Monday, 21 February 2011

Habakkuk the Catechist

Title: Habakkuk the Catechist
Author: Peregrine Kibuuka
Pages: xiv+378
Publisher: Marianum Press Ltd 2010
Price: Shs. 15,000
Reviewer: Mwesigye Gumisiriza

This story has been written over a period of three decades. It started while the author was a secondary school teacher in the 1970s, and then repeatedly shelved over the years. But with continued prodding from family and friends, he eventually completed the task.

It traces the life of Timothy Mwavuwalaba from when the family moves into Loko village, his education at the local primary school and the nearby secondary school. After which he was sent to the seminary to train as a priest, his decision to quit and his life after that which puts him in continual conflict with his father, and includes all the side shows such as his search for a wife, uncovering his father’s secrets and friendship with Phillip Mbutonjawule that add drama, humour and suspense.

When reading this book, one gets a sense of déjà vu. The use of a boy as he narrates his life experiences from a point of naivety and, as he grows up, becoming more aware of his surroundings, the events and his place in them. It reminds one of The Poor Christ of Bomba (Mongo Beti) and The Abyssinian Chronicles (Moses Isegawa)—an African way of life against a backdrop dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which the author, both pokes fun at and exposes the contradictions between two. However, in what is characteristic in this book, the author takes his time, through long winded detailed preambles, to build the background and the characters.

It is not until towards the end of the sixth chapter that Habakkuk Nakumusana, one of the protagonists, and at the beginning of the seventh that Timothy Mwavuwalaba, the narrator, are fully introduced into the story. It is from then that the perspective of the story telling also changes—from the happenings in Loko and variety of characters to focus solely on the experiences of Timothy and how he relates to the other characters and interprets events. Interestingly, though the title may imply it is about Habakkuk Nakumusana, it is more about his son Timothy Mwavuwalaba without necessarily putting the former out of the picture.

In this way, the author develops a distinct style with a generous dose of humour with simple prose that enables effortless reading. There is also a glossary at the beginning, which explains the Latin and Luganda words that are used frequently in the novel. So even if one is not familiar with these two languages, the glossary comes in handy. However, if one is not familiar with Luganda, the innuendoes in the people’s names such as Nakumusana, Zibulaatudde, Byansobeera, and in the names of places like Njala egobye, will be lost.

There are certain flaws that tend to crop in several Ugandan published books. Despite being relatively well crafted, the novel has a few typographical errors. This adds a blemish to otherwise good piece of work. In this one, the proof-reading has minimised these to a minimum, that it is not easy to notice them. In addition, in the introductory chapter, the author seems to struggle in directing the flow of narration and balancing many ideas within that limited space. Thankfully, he picks up pace in the next chapter and sustains it. At over 300 pages long, this is no mean feat and he needs to be commended.

As pointed in the foreword that people who read it will recommend it to others, I definitely do the same with two-thumbs up. This book is worth your while.

Published in Saturday Monitor ( 19 February 2011, pg 23