Boyi Analysis - A Silent Song and Other Stories Easy Elimu Study Guide

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Boyi by Gloria Mwaniga

About the Author

Gloria Mwaninga is a fictional writer from Kenya. Her story

‘Boyi’ captures the occurrences of the 2005 land war in Mt. Elgon.

The Title

The title "Boyi" is appropriate for this story as it centers around the character of Boyi and the impact his death has on his family.

The story follows Boyi's life, from his childhood and his involvement with the militia, to his eventual death at the hands of the army.

The story is told from the perspective of his sister, who is deeply affected by his death and is haunted by memories of him.

The title "Boyi" effectively puts the focus on the main character and his importance to the story, making it clear that this is a story about him and his life.

Additionally, the title "Boyi" implies a sense of personal connection, as if the story is being told by someone who knew him intimately.

This creates an emotional connection with the reader, making them more invested in the story and the characters. The title also gives a sense of intimacy, as if the story is a personal account of someone's life.

Furthermore, the title "Boyi" also reflects on the main theme of the story, which is about the impact of war on individuals and families.

Boyi's death is a tragic consequence of the war and the title "Boyi" serves as a reminder of the human cost of war.

It also highlights the personal and emotional toll it takes on the loved ones of those who are affected.

In conclusion, the title "Boyi" is appropriate for this story as it effectively communicates the main character, the emotional connection and main theme of the story in a simple and direct manner.

The Plot Summary

The story "Boyi" is set in Kenya during a time of political turmoil and land conflict.

The protagonist is a young girl who is the sister of Boyi, the titular character.

Boyi is taken by the militia and becomes a part of their group.

His family is left mourning him, with his father digging a grave for him and his mother going insane due to the loss of her son.

However, the story takes a turn when they receive news that Boyi has joined the militia.

The family struggles with the idea of Boyi being a part of the militia, who are causing destruction in the community.

Eventually, the militia is defeated and Boyi is killed. The protagonist struggles with the loss of her brother and the fact that he was a part of the militia.

Key moments in the story

  1. The demand of the Militia- pg 91-92
  2. Life after Boyi left- pg 92-93
  3. The demand of the Militia- pg 91-92
  4. Life after Boyi left- pg 92-93
  5. Operation Okoa Maisha pg 93-96
  6. Boyi’s death pg 96- 97

Characters and characterization

Characters List

  • The narrator - The protagonist, who is Boyi's sister, who is not named in the story.
  • Boyi - A young man who is taken by the militia and later reported dead.
  • Mama - Boyi's mother, who becomes mentally unstable after her son's death.
  • Baba - Boyi's father, who buries a banana stem wrapped in a green cotton sheet in the backyard of their home after hearing the news of his son's death.
  • Chesaina - An old friend of Baba who brings the news of Boyi's death and his association with the militia.
  • Simoni - A neighbor who gives the family a newspaper with the headline about the death of militia leaders, including Boyi.
  • Matwa Kei - The leader of the militia.
  • Sah-gent - A soldier who is described as being very dark and said to have defeated Idi Amin in Uganda.
  • Koros - A neighbor who talks to Baba about the militia's violent actions.
  • Chemutai - A friend of the narrator who moves away with her family.

Character Traits

The Narrator

  • Observant: The narrator pays close attention to the people and events happening around them, such as noting Mama's muttering to herself and Baba's crying.
  • Reflective: The narrator often reflects on past memories with Boyi, and how they relate to the current situation.
  • Imaginative: The narrator has a strong imagination, as seen in the way they picture Boyi's stories of the militia's magic potions and embalming in cow dung, and in the way they imagine Boyi's spirit visiting them in their dreams.
  • Empathetic: The narrator shows empathy towards their family members and their pain, particularly towards Mama's grief over Boyi's death.
  • Resilient: The narrator shows resilience in the face of difficult events, such as the loss of their brother and the destruction of their home by the storm.
  • Nostalgic: The narrator often looks back on fond memories and expresses a longing for the past, such as the memories of playing with Boyi as a child.
  • Thoughtful: The narrator is often seen contemplating and pondering on different things, such as the reasons behind Boyi's actions or the meaning behind Mama's actions.
  • Traumatized: The narrator is affected by the violence and death that surrounds them and may suffer from trauma, such as dreaming about Boyi cutting them into pieces and feeling a sense of dread and anxiety.


