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There are heroes I do not associate with

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Benson Riungu | November 8th 2015

Whenever I am in my cups since we decided to be honouring our national heroes annually, I like to boast that mashujaa blood courses through my veins.

Since I am hard put to point to a single war or liberation struggle hero among my ancestors, I am often forced to engage in a bit of creativity.

The exception, perhaps, is a distant uncle who survived the infamous Kathageri massacre in what is today Embu County, after an ambush by colonial forces on a Mau Mau raid party circa 1952.

The weakness in this claim is that he renounced his former comrades after crawling through the bush for about 50 kilometres to the safety of Igoji. But I am good at clutching at straws, and a good opportunity is afforded by a story that appeared in the press many years ago about a man called M’Ikiara, a hero by any measure. He hailed (I have not heard of him for quite a while which makes me assume that he has since joined the great hall of heroes upstairs) from Kanyakine, not more than seven kilometres from the village of my birth, which makes him practically a blood relation.

According to the news item, a group of Western tourists were climbing Mount Kenya and making heavy weather of it even in their specially made boots, clothing and climbing gear when somewhere near the top, they met an elderly man coming down.

He was lightly dressed like a man who had been digging in his shamba or had been visiting a neighbour and, to the total amazement of the struggling mountain climbers, he was barefoot! When questioned about what he was doing in such an unlikely place dressed thus, he pointed to the mountain top and said he had come from there. It was not the first time for him to visit Mount Kenya’s highest peak, he revealed to his open-mouthed audience — he regularly went up to commune with God. He did it as often as once a week when the spirit was with him.

When the story appeared in the press, M’Ikiara became an instant sensation, in Kenya and abroad. He became the subject of intense study by all manner of experts who trooped to Kanyakine to meet the wonder man of the mountain.

One day, I was travelling to Meru and stopped over at Izaak Walton Inn in Embu for a bite and a drink and met one such party which had my old editor, Mugambi Karanja as their guide.

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Did I know M’Ikiara personally and could I give them directions to his home? I did not, but for the price of a beer and eager to associate myself with fame, I was ready to lie that I knew him pretty well — in fact he was a blood relation.

I gave them vague directions and was soon on my way with a few beers under my belt.

Another “close relative” who made it to momentary fame was a man from around Kianjai in Meru North whose name I forget.

According to a news report, his wife went into labour in the middle of the night and with no means to take her to the nearest medical facility, he had the courage and presence of mind that would elude most men in such a crisis. He fetched water in a basin from the local river, sharpened a kitchen knife and performed the midwifery without assistance or training. According to the report, he single-handedly helped the wife deliver a bouncing baby girl.

While I am always eager to associate myself with these heroes, you will rarely hear me even acknowledge others such as the man in Meru North who cut off another’s head over a miraa dispute and took it to the local police station as an exhibit. I know my limits even when in my cups.

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