Caricamento in corso
I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

The drying tree_Benjamin Gitonga Laibuta

paesaggi africani_Africa Teller 2000.

 

Chapter one

No one exactly knew where M’Njira had come from, but it was

rumoured that he had come in Meruland during the famine

nicknamed “Imenye” (know yourself). While seeking acceptance to

settle in Meru, he told the elders that he had previously lived in the

Coastal region with only one parent-the mother. However, one

evening, a monster crept into their hut and made away with his

mother. The following day, the monster came for him, but he was

lucky to hide under the grinding stone. While she was alive, his

mother told him that his enemies during a communal hunting had

killed his father.

From his own confession to the elders, they knew that his tribesmen

were man-eaters! However, he pointed out that he had never eaten

any human flesh. On the day he had escaped, it was planned by his

age mates to have him initiated him into a man-eating exercise. On

such occasions, one was required to seize and kill one of his relatives.

Meat of this relative was specially roasted and shared amongst all

those present. He also disclosed to the elders that it was a plan of his

dead mother that he run away and seek refuge in the land below

Nyambene hills.

His “flight” materialised when he was twenty years old through an

effort of a neighbour who traded in Kambaland. Though he headed

for Meru, fate dictated otherwise! A chief who made him to work

without payment for three years held him captive. He only got food to

get strength, only to use it on the farm the following day. He wore

tattered oversized clothes. It was here that he lost accent of his

original language and started speaking the Kamba language fluently.

On seeing that this strange boy was hardworking, the chief wanted to

adopt him as his son, but M’Njira declined this offer. As a trap, one of

the chief’s daughters befriended him and asked him to marry her in

secret. This girl being quite beautiful, M’Njira accepting the request

with caution. During one dry season, this young man was circumcised

under the chief’s providence. After recuperating in a small hut for

four weeks M’Njira came out as a recognised member of the

community. A day was then fixed, when this young man was to be

shown his piece of land to settle permanently among the Kamba

people. M’Njira having moved from childhood to adulthood,

reflected on the fate that had befallen his family, and felt motivated to

move further eastwards. He quickly consulted some Kamba

merchants who traded with Meru people and they accepted to direct

him. Just one day after which he was to be shown his land by Kamba

elders, M’Njira eloped with his girlfriend following the merchants’

directives.

Towards sunset, he arrived at a place known as Kalimbene, and was

given accommodation by the area chief. Throughout that night, he

narrated his tears drawing story on his past to the chief and his

security men. After completing his story, he requested the chief to

accept him to live among his people. The following day, council of

elders met and discussed the request of M’Njira. Though at first they

were divided on the issue of accepting him as a permanent member,

towards the end of the meeting, they got united and granted him

permanent membership in the Amuthetu clan of the Meru community.

“My fellow tribesmen! Today we are blessed to have a visitor from

the land of many snakes.” M’Aruyaru the council’s spokesman

started to address those who had turned up to witness the swearing in

of a new member of the clan… “He arrived two days ago and was

accommodated by our hospitable chief.” He continued: “As it has

been a routine in our land, we always welcome visitors because we

don’t know when our ancestors may visit us from the spirit world.

Indeed young M’Njira might be an incarnation of one of our long

dead great warriors. Having sat down with all the elders in

consultation with a diviner, we have decided to accept M’Njira as one

of us! However, because we don’t want to take any risk, we want him

to stand up and swear before all of us and our ancestors. Here he will

promise to keep our secrets and never to betray us or to go against our

customs. If he breaks any of these promises, a serious curse will fall

on him and his descendants. With him is a young woman called Ngilu

whom he says is his wife. I request all of you to be patient and to

follow the remaining part of our solemn occasion keenly. Remember,

that whatever we do now will be passed by you from one generation

to another. Now, I give the word to the elder of the elders to officiate

this ceremony”. M’Aruyaru concluded his speech.

As the elder beckoned him, a delighted M’Njira advanced as his face

brightened on hearing that his plan had materialised. He was now a

Meru or so he thought. The elders had prepared a tough concoction

from sheep and man’s wine, sap from Miraa tree, little honey and cow

dug. The oldest of the elders officiated the ceremony as all the others

witnessed. By noon, the entire process was completed and M’Njira

Balchuriu was shown a piece of land where elders blessed him and

prayed that he settle and bring forth high quality warriors to safeguard

the interests of Meru people when the need arose. The following

prayer was said by the oldest of the elders as all other people

responded.

