When it was announced that a Kalenjin curse had been invoked to arrest the killers of ICC witness Meshack Yebei, the villager in me nodded knowingly.
Just because we are rural folks who don’t speak English through the nose, just because we stroll at the market place in bathroom slippers and occasionally wear mitumba shirts that are actually discarded surgeons’ gowns, Nairobi people think we are fools.
But we were not born yesterday. We see far. By the time Kalenjin elders elected to invoke that curse, they knew without a shadow of doubt that detectives didn’t have a snowball’s chance of catching Yebei’s killers.
In fact, elders, whose brilliance is often clouded by their inscrutable faces, suspected that there was a high chance no one was actually searching for the killers.
When every senior police officer is trying to figure out how to explain mysterious cash deposits in their bank accounts, the likelihood of them barking orders about a mysterious murderer who dumps victims in a national park 600km away are quite dim.
This is not the first we villagers are taking matters into our own hands, though. Not too long ago, Kuria elders invoked a curse to sort out young men who were walking around with guns, shooting fellow villagers and stealing goats.
Ideally, the chief should have sniffed out these scoundrels, hauled them to the local APs’ Post and had them whipped senseless. But I suspect that after elders got wind that the Constitution had castrated the chief; that Aps were no longer the men they once were, and that waiting for them to sort out goat thieves was plain silly, they simply did their thing.
Henceforth, any idiot who tiptoed across the Kenya-Tanzania border and came back with a homemade gun would wake up dead. I have, however, not quite followed up to check whether the curse worked.
I also can’t tell whether the trouble maker who was taking Meru elders round and round over a land dispute was fixed when a goat was slaughtered and the plaintiff directed to walk around in his birthday suit mumbling strange things with the bloody carcass on his back.
What I know is that Africans, much as they pretend to have chewed the Bible, fear a traditional curse more than that oath they swear when being appointed to high office.
If you look at the list of people the son of Jomo handed to the Speaker of the National Assembly for stealing a goat, for instance, you will notice that they all held the Bible and swore never to do anything like that.
But I will bet that if the same people are summoned by Kalenjin elders and ordered to participate in a curse that selectively kills only those that are guilty, even the innocent won’t dare turn up. This respect of the mystical is ingrained in African children quite early.
If metal detectors were configured to sense stones, many people my age would never be allowed near airports because in my day, parents murdered you when you said, “The dog ate my homework.”
You would do something for which you would easily get killed, say mess up the old family transistor radio. And knowing that our parents were not exactly into ‘guidance and counselling’, the only way to escape certain murder was to indulge in witchery.
Yes, we swallowed pebbles. And I can confirm that there is no single day I was whipped for a misdemeanor after taking, uh, protective measures. Still, I have this nagging feeling that Yebei’s killers may never be found, Kalenjin curse or not. And this I say from experience.
When I was seven, rumour emerged that certain cassava-shaped wild fruits used for brewing muratina could make a woman’s breasts longer if they were pointed at the chest. I had also been hearing that the beetles in small ponds and springs could achieve the same trick if they bit a girl’s nipple.
Even then, I had a reputation for reckless research. So instead of merely trying out the water beetle, or the cassava shaped fruit, I did both.
That night, I didn’t sleep a wink. I kept imagining that I, a boy, would wake with breasts so big and long they swept the floor.
You would think I would have learned a lesson when I woke up with nothing but my usual pebbles on my chest. But a month later, in a moment of reckless madness while out grazing cows with the boys, I chewed some root that was alleged to make testicles larger.
I have never been so glad that ‘African science’ rarely works all the time.