Mwambu will climb the mountain where he hopes to touch heaven, but his journey from naïve curiosity to adulthood will reveal unexpected contradictions as traditional values collide with western values.
This is one of the many novels that portray African life in the post-colonial error, focusing on the Bagisu people of the eastern part of Uganda, on the slopes of Mount Elgon – or near it at least.
The reason I chose this book is it addresses the topic of circumcision as a part of African culture. True, today, 30% of all the males in the world are circumcised but it is mainly for religious reasons. In some tribes in Africa, as this book depicts, it is viewed as a rite of passage into manhood. Apparently the prevalence is 20% for Uganda and southern African countries and 80% in Kenya. But a number of men still use the traditional circumcisers (90% in Uganda, 74% in Kenya, 63% in Tanzania and somewhere between 58% and 65% in South Africa). So you can see how prevalent it is here.
Upon this mountain also describes quite vividly what goes on during the Bagisu circumcision ceremony and how important it is for such tribes. As mentioned earlier, it is an initiation ceremony into manhood, so if a person does not go through it – well, he is not initiated into manhood and, by default ends up being dubbed a woman (and I am being literal but I will let you see what I mean when you read it).
But that is not the focus of the novel. It focuses on a young man’s transition to adulthood which involves disillusionment in many aspects of his life. It brings out the struggle Mwambu – and many like him at that time – faced: finding the perfect balance between the indigenous and colonial values. As a boy, in Mwambu’s case the traditional culture and the western culture were not always compatible, which caused problems for him. This matter becomes more crucial as the time passes because, as an adolescent he is becoming a man. Only he isn’t so sure what being a man means – whenever he thinks he has it figured it out, something happens to disprove it.
In upon this mountain, we get to witness this struggle in a telling that is quite humorous and captivating. This is a book that was written in the year 1989 which was in the post Idi Amin era (the guy “The Last King of Scotland” is based on).
Speaking of Idi Amin, a few of you might be curious as to who this man was and would like to know more about him. There are a number of books you will find on the internet: “A State of Blood: An Inside Story of Idi Amin” by Henry Kyemba is one that shows how gruesome things were under his rule. “Idi Amin: Lion of Africa” by Manzoor Moghal is a thorough in-depth commentary about Idi Amin’s regime by someone who knew the workings of his mind.
Otherwise, if you are interested in more books written by East Africans (and authors from neighboring countries), here is link to start with:
AFRICAN NOVELS REVIEWS