Elder “Twaikia mata others ae

M’Njira ae

Arochiara ae

Twiji ae

Na tukenye ae

Arochiara nthaka ae

Inkerechuku ae

Ikatuika ae

Laing’o ae

Chiakukaria ae

Muongo ae

Jwa Meru ae

Aroobua ae

Simply the prayer translates:

We bless M’Njira yes

That he bring forth yes

Sons and daughters yes

He produce warriors yes

Tough ones yes

To be gallant warriors yes

To protect yes

Generations of Meru yes

He be blessed yes

 

Chapter two

“Spirits of my long dead fathers, keep me company! Don’t allow evil

spirits to cross my way. Stories of the past ought to be forgotten.

Where I came from, what happened to you and how I was brought up

has now lost meaning. I know my children will be pleading with me

to know their ancestors, but by telling them, I will corrupt their

minds. I will be the Alfa and Omega. Beyond me, they will know

nobody else. Now I have become a Meru man through the bloody

initiation. I bent too low to the elders when I accepted to take wine as

oath. Your parents told me that patience pays generously. Now I have

proved this to be true because the foolish elders accorded me all the

rights of a Meru son. I am sure you were with me and every step I

made you were smiling. Although you are long dead, I will carry on

your name. For your case father, you died long before I could hardly

speak. I wonder how you looked like. My mother used to tell me that

I resemble you in all ways. My dear mother, you died when I

seriously needed your advice, but all the same, I thank Kaimba for all

what I learnt from you. I will always remember you and ensure that

my daughters will be lovely and responsible like you. Guide me from

the spirit world to form my family in the same way you formed me.

Scars on my skin will always remind me that you were a strict

disciplinarian. I remember with suppressed tears how you once threw

a cooking pot to me after I had refused to go and fetch water. Were it

not for your corrections, I would now be a useless and brainless

young man. Pray that my wife Ngilu will be like you.” M’Njira said

his prayer inside a closed hut.

Soon after being shown his piece of land where he and his off-springs

would live, M’Njira with the help of his age mates constructed two

round huts. His wife Ngitu was also assisted by the age mates of

“Amuthetu” clan, to plaster and thatch the huts. When the homestead

was well prepared, elders met and resolved that each one of them

should give the young couple, a cow and a goat. M’Elaku in addition

to this gave them two lambs, a spear and a club. Kabaya voluntarily

gave Ngilu one of his daughters to assist her in domestic work.

M’Njira was delighted beyond words. He thanked the elders and

clansmen for their generosity and promised to cooperate with them in

all areas. M’Kubeere, who had all the way through doubted the

sincerity of this young man, called him aside and cautioned him

against taking things for granted. He told him to be careful not to

break any of the promises which he had made, for this would

seriously affect not only him, but also his children and grandchildren.

He further advised him to seek clarity whenever he felt the need.

Most of the nights, young married men went to keep the young

couple company. Here, they talked about their brave warriors, the

hunting techniques, their encounter with raiders, and so on. Although

these men were supposed to share stories outside the house, Ngilu

always requested them to be in the kitchen to keep her company as

well. She used to roast maize for them, which villagers had given to

her. Presents from the kind village women, filled ten sacks, something

that made them feel rich and highly accepted in the society. Lazy

women were the laughing-stock in the village. One day, Nkirote the

village gossiper remarked that she would one day seek refuge in the

Gikuyu tribe to see if she can get free things. However, other women

who quickly pointed out that other tribes are mean and they only

welcome visitors for few days put her off.

During the land preparation, village women helped Ngilu in her

shamba even before they attended to theirs. This made her crops to

come up well suppressing the weeds in the bid to compete for

nutrients. That season, she got the best yield in the entire village,

something that made elders to believe that the young couple had

been accepted and blessed even by the creator. Apart from being

extremely beautiful, Ngilu was a very hardworking woman,

something that earned her great respect in the clan. She never had

time to sit down with other women during the day and gossip, as

opposed to others. M’Njira was not left behind either. He tended the

fence, trimmed the natural trees so nicely that his home became the

most beautiful in the village.

After one year since he was accepted in Meruland, M’Njira was

blessed with a baby boy. He named him Kibwana after his own father.

