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BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

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BOYI  by Gloria Mwaninga- Kenya

Gloria Mwaninga is a fictional writer from Kenya. Her story ‘Boyi’ captures the occurrences of the 2005 land war in Mt. Elgon.

points to guide interpretation

  1. Land war and its effects:
  2. Demand for land protection fee
  3. Recruitment of young men into the militia
  4. Murder/ killing of people- consider how the militia kills
  5. people while the government forces the killing of militia members.
  6. People are forced to flee their homes/ Displacement of people g) Betrayal
  7. The pain and suffering that the people face due to war and the rise of the militia.
  8. Traditions

Title The title of the story- ‘Boyi’ is borrowed from the main character’s name, who is the brother to the narrator. Boyi is recruited into a militia group and

ends up dead when the Armed Forces troops come to flash out members of the militia.

BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories


  1. Boyi

He is the brother of the narrator- A fifteen-year-old boy recruited into a militia group when his parents are unable to pay the land protection fee and the betray fee that the leader of the militia demands.

He grows and rises in rank to become the right-hand man of Matwa Kei, the militia’s leader.

He is presented as a jovial, sociable, and outgoing person who always engaged in games and played tricks with his sister.

He is reportedly killed by Armed Forces troops sent by the government to flash out the militia to end the war.

  • The Narrator

Boyi’s sister, through whom the story is told, is keen and observant as she can note the things that happen in her family and even outside the family and report them in the story. She had a close relationship with Boyi thus is greatly affected by his recruitment to the militia and devastated once she learns of his death.

She senses Boyi’s death when the huge Nandi flame tree at the front of their house falls.

  • Baba

He is the father to Boyi and the narrator. He aided the government representative, who gave land to strangers by giving him a panga and makonge ropes, thus being considered a traitor by the militia.

He hands over his fifteen-year-old son- Boyi, to the militia group leader when he is unable to raise the 40,000 fees demanded from him.

  • Mama

she is the mother to Boyi and the narrator, and the wife to Baba. She is deeply affected when Boni is handed over to the militia by Baba.

she remains hopeful that Boyi will escape the militia and come back home.

e. Matwa Kei

He is the leader of the militia group. He is presented as a ruthless, vengeful and brutal person who demands that Baba should pay 10,000 land protection tax and 30,000 betrayal tax failure to which the militia would show Baba smoke without fire.

f. Chesober

He is Baba’s friend who taught at Chepkurkur Primary School.

He delivers news that the militia had a long list of people who had aided the government exercise to divide the people’s land to strangers. g. Chesaina

He is an old friend of Baba who works as a watchman in a grain depot, far away in Chwele market. He brings news to Baba,s family that Boyi was now a marked man since he was Matwa Kei’s, right-hand man.

h. Simoni

He delivers a copy of the Nation newspaper, which contains news about Boyi’s death.

BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories


Gloria Mwaninga’s story, ‘Boyi’, is a contemporary story about forming a militia group to revolt against land allocation to strangers. The story heavily alludes to the Mt. Elgon land war in Kenya that began in 2005. The Sabaot Land Defence Force militia group was formed to protect the land of the Sabaots from being invaded by strangers. Still, the militia ended up causing harm and suffering to its people. real

group was led by Wycliffe Matakwei hence the name of the militia leader in the story- Matwa Kei.

Told in the first-person narration voice, the story ‘Boyi’ opens with the narrator remembering how their Baba pushed Boyi to the Matwa Kei when the militia leader came to demand 40,000 land protection tax and betrayal tax which he could not raise.

Matwa Kei is the leader of a militia group formed to protect the people’s land when the government decides to divide the peoples’ land and give some of it to strangers. Baba, the writer’s father, is considered a traitor by the militia since he lends the government’s surveyor apanga and makonge ropes.

News breaks out that the militia has begun attacking government representatives. The narrator’s family lives in fear of this attack to the extent that they block the sitting-room door with sacks of maise and beans. The narrator and Boyi laugh about it as they feel that the militia would not harm them. However, the narrator recalls how the militia came to their home and demanded money. Baba offers to give them everything he owns; his savings, a hunting gun, Sony transistor radio and even promises to sell his bull to save his family. However, the militia group declines, forcing Baba to hand over his son, Boyi, to the militia.

