The title of this memoir, written in 1980 and published posthumously in 2012, is quite appropriate as it chronicles the life of a man out to make a living and a home in a foreign land amid a myriad of challenges. David Hurd was a British National that settled in Kenya in the 1950s, first in Kisumu and eventually at the Coast in 1962.
The story begins with his arrival in Malindi with the hope of going into the fishing trade. He buys a boat Ghanima, meaning lucky or good fortune in Swahili, and alongside his business partner Kibanja Kenga, begins a somewhat successful fishing enterprise. He eventually leaves the fishing business to pursue running a restaurant, after happening on a semi-inhabited island off the coast of Malindi. The island came to be known as Robinson Island and he made his home on it.
A memorable chapter in the book is on the attack by shiftas at Kiunga, a Kenyan town bordering Somalia, and the kidnap of David Hurd. He is taken into Somalia by the shiftas and ironically, has made the acquaintance of their leader albeit over more civil circumstances. This familiarity is what he claims saved him from certain death, as he is eventually freed and returns home to Kenya. He wrote his first book ‘Kidnap in Kiunga’ published in 1967, describing in greater detail his ordeal in Somalia.
One of the notable things about the book’s format is that the chapter headings are in the form of methali (Swahili proverbs). Some, to be honest, I’ve never heard of. There is however, a translation under each heading. David Hurd goes out of his way to explain every single detail of the coastal life as though his intended audience is foreign. Perhaps he had written the book with his British counterparts in mind, but it still reveals the treasures of the coastal life to anyone not from the Kenyan coast regardless of nationality.
His introduction and description of the various coastal delicacies and the people in the villages, is a portal to a vibrant world filled with adventure and merrymaking. Legends and myths are on almost every page. One in particular becomes a regular theme throughout the book. This is the legend of Fundi Isa, whose ghost was believed to inhabit Robinson Island. David Hurd describes quite a number of eerie incidences which he believed were the work of Fundi Isa. I suppose a coastal story would be incomplete without the mention of Djinn!
The book in essence is really a collection of stories narrating the author’s experiences at the Kenyan coast. The ghost of Fundi Isa becomes synonymous with the island and is blamed for all mishaps such as breakdown of ovens, and praised when things go well! In the end, the island somewhat becomes the main character and the author the vessel through which its story is told. It’s a lovely read especially for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
David Hurd died in 1986 in a car accident while ferrying supplies from Malindi to Robinson Island. Despite myself, I can’t help but wonder if Fundi Isa finally got to him!
About the author
David John Broughton Hurd was born in London, England on 13th July 1935, and moved to Kenya in the late 1950s. After an initial stint as a farmer in the Aberdare Mountains, and then as a fisherman off the Kenyan coast, David became a restauranteur on an island close to Malindi, which visitors called “Robinson Island” after Defoe’s famous novel and to acknowledge David’s Robinson Crusoe-like appearance and living style.
During his years on Robinson Island, David worked on a number of manuscripts. However, his untimely death in 1986 prevented him from seeing this or any of his other island- inspired manuscripts through to completion. This collection describes his chosen life on Robinson Island.
David’s first novel, Kidnap at Kiunga, published in the late 1980s, tells the story of his capture by the Somali shifta, and eventual release and safe return to Kenya three weeks later.
You can buy ‘The Coconut Comes In Due Season’ by David Hurd from Amazon at $9.99.