  • Devoted: Mama is deeply devoted to her family, particularly her son Boyi. She is devastated by his death and spends much of her time mourning him.
  • Emotional: Mama is highly emotional and prone to outbursts of tears and crying. She is deeply affected by the loss of Boyi and struggles to come to terms with it.
  • Protective: Mama is fiercely protective of her family, particularly her son Boyi. She is determined to keep him safe, even if it means sending him away.
  • Strong-willed: Mama is a strong-willed woman who refuses to be cowed by the violence and unrest in her community. She is determined to stand up for what she believes in, even in the face of adversity.
  • Faithful: Mama is a deeply religious woman and has a strong faith in God. She turns to her faith for comfort and support in difficult times.
  • Stubborn: Mama is stubborn and unwilling to change her mind or beliefs. She does not believe the news of Boyi joining the militia and refuses to accept it.
  • Insane: Mama goes insane after Boyi's death, she speaks to herself and has hallucinations. She is unable to cope with the loss of her son and can't accept the reality that he is gone.


  • Responsible: Baba takes care of the family and is seen as the head of the household. He is the one who digs a grave for Boyi and tries to calm Mama when she is upset.
  • Practical: Baba is pragmatic in his approach to life and tries to find solutions to problems. He tells Mama that the war should have ended a long time ago and that they should not dwell on the past.
  • Emotional: Baba is deeply affected by Boyi's death and is seen crying when he reads the newspaper article about him. He is also seen throwing away the newspaper and radio after reading the news.
  • Thoughtful: Baba reflects on the past and the events that led to Boyi's death. He is seen telling Mama that war is a maggot that nibbles at the hearts of men.
  • Respectful: Baba is respectful of Mama's feelings and tries to comfort her when she is upset. He also tells her that Boyi was a good son and that she should not blame herself for his death.

Matwa Kei

  • Powerful: Matwa Kei is described as the leader of the militia and holds significant influence over the community and its people.
  • Violent: The narrator mentions how the militia, under Matwa Kei's leadership, is known for cutting up people and throwing their bodies in rivers and wells.
  • Fear-inducing: The community lives in fear of Matwa Kei and his actions, and the mention of his name evokes a sense of dread and unease.
  • Unpredictable: Matwa Kei's actions and motives are not understood or predictable, as he seems to have deviated from his original mission of protecting the land from outsiders.
  • Ruthless: Matwa Kei is described as ordering the killing of a close relative as a requirement for recruitment, and is also rumored to have ordered the killing of Boyi, his right hand man.


  • Dutiful: Boyi is described as being a good son, who used to recite the responsorial psalm earnestly and with tears in his eyes.
  • imaginative: enjoyed playing Ninja soldier with the narrator
  • Cheerful: He was remembered for his boyish laughter and for hoarding illegal sweets


  • Ruthless and Cruel: Threw Boyi from a helicopter


  • 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.


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



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.

War and its effects

The story is set against the backdrop of a civil war in which a militia group, led by Matwa Kei, is fighting against the government.

The narrator describes the violence and terror inflicted by the militia on the community, including the forced recruitment of young boys and the killing of innocent people.

The story also explores the impact of war on individuals and families, such as Boyi's mother going insane due to the death of her son and the mass exodus of people from their homes.

  1. 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. 95).
    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)

  2. 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).

  3. 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

  4. 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)

  5. Suffering
    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).
    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

Family and relationships

The story explores the relationship between Boyi and his family, particularly his mother and father.

The narrator describes how Boyi's mother is deeply affected by his death and is unable to come to terms with it.

The father, on the other hand, attempts to cope with Boyi's death by building a grave for him, despite the fact that his body was never found.

Grief and loss

The story deals with the theme of grief and loss as it relates to Boyi's death.

The narrator describes how the family and community mourn Boyi's death and the impact it has on them.

The mother's lunacy and the father's attempt to cope with the loss of his son are examples of this.

Power and control

The theme of power and control is evident in the way the militia, led by Matwa Kei, exerts its power over the community.

The narrator describes how the militia intimidates and terrorizes the community and how it takes control of people's lives by forcefully recruiting young boys and taking away young girls.

Loyalty and betrayal

The story touches on the theme of loyalty and betrayal as it relates to Boyi's decision to join the militia.

The narrator describes how Boyi's family and community are shocked and saddened by his decision and how they see it as a betrayal of their trust and loyalty.

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.

Social class and poverty

The story highlights the poor living conditions of the villagers, and how they are affected by the war.

They are shown as living in mud and wattle houses, and their shambas (farms) are washed away by the rains.

This shows the contrast between their lives and that of the soldiers, who have access to advanced weaponry, and are able to move around in large lorries.

Stylistic Devices


Symbolism is the use of words or images to symbolize specific concepts, people, objects, or events.

The Nandi flame tree which symbolizes the evil that is about to come to the narrator's house, and its shattering during the time of Boyi's death.


Imagery is a literary device used in poetry, novels, and other writing that uses vivid description that appeals to a readers' senses to create an image or idea in their head.

Through language, imagery does not only paint a picture, but aims to portray the sensational and emotional experience within text.

The use of vivid descriptions such as "chocolate-coloured rivulets" and "tin roof of our mud and wattle kitchen" to create a sense of place and atmosphere.


When an idea or animal is given human characteristics. “The sky weeps.”

The mountain wind is described as "snapping the tap roots" and "tearing" the young maize crops, giving the inanimate object human-like qualities.


Repeating words or phrases.

(There are actually many different types of repetition like anaphora and epiphora.)

The phrase "Do you remember" is repeated multiple times throughout the story, emphasizing the narrator's longing for the past.


Comparing two things using the words “like” or “as”

The comparison of the soldiers' belts to "cobra-skin" and the soldiers' boots to "the buttocks of newborn babies" creates a sense of the unknown and exotic.


Comparing two things without using the words “like” or “as”.

The comparison of war to a "maggot that nibbles and nibbles at the hearts of men" highlights the destructive nature of war.


Foreshadowing is a literary device used to give an indication or hint of what is to come later in the story.

Foreshadowing is useful for creating suspense, a feeling of unease, a sense of curiosity, or a mark that things may not be as they seem.

In the definition of foreshadowing, the word “hint” is key.The destruction of the Nandi flame tree foreshadows the tragic events that are about to occur in the story.

Revision questions for Boyi

  1. Basing your answer on Boyi by Gloria Mwaninga explain the;
    • Land war and its effects:
    • Demand for land protection fee
    • Recruitment of young men into the militia
    • Murder/ killing of people- consider how the militia kills
    • people while the government forces the killing of militia
    • People are forced to flee their homes/ Displacement of people
  2. How has the narrator used flashbacks in the story?
  3. Briefly describe Mama’s behaviour after:
    • Boyi is handed over to Matwa Kei
    • Baba and his cousin Kimutai dig a grave to bury a banana stem
    • Chesaina’s news that Boyi was a marked man
    • News about Boyi’s
  4. What is the implication of the dream used in the story?
  5. The narrator gives a detailed description of what happens when the long rains fall (pg 94). Explain how symbolic the description is.
  6. War leads to Using illustrations from the story show the validity of thisstatement.
  7. How effectively is Imagery used in the story?
  8. Describe the role of Baba in the Story;

Essay Questions

Write a composition showing how war ruins communities making reference to Boyi by Gloria Mwaniga


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