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Cocktails from the Savannah: A fascinating exploration of polygamy

Arts & Culture

The thing about culture is that no matter how you hard you pretend to fight it, it has a way of sneaking back on you and delivering a swift kick on the backside, when you least expect it. That is how stubborn and unforgiving culture is.

Who would have thought that polygamy would still be a hot topic despite all efforts to ‘eradicate’ it via modernisation and widespread Christianity? And speaking of Christianity, how come the same religion frowns upon polygamy while at the same time celebrating notoriously polygamous characters in the Old Testament?

Luckily for Kenyans, the law, a few years ago, recognised polygamy as a legal form of marriage, despite spirited opposition from the church and feminists.

Enter Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki, with her book, Cocktail from the Savannah a riveting tale, set not in a village outpost, but in a thoroughly modern Nairobi setting. Well almost.

Masikonde, a university-educated CEO of a successful tour outfit, is under pressure from his parents to get a second wife, since his wife is unable to bear children. Masikonde’s father justifies the need for a second wife with the fact that their Maasai culture allows polygamy.

Sinta, his wife, though exposed to modern life – she runs a popular YouTube channel – is surprisingly not opposed to her husband marrying another woman. Being a Maasai too, she respects her people’s way of life; not that she would have stood a chance in the face of her forceful father-in-law. Besides, since she can’t get children of her own, why stand in the way of her husband getting children with another woman?

There is a catch though; Sinta secretly hopes that her husband’s philandering ways will be tamed inside the institution of (polygamous?) marriage.

Masikonde thus finds himself pressured, not just by his parents, but his wife too.

Thus while he makes useful noises about respecting the wishes of his wife, in case she does not approve of him getting a second wife, Masikonde is secretly making moves on a woman – a single mother – he met at the construction site of his new home, he has been putting up without the knowledge of his wife.

Now, this other woman contrasted with the sophisticated Masikonde and his wife, is a thoroughbred kienyeji – unexposed and unspoilt.

Masikonde’s kienyeji (Terian) comes with quite a substantial baggage; she has been nursing the father of her child, who is paralysed from neck down, thanks to an accident. His chances of recovery are next to none. That is not all, Terian and husband had eloped so she could escape from being forcefully married by an old man.

Terian’s husband, painfully aware of his vegetative state, asks her to look for a man who can take care of her financial and bodily needs. He also asks her to assist him to die. Saitoti’s odd request, though understandable, appears to smooth the way for Masikonde and Terian to get married, or does it?

The author, with her deft pen, sets the stage for the ultimate dilemma. Culturally, ethically and morally, the two lovebirds cannot be together while Terian’s husband is still alive. Though she does not overplay it, Ciku subtly challenges culture and societal norms; why is it okay for Masikonde to have two wives, yet the same cannot be extended to Terian – why can’t she have two husbands?

There is also the small matter annulling Terian’s betrothal to the old man, that led to her elopement. Since her father had received cows from that man, culturally she is still married to that man. In effect, she has to manoeuvre through two ‘marriages’ in order to belong to Masikonde.

As mentioned earlier, Terian is a Kienyeji, so Masikonde assigns his PA, Moraa, to ‘clean her up’ so that she attains the standards expected of a woman worthy of being married by a CEO.

Still on Kienyeji, there has been this craze among Kenyan men who feel that unsophisticated women are the ideal wife material since they can administer character development, the likes of which these modernised women are known to dish out.

Not so fast, Ciku seems to suggest, as Terian allows a different man to ‘eat’ from her honeypot, even as she waits to be married to Masokonde. So, who between a modern sophisticate and a kienyeji serves up the most potent character development?

Does Masikonde, after all he has done for his kienyeji, deserve such shabby treatment? Could it be the author’s way of telling polygamous men or aspiring polygamists that they can’t have their cake and eat it at the same time? Better still, why does the author let Terian get away with it?

Women empowerment anyone?

Ciku builds up her narrative to an unexpected climax but it nevertheless has a happy ending.

Aside from the plot, the real beauty of this book lies in the enchanting writing that drags the reader from the first page to last; through the twists and turns, amidst the easily relatable and likeable characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book.

Ciku is among the leading lights of independently published authors, who are making a quiet revolution in the Kenyan book sector. The thoroughness of the writing and editing of this book puts to rest the oft-expressed fears about the quality of self-published books.

Ngunjiri is the curator of Maisha Yetu, a Digital Arts and Books media platform [email protected]





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