My paternal grandfather, Mr M’Ndiira Nyonta, was an African pagan.
I was always fascinated that he was the only person I had ever met who did not know The Grace and the Lord’s Prayer.
He was not a rebel, or maverick, or some old guy trying to be cute: he was the diametrical opposite of everyone else.
My maternal grandfather was normal. He was a widely sought-after elder known for his quiet eloquence and strong Catholic faith.
He had the reputation of finding the common ground, in striking reconciliation, and resolving complex disputes.
Thus I was named “Mutuma” in honour of his gift for reconciling and bringing people together.
But the man who fired my imagination was The Great Opposite, Mr M’Ndiira, son of Nyonta, son of M’Michemi, son of Samianga.
I think he was one of a handful of people in the whole tribe who had never set foot in a church.
RITE OF PASSAGE
In Africa, boys were circumcised in their teens and it was a big deal for them and the community, an opportunity to show off their courage in a great rite of passage.
It is understood - this is how journalists float ideas they cannot prove - that my grandfather ran away from the cut and was a laughing stock and an object of curiosity in the Samburu manyatta where he lived with relatives as a 10-foot, 40-year-old herdsboy.
Disgusted, my great grandfather, the patriarch of our lineage, sent a war party to bring him back and have him cut by force.
Even in terms of starting a family, I suspect he took a wife because his father was rich, paid for everything, and would have cut his throat if he had insisted on being a bachelor.
My other grandfather, the Christian, had six wives, as was expected of any respectable man, the values of the Bible notwithstanding.
My grandfather had one. And when she died in 1952, he never remarried, happy to be on his own.
Where everyone else was a farmer, he was a pastoralist and a hunter-gatherer.
He spent his days in the forest with his herd, ducking the occasional wild animal and gorging on berries, wild fruits, and roots.
I was forbidden from eating his food, of course, but which inquisitive little boy could resist the strange, absolutely delicious things on which The Great Opposite thrived?
I remember the roast yam, served hot from the fire with a bitter-sweet crust, sweet potato oven-cooked in hot ash, aromatic sour milk done in wood-treated gourds.
I never did develop a taste for roast banana and arrow roots, though.
And even as a child, I thought blood, even when mixed with milk, was yuck and some of The Great Opposite’s culinary experiments were plain crazy: he took to burying milk in the garden to ferment it faster.
It was unthinkable to drink milk before boiling; my grandfather never boiled his milk, or water. He drank it raw.
I drunk so much unboiled milk that I could not tell the difference between boiled and unboiled.
Once in a very long time, I would wear down my mother with tantrums and threats to hang myself and she would allow me to tag along to the forest with my grandfather.
People, there was no joy in this world like spending the day with my grandfather in the forest.
He was a gruff, taciturn, moody, uncommunicative, tough old man. But among his animals he was a different man: attentive, commanding, almost tender.
They had names, which I have since forgotten except for Nontoyie, which I think was his favourite.
My grandfather knew everything about the African outdoors: he knew every bird of the air, every animal in the forest, every creepy crawly, every plant and its use.
He knew the seasons, every hill, valley and plain. He could tell when it was going to rain, he could tell the time without a watch - and he knew the exact moment when to run and jump up a tree (his advanced age notwithstanding) to escape a rampaging elephant.
From him I forged my identity as an African tribesman and got my sense of belonging and ownership of this land and all within it - including the animals, mountains, and forests - and which it is my duty to protect on behalf of my children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren in turn.
I had not fully appreciated the depth of my feelings about animals and the outdoors until I saw the video of that ranger slaughtering the lion in Isinya on Wednesday.
I felt as if he had, without cause, killed a close relative. I know my grandfather would have felt exactly the same.
The difference is that while I am sweating at a keyboard writing about my feelings, the old man would have walked out and tried to find the ranger and break his neck.
Refusing to stand for a minute of silence in honour of Kenyan soldiers and police officers killed in the line of duty does not mean you are a man of principle.
It is not even a proper form of protest. It shows that you do not know what is important, you are ungrateful, weak, not a leader.
You are unpatriotic, you are not a nationalist or idealist. You are Kenya’s Mr Stupid.
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