The drying tree_Benjamin Gitonga Laibuta
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
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’
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
Elder “Twaikia mata others ae
Na tukenye ae
Arochiara nthaka ae
Jwa Meru 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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
“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”.