When I first roved Mombasa streets an odd decade ago, I witnessed a road drama that I will never forget. Not that I have never seen road rage take the better of motorists.
It is way the two drivers were on each other’s necks with insults that made it unforgettable.
"Pumbavu wewe! (You are a fool!)," one of them yelled.
"Shoga wewe (you are a gay!)," yelled the other.
To my embarrassment, they began referring to the human anatomy, precisely the female one and with reference to each other’s wives.
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Scandalised, I covered my face with a newspaper but everybody was chuckling all around. This pair went through the motions of getting ready for a fight and I waited for the third world war. When it did not start, I looked keenly at the antics and realised that it was a commercial break from the stifling heat.
The two Mombasa ‘clowns’ had dark humour, but Kenyans generally win a medal for their foul mouths.
Witness the artless and dreadful insults that fly all over, ruining your day.
"That person is a big fool," is a common expletive we utter unconsciously even in front of our children. But by our nasty name-calling, we come across as grouchy people with a poverty of the mind. We have elevated childish mchongoano to an adult pastime with no formula or finesse.
In my social roving, I have witnessed many tirade sessions than I can count. Typically, a vengeful person bursts into a ceremony full of misinformation and goes ballistic. I remember the events at a pre-wedding party when a jilted lover dropped in for the sake of keeping the record straight. "So this is the way things are moving!" she began as beads of perspiration gathered on her nose. Before anybody could restrain her, she lunged into a verbal duel with the bride-to-be, revealing shocking things about her morals, her people and her education level! "Nyinyi ni malaya tu wa kawaida (You are a family of prostitutes," she insulted the ushers who went to calm her in a lull in the storm. The vituperation that she spewed forth cannot be published here but it shook me to the very core of my person. I still shudder at how much hatred and foul words could find refuge in one person.
"Haki tukana yeye mbwa! (Call him a dog)," Kenyans will whisper breathlessly in their infantile ecstasy at a diatribe duel. Often, the more salacious the muck you rake, the greater the joy of the onlookers. Reference to people’s real and imagined sexual orientation and fertility or otherwise is a sure crowd puller.
If you eavesdrop keenly, as I do, you will understand why certain individuals are always part of teams that are sent to sound off other people, especially those encroaching on others’ relationships. For their tongues are especially scathing and rasping when it comes to bare-knuckled slanging matches. "We can’t leave Mama Naomi out of this committee!" The more prudish ones may say, masking the verbal volcano’s qualities under some acceptable social attributes. But, like me, you probably see through this smokescreen.
I am shocked by some well-read people who often choose to show their ‘skills’ in public. Apparently, they have perfected their insults with their farmhands, milkmen, housemaids, supermarket attendants and matatu touts.
One such chap routinely gets into trouble with matatu touts after a few drinks. So, while still in his official suits and ties, he wades into the depths of moral depravity and scours mud with as much relish as his combatants. He often cuts a sorry image for himself and his profession.
Of course there are situations where you need to put off some people with an artful insult delivered elegantly. A woman I overheard insulting a man one function has stood out for all this time. At the man’s incessant bragging of his physical endowment she stopped him mid sentence. "Oh, I will ask them to announce over the Public Address system that you are long where it matters most; you won’t need to say it any more today!"
She said conversationally with a disarming smile, ensuring that just a few of us overheard it!