In May 2008, Sungu Sungu descended on a number of villages in my rural home in Kisii and lynched a number of suspected sorcerers and wizards. It was a highly publicized event that earned my commnity negative publicity for the umpteen time. Old women, normally associated with the practice were doused in petrol and necklaced with car tyres and lynched. I felt that there was need for an insider-someone from the cmmnity-to bring the real story to Kenyans.
It was at the end of my first year and end year exams were beckoning. At the moment, I was enjoying some good rapport with an editor at the Standard’s Crazy Monday, a humorous pull out that makes Mondays worthwhile. I wrote to him expressing my wish to visit Kisii and bring the story that I guaranteed was going to be as juicy as they come. He gave me a go ahead.
This was at the formative stages of my freelance writing and I can confess that getting such an opportunity is a big honor. For any would be writer, getting the attention of an editor at a big media house is as good as it gets. It was my first big assignment and there is no way I was going to screw it. I remember running into the library to do a lot of research about past incidents and what academicians had written about it. I spent two days at the Kenya National Library at Upper Hill, which to me is the best library in the country, even though public.
Upon completion of my research, it was time to go down to the village and research on the events leading to the lynchings. I called on my close friend PO who said he was game and we could go down and carry out our first journalistic experience. PO was also getting into the writing game having been given into poetry more than prose writing prior.
We set to leave on a Saturday Night, conduct the research on a Sunday and be back to school by Monday. It was a fairly achievable feat. We left school at 9pm and arrived at the bus station 30 minutes later. All the buses had left. We only had one two options, sit there through the night and wait for the first bus in the morning or go back to school and leave early in the morning.
Now I have a big problem with myself. Once I have set to travel, I never revise my schedule to accommodate any unforeseeable circumstances. It has really cost me a number of times. I have slept in forests when the vehicles break down, and I have often found myself really dangerous spots at wee hours of the night. We could not go back to school and we opted to dance the night away at Club Wallets along Tom Mboya Street.
We looked naive, with our back packs. We looked foolish with Peter on Sprite and me on a Redbull. In Wallets. A club more famous for the number of wallets that are stolen every weekend than partying. A club with the most physical dancers in Nairobi. A club that is home to many revelers from the Eastlands who have a habit of sneaking into clubs with all manner of hard liquor. At wallets, your drink can be spiked in a blink of an eye and you might wake up somewhere in Uthiru with your hideous boxers on. Yes! that is where we ended.
I wasn’t yet a close friend to Bon-I and Paul Ndeda, the men who convinced me that beer actually does not taste like a concoction of salted bitter wild flowers. My earlier experiences with beer were torturous and finishing my first bottle of Pilsner while in Form III was more punitive than circumcision. So on this given night, PO who is still a teetotaler(with the strangest of reasons) and I sat there with PO taking to the floor to dance occasionally( jumping like a Dinka traditional warrior is more like it). Too bad I can’t dance to win the woman of my dreams, much less save my life. I keep losing women in clubs for the sole reason that I have two right feet that are totally immobile.
It was a long, belabored night. If you have ever sat through for the night waiting for someone or something to happen, you should have known that the hours are psychologically longer than during day time. By 5 in the morning we set out and got into a Nyamira Express and set out. Exactly four and half later, we were in Kisii Town and fast enough we got into the contraptions that transport people into the populous villages in Kisii.
It was a revelation for Peter as 14-seater Matatus packed up to 26 individuals comfortably. There was always an extra space for for the next person. We delved into the affected villagers. All my neighboring villages had been affected and I had called upon my cousin Areba to take us around the villages. He proved to be duly resourceful. We criss-crossed the villages, searching for the Primary school teacher whose kidnapping by sorcerers had triggered the widespread lynching.
See, what the witches do in Kisii, they normally have a certain book that they enlist individuals they would wish to kill and through which means. Allegedly, they play god by determining on how one dies. It has never been proved though. In this case, the teacher had stumbled upon the book at the primary school, and he was instantly made a speechless-literary and a Mathari Case. The witches are that powerful.
The villagers were so incensed and all the suspected witches and wizards were torched plus their houses. It was a morbid encounter and an eye-opener into the injustices that had happened. With new academic insights, whatever that was happening was wrong. I remember the teacher refusing to talk to us, claiming that if he says anything, his life would be in danger.
I rarely go to my ancestral home, because of private reasons but anytime I happen around there, I normally pass by to say Hi to my folks. This day was no exception. I passed by and went on to cover more stories before finally packing at my grandmother’s place. My grandmother is the greatest living woman in the world, and I can spend all my time listening to her. I love her. I adore her. I admire her deeply. I discussed with her the events that had happened and she was equally disturbed by both the unending sorcery practices and equally the ruthless nature with which they are dealt with.
When I got back to Nairobi, I wrote the story and in deed it was published as a big feature that helped shade some light into the social-cultural, psycho-political reasons for the lynchings. Amongst the things
I suggested to help deal with the practice of digging up bodies for consumption or canibbalism and further rituals was cremation. It sounded a good intellectual antidote to the disgusting exhumation. Already in the village that I grew, in order to deal with the exhumations, a number of villagers had begun pouring sulphuric acid over the bodies in order to dissolve the bodies into bonies or something completely inedible to the repugnant appetites of the witches.
At the moment, I felt academically liberated to entertain the idea of cremation and personally I had a feeling that come my time, cremation was worthwhile. I come from a community that is as rigid as they come. In Africa, ordinarily the dead have no wishes to make, literary. Even someone like me, with a complicated parentage that a cremation can help resolve many a dispute, it will be awkward to even think about it. Logically, it looks the most feasible thing to do in Kisii, since all the land has been taken up by subsidence farming. And many land disputes are in the offing, unless they all steer clear from dependence on land economy.
But after watching and listening to the cremation debate with regards to the death of Prof. Wangari Maathai death wish, I have had to revise my position with regards to it. For spiritual and sentimental reasons. On second thoughts, cremation looks, odd, insensitive and out of touch with Africans respect for the death. I can’t imagine being reduced into ashes through cremation. It is just improbable.
Many of my friends share the same sentiments. I would prefer a public cemetery to cremation.