Encountering Living Memories

By Mutheu Mulinge

When we encounter tales of the colonial days, we usually hear and read from academic and factual material that either focuses on the facts on the ground at a statistical level or accounts as seen in the eyes of prominent personalities, usually politicians. How refreshing therefore to encounter a collection of experiential stories told by ordinary people who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Instead of the usual heroic (and sometimes vague) tales of the Mau Mau war veterans, fighting for Kenya’s independence in the bushes of rural Kenya that we have grown accustomed to, Living memories is not, technically, a Mau Mau book, nor is it about the struggle for independence. The Mau Mau had a sphere of operations that covered little beyond central Kenya and much of the highlands. The stories cover the memories of people from all parts of Kenya of how they coped and the life-altering experiences they found as they coped. The stories were told to Al Kags and then recounted in the simple fashion of a grandparent sharing his memories with his grandchildren. This could be why Nation Media Group CEO, Linus Gitahi calls the collection “truly, the stories of our nation.” These are accounts of life in Kenya during a time in history when Kenyans had no rights and every day life was a perpetual struggle for survival. The gripping tales of loss of life and kin, fear, brutalisation, injustice, betrayal, and the hope for a new beginning will move you to tears and linger in your mind long after. You are sure to find yourself reflecting on how events that occurred in that time are still affecting our lives today. One tale that will have you in fits of giggles in one moment and sorrow in the next is the humorous telling of an old man’s days as a young rickshaw runner in Nairobi. The racial segregation of public spaces and a most urgent need to answer the call of nature put him on a collision course with the main law man of the day, which led to his wrongful arrest as a Mau Mau consiprator and his sentencing to many years in prison. An old professor, now in her nineties, tells the story of how she came from being a simple rural girl in Rabai to a prostitute in Nairobi’s Ziwani to a global scholar. Through her story, one gets a glimpse into the circumstances that many girls had to live through and gets some secrets about how many of our parents inadvertently became a couple – for all these years. Amidst the drama, Living memories is a definite lesson in organic history – the lives and times of our folk in an era so different from our own. As the pre-eminent author of the

powerful theatre production, Cut off my tongue, Sitawa Namwalie says, “These are precious stories; gifts from our past that explain who we are today.” Regardless of whether the collection is to you a lesson in history, a thought-provoking introverted look into our own national DNA and psyche or just simply a bunch of old folk’s tales from the past, Living Memories will not let you down. And if my own experience is anything to go by, you will not put it down either, until you are finished. PS. One wonders whether the book is a lesson in how the future met the past: by his own account at the Storymoja hay festival, Al Kags wrote the whole book on his Blackberry mobile phone.

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