However, he swore never to let him know that he got his name from

his grandfather. This, he did not disclose even to his own wife.

Generous villagers streamed into M’Njira’s home with all sorts of

gifts. While Ngilu was regaining strength, Kaburo, the helper carried

out most of the household duties. She used to wake up early, to

prepare breakfast, to fetch water and eventually to go to the garden.

Slowly but surely, she made herself a member of that small family.

M’Njira looked at her with great admiration. Whenever he caught her

during work, he secretly stared at her with a hidden agenda. His wife

became suspicious of his moves, when she once saw him watching

Kaburo keenly as she was changing clothes. She quickly knew that

her husband was up to an evil plan. She resolved to resume the

domestic chores to reduce the chances that the two met.

M’Njira was not happy when his wife told Kaburo not to accompany

him to the shamba or even bring food to him in his hut. He became

hostile and refused to go to the shamba saying that this was a

woman’s job. When Ngilu saw that other people had completed

working their shamba, she decided to look after the garden to avoid

any ridicule from the villagers. During the day, Kaburo would be left

taking care of the baby as Ngilu went to weed the garden and M’Njira

roamed about in the village. When the child slept, Kaburo could run

to the river to fetch water, to collect firewood and also to prepare the

evening food. One day, while the wife was out in the garden, M’Njira

called Kaburo into his house pretending to be sick. Unaware and

naive, she popped into the dark hut to receive commands from the

family head. Once in the hut, M’Njira held her tightly and had his

demand met. The innocent lady of charity chose to keep this as a

secret in fear of Ngilu.

 

Chapter three

It did not take long for Ngilu to know that her husband had an affair

with Kaburo. The entire village knew of this and although some

people told Kabaya to get his daughter from the monster, others

advised him to get bride price from M’Njira. M’Njira was also advised

to marry Kaburo as a second wife. Ngilu felt insulted and ashamed.

She tried to argue out with her husband, but he always accused her of

jealousy. Whenever she raised the question about this affair, M’Njira

reminded her that he was an African and polygamous marriage was

highly encouraged. One day, Kaburo woke up feeling dizzy and could

hardly do any work. Ngilu inquired from her about the general body

feelings and from her answers, she immediately knew what she had

always feared had happened! Yes, she was pregnant. A few months

later, Kaburo gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. This though to Ngilu

was a big scandal for M’Njira it was a great blessing and he quickly

named the child Kaimuri after his mother. To him, this was a sure way

of keeping one’s parents alive. Seeing what had happened, Kabaya

sent “Atunguri” to M’Njira asking him to pay dowry for her daughter

before he took the matter to the elders. When he got the message,

M’Njira readily accepted to fulfil the request and in addition to that, to

marry Kaburo in accordance to the Meru customs.

After picking two young men who could run errands for him, the

prospective emissaries exchanged gifts and within two months, the

big day was announced. According to the tradition, Kaburo was taken

back to her parents where she was advised for four days by village

women. They warned her of the need to be obedient to her husband

and feed him well. They also pointed out to her that her marriage was

special in a way because her husband was an adopted child. Meru

people treated those who sought refuge in their land as very important

members. She was reminded that in whatever she did, she should bear

in mind that it was on behalf of the entire clan. At the end of the

“course” they wished her success in life with words that as a

responsible woman, she was free to choose to do either good or evil.

Before the big day, people were given different roles to play. Some

women were to prepare the meals, while young men were assigned to

cut logs to be used as firewood. When the day eventually came,

Kaburo was escorted to her husband’s home, not as a maid but as a

lawfully wedded wife. The normal period of courtship would have

taken more than one year, but because the leg of this lady was broken,

everything was done in haste. On her arrival, ululation’s filled the air.

People, both young and old, became mad with singing. Songs of

praise filled the whole of Kalimba village and were heard in the

neighbourhood. Guests had come from all corners of Meruland. Such

an occasion acted as a unifying factor among the Meru people. All

those present ate and drank to their satisfaction. On the last day, the

elders assembled the people and offered final blessings to the family.

They cautioned Kaburo to be a good wife to M’Njira and a sister to

Ngilu. She was also made to swear to the ancestors through the elders

that she would respect Ngilu just as she did to her own mother.

