AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

The Incarcerated Self: Narratives of Political Confinement in Kenya

by Kennedy Athanasias Waliaula

Institution: The Ohio State University
Department: Comparative Studies
Degree: PhD
Year: 2009
Keywords: African Literature; African autobiography, African life writing, African memoirs, prison memoirs, prison literature; prison writing; trauma; truth; memory; incarceration; prison narratives; incarceration narratives; Kenya politics; Kenyan literature: African prison literatur
Record ID: 1846612
Full text PDF: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1243912226


My dissertation explores the narratives of incarceration that have emerged in the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial eras in Kenya. Rather than embark on the almost impossible task of examining all forms of prison narratives, this study concentrates mainly on the fiction and non-fiction writing of prisoners of conscience or political prisoners. Political repression has been a recurrent motif in Kenya since pre-colonial but particularly in the colonial and postcolonial times. Victims of state terror have consistently added to the long list of the literature of prison that invites scholarly investigation. Focusing on memory, truth telling, the I-pronoun, and trauma, the study analyzes the relationship between self-exploration and narration of confinement. I show that oral narratives inaugurated the narrativization of incarceration in Kenya during the pre-colonial era and continued to serve as the oxygen ventilating written prison narratives in succeeding periods. In this regard I argue that there are Kenyan oral texts that exemplify what may be termed oral prison narratives. The study identifies the connection between written and oral tales of incarceration by unearthing the extent to which oral tales are variously appropriated to capture incarceration as individual or collective lived experience whether in a literal or symbolic sense. The study is based on the assumption that there is a relationship between narrating one’s prison experience and the process of self-exploration or self-discovery. Also, the study assumes that there is a relationship between the prison context and the text; and that the prisoner’s individual experience may embody the collective experience of those in same or similar circumstances and may go beyond the prison walls, encompassing the lived experience of those outside prison as well, especially in times of pervasive political intolerance and repression. Although my method is fundamentally literary-critical, the study spans across a wide array of disciplines. Yet it bears clarifying that I adopt an eclectic approach, letting texts themselves determine what theoretical framework is most appropriate.The study extrapolates upon the relationship between self-exploration and narration of confinement and between the compulsion to give an account of one’s experience and to count. It unmasks the motives of political prisoners’ narration of their experiences; the connection between the prison texts and prison contexts; as well as unraveling issues related to the narrative styles and genres used. One of the major findings of this study is the understanding of prison literature of prisoners of consciences as constituting an alternative and unathorized national narrative that runs counter to the national official or authorized national narrative. Both these metanarratives claim legitimacy and fiercely vie for public space and attention, thereby perfoming what I term the paradox of patriotism. This investigation of prison narratives is significant because it includes oral tales, constituting a fresh…