When he sauntered into the lives of the Maasai community in Kenya 62 years ago, Frans Mol may not have known that his work on their culture and language would define them.
Born in 1935 in Nijmegen, Holland, his parents, Cornelius Mol and Anna Aalders may also not have known that he would steadily develop an appetite for history, culture and books.
At 26, Mol, (Frans to his peers), bubbling with zeal and energy, landed at the Ngong Diocese where he had been appointed to serve in 1961, after his ordination as a missionary at St Joseph’s College, Mill Hill.
From Ngong and Rombo in Kajiado to Lemek and Kilgoris in Narok, Father Mol touched the lives and souls of the Maasai community, learning step by step the unique culture that defines this great African community.
Today, I pay tribute to a man whose commitment and desire to preserve the Maasai culture and language is legendary and unequalled by any European.
Keen to detail and with a sharp ear for new words and phrases, Mol quickly understood the language of the people he served spiritually. On several occasions, he would be seen in close consultations and person-to-person talks with elders.
A great researcher, Mol split his time for missionary work and digging out details about every fabric of the Maasai community. Having collected and documented more than 1,000 pieces of literature about the Maasai community and its culture, Mol’s records are an exciting treasure. I will cite a few.
In 1979, he penned Maa: An English-Maasai Dictionary, breaking newer grounds in teaching of Maasai language to locals and non-locals. The dictionary which he compiled during his stay at Lemek in Narok has been a “bossom companion” for missionaries who visit Maasailand and who want a bite at the cherry of local language to ease communication with natives. His other book is Maasai Language and Culture Dictionary (1996), which he proudly describes as “a veritable and impressive depository” of the Maasai way of life.
Scholars of local literature have also described it as an “exemplary piece of literature”, for its capture of transformation and evolution of language use among the Maasai.
Lessons in Maa: A Grammar of Maasai Language (1995) is another of his gem which espouses critical linguistic wealth of a community that has held dear its culture and language. It has invaluable sentence constructions in both English and Maasai which make it an inseparable aid for budding learners and communicators of Maasai language. The Maasai are deft in defining the many places they traversed in their search for pasture and water. Perhaps one of his most treasured works is his latest book; The Linguistic Wealth and Variety of Names of Places in Maasai, an exciting catalogue of topography in Maasailand, names of places, mountains, hills, rivers, springs sacred places and other physical features in Maasailand.
He pulled out his publications only two years ago, aged 86.
This book will engross anyone for hours as it relives the critical role the Maasai have played in naming places in Kenya. It is perhaps one of the greatest contributions of the community in the making of our Nation.
For example, you will learn Kajiado is the anglicised form of ol-kejuo-ado meaning “a long river”. Narumoru means black stones while Naivasha comes from E-na-iposha meaning, “That which is rolling.”
Nakuru is the anglicised form of Na-kurr-o meaning a bare place while Lang’ata is drawn from E-lang-ata (A river crossing).
Ntulele is from En-tulelei (Sodom apple), Kijabe is from En-kijape ( cold air), Kinangop from Kinopop ( fenced area), Amboseli from Empusel ( fine dust), Loitokitok from O-lo-itok-i-tok (the boiling spring).
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For this, Mol stands shoulders high with other cultural enthusiasts of the Maasai culture outside Kenya. The documentation has left an indelible mark in our preservation of culture and language. His works are preserved in good form at the Oltepesi Cultural Institute in Mashuuru along the Kajiado-Loitokitok road and various Catholic bookshops.
On Thursday, Mol was interred in the Netherlands, blowing off the candle of one of the greatest friends of the Maasai. We shall live to remember him. Go thee well, Frans!
The writer is Governor of Kajiado County where Frans Mol was a missionary