Wanjohi Wa Makokha
I have powerful contemporary writing in my hands. It’s close to me. It is enriching to read and reflect on Wanjohi Wa Makokha’s Nest of Stones: Kenyan narratives in verse published by Langaa Publishers, 2010.
Makokha went to Berlin to study for his doctoral thesis in Literature. Soon after he left, Kenya was burning in political strife born of the announcement that Kibaki had beaten Raila Odinga in the presidential tally of votes on December 30th 2007.
Suddenly, even if the causes were not so sudden, Makokha saw our motherland on fire, he saw people burning. He beat the winter’s cold and burned with his pen. Politics had driven a fatal machete between Kenyan and Kenyan with the excuse of ethnic differences. The subtext is tribe or ethnicity, the context is political manipulation of differences and injustice over years of opportunities not always based on merit to people who bear certain names.
Many of us believed and knew that we were beyond that for years but that politics plays this card with efficiency. It was a nightmare. Makokha writes:
“The sudden death of a mother is sad,
Sadder still is the death of a motherland.
There comes a time when a nation can be killed by its citizens’ ill emotions.”
Indeed, I have had an interesting journey Nest of Stones. I remember alerting Wanjohi Wa Makokha that this book was out, apparently before he knew it, on a facebook chat.
Nest of Stones is Wanjohi Wa Makokha’s debut poetry volume. It is great reading. More of his work is soon rolling out of the press. In the meantime, he continues posting many poems on facebook, not unaware of the evils of piracy which are unrelenting far into Eastern African coasts but daring who will to take and eat. This Sunday morning (18. 03. 2012), a friend has just picked up these lines fresh from his Timeline on facebook and sent them to me for this article. Here are our Terms of Reference. Or ToR... in the theater perhaps also of the absurd.
THEATER of REALITY (ToR)
(Pressure pressure pressure ni ni ni…
...Pleasure pleasure pleasure si si si…)
A palanquin above our days, these days
And poets compose comedies recited now
Deep into the night that we are becoming
Who will be the moon? Who will act lunatic?
And who will take my role as a crescent howl
That rises from the divine coffin of A. Ginsberg?
Hear this howl oracular like a song under duress
A solomonic howl from America faraway to Africa!
A howl heraldic…interpreting our age, yes who? One
That’ll like our civic anthem turn into a palanquin of riddles
Writ with graffiti of Moloch, a canopy above our new act!
Behold our theater of civility acted under duress! For via it
We find it our national hobby howling national dreams at night!
Scientists predict prosperity will emerge like energy in this way
Just like meaning hatching out of this poem read under pressure…
If we all re-read these lines upside down, from right to left, politically.
In Nest of Stones, Makokha is forceful and provocative. True that his choice of a word here and there would have thrown one precious and late Mzee Maruge of Kenya who who was learning to read and write in his late 80s so that he could read the Bible and claim justice regarding Mau Mau.
As our own strange ways would have it, this man who flew to the statue of liberty in the USA courtesy of promoters of free primary education, ended up being one of those names that the poet cannot pronounce and died in his 90s homeless and disoriented because of the violence that occured in Kenya in 2007/2008. He was an Internally Displaced Kenyan Person. And he was lucky to be. Many did not survive this period.
But Makokha has with other writers active in during period recorded our despondency and strength in verse. In Germany, as Kenya was getting destroyed, he was running around dishevelled pain for motherland dress in robes of words howls for his country. Now he says to the people:
“These things within, fellow citizen!
That stir hot life, fellow citizen!
And like a ripe ulcer, fellow citizen!
Chews awning holes, fellow citizen!
Can we remain complacent? Are we all, including writers to be caught in the “theatre of civility” ? Can we pretend that we have a constitution and onot live according to the act?
Are we swallowed by unseen mouths? Here we are in classrooms or blogs or fb away from the madding dust of the maddened and bleeding crowds raising our voices. For we know that ultimately voice is voice and it can fly over the alps, oceans and deserts for like a boomerang it always returns.
A nation that will kill its own people has rejects those seen as foreigners before. We fail to see humanity in one, we fail to see it in all. We rejected the Nubi who were stateless in our land for years and a few of us rich ones sit on the poor. We watched Idi Amin throw out Asians but many of the people in the land too could not stay or live. Our children will find it hard to see it. We must wake up now! We have one word between us. Life.
In Nest of Stones Makokha says he is a bard. I will call him a poet and singer of verses from Afrika. Malenga wa Panda Damu, the man in whom blood rises ( whose blood is at crossroads) has traversed barriers of locality and language. Blood is blood and always found in the same blood groups across races. Malenga wa Panda Damu is saying important things. His pen name is Wanjohi Wa Makokha. This book leaves all of us convinced that Joseph Siboe Makokha ~his real name~ is gone with the poetry but not with the wind.
