In the book TheBig Conservation Lie by John Mbaria and Mordecai Ogada, the authors decry the modern western-led and insisted-upon wildlife conservation that disregards the long-standing effective work by indigenous conservationists and local communities who have even named their children after wild animals.
H. Ole Kulet’s book, The Elephant Dance is a stirring book that sets its eyes on indigenous people, corrupt elite and desire for quick riches and the young people who are painted as the saviours of their own communities, heritage and inalienable overstepped rights.
TRESPASSERS IN THEIR HOME
The indigenous people of Konini forest, the hunters and gatherers who have lived in the forest all their life await a message confirming the land is theirs.
Arguments had been raised that they do not need land but occasional permission to hunt some small game for meat and trees to hang their beehives for honey.
After lengthy discussions where the elders, led by their leader Sulunye had argued successfully that even the trees they hung their beehives need land and the wild pigs and waterbucks they hunt roam the forest they are expectant their arguments had carried the day.
Two messengers bring the message tersely informing the entire village 150,000 acres of land including their beloved Konini forest where they call home is now the property of a white man called Dick Jones who had leased it for 99 years.
All the wild game and vegetation the people believed were bequeathed to them by the heavenly being Empus Oshoke, the blue-bellied being now belonged to one man, a foreigner and they were trespassing.
30 elders of the community led by their leader Sulunye travel to Sogo where the white man is visiting to see his newly bought land.
The elders in no uncertain terms plan to let him know Konini forest is their inalienable birthright, home and heritage and they were ready to die before they forfeited it.
When they reach their destination, they find the pastoralists who depend on the plains for their cattle have also come to protest.
Just then a group of young warriors calling themselves the Illmirisho lo Supuko materialise out of nowhere and take over the entire confrontation.
They brandish shiny spears menacingly and turn towards the scared white man threatening him for taking their land.
In a hurry, the white man promises he was there to better their lives with dispensaries and water troughs for the pastoralists living in the plains and modern beehives for the hunters and gatherers of the forest, including how to refine their honey for sale.
The white man is warned never to allow poaching and destruction of the forest in any way and must acknowledge the land belong to the pastoralist and forest-living community.
CALL TO THE YOUNG
Everyone returns home happy and Sulunye’s group deliver the great news to their community. Their admiration of the mysterious young men they had never seen before and how they had helped compel the white man into agreeing their terms is obvious.
Unbeknownst to them, nothing is as it seems and the defenders of the forest and its game will turn out to be their undoing.
The hurry of the elders to bring any sought of good news will set out a series of events that will leave their dear forest and home shaken to its core.
The Elephant Dancecelebrates the young and unabashedly seeks to push them to be the change needed in the society, communities and the country at large.
While the aging Sulunye seemingly fails in all his attempts to salvage their birthright, home and heritage, his two sons, nineteen-year-old Reson and elder brother, the celebrated hunter of the community, Sena, are pushed by circumstances to takeover unconsciously and save their community from complete annihilation.
UNBENDING NEW GENERATION
Kulet has authored a gripping suspenseful story with vivid descriptions it is like watching a thriller set in the jungle where old people out of ideas move over allowing the young to fill the gap. The young in the Elephant Dance do not disappoint and show great courage, intelligence and duty for their people, land, wild and the entire society at large. They are ready for the next step.
As poachers roam Konini forest and corruption spreads all over, including the game warden’s camp at Konini town, the forest is left open for misuse. Hundreds of wild animals are butchered senselessly and mercilessly for meat and trophies. Monetary gifts to wardens shut them up.
However, a new female officer-in-charge of the station, Regina Naitore and her deputy, a young officer called Leah Naipande take over.
They seem malleable, easy to manipulate as young people and women but turn out to be the headache of every corrupt warden, poachers and their shadowy masters who craft plans to see them terminated.
Ole Kulet’s The Elephant Dance is delightfully written and compelling from the first paragraph. He weaves an enthralling story of conservation and offers a better approach to the western model criticised for being donor and monetary driven to one where the indigenous people play the role they have played for centuries; safeguarding their natural birthright and allowing the wild game and natural forests to remain in harmony with human life.
The anger by the young men and indigenous forest community of the wanton destruction of the esteemed four male bull elephants, hacking of hundreds of jumbos for ivory and shooting hundreds of buffaloes hardheartedly for meat indicates the reverence of the wild by those who live off it and their willingness to protect it no matter what. Kulet's book also shows how global syndicates and their local surrogates are ready to destroy local communities, defraud their land and extinguish their cultural heritage and sustenance for a quick buck without batting an eyelid.
Excellent storytelling with absorbing imagery paints a cinematic picture of a stunning wild environment and thrilling events as they unfold in Konini forest with twists in every turn. It is not hard to see why The Elephant Dance won the adult category in English of the 2017 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.