After Boyi is taken away, Mama starts behaving like a mad person. She, however, lives in the hope that Boyi would return by escaping from the militia. The narrator recalls how at first, neighbours would visit them often to console them, but later they stopped coming.

Later, Saulo visits the family to inform them the government had launched

“Operation okoa Maisha” and had dispatched a troop of two hundred armed forces men to flash out the militia. next day, Baba and his cousin Kimutai dig a shallow grave at the back of the house to burry a banana stem wrapped in a green cotton sheet believing that his son is dead. Mama refuses to participate in escorting Boyi’s spirit away.

BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

Seasons passed as the brutality of the militia rose. They would cut up people and throw the bloodied bodies in the rivers, pit latrines, and public wells. They would forcibly recruit boys as young as ten years and even started taking girls to go and cook for them. Cases of rape also increased. As a result, people lived in fear making many of them run away to Bungoma and Uganda.

After the army troops arrive, Chesaina, an old friend of delivers news that Boyi had become a marked man since he was Matwa Kei’s, right-hand man. news further devastates Mama and the narrator, who spends the night in Boyi’s bed.

The following day, Simon visits the narrator’s house. He delivers the Nation Newspaper, which bore the news “Ragtag militia leader killed by the Army forces” It now dawns on the narrator that her brother is no more.

BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

She rushes to the parents’ bedroom and hands over the newspaper to Baba to read. Upon reading the news, Baba crumples to the floor while Mama’s laughter is heard piercing the morning dawn. Surprisingly, even after Simoni’s description of how Boyi was thrown out of an aircraft by Sah-gent, Mama does not weep but speaks Boyi’s name softly as she sits on his bed while Boyi’s sister lets tear roll down her face. As the story ends, the narrator explains how she sensed Boyi’s death when the Nandi flame tree at the front of their house fell.

Styles and Plot related questions

  1. How has the narrator used flashbacks in the story?
  2. Briefly describe Mama’s behaviour after:
  3. Boyi is handed over to Matwa Kei
  4. Baba and his cousin Kimutai dig a grave to bury a banana stem
  5. Chesaina’s news that Boyi was a marked man
  6. News about Boyi’s death.
  • What is the implication of the dream used in the story?
  • The narrator gives a detailed description of what happens when the long rains fall (pg 94). Explain how symbolic the description is.
  • Explain the use of irony in the story.



l. The demand of the Militia- pg 91-92 ll. Life after Boyi left- pg 92-93

Ill. Operation Okoa Maisha pg 93-96

IV. Boyi’s death pg 96- 97

Thematic Concerns


Belief in Djinnis- The community in the story believes in the presence of powerful evil spirits known as Djinni. This is seen when Mama talks to the visitors who

frequent their home once Boyi is taken away. She tells them, ‘How Boyi saved her marriage by confirming that Djinnis did not tie up her womb.’ Pg 93.

The people also practice the ritual of burying a banana stem to send death away where a person disappears and their bodies are not found. The narrator reports how Baba and his cousin Kimutai dug a shallow grave and buried a banana stem wrapped in a green cotton sheet. The father muttered, “Death, take this body. .. Take it, and do not bother my home with your visits again.” Pg. 93 This ritual is performed after Saulo’s story that the government has launched Operation Okoa Maisha, where armed Forces troops are sent to flush out militia members. It shows the fear of the people that the operation will lead to more deaths.

The people are also seen to hold on to some superstitions. The falling of the huge Nandi flame signifies something significant was bound to happen. The narrator sees this as a bad omen while the mother thinks it means the end of evils for her family ‘I knew it was a bad omen even though Mama came out of her room jubilantly declared that the evil which was to come to our house had been struck down and swallowed by the Nandi flame, pg 96.

Land War And Its Effect

The story is rooted in a revolt resulting from the government dividing land and giving it to strangers. Ihe revolt leads to forming a militia group to counter-attack the governments’ decision and fight those who collaborate with the government.

The militia has various effects:

They demanded the land protection tax. They had chopped off the heads of the families if one did not give them money (pg.92).

