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Murang'a's Mzee Macharia and how ordinary lives become extraordinary

Friday January 20 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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I attended the funeral of a nonagenarian in the Kahuro area of Murang’a County this week. It was an ordinary funeral in Murang’a but for an extraordinary man, I thought.

The departed gentleman was named Ernest Macharia Muriuki, but was popularly known as "Properly". Why? Because he believed in doing everything in the "proper way" using a standard he probably inherited or learned from the colonial masters.

He was a WWII veteran and had been to Burma at some point, fighting a war the British colonial masters thought was important.

They took along a substantive number of their colonised as the Carrier Corps, in support of the King's African Rifles. This was the army that defended British East Africa at the time.

This 96-year-old man had a number of outstanding characteristics. One is that for a man of his generation, he was not polygamous and was married to the same woman for 76 years.

He was sold to the concept of one wife and followed through with this ideal that he had obviously adopted from the British Christian missionaries and stayed with for 76 years.

Consistency in following through with ideas is one thing the current generation needs to learn. The obsession of accumulating material things and humans did not invade his spirit.  

The mzee was truly authentic and occasionally enjoyed an alcoholic beverage. Of course he was well aware of the various brews from the alcoholic beverage industry in Kenya, but that was not for him.

COUNTY MUSEUMS

He had his own traditional pot for brewing, using Gikuyu indigenous brewing methods. He made honey and sugar cane beer known as muratina for domestic consumption, and it was not using the stainless steel milk buckets.

No, those simply accelerate a process that one should invest time in to get the best possible quality of drink.

So he brewed his muratina in one corner of his house and it was not until after two weeks that the brew was considered ready for tasting and subsequent consumption.

This authenticity of lifestyle made me think of two things. One, Kenyans and our permanent search for heroes and heroines.

Two, the need for counties to initiate the collection of artefacts that will be used in county museums, assuming the Constitution, which includes the handing over of museums from the national government to the counties in the Fourth Schedule, will be carried out.

It is obviously from such elderly people that county executives in charge of culture should be collecting artefacts and ethno-materials. Artefacts are most authentic when they are collected from such users; people who simply adopted a certain way of life and used it consistently for many years.

It is such humans who follow through with a lifestyle not expecting any recognition or rewards and away from the public eye who make the most amazing storyline in some of the most prestigious museums in the world, such as the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Indians in New York City.

CONTESTED HISTORIES

A person’s collection is recognised, not only for its practical utility value but also for its intrinsic and aesthetic value. There are more pots of this kind probably out there in Murang’a County, but their authenticity may not be validated and they may not have a similar history attached to the user.

Such collections that are already part of a story make very good cultural and ethnographic collections for museums.

The users of such collections and their lifestyle also become the stuff legends are made of, again a source of inspiration and admiration for later generations.

Our heroes should not just be politicians, most of whom have contested histories. Rather it should be ordinary people who have lived such ordinary lives that the act itself is extraordinary, being content with what they have while conducting themselves with outmost dignity and integrity.

Back to Mzee Macharia. Even his death was proper. Earlier in the year, he sent word to all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that he would like to celebrate them and his wife of 76 years at the end of the year.

Being a Catholic, he organised a celebration of Mass on December 30, 2016. On New Year's Eve, he spent the entire day with his extended family, but around six o’clock, he told them he was tired and needed to rest. He went and lay down, and rested for eternity.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa