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By Severine N. Ndunguru

The first of S. N. Ndunguru's novels, A wreath for Fr Mayer is set mainly in a Tanzanian society. Yet while it is written in the small Mkongo village in Songea District, the novel reflects life in the African society in general. Some events occur in Europe, but they are all connected to the main events in the small village.

Summary of the Story

The story begins by explaining the spread of cholera and how the people of Mkongo relate with witchcraft then a carton of tetracycline is stolen and Kalistus is murdered but nobody is caught for the theft. Moreover the story continues by explaining how Fr. Moyo travelled to Europe to his benefactor to ask for assistance to build a water pipe in Mkongo and how the drug user mistreats succeeds in motivating the drug user to quit, but due to Dr. Bennet cooperation against Drugs Company and police, they caught them.

The story continues to expose Fr. Moyo’s success in securing assistance from his benefactor. In Germany, Fr. Moyo puts a wreath on the grave of Fr. Vitus Mayer the founder of Mkongo Parish. The story develops after the revelation of the secret of the theft in Mkongo parish through a dream Moyo has while in Germany. Fr. Moyo returns home, in Mkongo village, and investigates the theft of the tetracycline carton and reveals the secret to the police, and then they catch the thief and sentenced to jail. The story ended by the arrival of Dr. Bennet from Switzerland in Songea, and he then decides to work in Mkongo Village dispensary.


There are several themes found in this novel. Some of these themes are Poverty, superstition, social crimes, immorality, irresponsibility, role and position of religious institutions in the society etc.

The role of religious institutions is to promote spiritual growth of people.The churches and Mosques established have that primary role. Apart from spiritual growth of people, religious institutions also provide social services to people. The church provide health, safe and clean water services. This can be seen at Mkongo parish where the church has built a dispensary which treats all residents of Mkongo.The church also fights against evils prevailing in the society that hinder spiritual harmonization of people.The church also educates the society on the causes of diseases like cholera. People are advised to go to hospital whenever they fall sick rather than going to witch doctors.

The writer focuses on the eruption of cholera at Mkongo village. The church and the government took initiatives to help people. Cholera was caused by poor hygiene, ignorance, poverty and superstition.The dirty environment with lack of latrines contribute a lot to the spread of the disease. Poverty can be another major cause of the disease since people can not afford to buy utensils for boiling drinking water and buying soaps to wash their hands as part of cleanliness. The persistence of cholera is accelerated by the level of ignorance of the people.Lack of good social services especially clean and safe water for drinking forced people to drink contaminated water from river Mbuchi. Cholera causes death. The disease kills many people especially those who go to the witch doctor instead of going to the hospital. People at Mkongo village are ignorant and think that they are bewitched.

A deep rooted belief in the community.The belief is based on magic power,witchcraft and invisible evil spirits. Witch doctors use that loop hole to collect money from ignorant people. For example Adolfo believed that his grandmother bewitched his child.Superstition is seen as a source of all conflicts in the society. Adolfo severely beats his grandmother suspecting her of bewitching his child while the child suffers from cholera. Superstition is typically based on deceit and trickery. Superstition is a source of mistreatment of people in the society. People with beliefs on superstition suspect others for bewitching them.For example Adolfo suspected his grandmother for bewitching his child.

The author reveals various social crimes and immorality facing his society. Some of these crimes include murder, drug trafficking and theft. Drug trafficking face many countries in the World. Drugs are transported and distributed in various parts of the country through secret and illegal means. For example Fr.Moyo is implicated in transporting hashish. He carries these illegal drugs without knowing since they were planted in his bag by Michael.Drug traffickers are detected using dogs and technology at Airports and other transport centers. People involved in drug trafficking use skilled people and technology. Kidnapping is another social crime shown by the author. Drug traffickers tend to kidnap whoever gets to know their network. Fr.Moyo was kidnapped in Birmingham since he revealed the secrets of the network. Theft and murder are social crimes that threaten harmony of the society.

Bad leadership is revealed by the author. The police force is accused of failing to apprehend the culprits. Inspector Mpangala and sub Inspector Kapela failed to capture the killers of Kalistus. Instead of apprehending the culprits,the police oppressed Mzee Mussa and forced him to name the culprits he did not see. Yombayomba also proved to be an irresponsible leader. It took him hours to gather the villagers when Kalistus was killed. Superstition beliefs can also encourage irresponsibility among leaders as they believe that whatever they want to do,they have to see the witch doctors first. This reduces confidence of the leader and spoils their decisions.

Most of the Mkongo villagers are poor, makes so they don’t have sufficient utensils for boiling water in order to avoid cholera. Also their poverty is shown when Fr Moyo shows a picture of a villager’s house which covered by grass in order to raise funds to buy water pipes and kerosene tins for them. Fr. Moyo helps them by providing the empty tins to each house in order to boil water. At the end the disease disappears, although Fr. Moyo has a plan to build water pipes. Also, their poverty shows that instead of sending their patients to the dispensary, they send them to Bwanapima the who lies to them; by saying somebody bewitched them which made them to become sick. E.g. Adolfo sent his child to Bwanapima and believed that his grandmother bewitched his child (p. 3), But Fr. Moyo insisted him to send his child to the dispensary and he was cured.

(a) Family conflict Conflict rises between Adolfo and his grandmother. He went in the church where his grandmother was in playing and accused her of bewitching his son, who was sick at that moment. “She killed my sister last month and now my little son is sick. She wants to kill him, too” (p. 4) It was Fr. Moyo who saved the old woman from being hurt by that young man.

(b) Individual Conflict Fr. Moyo has individual conflict, he asks himself. “How could these poor people boil the drinking water when they did not even have proper utensils for boiling water? How could they be expected to keep clean when they did not even have soap? (p. 2) Therefore, due to this individual conflict, Fr. Moyo decided to collect empty kerosene tins and distribute one to each house. This individual conflict helped the people of Mkongo to remove cholera.

Bwanapima and Papandreou’s gang betray Fr. Moyo and the society of Mkongo after stealing the medicine for curing cholera. That situation caused Fr. Moyo to have trouble and to search for the thief and another solution.

The novel also shows irresponsibility of some characters. Irresponsibility is an act or a situation where by a person in trust doesn’t perform his or her duties as she is supposed. For example; we are told that the police could not respond to calls when something occurred until after some days, with the excuse that they had no transport (p. 23) Fr. Moyo claims. Also, irresponsibility is shown by inspector Mpangala because he doesn’t investigate the case and takes the false testimony from Yombayomba, the village chairman, which causes him to be laughed at during the Chengu judgment. Also, Mpangala had done so Many things to the people to the extent that they could no longer trust him.

In this society of Mkongo, women are portrayed negatively and positively. Negatively, women are seen as liars and blackmailers, for example, the wife of Bwanapima, Rozina, cooperates with a thief and his young brother, called Miteo, to keep the stolen tetracycline. Also, women accept polygamy because Rosina agreed to be the fifth and youngest wife of Bwanapima. Positively, women are kind and care for the sick, for example sister Gaudiosa who cares for the sick in the Mkongo parish dispensary as a nurse.

During the investigation, policemen do not show regard for humanity. We see in the book Constable Hilary Mhagama pulling Mzee Musa’s hair and Mr. Chowo twisting Musa’s hand at the back despite the truth and cooperation he is giving. Also, the policemen mistreat Musa by pointing a gun at him, threatening to kill him (p. 38). Acts done by policemen are against the principles and rule of law and human rights; consequently the people lack confidence in their own police force, something which is dangerous.

Use of literary devices in A Wreath of Fr Mayer

Richards (1929) in Practical Criticism championed the need to put a literary text at the centre of an inquiry. The reader must pay attention to what is going on, on the printed page and not to speculate on the psychic make-up of the author and the like. That’s why the study portrays and examines the literary devices used in this novel. In A Wreath for Father Mayer the following literary devices are employed by the author and are hereby studied.

(i) Symbolism
Symbolism as a literary device is shown in the title of the novel which is “A Wreath for Fr. Mayer. The word “wreath” means an arrangement of flowers leaves or stems fastened in a ring and used for decoration or for lying on a grave, (Burges, 1993). Hence, in this novel it is a symbol for love and honor for the soul of the departed priest (Fr. Vitus Mayer)….. (P. 109).

Therefore, Fr. Denis Moyo put the wreath on the grave of Fr. Vitus Mayer on behalf of Mkongo Parish, where the late Fr. Vitus Mayer used to work.Ndunguru uses symbolism in the title of his book to foreshadow the story so that readers’ interest is amplified in order to find the meaning or the title. Hence on (p. 109) the symbol Wreath brings its meaning which is love and honor for the soul of the departed priest Fr. Vitus Mayer. In this way Ndunguru uses symbolism to spice up his writing.

(ii) Imagery
Imagery is also used in the novel, for example on (p. 112) where Fr.Vitus Mayer and Kalistus appear to him in a dream and tell him about causes of Fr. Moyo’s death. When he wakes up he realizes that he was actually at St. Otliien Monastry in Germany and that Fr.Vitus Mayer and Kalistus had died. The author uses imagery to hide the ways or investigation he uses to get thieves who steal the carton of tetracycline. Also, the author creates mental images for the reader in discovering the murder of Kalistus and the ones who steal the medicine.

(iii) Stream of Consciousness
The stream of consciousness appears in almost every chapter for example:

Was this the will of God? What was the will of God? Wasn’t it that
people should have life, and have it abundantly?” Fr. Moyo asked
himself in his heart without an answer. On (p. 23) “How did the thieves
overpower Brother Nyoka? Why didn’t Brother Nyoka scream even for
a fraction of a second? Had he done so, surely Kalistus would’ve heard
him, for he must’ve been in the house at that time. Kalistus would then
have raised an alarm. 
How did the thieves get into the house and out of
it? When did Kalistus first notice them? After he had seen them running
away from the house why did he follow them alone? The most logical
thing to do would’ve been to run to the front door of the church and call
for help the parishioners who’d come to mass would surely’ve given
chase and caught the thieves, or at least known their identity “ (p. 1)

Moreover stream of consciousness is portrayed on (pp. 54 – 55)

“What if this time the customs officers do search clergymen’s
handbags, or Fr. Moyo’s bag, to be more precise? Well, if they do that,
and God forbid that they do it; they will find neat packets of Green
Label Tanzanian tea, won’t they? But these Heathrow officers are
smart fellows with long experience behind them. They can tell a packet
of tea from a packet of “grass” by simply smelling it” (p. 54-55).
Also the writer uses the stream of consciousness on (p. 57 the third paragraph).
“Fr. Moyo would be holding his handbag, so how would Dinglefoot
begin asking for his packets? Would he tap Fr. Moyo on the shoulder
and say, “Hey, Father, I hid something in your bag and now I want it,”
But to do so would be most unbecoming; and who knows, Fr. Moyo
might object. Would Dinglefoot simply snatch the canvas bag from him
and rummage through it for his hashish? But if he did that Fr. Moyo
would be sure to shout, “Stop thief and everything would be lost.

The author uses stream of consciousness most often in this work, because he wants to give a sense to the reader of how the character feels and thinks after getting into trouble. Since the murder of Kalistus and the theft of the tetracycline, Fr. Moyo is talking to himself in his heart as well as when he was caught with hashish at the airport. Ndunguru uses stream of consciousness in order to provide a narrative in the form of a character’s thoughts instead of using dialogue or description. Hence the reader sympathizes with the character concerns and gets the message directly.

(iv) Dialogue
Dialogue is portrayed in each chapter. On (p. 4) There is the dialogue between Adolfo and Fr. Moyo:

‘What’s the child suffering from?’
‘Diarrhea and vomiting’.
When did it start?’
‘Five O’clock this morning’
‘Where’s the child now?’
‘At home’.
‘Go and take him to the dispensary at once.’

Also on (p. 19) there is conversation between Sister Abuntantia and Justus.