After one week, both Ngilu and Kaburo resolved to work together in

unity to promote their status and earn respect in the clan. “When I

offend you, don’t fear to come and tell me” Ngilu pointed out to

Kaburo honestly. Shambas of these two young women became

exhibits to other village women. Men would often beat their wives

telling them that they were good for nothing since they couldn’t look

after shambas like those of M’Njira’s wives. No matter what people

said of them, Kaburo and Ngilu worked in unison, something that

made M’Njira proud. At last he could now boast to his age mates. At

thirty-two he won praise of the elders and they decided to send him as

a messenger for inter clan meetings.

M’Njira planned his family wisely in that the two wives conceived in

alternation. That is to say that one wife conceived shortly after the

other one had given birth. This helped solve the problem of looking

for a helper in the household chores while one wife rested to regain

strength. However, the greatest mistake he made was to have children

following one another with interval of only one year! After only five

years of marriage, one couldn’t believe that the eight children playing

outside were all his. On entering the house and listening carefully to

hear two more babies crying from their beds, one could be shocked

beyond words.

When his first born was five years old, M’Njira started training him

to be a fierce hunter and farmer. He could spend most of his free time

showing Mberia how to use a bow and arrow. He also taught him how

to hold a panga and cultivate the garden. This young maiden who

looked as ambitious like his father, followed every instruction with

ease. You could rarely see him idle in the house, even when his father

was not in the vicinity. On the other hand, Kaburo taught her daughter

Kaimuri how to carry out the domestic chores, and she as well grew

up as a responsible girl.

M’Njira, who was a fierce fighter when Maasai warriors invaded his

clan, was highly admired even by young maiden. Many are those who

approached him over friendship. Among them was Kalayu who went

to an extent of asking him for marriage. M’Njira did not know what

to say for an answer. However, without taking it seriously, they

started staying as friends. One event led to another and eventually,

Kalayu became pregnant. When people came to know this, they asked

M’Njira to marry her quickly to avoid shame. One of these advisors

was his own wife Ngilu. However, Kaburo protested this, but she was

over powered through reasoning in a great dialogue. Dowry was paid

and Kalayu became the third wife of M’Njira.

Meru warriors organised a raid on Maasai people. They took two

weeks preparing their weapons and eating proper diets. M’Njira was

chosen to be the group leader while Kabori was to assist him. Before

they left for this dangerous and compulsory operation, every man left

instructions to his wives. Amongst them was a secret on who would

take care of the wives and children in case one died in the war. On

his part, M’Njira told his three wives to work in unity and obey

Ngilu as the leader during his absence. The journey and raid would

take them approximately two weeks. After receiving final blessings

and charms from their divine leader, a horn was blown and these

men started their journey. It was on the fourth day in the afternoon

when they saw the opponents. They rounded their homes and started

the attack. To their advantage, the Maasai warriors were not prepared

and hence they won the battle. On entering the villages, they killed

the young men and took ladies captives. They also took all the

domestic animals such as cattle, goats, sheep and dogs. Although

ladies taken during such a raid became members of the raiders clan

and could not be married to any member of that clan, M’Njira chose

two beautiful girls and vowed never to surrender them to the clan

elders. These girls having seen him fight fearlessly, easily accepted

his request to go and live with him.

When these victorious clan defenders arrived, a party was organised

to welcome them back. Here, songs of praise were sang and those

who were not married got wives. The raided animals were divided

with M’Njira getting a bigger share as the group leader. In addition he

was given most of the weapons which they had taken from the rivals.

However, his praises for bravery were short-lived because when the

elders asked him to surrender the girls, he refused ignoring the pleas

of the most respected clan elders. When one young man proposed that

the ladies be taken by force, the situation became worse with M’Njira

threatening to kill anybody who came his way. The issue brought

about conflict, but the elders calmed the crowd. They reminded him

that he had vowed to live in accordance with the Meru customs which

he was now violating. To this, he said they were making empty

threats which couldn’t move him an inch. To add insult to injury, he

told the hold men to go out in the next raid and get young girls for

themselves if they so wished. This insolent language made the elders

spit twice on the ground and they let the “dirty refugee” keep the girls

and become rich.

Ngilu tried to reason out with her husband but he defied her

suggestions. Realising that she couldn’t convince him, Ngilu accepted

these two girls from Maasailand as her co-wives. Now being a

husband of five wives, M’Njira felt he was at the top and would make

history in the clan. His wives resolved to always assist one another in

order to live in harmony and safeguard the interests of their husband.

