamu’s death snapped the last cable in his mind.” “Maybe, but still he dug too deep. This [traditional] knowledge of ours, you just be, but not him,” Miisi’s wife sniffs. “He pursued knowledge for the sake of knowing. In the end, it ran his mind down.” “It’s nothing to do with too much knowledge.” Miisi’s sister is exasperated. “Miisi was endowed with both cerebral knowledge and a non-cerebral way of knowing. But every time ours popped up, he squeezed and muted. He worshipped cerebral knowledge.” “So he was sacrificed at the altar of knowledge?” Kusi tries to reconcile her mother and aunt. “For knowing and refusing to know,” her aunt says confidently. (443)
The present profile has hopefully given readers some sense of the broad narrative contours of this fascinating novel, as a map will flatly indicate relative size and location of a territory, but in order to experience the complex and carefully differentiated textures of Kintu’s narrative terrain, there is no substitute for reading it for oneself and becoming immersed in the minds and circumstances that are so compellingly and responsibly evoked by Makumbi. Much in the novel had to be omitted from this account, and Makumbi undoubtedly skirts some aspects and details of Uganda’s broader history – but as my outline and citations provide glimpses of the fuller narrative, the novel lends density and depth to readers’ perceptions of Ugandan society and histories, and of its vibrant present, despite its multiple troubles and difficulties that remain to be dealt with.