You will hear the sound of stones he casts burning with fire going past your ears, to the desert sands and flying..and see them being hurled at us to wake up. Wanjohi Wa Makokha will be standing there sturdy and firmly yelling again. Come listen to him. Come read him. He is carrying universes that tidy us up. Come read how he acknowledges his roots in all Kenya. See how he sets one big table for writers and teachers in which I want to put Kisa Ameteshe at the head.
Words must from shore to shore fly. Our books* are borne by winds and the voices of our ancestors. They are midwifed in cyberspace bearing Cameroonian wings of words that once upon a time Camara Laye served us like rice as we first read The African Child and sat down In the Radiance of the King!
A word like a curtain may hide a world only from those of who dictionaries. But Makokha’s energy tears through the walls. He is swimming in knowledge others may not have. It is up to his pen to decide how the economy of words and communication functions in different contexts. His poetic licence and power is not in question. He chooses, palanquin, Soubriquet and a bard.
No soft nest, Wanjohi Wa Makokha makes, no soft nest. And why should he when he wrote his lines at the peak of events that drove many clinically insane. He and us were lucky to survive it. Insanity at the time made more sense.
“Most of the poems in this collection emerge out of the howls of th souls that were burning and bleeding to death in Kenya during the world infamous Post-Election Violence (PEV) of early 2008 and late 2007”
Blood and life issues. What do they mean to us? Will all those Kenyans who have known that tribe is not a wall against justice, love and peace stand up with the poet? How we tackle this today may mean progress or lack of it for the next one hundred years for millions of people. It is no levity. We shall be all gone. We shall leave a legacy of shame. Come on, let’s take what it is good in this thing and hurl the rest into the gullies and caves of our land. We know we can declare our guilt and turn things around in word and deed.
Biological make up has ceased to be the only identity that makes a group of people align to a political party, country or even village in developed nations. It took them time. In many parts of the world, the language one speaks determines whom they know and support. Injustice uses every crevice if we are not awake. When see it we must say it because it has no shame.
This is a serious challenge in a country that would have democracy. Wanjohi Wa Makokha is eager to point out in a country where ethnic origin has meant many things including death when disagreement on the number of votes X politician gets in comparison with ‘Y’.
‘eX’ ‘whY’ Chromosomes in politics
The ‘chromosomes’ and genetic disorders of politics often mean bloodshed. Malenga wa Damu Panda is a Kenyan not only beyond confinement by narrow domestic walls but able to see that genetic formation should not spill over into judgement . Before his next volume, we must press this first one into our nation and conscience firmly and forever.
We have known liberators. We have tasted freedom. We have gained independence but must be vigilant to keep ourselves beyond being enslaved by the greed for power which comes first for politicians, making life meaningless.
Makokha’s word believes in the freedom we struggle to achieve. Our foreparents have done their best, it is our turn to take what we wish to and to define our freedom. We are not yet free. This is a matter of life and death.
Makokha fasted when Kenya was burning. He could not live in a world where all was normal as our motherland burnt. He found Schiller’s old house and found solace in writing his soul out in there. He changed physically.
“ I lost weight. I became dishevelled. I wore my hair and beard to lengths unknown before to me and my colleagues.”
Now we cannot forget this in 2012 when Kenya has another election. Not now when the search for justice for the dead and the displaced is on. The facts and realities must remain.
That in the fourth decade of our freedom we in Kenya had
1, 333 persons die because of a competition of votes. That we in Kenya had half a million people displaced, homeless, when we know that we are the shelter of Somalis, Sudanese and Congolese people who are always seeking a home in Africa from us as their lands suffer. And many others.
We cannot forget
Indeed as Micere Githae Mugo writes in a foreword to Wanjohi’s work of poetry and quoting her friend our sister Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana, we do not want to ever suffer from what Aidoo calls “Self-willed amnesia.”
Those writers who captured the bloody deaths and wounds of the violence that shook Kenya after the General Election of 2007 in all ways: camera, social media, books and articles have
accomplished something great. This is a situation we should never forget.
But many on facebook see tribalism to task although maybe it is not possible to something meaningful on those pages. I rush back to Makokha. I was thinking of Kenyans who like Makokha can do what so many get stuck in negative politics.
There is a huge constituency of mixed us. No ethnic group is on its own anywhere in the world. Makokha takes a hundred per cent from each of his parent’s tradition and claimes both. This should scare those who alway think that blood and genes must confine our dynamism as an individuals. Confound them as Makokha has done.
In these days of multimedia, allow me to quote a chat. Yes, an fb chat. I like expression at its most spontaneous level. I asked Kyalo if i could share this. He wrote to me in a chat on fb as we discussed Kenya: “I am young person but i really don’t know when we start looking at our elves as Kikuyus, Kambas coz in school we are one” I responded it is when the question of power over others comes in that we start to see tribe. I need to dig deep for a Kenyan identity to come up untainted by genes and blood. We all need to. There are many ways of doing it. Makokha writes.
“ We shouldn’t continue in silence to brood these unnamed emtotions deep within us. That afflict the land we call mother.”