When I was next in Nairobi, I went to see Wanyangerri in the Native Hospital.
As I had so many squatter families on my land, I was hardly ever without a patient in there, I was an habitu'ee de la maison, and on friendly terms with the matron and the orderlies. I have never seen a person who put on paint and powder so thick as the Matron, within her white coiffe her broad face looked like the face of those Russian wooden dolls which will unscrew, and have then got another doll inside them, and another inside that, and which are sold under the name of Katinka. She was a kind and capable matron, as you would expect it from Katinka. On Thursdays they moved all beds out of the wards to an open square between them, while they cleaned and aired the houses. This was a pleasant day in hospital. There was a great fine view from the court, with the dry Athi plains in the foreground, and far away the blue mountain of Donyo Sabouk and the long Mua Hills. It was a curious thing to see my old Kikuyu women in beds with white sheets to them, like seeing an old worn-out mule, or other patient beast of burden, there; they themselves laughed to me at the situation, but sourly, as an old mule might do, for Natives are afraid of hospitals.
The first time that I saw Wanyangerri in hospital, he was so shaken and overcome that I thought the best thing for him would be to die. He was frightened of everything, weeping all the time that I was with him, and begging to be taken back to the farm; he shook and trembled in his bandages.
It was a week till I came in again. I found him then calm and collected, he received me with dignity. He was however very pleased to see me, and the orderly told me that he had been waiting impatiently for my arrival. For he could today tell me, with much assertiveness, and spitting out the words through a tube in his mouth, that he had been killed the day before, and was going to be killed again in a few days’ time.
The doctor who treated Wanyangerri had been to the war in France, and had patched up many people’s faces, he took trouble about him and made a success of the work. He put in a metal band for a jawbone and screwed it on to the bones left in the face, and he plucked up the bits of torn flesh and stitched them together to make a sort of chin for him. He even, Wanyangerri told me, had a bit of skin taken from the shoulder to fill up his patchwork. When at the end of the treatment the bandages came off, the face of the child was much changed, and looked queer, like the head of a lizard, because it had got no chin. But he was able to eat in a normal way and to speak, although after the accident he always lisped a little. All this took many months. When I came to see Wanyangerri he asked me for sugar, so I used to bring a few spoonfuls in a bit of paper.
The Natives, if they are not paralyzed and benumbed by their terror of the unknown, growl and grumble much in hospital, and invent schemes for getting away. Death is one of these; they do not fear it. The Europeans who have built and equipped the hospitals, and who are working in them, and have with much trouble got the patients dragged there, complain with bitterness that the Natives know nothing of gratitude, and that it is the same what you do to them.
To white people there is something vexatious and mortifying in this state of mind in the Natives. It is indeed the same what you do to them; you can do but little, and what you do disappears, and will never be heard of again; they do not thank you, and they bear you no malice, and even should you want to, you cannot do anything about it. It is an alarming quality; it seems to annul your existence as an individual human being, and to inflict upon you a role not of your own choosing, as if you were a phenomenon in Nature, as if you were the weather.
The immigrant Somalis in this respect differ from the Natives of the country. Your behaviour to them affects them strongly, in fact, you can hardly move without affecting the fierce burning prigs of the desert in one way or the other, and, very often, not without deeply hurting them. They have a keen sense of gratitude and will also bear malice for ever. A benefit, like an offence or a slight, is written in stone in their hearts. They are severe Mohammedans and, like all Mohammedans, have a moral code according to which they will judge you. With the Somalis you can make or destroy your prestige within an hour.
The Masai here hold a position peculiar to themselves amongst the Native tribes. They remember, they can thank you, and they will bear you a grudge. They all bear us all a grudge, which will be wiped out only when the tribe is wiped out itself.
But the unprejudiced Kikuyu, Wakambas, or Kavirondos, know of no code. They have it that most people are capable of most things, and you cannot shock them if you want to. It is, it can be said, a poor or perverted Kikuyu, to whom it makes any difference what you do to him. Left to their own nature, and to the tradition of their nation, they will look upon our activities as upon those of nature. They judge you not, but they are keen observers. The sum of their observations is what you pass for with them, your good or bad name.
The very poor people of Europe, in this way, are like the Kikuyus. They judge you not, but sum you up. If they like or esteem you at all, it is in the manner in which people love God; not for what you do to them, not at all for what you do to them, but for what you are.