Ngilu advised them to accept challenges as they were part of life.

From then onwards, they worked on their farms tirelessly and hardly

could you see them outside the compound when free. They kept each

other company as their children played about in the vast homestead.

Their co-operation was shown in deeds when the young wives got

babies, in that the co-wives gave them all the necessary help ranging

from household chores to cultivation of their divided shambas.

In total M’Njira had fourteen daughters and ten sons. At this time,

children were seen as wealth and hence, he had all the rights to be

proud. He always boasted that when his daughters would be married

off, he could supply the entire clan with milk. About his sons, he said

that in case of war, they could protect the clan without any external

help. The children learnt from their mothers to be obedient,

hardworking and above all to respect their elders. Since there were no

schools, they helped the parents in looking after the cattle for boys,

and cultivating the land for the case of girls. It was the duty of the

sons to repair the fences and any leaking roof of their houses. In

every clan meeting M’Njira wanted to dominate everything because

he claimed to be greater than other men in all ways. This made the

elders annoyed and they started showing him undesirable hatred. At

one instance, M’Etharu the wag, had cautioned him to keep his pride

and only show it to his wives during family meetings. He further told

him that it is God who gives children and can take them when it so

pleases him. To these insolent remarks, M’Njira rose up with his

walking stick wagging in readiness to retaliate, but strong men

blocked his way and reminded him that it was abominable to fight

during such meetings. He retreated warning his opponent of dire

consequence if he ever crossed his way again. When the two met, an

argument followed necessarily. With time, even the village women

and children came to hate M’Njira as a useless, proud foreigner who

was expelled from his original land because of his intolerable

barbaric manners. Many are those who wondered why such a person

could interfere with the well-being of a once very peaceful clan.

Every one cursed both him and his family by heart. The elders kept

trying to correct him, but M’Njira was beyond any meaningful

reform.

 

Chapter four

On one of the fine and quite dry season mornings, while other people

were busy in the compound, two young daughters of M’Njira went

into a nearby thicket to answer a call of nature. Without their notice

two hyenas crept to where they were and before they could even

utter a word, they were dead. Without any hurry, the merciless

carnivorous animals made a feast which they had not laboured for.

After eating to their satisfaction, the good hyenas left for the river to

quench their thirst.

Kaburo waited for her children to return home for breakfast, but in

vain. As a mother she had all the reasons to get worried. Out of

suspicion, she told one of her big sons to go out and to look for his

sisters in the thicket. What followed was a speechless moment. Mweti

stood still lost beyond words. He couldn’t tell for how long he had

remained at the death scene staring at the remains of his sisters. When

he regained his conscious Mweti let out a loud scream that left the

entire village informed that all was not well. Within a short time, both

the thicket and compound were alive with people. Cries of M’Njira’s

family filled the air. The atmosphere was tense. People consoled the

bereaved family and advised the parents to seek clarification from a

witchdoctor. However, M’Njira called them wizards and told them to

clear from his compound.

With help from a few daring villagers, he buried the remains of his

daughters and resumed his normal duties. The mother of the deceased

was breast-feeding twins at the time of her other children’s death.

Following the shock of this news, she forgot about the kids and

completely lost appetite. When at last she resumed her normal life,

her milk caused these twin daughters serious stomach ache. This

resulted to diarrhoea and they eventually died. This was a terrible

blow to the family. With these calamities, even a steel mother

couldn’t help freezing. Kaburo went berserk. She wondered what she

had done to deserve this punishment from the caring God of her

ancestors. “Since my childhood. I have never offended anyone. My

parents are best known for the gentleness and unexplainable

generosity. Then why do I get this in payment to our goodness?”

Kaburo reasoned out in search for the most fundamental questions.

