Devil on the Cross (by Ngugi wa Thiong’o)

Devil on the Cross by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Devil on the Cross

Set against the backdrop of the post colonial era in Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross depicts irony at its peak – with the devil on the cross instead of Jesus. Written entirely in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Gikuyu language after he declared he would no longer write in English, the book is a critical examination of Kenyan society. Deeply allegorical, it was written, allegedly on toilet paper, while the author was detained in prison.

Through the characters of Wangari, Wariinga, Gaturia, Mwaura and Muturi, Ngugi explores various themes including exploitation, independence (sham freedom), education, religious hypocrisy, and sexual harassment.

Devil on the Cross (African Writers Series) opens with a devastated and disillusioned Wariinga who is fleeing modern Kenya. Wariinga as a modern kareendi is chased from work after rejecting advances from her boss Kihara. Unfortunately, her kamoongonye (young man) John Kimwana also jilts her. She is then evicted from her shack because she cannot afford to pay the rent.

Faced with these problems, she heads back to Illmorog as thoughts stream through her mind. As a young girl she had always dreamed of being an engineer but her dreams were shattered by the old rich man from Ngorika, the hairy chested Waigoka.

More to that Wariinga does not like herself. She uses ambi cream to bleach herself. In her nightmares, while at school, she had always seen the devil like the European on the cross instead of Jesus.

She faints along the way and is helped by a young man who then invites her to the devil’s feast in Illmorog. On the way, they are joined aboard Robin Mwaura’s car (the matatu matata matamu model T. Ford) by Wangari, an old woman, who is a victim of modern Kenya’s problems. Despite her sacrifices, Wangari has reaped nothing from her fight for an independent Kenya. The poor woman does not have money to pay her fare. Robin Mwaura threatens to throw her out:

‘Elderly one, this car does not move on urine cough the money and let us hear the sweet sound of coins or I will through you out…’

Fortunately, other passengers collect money and pay for her.

As the passengers make their way to Illmorog, they converse about Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, the Mau Mau, and the modern harambee.  Eventually, they make their way to the devils feast, where a competition is on to choose the best thief. The competitors talk about their wives, the cars they drive and those driven by their wives, and how they got their wealth.

Meanwhile, Wariinga and Gaturia fall in love after meeting aboard the car (matatu), and Gaturia plans on introducing Wariinga to his parents. However, Wariinga is shocked to find that the old rich man who impregnated her is Gaturia’s father. She takes her revenge and kills him.

Ngugi’s message to society especially about modern kareendis is to be hopeful. Just like Wariinga does not give in to life’s problems. Even after giving birth, she strives to get back to school takes up secretarial studies and later ends up as a mechanic.


  1. Onwodi Solomon says

    This Novel is a challange to Africa writers to speak out on the evil that befalls our Nations, it is a call to put an end to poverty and corruption, not through violence but by the use of the pen.

    • lt.kagina says

      it shows the endurence,hope and on the otherside it shows de heart of panafricanist and achallenge to africa leaders. thanks

    • tusiime tutu says

      the title symbolically means how evils in our society can be exposed but with the irony in it how our own nationals betray us

    • Samwel Leonard says

      I Invite on in two days the analysis will be complete and you’l get to know more in this novel

  2. Gillian Adeh says

    There was a time I gave up on life because of the problems that came up each day..
    Then I came across this text.. It was a study text in school.. I immediately related to it
    Because the character of Wariinga encouraged me to strive.. All am sayin is I so appreciate
    This wonderful text…

  3. Nziku Inocent says

    The novel is written to inform men that they are the devils which are discussed about through out the story,that after independence,they have been seen as the only obstacle to women development.Wariinga as representing women,is fired out of the job by her boy friend John Kimwana after he knows that Wariinga has love relationship with her boss khiara.

  4. isaiah omwoyo says

    wah! Ngugi you r real a man that through the use3of words can transform the way of thinking in the people and this will result a better Kenya.I wish all people wuould be reading your literature.It is real a mirror of the society that we are living in.

  5. Carolyn Wycliff says

    The book is nice.It shows how hard is and the situations that we go through but above all we should always have hope because that it does not mark the end of life.beatiful book full of substance.

  6. Oppong Stephen Pa Noah Oboth says

    Men or women, there are many devils who are on the cross. The harsh realities of life in an individual can be caused by any devil or devils around. Ngugi, this was a good work.
    Post independence Africa has alot of misery, just as pre independence too had…

    Oppong Stephen Pa Noah Oboth

  7. Mwalimu P.Marwa says

    1. the title of the book does not really reflect the content therein; how does one sport the devil on the cross in the book? I thought that the people will be willing to eliminate all evil by crucifying it and the master of evil on the cross! Ngugi does not help to bring the solutions in the society of Kenya because he gave more energy to thief and Robbers to progress than the innocent and freedom fighters of Maumau and modern era.

    2. Ngugi criticises Christianity from His point of view, He sees all about Jesus is illusion of the mind and the tricks of the whites to exploits Africans. Does he suggests that people should abscond religion to unify the continent of Africa? or African should hold onto Traditional African religions? Yes one may misuse religion for achieving his mission as all Robbers and modern Thieves do, does that remove the authenticity of the religion?

    3. Jesus was crucified for the salvation of mankind, whose salvation is the devil crucified for?

    Well, My judgment does not totally discredit his work, there are more of insight and sensitization for modern Africa to unity and labor to develop our countries, and we must face the reality that whites or black that is not our enemy. our enemy is the one who misuse our common property, whether is African government or western government and their allies like WB and IMF. we all face the same struggle as a people.

