The story of Kintu begins in 2004, in Bwaise a slum in Kampala city prone to flooding in the rainy season. Kintu Kamu has just been murdered, mistakenly called a thief because of the unexplained appearance of fancy gadgets in his shack. Three months later, the people involved in his murder are all found dead, strewn all over the streets of Bwaise.
The author then takes us back to 1750 where the story unfolds. Kintu Kidda, the Ppookino of Buddu Province, Buganda kingdom is preparing to travel to the capital to pledge his allegiance to the new Kabaka. But he doesn’t journey alone; he travels with an entourage of men, among whom is his adopted son Kalema. Kalema, as requested by his real father, will try his luck in the capital. On their way, however, in a feat of anger, Kintu slaps Kalema on the head to chastise him. The slap takes away his life. After returning home, Kintu can’t bring himself to tell Ntwire what happened to Kalema: “I am going to look for my child. If he’s alive, I will bring him home ….if I don’t find him, to you, to your house and to those that will be born out of it- to live will be to suffer. ……”
And thus begins the curse that will span all generations as shown in the different books that follow. The different books focus on many a Kintu descendant and how the curse affects them. The story of Kintu, and the curse, though true in the beginning, has been churned out to many generations, that to the present generations, it all seems anything but a myth. Yet they can’t explain the mental illnesses and other bizarre occurrences most of them face in their lives. And yet in the homecoming, it’s like a cloud had been lifted over their eyes and finally the answer to their mysterious lives had been found. As one character observes: “It was interesting listening to relatives talk about their mental disorders or other problems with pride as if it were a badge conforming Kintu as their ancestor….”
The story spans over centuries and is rich in depth which shows it is a result of meticulous kind of research, the kind that doesn’t bore the reader; rather the kind that propels one to turn page after page till the end. Makumbi’s vivid description of the Ganda culture then comes live before the reader’s eyes. The dynamics surrounding the issue of succession to the throne of Buganda are all laid bare. In the Kintu era people were not living in the dark, as most stories have made us believe. It was indeed an organized way of life- as seen from the articulate planning by Kintu and his men before embarking on a journey; the way his wife, Nnakato maintained order in his numerous homesteads and how she pampers him when he returns home from a long journey.
The characters are also well developed to evoke different reactions from the reader. There’s Suubi who in an effort to forget her past, forges a fanciful story about herself. Kanani Kintu and his wife: Christian fanatics who alienate themselves from family and their twin children only for disaster to befall their household. There’s Isaac Kintu, who despite the odds being against him ends up being successful. Misirayimu, the aloof and crazy professor who doesn’t find respite at the university he is teaching at, and relocates to the village where he feels at home.
Even though the story is about the Kintu family, the author through the different stories told, interweaves in the birth and growth of Uganda as a nation. She doesn’t dwell on it; the history of Uganda develops as the characters grow. One character comments about the bats that disappeared due to the numerous wars; then others discuss the pros and cons of the Amin regime. The female characters do stand out in this book; they are not timid. Rather they know what they want and they go for it.
The blend of tradition, folktale, Christianity and modernity make Kintu a very delightful read. The author has surely made her mark in the literary world.
A 2014 Commonwealth short story prize winner, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi was born in Uganda. She moved to the UK in 2001 and is an Associate Lecturer at Lancaster University where she completed a PhD in Creative writing. She also runs the African Reading Group, ARG which focuses on obscure African Writers. She has published a number of short stories in numerous literary magazines. She is currently working on her second novel.