Maruki: A tale from the dying sights and sounds of our adolescence

Hadza man hunting with dogs, Lake Eyasi, Tanzania. Small tribe of hunter-gatherers

At Difathas, actually in the very homestead of Difatha himself, lived a man simply known as Maruki. His real name, as we came to realise later, was Maluki. His aboriginal home was somewhere in Ukambani.

In my recollection, no one bothered to inquire whose son Maruki was. He didn’t have a wife or openly acknowledged children. He was a perfect personification of characters who existed in the vanishing atavistic recesses of the mid seventies to early eighties. Yet no one disparaged him in spite of his many queer ways.

In retrospect, the man clearly deserves a pen portrait.

For those who recall, there was a popular brew back in the day—whose name eludes me just now—that was made from fermented grain and that would be ‘cooked’ in the open on some flat piece of mabati. That fermented grain itself was called—if my memory serves me right—mumera. It cooked as a somewhat foul smell wafted as far as a kilometre away. The person who turned the mumera as it cooked away while humming what could have been Kamba hunting, circumcision or war songs was none other than Maruki.

The stinging notes from the hot mumera, exuded a pungent—if fetid—whiff that drilled its way into the very part that administers matters smell inside the human brain.

Talking of mumera, there was a very affable villager whose name again escapes my mind whose cart-bound bull, Wakambo, ferried water from Iria ria Ukabi (The Maasai Swamp) or Njoga, a nearby river. One day, Wakambo feasted on spent mumera still harnessed to the cart. A spectacle of movie proportion followed.

After, say 20 minutes, the poor bull was so hopelessly inebriated. The next thing some wag remembers to date was Wakambo heading homewards at a supersonic speed with his master in hot pursuit. Conservative estimations place Wakambo’s pace at 40 or so kilometres per hour for the first one kilometre. For his short and stout master, catching up with his bull a tall order, thanks to mumera. Much to his relief though, Wakambo got home unscathed.

Back to Maruki. All the stray dogs around Difathas paid undivided allegiance to Maruki. He was their trusted benefactor. Every time a cow was slaughtered at the shopping centre, the onus of repatriating vestiges of flesh from the skin fell on him. While he would nourish himself with part of the meat, Maruki faithfully shared part of whatever he retrieved with the hounds. They simply adored him.

Once in a while, buoyed by his hunter-gatherer instinct, Maruki would lead a cavalcade of young men in a hunting spree with countless dogs in tow. The fellow was a man of faith. During the hunting missions, in his dilapidated bag, Maruki often carried a matchbox and a loaf of bread. And true to his faith, Maruki and his gang of apprentice marksmen never went home empty-handed. One day Maruki and his retinue of huntsmen followed the trail of a porcupine whose whereabouts was given away by fallen spikes.

Within minutes, in the midst of a cacophony of barking dogs, at least have of them going by the name Simba, Maruki and his procession of young men nailed the spiked rodent. I witnessed them gleefully feasting on it each of them ending up with a piece of what I am told is a delicacy and measly morsel of bread, approximately the size dispensed in village churches on Communion Sunday back in the day to those who qualified. Maruki didn’t.

Be that as it may, it would be remiss to brand Maruki a total heathen. Once in a blue moon he would appear in the local Anglican Church—back then Church of the Province of Kenya (CPK)—much to the chagrin of the segment of the laity more inclined towards Jesus-jumping. When the time for offertory came, Maruki would reach out for an egg and place it among coins. It was hoped a domesticated bird would have laid the egg.

The Church Superintendent by name Caruci (Charles) Kamuri would take offence with eggs that looked odd or inordinately tiny. The day Maruki offered an egg with variegated flecks of black-and-white, Caruci was so incensed that he protested openly. He proceeded to sound a stern warning that it was unchristian to offer God the proceeds of wildlife. If I recall well, that is the last Maruki was spotted at what is now All Saints Difathas Anglican Church.

The eggs offered at church were swiftly auctioned before recession. In most cases only the local elite could afford them to the envy of many.

The balance of the story (on Maruki’s escapades including one memorable episode at watoto ketini cinema nights) to be continued ….