The recruitment of young men to the militia. Boyi is recruited by force to the militia because Baba has given him out since he cannot afford to pay the money demanded: “Hold on to the boy until I find you forty thousand land protection tax, and then I will have him back” (pg. 91).

So many other young men had been recruited into the militia. Mama says, “Had his ears not caught stones of neighbour’s son recruited by the militia?” (pg.92). The militia goes from house to house, forcefully recruiting boys as young as ten years page 95.

People living in fear- The villages of Kopsiro, Savomet, Chepkyuk all live in fear ..a thick yellow fog of fear over them.” (pg. 95)

People fail to work

Farmers did not clear their shambas for the second planting of the maize crop because the militia stole young crops from the fields and goats from their pens (pg.


The narrator’s friend, Chemutai, said that the narrator’s breast grew too fast because she had spent too much time outside ……. instead of working chap chap like a normal musaa tree girl (pg.95)

BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

Murder/brutal killings

The militia cut up people and threw their bloodied bodies in rivers, pits, latrines, and public wells (pg. 92). The people say that they even cut off their necks.

The narrator overhears Baba being told that those recruited have to go back home and kill a close relative so that their hearts are strong to kill others (pg. 95) Boyi is killed for being part of the militia (pg. 96-97).

Displacement of people from their land and homes

“People flee from their homes since there is a mass exodus to Bungoma and Uganda’ page 95

Lack of schooling

The narrator says nobody went to school anymore because of the war. She spends her days under the Nandi flame tree with half-closed eyes (pg. 95)


The writer points out clearly how society goes through suffering as a result of the war:

Mama experiences emotional suffering when Baba gives out Boyi to the militia to be recruited since the family could not afford the forty thousand land protection fee. The writer says that madness had entered

Mama’s eyes the day baba pushed Boyi to Mativa Kei. She tore off her kitenge and started shouting at Baba, telling him that he was sick in the head if he thought Boyi would return (pg. 91).

Mama did not eat her food and starved in the days that followed, muttering to herself. Her ugali would remain untouched until a gusty brown film formed. The narrator had to throw it away to the chicken coop. She also continued engaging herself in monologues (pg. 94).

BOYI-A Study Guide To A Silent Song And Other Stories

The narrator also experiences pain and suffering. She felt queasy once Baba informed them that the militia would have killed them for not giving out the forty thousand land protection tax. The narrator felt as if someone had pulled her insides out through her nostrils.’ (pg. 92).

When they were informed of Boyi’s death, she cried bitterly. She let the tears roll down her face and soak her blue silk blouse and purple boob top (pg. 97)

Baba suffers when forced to hand over his son Boyi to the militia. He experiences agony when Mama questions him since he knew very well if he didn’t, he risked his family being killed by the militia. ‘He sat there and held his rage firmly with his hands. He pulled his lips to a narrow thread like a line drawn on his dark face by a ruler.’ (pg. 92)

When they are informed that Boyi is a marked man, Baba goes through some emotional torture. For the first time, the narrator saw her father crying “That day I saw Baba’s tears…” (pg. 96)

The community undergoes suffering because of the war as some of the people are brutally murdered the militia cut the people and threw their bloodied bodies in rivers, pit latrines and public wells’ (pg. 96).

Some of the militia are said to kill close relatives so that their hearts are strong to kill others. The militia forgets its initial objective of protecting the land. Instead, “Now they even cut off our necks” (pg. 95)

The militia also rapes their blood relatives who give birth to babies (pg.


The writer points out how some people betray others in society. Baba betrays his community by assisting the government representative with a panga and makonge ropes when the government divides the people’s land and gives it to some strangers (pg. 92).

The militia betrays the community it was meant to fight for by meting out evil on the people whose land they are fighting. The narrator overhears their neighbour Koros telling her father

“They forgot that they were to protect our land from being given to those lazy strangers. Now they even cut off our necks” (pg. 95)

The government betrays its people by dividing their land and giving it to strangers leading to the formation of the militia.


  1. War leads to suffering. Using illustrations from the story show the validity of this statement.
  2. How effectively is Imagery used in the story?
  3. Describe the role of Baba inthe Story;

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