Sultan Somjee: One who dares
to dream is a prophet
Saturday, April 03, 2021
One who dreams is called a prophet
Published by Amazon
Author Sultan Somjee who now lives in Burnaby, Canada, accepting a peace staff and leaves of a peace tree from a Pokot Elder
This book is not for peace sceptics or peace unbelievers. Academic Evelin G. Lindner sums it up quite nicely and others have given comments on Sultan Somjee’s work in similar voice, especially, the venerable author and academic Prof Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who spoke in a glowing voice at the virtual launch of the book in November 2020.
Dr Lindner, the founder of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, writes: The book “is indispensable reading for every citizen of this world who wishes to work for a worthwhile future for our children. Somjee presents his profound insight into the peace building traditions of Africa (my words: particularly Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan) in a deeply touching narrative of dignity and humiliation. Reading this book is a life-changing experience.”
Even as child, a schoolboy at St Teresa’s Boys’ School in Eastleigh, Nairobi, Somjee was always a thinker. He was a quiet classmate and someone everyone called a friend. He was a dedicated student, too. However, he was not much into sports or the social hijinks some of his other friends got up to each day. He was special, but we did not know exactly just how special he was. He has Kenya’s red soil running through his veins, even though he now lives in Vancouver, Canada.
One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet is a work of fiction but anyone who knows that the protagonist, old man Alama, is Somjee or a representative of everyone who has walked the path of seekers of peace during conflicts, especially his assistants. Central to the Kenyan peace experience are the peace museums which are home to traditional cultural artefacts of peace such as the Pokot woman’s waist belt called leketyo, going back a long time. All these are described in the book.
Their bodies and voices expressed historical memories in their mother tongue questioning the misinterpretation of their culture, history and the legitimacy of the kinship rulers who kept them divided and poor. In that, it was a civil society formed around the arts. Jomo Kenyatta’s paramilitary razed the theatre, but they could not erase Kamirithu from our memory.
While setting up museums of peace during the conflicted times of the 1990s. I used the Kamirithu methodology. I remember Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Miri, the writers of the banned play Ngahika Ndeenda. I remember Kimani Gecau, it is director and acknowledge the Kamirithu community with gratitude for setting me on a life-long journey where the community is the school.
It was not always an easy ride. Ngugi was Thiong’o spoke at length about Somjee’s heroism in the face of persecution by successive governments. Somjee may have even saved a few lives by helping frontline colleagues escape to nearby African countries. He writes: “Along the way we faced obstacles like sometimes the repressive government would not allow us to plant peace trees to manifest and commemorate a site of massacre.”
Secret police would monitor workshops and Somjee and the members of his team would often be followed by these secret policemen. However, many of his students and assistants continue the walk today despite enormous difficulties.
“The continue to dream and expand the project with occasional funding from NGOs ad through people-to-people efforts across cultures and borders. They are the proud curators and initiators of their own community museums of peace in Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan,” Somjee writes.
Their journeys gather, save and pass on community narratives about wide-ranging found in material culture, storytelling, songs, dances, parables and riddles. For generations these varied indigenous arts and language traditions have informed villages how to live as communities with other communities, according to Somjee.
“This book is about my journey with my field assistants and student curators. It is told in one voice as one continuous journey that merges many voices and many journeys over a period of 30 years.”
According to Somjee: “The curators (of peace museums and other peace projects) are the true prophets because they dare to dream amid inequality and injustices, misrule and corruption that has gripped Kenya for decades and does not seem to go away.