By Francis Ochieng
One of the most interesting features of Muli wa Kyendo new book, Kioko and the Legend of the Plains, is the richness of the cultures it portrays. Reading through it is like going through the ancient cultures of the two communities featured.
You begin with the culture of the people of Nzaui whom we assume are the Kamba although they are not named in book. The main character Kioko and the other names of this community are clearly Kamba.
Before Kioko starts his search for a bull, he exposes a variety of cultural activities in which children in his community were – or are – engaged. Their main occupation is herding cattle and while they are doing so, they engage in many activities that give us invaluable information.
Then we learn a lot from Kioko’s grandmother who is referred to as Grandmother. She knows the fears and triumphs of the community and she delights in telling Kioko about it. I was particularly moved by her tales of her life in the Kapiti plains as a young girl. We see the mixtures of imaginary and real life of these people.
When Kioko reaches the land of the Akavi, an ancient community whose culture and language was similar to present day Maasai, we are immersed into the culture of this community – a very different culture from the one that Kioko comes from.
Flora and Fauna
Another significant aspect of this story is the flora and fauna. Kioko starts form the hills of Nzaui—I assume this hill is the one with the same name which is in Makueni County and which has a lot of myths and history of the Akamba people. And again it may not, because the real mountain lies in the plains. Be that as it may, Kioko starts from the hills of Nzaui and tracks down to the plains keeping a distance behind warriors led by his father, Muendo.
When he loses the warriors in the plains, Kioko is left on his own where we get familiar with the flora and fauna of the expansive Kapiti plains. We meet with all kinds of animals including lions which carry such significant meaning for Kioko. It is the cultural beliefs and human and animal relations which fascinated me most.
A writer and children book expert Megan Green whose review of the book is quoted says “This is an incredible story with a tight plot, a character any reader will empathize with, and a wonderful lesson…a tale that is steeped in culture, that illustrates a beautiful setting, and that shows how two cultures who previously thought they were enemies can live in harmony”
In these aspects (information about cultures, flora and fauna)—and even in the storytelling, I would say, Kioko and the Legend of the Plains is superior to international stories such as Lion King which is also based in the Kapiti plains and tries to portray flora and fauna of this expansive and much written about plain. The superiority of Kioko and the Legend of the Plains lies in the fact that the author knows the area very well and can use cultural and community resources that foreign story tellers don’t have access to. Here are a few paragraphs at beginning of the story:
KIOKO woke up to the sounds of chirping birds coming through the eaves of the house and the cock’s loud crowing.
He adjusted the piece of cloth strapped across his shoulders and stepped out of the hut. The large purple and green bird that he loved was perched on the fence as it was every morning. Kioko stopped at a distance, admiring it.
“Can birds really talk?” He wondered as he always did. He wished he could catch the bird and hold it in his hands. It was so near — yet he knew it was not easy to catch. So many times he had tried to and so many times he had failed. Every time he tried, the bird would fly away and disappear into the thick, thorny bushes, its strong wings leaving a trail of sad sounds.
He was about to turn back to go into the house when his brother, Ndei, arrived with a catapult loaded with a stone. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Kioko heard the swift sound of the stone as it flew past, hitting the bird instantly. The bird fell to the ground, kicking and turning in pain. Kioko ran to it, picked it up and, placing it on his palms, began blowing on it, hoping to revive it. It was too late. The bird stiffened and died.
Kioko cried and cried.
Read more about this interesting book on Amazon at www.amazon.com/author/muliwakyendo