She cried uncontrollably. Though her husband was grief stricken, he

managed to comfort her. However, whenever she remembered her

children, tears rolled down her cheeks in torrents. Situation returned

to normal after one month of mourning in M’Njira’s family. Kaburo

with help and consolation from other village women, settled and put

everything to “Kaimba” (God). Her co-wives were also committed to

helping her in the shamba and they assured her that they shared the

sorrow and happiness together. Though M’Njira had promised to seek

meaning of these calamities from a medicine man, he changed his

mind. He summoned all his wives and cautioned them to take care of

wizards and witchcraft. He also reminded them of the need to love as

sisters of the same father and mother and to help each other in case of

any problem. When bad air passed away and laughter started to be

heard again in M’Njira’s family, calamity struck again. This time, it

called for an alarm. It all happened during day light and in the

presence of many people. Two daughters of Ngilu had gone to a

nearby stream to draw water. when one of them slipped and fell into

the swollen river. Her sister jumped to save her, but the unmerciful

river swept her off balance and was carried away together with her

sister. Other village girls who were also fetching water screamed for

her but it was too late. When people came to the tragic scene, they

only found two lifeless bodies deposited on the river bank about two

hundred metres away from where the once healthy girls had been

swept off. No one could for sure explain this however much people

tried to reason out. Most people thought that this could have been as a

result of a curse or witchcraft. Wise-men insisted that advice from a

highly respected witchdoctor be sought, but M’Njira remained

adamant. He told his charitable advisors that a witchdoctor could only

ask for a high wage and eventually order for an expensive sacrifice,

yet chances of solving the problem were zero. M’Njira called the

elders and they resolved that his five old sons be circumcised to help

him look for a permanent solution to his problems. In what was later

called unrewarding haste, things were arranged and young warriors

were sent to collect a circumcision expert from Masaailand. Village

women collected fire logs and contributed millet and maize for the

initiates’ families as a sign of togetherness.

Before the circumciser could enter into the compound, as the tradition

required M’Njira gave out a goat which was slaughtered and

examined for any irregularities during the circumcision ceremony.

Putting his tools of trade down he uttered some words and seemed to

be communicating with unseen people. The man believed to be highly

experienced shook his head and said “You can all see for yourselves.

The intestines of the goat are lined with yellowish spots, a clear

indication that this homestead is not clean. The ancestral spirits are

against this ritual”. With these words, he gathered his tools into a

black bag made out of a leopard’s skin. He said “If you insist that

your children have to be cut, then sacrifice should be given

immediately or else expect the worst.” The elders who were busy

discussing the words of this great man, called M’Njira aside and after

discussing with him for some time returned and told the circumciser

to carry on with his work whatever the outcome. On hearing the

words, of these highly refuted elders, the circumciser picked on

M’Njira and asked him to announce to the crowd of people that he

would accept the blame if the worst happened. Without any hesitation

M’Njira who looked composed cleared his throat and said: “My dear

tribesmen, this occasion is to bring back my lost joy and regardless of

what this man is foreseeing, it has to take place. As long as he is safe,

the rest should be left to me!” He simplified the matter in such a way

that it made all those present to exchange unusual glances.

At dawn, the following day five sons of M’Njira and forty others

from the village were escorted to the river where they took a cold

bath to numb their bodies in readiness to face the circumciser’s knife.

Here, their sponsors took their blankets and without wasting time, ran

into the holy ancestral field where circumcision was to take place.

Meanwhile, the village women were singing for them. Young men

who had spent a sleepless night, were now ready to get the reward.

The horn was blown to the top as the peak of the celebration neared.

Each of the young warriors had a well sharpened sword, a club and a

spear. These were to be used on anyone of the initiates who showed

any signs of fear. It was a known practice that if someone feared by

moving the legs or closing the eyes during circumcision, death

followed and no one cried or mourned him.

The initiates sat on a semi-circle leaving an entrance. When all was

ready, the circumciser together with his escorts, commonly known as

“Lamala” who were dressed in leopards skin and who wore headgear

made of lion’s fur, came running and stood at the centre of the circle

in a traditional way. The expert of this rite of passage, sprayed people

with “naichu” (wine) and quickly bent to start his work. At this

juncture, everyone was silent apart from the melodious sounds of the

horns. Everyone was keen to observe the initiates. Each initiate took

thirty seconds hence in less than an hour, the job was complete. When

at last the circumciser raced from the field, people burst out to

dancing and singing in praise of their courageous sons who were now

recognised as members of the clan. Women though at a distant, were

also blowing whistles and ululating as a sign of victory and courage

shown by their children. Young girls were not left out either. They

danced vigorously in praise of their potential husbands.

