A Kenyan “Giver’s” trove of memory
Bwana Karani and From Mtoto to Mzee
By Mervyn Maciel
A review by Cyprian Fernandes
At the heart of Lois Lowry’s superb futuristic children’s novel are two central characters: the Receiver and the Giver. They have lived in a community where there is no war, suffering, colour, sex, music or love. There is no greed, gluttony or any of the seven deadly sins. This is the ultimate sanitised society. One boy is nominated every few generations or so to receive the community’s collective memory from the aging Giver who know just about everything there is to know about all the wars, genocide, crimes including murder, everything that wrong and everything that right about a world that virtually destroyed the planet. The Giver is the sole archive, the memory banks, and he has instant recall.
My friend Tony Reg D’Souza, a former teacher among other things, is somewhat of a “giver”, in the sense that his memory of Goan history in East Africa, especially, Kenya is admirable. Given his years, his instant recall is the stuff of wonderment. In the absence of any formally written history, individual memory, factional books by people like Peter Nazareth(In Brown Mantle, etc) and Braz Menezes (Matata triology), J M Nazareth’s own biographical work (Brown Man Black Country), Maciel’s contributions and historical records of Kenya by other authors serve as important documents that capture the story of the important Goan community in East Africa.
Mervyn Maciel, once Her Majesty’s civil servant in colonial Kenya and the author of two books: Bwana Karani about his experiences as a civil servant and his more recent contribution, From Mtoto to Mzee, one Goan’s journey from childhood to the realm of elders in the community. Bwana Karani quite rightly won accolades in a niche market: the Goan community, former Kenyan civil servants and the curiosity few who were enchanted by the Swahili title of the book.
His second book, however, will lack the wider readership his entrée attracted mainly because it is a personal anthology, akin to the words that are often painted on the canvas of family trees. None the less, it is a commendable effort from someone who is akin to a “Giver” in the colonial and Kenyan context. It is always very rewarding to hear him talk about his experiences as a clerk in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District ( Kapenguria,Lodwar, Lokitung, Isiolo,and Marsabit, ) at a time when white and brown skins in the area were often rarer than the elusively shy bongo (antelope) in the Kenyan forests. The NFD was inhabited by Somalis, Boran, Rendile, Gabbra and a few other tribes. However, Somalia, to this day, maintains that the area was “stolen” by the British colonialists, and a constant state of war (including several incidents of genocide) has continued to ravage the area.
The NFD is semi desert, hot and sometimes drier than the Sahara but it is rich in local folklore, music, anthropological history, the rugged beauty of earth and people that as fierce as they are gentle, tormented and sometimes at peace with themselves amid the fighting. I met him for lunch in London (July 2015) for the first time and his mind and memory are sharper than the point of a needle.
I knew his late brother Wilfred (we supped many a Tusker lager) in Kenya who was quite a brilliant advertising man/journalist and his CV would include meetings with some of the most important politicians of the day, including Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta.
Come, join Mervyn’s safari as he takes you through the many roads that made up his life: from early childhood, schooling in and life in India and Goa to beginning a new life in Kenya. He will take you sightseeing in some of the most splendid towns in northern Kenya. He will let you peep into his bachelor days, falling in love and marriage, the tragedy of losing a child (and, much later, his brother Wilfred), life in the White Highlands (reserved for white farmers) of Kenya, a rude awakening in Zanzibar, farewelling Kenya with tears in the Maciel hearts, living in a manyatta (homestead) in Sutton UK.
Mervyn Maciel is indeed a very talented man and a raconteur who tells a good story every time he writes or speaks. Enjoy the safari.
The book is available from:
Bwana Karani is now out of print but available only at Amazon.
219 Collingwood Road
SM 1 2LX (U.K.)
Price £10 (incl. postage within UK. £8 if collected)
Overseas: £8 + postage approx £6
And in Canada