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A SILENT SONG -A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

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A silent Song by Leonard Kibera

Leonard Kibera is a Kenyan novelist and short story writer. Kibera was born in

Kabete, Kenya, attended high school at Embu and studied at the University of

California and Stanford University. He taught at the University of Zambia and at Kenyatta University, Kenya, from 1976 until his death. His first publication was a book of short stories, Potent Ash (1968), which he wrote with his brother, Samuel Kahiga. The book explores the guilt, betrayal, and failure of the Mau Mau. Several of the stories have been anthologized, especially The Spider’s Web, which points an accusing finger at Kenya’s elite for the state of Kenya since independence. His only novel, Voices in the Dark (1970), uses dark humour to question why most Mau Mau soldiers who fought for independence were forgotten and left to beg and die along the roadside. Kibera has also written several articles of literary criticism.


  1. Mbane’s life of misery in the streets as a lame, blind beggar. (p17 – 19).
  2. Mbanes’s lonely self versus the bubbly world around him. (p18 – 19).
  3. Mbane’s nostalgia. (p18).
  4. Mbane’s brother, Ezekiel, rescues him. (p19 20).


A Silent Song by Leonard Kibera is a story about Mbane, a young, paralyzed, blind city street beggar. He lives in destitution, begging from the passers-by while seething with pain and discomfort. His brother, a wealthy preacher, ‘rescues’ him from the barbaric city unto the ‘light of God’ after neglecting him for a long time.

Mbane painfully reminisces his street life with nostalgia at his brother’s lonely hut. He is not as happy though he is now in a more serene environment. He remembers the bright weather, lovely morning and beautiful sunset as the city dwellers, pedestrians, dull and gay people during the day talk. At night, the good men and women turned drunk, pimps and whore galore have their turn to smile. He begs day and night for a living.

He is nursed by Sarah, his brother’s wife, who administers bitter fluid down his throat. He swallows it painfully, and she assures him of being well. His religious brother, Ezekiel, preaches to him about Christ, the saved ones and sinners. He asks him whether he knows where sinners go when they die and whether he accepts Jesus, and Mbane says he doesn’t know. Before he saves him, Mbane’s strength wanes, the pain goes, his head jerks down to the bed, and he is gone.

Title of the story

  1. Discuss the relevance of the title of the story, A Silent Song.
  2. Brainstorm about the paradox in the title, A Silent Song.


1. Explore the following themes as brought out in the story, A Silent Song.

  1. Pain and misery of physical handicap
  2. Religious hypocrisy
  3. Prostitution and sexual slavery
  4. Alcoholism and escapism

Pain and misery of Physical handicap

  • In a sense, A Silent Song, an oxymoron, paradoxically echoes the moments of soul searching and reflections that Mbane has had over the period he stays on the street. This creates a more vivid picture of his life and a cathartic emotional impact.
  • The miserable life on the street as a crippled, blind beggar seems less painful than in his brother’s desolate hut, where he is lonely and suffering. (p18).
  • He has been speaking to himself in his thoughts and for a long time on the street except for his mechanical plea of ‘Yes?’ he has no one else to address but himself. (p19).
  • Mbane’s undergoes much pain, agony, and suffering on the streets because of his life circumstances. Being blind and lame has impaired his ability to live everyday life. ‘Sharp pangs’, ‘savage fury’, pain tore his stomach’. (PI 7 – 19).
  • He crawled on his knees and elbows… suddenly sharp pangs from his navel tore… He was paralyzed. Then the pain disappeared… but he knew it had only recoiled for another attack. (PI 7).
  • He has heard noises, songs, and sounds of different people, but he retires to solitude, and thoughts start going through his mind at the end of the day. It is like a dream, a song of hope, and he sings his happy song silently to himself, secretly. (p20).
  • Mbane ponders the meaning of light to him… light mean to a blind man… (p19).
  • At the point of death, as his brother urges him to get saved, with reticence, he ponders on God’s place and meaning in his life.
  • People despise him on the streets. Good Christian men and women would once again curse and call him able-bodied, only crippled more every day by the idleness of leisurely begging. (p19).
  • He sits there (street back lane) and waits for his journey’s end. His body smells of sweat, unwashed except in the rain, which he could but feel. (p20).
  • There is a wide gap between his beliefs and his brother’s. His tortured body is already separated from his free soul when he dies. (p20).
  • The soul has already communicated in his silent song, smiling, at peace with his hosts, himself and everyone. (p20).

Religious hypocrisy/Pretentious piety

  • Mbane’s brother, Ezekiel, is so devoted to God a preacher but neglects him for a long time till he realizes Mbane is nearing his death.
  • He picks him up and brings him to his hut, claiming it is rescuing only for Mbane to feel lonelier and more miserable. “I rescued you from that barbaric city so that you can see the light of God. (p18).
  • The desolate hut is not a habitable place for him. It has a flea-ridden floor. (PI 7).
  • He could tell that there was meaning in his brother’s silence of late… (p18).
  • Asked whether he knows a man called Jesus, he says “Yes”, but whether he believes and accepts him, Mbane says, “1 don’t know,” and his brother says Mbane is worse than a Judas. This portrays hypocrisy, and Christians would not talk like this.
  • It is ironical and hypocritical for Ezekiel to tell Mbane, “Mbane — I want Christ to save you…” (p20) as though he has already judged him as a sinner and that “Christ” will come down from heaven to do the good to him while his brother watches.
  • There is a pretense in the way good Christian men and women curse and call him names instead of bringing the
  • Excellent knowledge of Christ to him. ‘… able-bodied, only crippled more every day by the idleness of leisurely begging’. (p19).
  • He could only yearn impotently beyond the reach of darkness and lameness. At times, self-pity overcame him. (p18 – 19).
  • The God of the Gospel and religion are comforts beyond the reach of a wretched cripple. His God is his only hope of
  • Deliverance from pain, destitution and despair. (p18 – 20).

Prostitution and sexual slavery

  • There is evidence of such sexual evils as commercial sex and promiscuity. (p18).
  • The blind man knows, sees, and recalls City Street with nostalgia. The noises, drum beating and rhythms which Mbane calls the voices of good men and women turned drunk in the refuge of the night brothels, pimps and whores galore. (p18).

Alcoholism and escapism

• The street, especially the back lane, had taught Mbane a lot

..good men and women turned drunk in the refuge of the night brothels, pimps and whores galore. (PI 8).


l. Cite evidence from the text on the existence of the following character traits as portrayed in A Silent Song.

  1. Mbane: observant, patient, skeptical, enduring…
  2. Ezekiel: selfish, cruel, and hypocritical. ..
  3. Sarah: reserved,

2. How can you tell that Mbane ‘sees’ and knows a lot in the city street despite being blind?


  1. Why is it ironic for Ezekiel to claim to rescue his brother Mbane from the barbaric city?
  2. Why is Mbane reluctant to accept Christ?  

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