After giving them fresh milk, the young initiates were covered with

banana fibres and tree branches. Finally, they were escorted back to

their respective homes. In every home, thatches from above the door

of the main house were removed to show that one member of the

house had moved to a separate house. If such a man was to enter into

his mother’s house again, he was required to give to his age mate

thirty six pots of undiluted liquor. Immediately on arrival, the

initiates were to stand in the compound then the mother and father

were called to promise inheritance to the young sons as the crowd

witnessed. This was to be followed later even after the death of the

father or in case of conflict.

M’Njira once again started boasting in his characteristic way. To have

had five sons circumcised on the same day was a great achievement.

He seemed to have forgotten the reason why he had to do this. Under

normal situation the elders couldn’t have allowed this. At home,

people ate and drunk to their satisfaction. Some gluttonous people ate

so much that they couldn’t walk to their homes. Looking at them,

they could have mistaken for nine months expectant mothers.

Marwaa (local brew) was served without discrimination. M’Njira told

his wives to prove to the clan that they were good farmers by feeding

them properly.

For two days, people forgot about their homes and camped in the

homesteads of those whose sons had been circumcised. Those who

brought firewood were treated with speciality. They were served with

“kiruthu” (undiluted Marwaa). As they drunk, stories were told with

expertise. Old ladies took advantage and dominated the periods with

un-interruptible sweet stories. Some women chatted so much that,

when evening came, their children had to come for them.

It was against the Meru customs to apply any form of medication on a

wound sustained during circumcision. One got healed naturally.

Perhaps this was possible because of the good diet taken by the

candidates during seclusion period. However, at times this failed and

eventually one died. The three youngest of the circumcised sons of

M’Njira were bleeding profusely, something that called for an alarm.

It seemed like their gods were on leave. Their sponsors secretly tried

to apply traditional herbs on their wounds, but all in vain. They very

well knew that if the “worst happened” M’Njira would defile the

traditions and accuse them of murder not even manslaughter.

Although a father was not supposed to know the progress of his sons

during this period, M’Njira was called by the sponsors of his children

to see how his sons were getting on. It was really a big risk but there

was no otherwise. On seeing how the situation was, he quickly called

a few village elders and together they discussed the fate of his sons.

Remembering the calamities that had fallen on M’Njira’s family, it

was agreed that the sons be attended to by a specialist. Everything

was arranged and three young men were sent to collect the said

medication. However, when the specialist was coming, he was met

with news that the souls of the young boys were liberated back to

their creator. This news was both alarming and heart-breaking.

News of these deaths went far and wide. They spread like bush fire,

not only within the clan, but also outside. However, women and

children were kept out of this as the tradition required. Not even the

mothers of the deceased were to know of this until when the other

sons got out of seclusion after healing. A grave was dug behind the

seclusion hut at night and the three young men were buried quietly

and hurriedly. Warriors ensured that the grave was well levelled and

grass planted on top. Women and children were never to know where

this grave was. The elders commanded M’Njira not to cry although

they agreed that this was a big tragedy.

It was completely against their customs for anyone to mourn when

faced with that rare situation. Wise-men streamed into his compound

to give consolation. They used proverbs and other heavy words which

no “non-member” could understand. They kept shifting from one tree

shade to another as the evening approached.

After two weeks, things turned to normal and M’Njira learnt with

persuasion from the wise-men, how to stop worrying and start living.

However, most of the times, he could stop and examine his past life.

Memories of his mother how she had died, how he had come to live

among Meru people and what was happening to him drew tears from

his dry eyes. He stopped to wonder why God was so unkind to him if

at all He existed. At times, he could walk aimlessly swinging his

walking stick and talking to himself. He also lost appetite and became

hostile to the slightest provocation. Not even his once favourite dishes

could tempt his appetite. When his wives questioned his behaviour,

he retorted saying this was common to any man of his age.

Ngilu called him secretly one night and explained how she had

known him from youth and how changed he was now. “It’s ignorance

of the highest order for you to deny that you have a problem, when

your lifestyle has changed drastically”. Ngilu pointed out. “My

husband, you married me so that we could share happiness and

sorrow. How comes then, that your are disturbed by something that

you don’t tell me? Please my husband let us share your worries

however nasty and horrifying they may be”, Ngilu pleased.

As if from a dream, M’Njira realised the mistake he was making for

not sharing his problems with a wife who had stood by him through

thin and thick. He remembered how out of love, Ngilu had left her

father’s properties to follow an orphan for a husband. He felt guilty

and without noticing tears started streaming down the cheeks.

Although many ordinary women would have screamed on seeing

this, Ngilu held him tightly and warm tears found way out of her

eyes and started falling rhythmically. They stayed in this state for

long, but finally M’Njira recovered and freed himself. That night, he

couldn’t sleep.

During his recollection, M’Njira laid on his hard bed thinking of the

best steps to take. His thoughts were often interrupted when he

stopped to sniff tobacco. After a short period of reflection, sleep

caught up with him and he slept without even covering himself with a

blanket. “M’Njira, M’Njira, I know what you are feeling now, but

you called for it”. A mysterious voice announced to him. “If I were

you, I would have packed my belongings and returned to my land.

However, I know you are a hard-core and you will never do this.

Alternatively, you can call the entire clan of Meru, and apologise for

violating your oath. The oath you took was not lunch or breakfast. It

was a covenant that cannot be broken and which knows no excuses.

Through it, you are now a Meru child. Many at times, you have

defied the orders from the elders. You are a proud man, but pride will

lead you to no good. Unless you do something, your most loving

wives and children will die of a mysterious fire! You will also…!

Before the voice could complete the message, M’Njira jumped out of

his bed, his body covered with sweat and panting like a dog that had

just returned from a hunting exercise. He looked at corners of the hut

to ensure that there wasn’t anybody. A log on the fireplace was still

burning and the room was still half-lit. He sat up on his bed, took out

a pitch of tobacco from a wooden container which hung from his

neck and sniffed it. M’Njira tried to recollect the ideas he had heard

from the mysterious voice, but nothing came out clearly. He walked

out to urinate. The moon was overhead and the night was quiet. He

looked at the cattle boma and ensured that thorn branches of acacia

tree securely fastened the entrance. Having certified that everything

was in order, this man of vision went back to his hut and spread

himself on the bed. At first he thought of calling his young wife to

keep him company but he changed his mind. No sooner had he got

into bed, that heavy sleep caught him. Again, he forgot to cover

himself.

“My son, I have heard your cry but there is nothing I can do for you

at present” a sweet soft voice told him. “Although you have partly

contributed to all these calamities, I have a big share of blame! I

know you are asking God if he brought you into the world to suffer.

These are just, but temptations. Do only what you can, and be patient.

No matter what temptations come your way, don’t take life as being

unworthy to live. However, you need to examine yourself. How I

wish I could take your suffering and let you stay a happy man. All the

same, don’t mind. My son, stop worrying and start living. You are not

the first to undergo these terrible experiences and I am sure you

wouldn’t be the last. What I can warn you against, is taking out your

dear sacred life. This will be a sign of cowardice and will not help

solve the problem. Soon, your wives and children might die and

you…!” At this, M’Njira woke up screaming so loudly that his wives

and children came to see what was happening. His heart was beating

fast like a drum and he was shivering like a leaf on a windy day. His

wife Ngilu, instructed the youngest wife to prepare the fire and warm

the milk for their husband. Though he did not speak, his eyes were

wide open and moist with tears. When the milk was ready, it was

given to him and with one lifting, he put an empty tin on the floor.

The silence that followed, made the atmosphere tense. No one dared

speak, but children exchanged glances with their demanding eyes.

Kanuu the eldest daughter of Kalayu looked at her terrified father.

Nobody knew what could have been said to give the right effect.

People were lost beyond words.

When Ngilu cleared her throat, all the eyes shifted to her, as she was

the only hope to be relied upon in such like situation. She ordered the

children to go back to sleep and they obeyed without questioning. She

ran her soft palms round her husband’s cold body and he immediately

stood as if to go. However, the younger wife blocked his way and

burst out into tears. On seeing this, M’Njira held her and assured the

others that all was well.

M’Njira thought for a while and then told his wives that he had had a

terrifying dream that was peculiar in a number of ways. However, he

didn’t disclose what the dream was all about. At this, Ngilu whispered

something into the ears of the other wives and they left the room

leaving behind the youngest of them to keep the husband company

for the rest of the night.

Yes. The family had really expanded, but now the curse had fallen on

the members who were now dying one after the other. It was like a

drying tree. Indeed, a drying “Family Tree”.