Legend has it that during a particularly long drought that came upon the land of the prophet Mugwe, the people prayed to the god of the mountain Mwene Nyaga for rains to no avail. Plants, animals and people began dying from the famine that ensued, which prompted the people to seek the counsel of the old wise men representing the clans of the Ameru- the Njuri Ncheke.
Despite the hefty fee that was attached to their wise counsel, the council of elders could not come up with a solution for the predicament and upon long deliberations, countless sacrifices and despite the fervent prayers, the clouds failed to gather over the slopes of mount Kirimara where the Ameru had settled after fleeing from ‘Mbwa’ Island where they had been held in slavery and captivity for generations.
After pulling all sorts of antics in efforts to appease the god of the mountain -the almighty ‘Murungu’ -in a bid to persuade him to bring rain upon the land of the sons of Mugwe, the people led by the Njuri Nceke were teetering on the brink of resigning themselves to their fate of imminent death by starvation, when a particularly quiet member of the council of elders representing one of the less affluent clans of the Ameru offered a solution: “Why don’t we pick out from amongst ourselves the toughest, strongest and most courageous of our warriors to travel to the foot of the great mountain and beseech the great prophet Mugwe to intercede on our behalf to Murungu for sustenance or else we’ll all die.”
Not many people had heard of, let alone seen this Mugwe. Rumor had it that he was a very old man –hundreds of years old- who lived in solitude in a big cave at the foot of the Kirimara mountain and who was rumored to have the abilities to communicate with Murungu directly. Legend had it that upon leading his people from their captivity at Mbwaa island in the coastal region, he retreated to the foot of the mountain from where he would make the long journey to the settlements to pass decrees from Murungu to the people. He never sat nor accepted anything to eat or drink during any of his visits. But that was until many years ago when the visits to the village stopped abruptly and for decades no one had seen nor heard from Mugwe. Some said the old man had finally gone berserk and got eaten by wild animals. Others said he had died from old age. However, others like the old council member, insisted that their only way out, their last resort, was good old mysterious Mugwe. As far as most villagers were concerned though, Mugwe was a tall tale passed down across generations of the Ameru to instill some lesson or the other among the villagers.
Despite the glaring pessimism, it became apparent to the villagers that not only did they have no other options, they really had nothing to lose. The options before them were either to take no action and certainly die or stake the fate of the entire village to what could have very well been a myth and most probably die. The latter proved to be the saner of the two absurdities.
The Council’s vote was as close to unanimous as it could get. Chosen from among the young Ameru warriors was a young, sturdy and boisterous young man who had been involved in more conquests of protecting the Ameru from external aggressors like the Bantu-speaking tribes from the west eying their lush green lands and the Cushitic nomad clans from the north eying their cattle. His name was Kamankura, the firstborn son of a local farmer. He was tasked with the treacherous quest of going to seek out Mugwe for his intervention to Murungu. The journey would see him cross enemy territories, paths filled with numerous perils and face the risk of starvation, dehydration, capture and execution by enemy tribes for suspicion of being a spy.
For God, Honor & Community
Naturally, Kamankura wasn’t particularly thrilled by the prospects that lay before him. Why him? What would happen was he to encounter enemies, the wild animals that freely roamed the terrain or the multitude of perils that were strewn across his path? Was this the prize for being one of the best village protectors the Ameru had ever known? Was backing down and in the process injuring his father’s, clan’s and villagers’ pride an option? Was he willing to risk banishment for failing to step up to the plate? What would he tell Ciari, the girl he had been courting and had promised marriage? Would he still have her love and respect should he take the easier option? Supposing she stayed after he backed down, would she still look at him the same way?
All these questions and possible scenarios played through his mind over and over even as he bowed before the Njuri Nceke two days later to receive his blessings as his father handed him his ‘coming of age’ spear which he was supposed to give him on the day of his wedding. His peers danced around him singing songs of praise to God, Kamankura and the great people of Meru. Ciari watched the festivities from a distance alongside the other womenfolk (who were not allowed to participate directly in the event), fully aware that it may very well be the last time she saw the man she loved.
Bright and early the next morning escorted by his closest friends or ‘wachia’ (which means boys in his age group that he had undergone initiation with) Kamankura left without as much as a goodbye to Ciari. He didn’t trust his resolve to go forth into the unknown while looking into Ciari’s big milk-white eyes that first drew him to her on a supervised village dance many moons ago. That, and the fact that it was considered a great taboo for a ‘nthaka’ (an initiated eligible bachelor) to show any form of weakness in front of womenfolk.
And so with a heavy heat, Kamankura set out on his mission with nothing but his father’s spear, his bow and quiver of arrows, a goatskin of water and a strong resolve in his mind that he was neither doing this for the elders nor for myths he neither subscribed to nor believed in but rather for love, honor and his people.
The road to Damascus and the kindness of a stranger
Like all human beings, Kamankura was not without fault. Being a revered and highly regarded warrior among his peers and fellow villagers coupled with the fact that Kamankura had been blessed with the tall, dark and handsome physical attributes that village girls found irresistible, he had over the years developed an air of pride and arrogance. Furthermore, he abhorred authority, constantly clashed with the authorities that were (religious and political) and having gotten used to getting things his way, Kamankura often crossed that line between self-assured and condescending yet despite all his youthful pride and rebelliousness, his heart — his most attractive feature- was always in the right place, a fact that endeared him to Murungu.
Although everybody loved him (or so he thought) very few people got to see the inner Kamankura, perhaps too dazzled by the exquisite exterior he often projected. Those few people were his mother, Mbogori a member of Njuri Nceke who often chided, counseled and constantly averted trouble between him and the council and Ciari, a reserved village beauty, as he would come to later find out during one of the occasional village dance nights. Not a single girl had ever turned down his advances and the charms of the tall, dark charmer were well known and whispered about by girls even as far as the neighboring Agikuyu and Akamba tribes. That was until the night of the village dance where he had approached Ciari with the cocky assuredness of an experienced pick-up artist only for her to rebuff his advances politely but assertively. He had seen her for the first time that evening from across the huge bonfire that had been lit at the village square as she and other girls danced around the bonfire under the watchful eyes of their guardians and supervisors. The way she danced around the fire all carefree and at the same time somewhat guarded had left his entire being full of goddamns, only for her to turn him down. Didn’t she know who he was? She couldn’t have cared less. He vowed to tame her. She vowed to humble him. Neither of them succeeded.
Unbeknownst to Kamankura, the mission, the journey and every encounter along the way was a test. Murungu had placed certain challenges and obstacles throughout the journey that would test not only his strength and faith but more so his character which was not only changed but revealed to him. The journey would go on to become his ‘Road to Damascus’.
Needless to say, Kamankura failed all but one test and would have failed his mission and in the process lost his own life in addition to costing the lives of the entire Ameru people, were it not for the kindness of a stranger towards the end of his journey (who turned out to be Mugwe in disguise *story for another day).
Long story short, Kamankura successfully completed his mission, Murungu heard the prayers of the Ameru, the rains eventually fell, Kamankura returned home into the waiting arms of his proud father, peers and the love of his life Ciari, forever a changed man. The man that came back was a far cry from the proud, boisterous and aggressive man he had been before. He wed Ciari in a low-key ceremony in the village and the two lived happily ever after. The tale of Kamankura would go on to be told among the Ameru people of Kenya in East Africa over the years and passed down across generations of the Ameru to present day.
Even as the rain fell hard and fast across Meru land following Kamankura’s return, it turned out that the soil had been so badly scorched by the drought that nothing sprouted from it. To make matters worse the famine had been so severe that the people had consumed nearly all the grain reserves that were usually stored for planting during the rainy season. The joy that that usually accompanied the coming of the rains soon turned into despair, which arose from the fact that the damaged earth could not be cultivated for food for the people nor for their livestock in form of pasture. The much awaited rains had come but they had not brought the food and sustenance that the people really needed at the time.
In classic human nature, the people started complaining, much like the biblical Isralites complained to Moses during the Exodus from Egypt to the promised land. Had Murungu sent them rains only to starve them to death with the barren fields? What sort of mystical sadism was this?
Next… How Merus discovered Miraa…
This amazing (isn’t it?) article was republished with permission from Peter Mwenda’s Medium page.