Mzee Lemangen sat down on his old three legged stool outside his Manyatta wondering what he had done to annoy the gods. His face, pale and wrinkled by old age, did not glow even as the sun set behind the beautiful savannah. A poker-face embodied by his pierced ears as he chewed on a root and spat on the ground. From a distance he could hear his eldest son Lengosek whistling as he drove the cattle back to the Lorora. He drew in a sigh and disappeared back into deep thought. His eyes were teary with resignation and frustration. This was the third season that the gods had not blessed his land with rains.

“Father…” Lengosek called out.
“Father!” there was no response; only a sad stare greeted him back.
“Please let me move to the city,” Lengosek implored. “There I can find a job as a watchman and be sending you some money.”

Mzee Lemangen did not flinch. They had been over this countless times and he was getting tired of being pestered. He was not for the idea of his eldest son moving to the damned city. He had already lost enough siblings to let Lengosek go. Just a few seasons back Lekey, the son before Lengosek had died before he became a Moran. Tradition has it that for a young Samburu warrior to be initiated into Moranhood, he has to pass one of the grueling tasks of killing a lion. Lekey was destined for great things. He was to inherit his father’s wealth and be inaugurated into the council of elders. It was therefore unfortunate and depressing that he met his death from the same cruel custom that Mzee Lemangen upheld and preached so vehemently.

On the fateful day, Lekey was in a buoyant mood. He was so proud of their culture and traditions which his Matapatu clan cherished and retained. It was time for his age-set to be initiated into Moranhood. It was time to enjoy a convivial and relatively undemanding life with permissive sex. Every Samburu boy looked forward to this period in their lives. Lekey was no different. He had spent hours having his hair braided the day before. Donning abstract designs in orange on his face and red ochre on his head, neck and shoulders, there was no doubt that he would have enjoyed his Moranhood. It was his time to be fearless and arrogant. Moranhood would have been his prime and he would have been free to do largely exactly as he liked.

Lekey must have forgotten to spill some blood and milk for the gods. Maybe he got too excited or too arrogant to remember his forefathers. Lekey had just returned home from the market after buying more beads for the festival. Simba, his dog, was strolling lazily beside him when the rustling of dry leaves behind a bush caught his attention. Off he went, disappearing behind the bush barking. Lekey did not pay attention for this was the wild and it could have been a hare or squirrel that Simba had ran after. No sooner had he called Simba back than a load roar met his earshot. His first reaction was to aim his spear but he was from the market. He did not have a spear, only his rungu. His feet got numb and his tongue heavy. Simba would be torn to pieces. Despite ironically being named Simba, he would be devoured by a real lion. This was not the case. Simba, the dog, disappeared into thin air when he heard the roar. He was wise enough to know the difference between a cat and a lion.

“Simba!” Lekey tried to call out, whispering instead.

His heart was beating louder than the Ameru drums in a Njuri Njeke celebration. There were no trees nearby where he could have climbed. And before he could conjure his way out of it, she appeared. Her eyes firmly focused on him giving away her intentions. An enraged lioness who had just lost her cub to hyenas. There was no pecking order as to whom she would unleash her wrath on. Lekey was no match for her. He could not outrun her and if this was an early initiation then he was never going to become a Moran. The initiation required skill, wit and a few age-mates backing you. His knees buckled and the once outspoken warrior wet himself as he collapsed to his knees. From the iota of strength left in his subdued body, he clenched his fist and wildly swung his rungu hoping for a lucky blow. His death was fast and cruel though she did not devour him. It was pure murder; a retaliation. His body lay lifeless with the beads sparsely scattered on the red soil. There was blood on his braids and his shuka. She must have drunk his blood.

Simba had witnessed this from a distance and barked his lungs out. His bark loud and assertive but it gradually declined into a whine. He had slowly realized that he had just lost his master. He sat there hoping his mind had played tricks on him and Lekey would get up call his name and play with his ears like he always did. He didn’t. And so he ran home alone. He was sad when he got to the homestead and being an evening, no one took notice. It was not until everyone had finished their chores from feeding the cows to fetching water that Mzee Lemangen sent out Lengosek to ask Lekey to join him in his hut. Lengosek had finished milking the cows when he decided to pass by Lekey’s newly constructed hut to tease him. No one was in. There was nothing unusual until a frantic call from outside the homestead got his attention. A passer by walking home from the market had found Lekey dead by the roadside and rushed to his home, bearing the heartbreaking news. No one really could comprehend his fate.

Mzee Lemangen like many other African men had many wives. He had three, and all three wives had given him seven children with the third wife expectant and due in a few weeks. It was not all gloomy after all, or so he hoped. He had just lost his eldest son and the ancestors were about to bless him with another. A son, he hoped. Tribesmen never tire of sons. They call them warriors and he wanted an army. Life in the village had changed drastically. More and more conservative cultures were dieing and the Samburu’s was no different. He had held countless meetings with the council of elders to instill discipline and morals back to the community but it was a difficult task. Mzee Lemangen sometimes felt his predicaments were rather harsh and he constantly wondered why the gods hated him most. Misfortune seemed to ghost around his homestead probably as a payback to all the sins his forefathers and earlier generations had committed.

He was still in a dispute with the other elders over his young daughter’s refusal to be circumcised. His daughter Naisekui was learned. She met a missionary who introduced her to a classroom and ever since she became the rebel in the family. She still upheld her morals and traditions but she refused to follow most of them that she felt were untenable. Circumcision was one of them. Mzee Lemangen was perturbed by this newly acquired knowledge Naisekui proclaimed to get from the school. He called it poison and it was slowly eating him up. Poison that must have been in the watering hole otherwise why else was it spreading so easily in his homestead?

“Why do you shame me?” he had asked. “Don’t you see you are the only girl who has not been circumcised in this family?” She had looked down in shame staring at her toes. “Father, circumcision is dangerous,” she tried to convince him. An obnoxious stare is all she got from him before he dismissed her to go fetch firewood for the evening meal. Later that evening Mzee Lemangen visited Nenkai, his third and most recent wife.

© george kinyua

(Read part 2 here)