Chwezi legend retold in contemporary terms

Saturday June 16 2012

By Constance Obonyo

The book is about a man, Emmanuel Arinaitwe, who is recruited by Ugandan exiles in 1972 to attack Mbarara Town during Idi Amin’s reign. He loses heart along the way and when the exiles are routed, he hides from the security forces in a village called Nyonyozi.

There, he pretends to be a medium of Chwezi spirits for lack of a better way to hide his identity. According to legend, the Chwezi are demi-gods that suddenly appeared in western Uganda centuries ago. They had supernatural powers and ruled the people there. Then they disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared.

The people they ruled worshipped them; and to date, there are still people who worship them in Western Uganda.

So when Arinaitwe claims to be a medium, he finds fertile ground among the superstitious village folk. He conjurs up a lot of mystery and then religious acquiescence.

However, he is later ensnared by the very traps he set out to confound people with. The story is interesting and masterfully told. It is also funny and engaging.
Now the Chwezi are real, now they are not. The writer plays mind games with the reader throughout the story. It is like the manipulation of a chess board as the story is laid out like a jigsaw puzzle that gets exasperating at every turn. The characters move around the story like pieces on a chess board. Read it. Get exasperated by the plot twists.

It also seems to be a re-working of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, a novel that attempts to predict a future world society. The Chwezi Code starts out in 1972 and attempts to predict what would happen in 2010.

There has been a lot of consternation in Uganda about the poor reading culture. The story warns about the consequences of this trend. That with a poor reading culture, the country will become a Chwezi Country.

Miracle Money and Easy Entertainment will abound. The citizens will buy Bugu Bugu books they never read, worship The Latter Chwezi.

Critical points
The use of the word ‘literary’ instead of ‘literally’ is irritating. Also, one of the characters, Mable flees to Uganda some time before 1972; probably 1959, during an earlier genocide. She is supposed to have studied Literature as an S.6 student in Rwanda. But she studied Shakespeare. It is unlikely that a Rwandese student could have studied Shakespeare in a Rwandese school before 1972. This is because Rwanda was still a French speaking country at that time.

Otherwise it is a gripping story that will ensure the reader does some brain stretching exercises. The novel is just as philosophical as the author’s first novel, Jesse’s Jewel, but is better written.

The author, Nick Twinamatsiko is a lecturer in Civil Engineering at Kyambogo University. He has lectured there since 2002. He started creative writing in the mid-1990s, when he was in high school. His poetry collection, Till the Promised Land and other Poems was published in 2004. His first novel won a NABOTU (National Book Trust of Uganda) Literary Award.

More in store
There are still some parts of the jigsaw puzzle that is The Chwezi Code that are still hanging. For this, there are two sequels, Rai Rutaro and Tony Tindi that the author is yet to publish. They are supposed to complete the Chwezi Trilogy. We wait.

I interviewed a few people from Western Uganda about the Chwezi. Were they real or not? ‘I don’t know,’ said the first. ‘I don’t know. It is a legend we read about in P.3,’ said the second. ‘I don’t know. They had supernatural powers. They are supposed to have disappeared,’ said a third. Read the book. Do not be outfoxed by The Chwezi Code.

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