    • says

      what you have commented Mwl P Marwa iz very truu if i were to send the word of God even now in a place where people of my race exploits I WOULD ALSO be called an exploiter thats why Ngugi always spoils christianity this is what makes me feel his works are’nt credibe to some extent

  8. tusiime tutu says

    every time i hold the book it almost seems it has been written yesterday.betray is one thing dat has hindered our development, he talks about collective struggle which is true..and fellow readers as he says despair is one sin that could not be forgiven we must not despair

  9. marco kige says

    most of ngugis work are against Christianity and this is because of the way many people of pre and post colonial used this religion to exploit, discriminate, injustice etc…but we have to understand that Christianity it self is not bad but men use it to distort the truth

  10. Jahman murigi says

    This what actually happened here in kenya those who fought for our freedom never got any but the former colonial adminstrators got the reward the KLFA was unbaned afew years ago by the current gov thats after 40 years after indepence

  11. says

    its one of those on my sylabbus i never get enough of, the African diction ngugi uses is awesome for any literally person. my fellow citizens should have such wondrous courage like Waringa did. many thumbs up for Ngugi……

  12. Gabriel says

    The text is an audacious piece of literature. It pictures the glorification of evil doers; the evil man placates the people with gifts and favours and in no time, the people starts to see him as their saviour!

  13. says

    The book is a brilliant piece, in fact I commend the craft of Ngugi wa Thiong’O. The novel allegorically portrays the ills of a post colonial society and its struggle against capitalism. This is personified in the accounts and experiences of Wariinga, Wangari, Gatuiria, Muturi and Robin Mwaura, though Mwireri wa Mukiraii holds a different view. We all know that communal-ism is one concept that filters through the African literature ( Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a remarkable example), it encourages the collective ownership like communism. However, this view contrasts the western perception of the society, which is more individualistic and capital-driven. This theme echoes through the novel as the society is viewed as a free/open market in which everyman is encouraged to grab as much as he can. This sense of competition is only encouraged by the Capitalists and the book features such personalities like Gitutu wa Gataaguru, wa Gatheeca and others who pose and campaign the extent of their stolen wealth. The Devi here is actually the Capitalist (or the Bourgeois- class) who oppress the workers (Proletariats) and continuously saps their potentials. The novel unveils another perspective of colonialism, which is neo-colonialism and how corruption has prompted the divide, a gap so wide, separating the lower class from the upper. In fact Ngugi ‘s portrays the Upper class as more magnificent and victorious than the wretched lower class, which is that the Devil who was once crucified ( since many countries have condemned capitalism) has been brought down to be worshipped. Thus , the world today embraces Capitalism and those who do not quiver with hunger-stricken bellies. Capitalism is that Devil who is now worshipped and Communism or Communalism is down the drain. The Proletariats didnot overthrow the Bourgeois as predicted by Karl Marx, which may lead to Communism, reverse is the case. This reverse is Capitalism.


      This is really a good depicts the condition of living of the blacks under the white colonial influence.This expresses the challenge to the whites to realize their challenges and in the long run be able to cope up with the blacks in whatever condition.

  14. Oraelosi Chinazom says

    it is a nice work. it is also a piece of encouragement to the young ones, especially the females. even when you think that there is nothing to live for, just know that there is hope. just like Warringa, who persevered to be an Engineer even when life was so cruel to her, she made it. Thank you

    • lucy lucianol says

      its really a sad story but it has really encouraged me how to move life how ever blocks i find . thanks

  15. Enock.M.Maduhu says

    Art may err but nature cannot miss! Some things are true whether we choose to believe them or not. Writing is a craft Ngugi is talented. He knows how to weave together the facts, concepts and fiction.
    Umoja ni nguvu, the people in unison crucified the devil after they had realized the secrets about the robes that disguised him! People can change the situations of their lives if they choose change their attitudes, defeat fear and overcome regimes/systems that are not of any good to the people.
    It is a thought provoking novel I have ever read in my life! I have realized that through books we have intercourse with the superior minds, with Devil on the cross I had an intercourse with a superior mind from Africa. Bravo Ngugi wa Thion’go for writing Shetani Msalabani!!

  16. Honey says

    My thought is that Ngugi is one of the best African warrior that I have read. His novel is great, a wakeup call to all Africans to decide for themselves either to be ruled by thieves and robbers or otherwise.

  17. says

    the book is amaster piece it brings out the evils in society in a masterfully crafted use of irony.personally i love the way ngugi wa thiong names the thieves.most of the issues the book brings out are every day occurances in our socities and so called democracies indeed why shouldnt the devil be crucified for his sins…its abeautiful piece of litrature

  18. says


  19. gareeba johnmark says

    the devil must be handed over to be crucified. who should crucifie the devil? as we try to answer the question, Ngugi brings to our notice our trechally society. who should the devil die for? well, this question is answered by the thieves in the cave. they do evil in the names of giving services to the natives. they are the devil, they must be crucified.

    evil for evil, mwaura must die with his fellow thieves


    In each and every society problems are caused by the evil then the master of evil to save the innocent from the dilapidated situations? Let’s not manupilate the gospel in our explanation of issues. Who to be saved by the devil and in which way?

  21. Njoroge Muiruri says

    It’s an indisputable fact that Ngugi has produced a dismal performance in this one.The problems facing us today cannot be solved by an empty jolting of the pen.let us speak our minds and always stand ready to act.Action speak louder than words.

  22. KAMUNTU ISAAC says

    This novel is to reveal and expose the evils in countries and the corruptibility of our own leaders and how employers exploit workers especially females who are sexually harrassed to obtain and maintain their jobs.its a challenge to every body to fight for his/her rights

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