‘What’s it Justus? Asked Sister Abuntantia, a little irritated.
‘Oh, there’s a man outside who says he must see Fr. Moyo at
‘Can’t you tell him to wait?’
‘I told him so, but he wouldn’t listen
‘Alright, close the door, father will come out in a minute.’(p. 19)
‘Hey, Father, didn’t you have lunch?’ asked Fr. Cyprian
‘No, I didn’t feel like having any’
‘Why, malaria again?’
‘Not quite, I simply didn’t have the appetite for any food (p. 24)
‘Want some coffee, Father?’ asked O’Brien, placing the father’s
handbag near one of the lounge seats.
‘No, thanks, but I could do with a coke if they’ve any.’
‘Fine, I’ll get you one. They have Coca – Cola here’ (p. 47)

On page 67 there is dialogue between Fr. Moyo and Mr. Reginald Green customs officer after his bag caught by the dogs.

‘Seeing what for the first time?’
‘The two packets, sir’
‘But is this your bag?’
‘Yes sir, it is’
‘Then how can you say that you don’t know
about the two packets?’ (p. 67)

Another dialogue occurs between Fr. Moyo and Bwanali:

‘Will you slaughter a bull?’ asked Bwanali.
‘Not one, but several, so the villagers tell me!’
‘And beer?’
‘There’re sure to be casks of pombe as usual’ (p. 157)

Ndunguru uses dialogue throughout his work in order to show the real conversations between its characters. These help the readers to feel as they too are in the
conversation with the characters’ concerns. The dialogue used by authors in constructing a story use real words spoken by the characters in the story and avoiding
excessive narration.

(v) Allusion
This is another literary device used in the story. On (Page 124) the author introduces Paul Bwanapima, before proceeding with the story.

Now we must pause for a moment to introduce this personage,
Paul Bwanapima, Paul aged twelve was the last born son of
Bwanapima, the medicine man.
Bwanapima, whose original name was Omari Mtepa, had
migrated to Mkongo for fear of reprisals by the Nkosi’s body
guard because he would not leave the Nkosi’s young wife alone!
In Mkongo, Bwanapima had not only established a lucrative
business of deception and cunning by using the few medicinal
herbs he knew, but he had also added three wives to his original
This made him the envied husband of fire official wives, not
counting the many concubines known only to Bwanapima himself
(pp. 124 – 125).

Also, allusion is portrayed when the author brings out the history of Chengu, a court of the Wangoni, and how it works.

“He was to appear first before the Chengu which was the traditional
court of Ungoni, whose function was to hold preliminary discussion of
cases in order to determine if they were worth committing to the high
court for hearing. The Chengu was presided over by one of the
traditional chiefs, and this particular one to which Fr. Moyo had been
summoned was to be presided over by chief Chaurembo” (p. 28).
Another allusion is on page 137.

“Bwana Kaguru was not as wealthy now as he had been in the past,
especially since the many children he had collected from his
concubines were bleeding him white. Just now Bwana Kaguru lived
with six of his children: four sons and two daughters, and house
servant, Christopher Miteo. The eldest of the four sons, Constantine
now aged 24, was a small time building, contractor in Songea.
Unmarried and appearing to be rich, Constantine was known to have
acquired some of his wealth by shady means. He owned or rather, was
in charge of his father’s land rover and two Lorries” (p. 137).

Therefore the uses of allusion leave the reader to make a connection to the subject being mentioned.


The novel “A wreath for Fr. Mayer” has the following relevance to our society. Outbreak of Cholera is common in many villages and towns in Tanzania.This has largely been contributed by the habit of people living in dirty environment.The issue of drug trafficking is reported in different parts of the country.Drug traffickers use people they pay or use them without knowing to make their mission possible.Many drug pushers have been caught in different Airports in Tanzania in the process of trying to cheat and fly with illegal drugs.
Exercise 1
  1. Ignorance and betrayal have aided the process of African enslavement within the African continent. Discuss using the novel you have read.
  2. The source of conflicts in most of the African societies is due to lack of education. Refering to the novel you have read,verify the truth of this statement.
  3. Apart from spiritual liberation,religion can also play part to physical and mental liberation.Discuss the role of religious institutions to social prosperity and development by referring to the novel you have read.
  4. Drug abuse is a threat to development of the nation. Referring to the novel you have read,show how drug trafficking is done by drug pushers.
  5. “Cholera outbreak is the product of society life style” Referring to the novel you have read,verify the statement above.