One day in my wanderings through the hospital I saw three new patients there, a very black man with a thick heavy head, and two boys, who were all three bandaged at the throat. One of the orderlies in the ward was a hunchback and a narrator, who took a pleasure in explaining to me the most intriguing cases in his house. As he saw me stopping before the beds of the newcomers he came up and told me their story.
They were Nubians in the band of the King’s African Rifles, the black soldiers of Kenya. The boys were drummers, and the man a horn-player. The horn-player had had serious controversies in his life, and had lost his head over them as it will happen to Natives. First he had fired his rifle right and left over the barracks, and when the magazine was empty he had shut himself up with the two boys, in his hut of corrugated iron there, and had tried to cut their throats and his own. The orderly was sorry that I had not seen them when they had been brought in last week, for then they had all been covered in blood, and I would have believed them to be dead. Now they were out of danger, and the murderer had got his senses back.
As the story-teller went through his tale, the three persons in the bed upon whom it turned, were following it with deep attention. They interrupted him to correct the details of his tale, the boys, who had great difficulty in speaking, turning to the man in the bed between them to make him confirm their statement, confident that he would assist them to let me have the story as effectively as possible.
“Did you not foam at the mouth, did you not shriek?” they asked him. “Did you not say that you would cut us up in bits as big as a grasshopper?”
The manslayer said “Yes, yes,” with a mournful mien.
At times I would be kept in Nairobi for half a day, waiting for a business-meeting, or for the European mail when the train from the coast was late. On such occasions when I did not know what to do, I used to drive up to the Native Hospital and take a couple of the convalescents there out for a short joy-ride. At the time when Wanyangerri was in hospital, the Governor, Sir Edward Northey, kept a couple of young lions, which he was sending on to the London Zoo, caged up in the Government House grounds. They were a great attraction to the people in hospital; they all asked to be taken to see them. I had promised the patients of the K.A.R. band to take them up there when they were well enough for it, but none of them would come until they could all go together. The horn-player was the slowest to recover, one of the boys was even discharged from hospital before he was well enough to go with me. The boy came back to hospital every day to inquire about him, so as to be sure to have his drive. I found him outside there one afternoon, and he told me that the bugler still had a very terrible headache, but that this was only to be expected since his head had been so filled with devils.
In the end they came, all three, and stood before the cage sunk in contemplation. One of the young lions, angry at being stared at for such a long time, suddenly got up, stretched himself and gave a short roar, so that the onlookers got a shock, and the smallest boy took cover behind the bugler. As we were driving back he said to him: “That lion was as villainous as you were.”
During all this time Wanyangerri’s case was lying dormant out on the farm. His people sometimes came and asked me how he was getting on, but, with the exception of his little brother, they seemed scared of going in to see him. Kaninu also came round to my house late in the evening, like an old badger out reconnoitring, to sound me about the child. Farah and I, between ourselves, at times weighed up his sufferings, and computed them in sheep.
Farah also, a couple of months after the accident, informed me of a new feature of the case.
On these occasions he would come in while I was dining, stand erect by the end of the table and take upon himself to enlighten my ignorance. Farah spoke both English and French well, but stuck to certain mistakes peculiar to him. He would say “exactly” in the place of “except”,—“all the cows have come home, exactly the grey cow”,—and instead of correcting him I took to using the same expressions when I talked to him. His face and countenance were assured and dignified, but he would often start in a vague manner: “Memsahib,” he said, “the Kabero.” This was the programme then. I waited for what was to follow.
After a pause Farah took up the subject again. “You think, Memsahib,” he said, “that Kabero is dead and has been eaten by the hyenas. He is not dead. He is with the Masai.”
In two minds I asked him how he knew of this. “Oh, I know,” he said, “Kaninu has got too many girls married to Masai. When Kabero could not think of anybody who would help him exactly the Masai, he ran out to his sister’s husband. It is true that he had a bad time, he sat all night in a tree and the Hyenas stood around it underneath. Now he is living with the Masai. There is a rich old Masai, who has got many hundred cows, who has no children himself and wants to get Kabero. Kaninu knows of all this very well, and has been out to talk it over with the Masai many times. But he is afraid to tell you, he believes that if the white people know of it, Kabero will be hanged in Nairobi.”
Farah always spoke of the Kikuyu in an arrogant way. “The Masai wives,” he said, “bear no children. They are pleased enough to get Kikuyu children. They steal too many. Still, this Kabero,” he went on, “he will come back to the farm when he grows up, for he will not want to live like the Masai, always going from one place to the other. The Kikuyu are too lazy for that.”
From the farm, the tragic fate of the disappearing Masai tribe on the other side of the river could be followed from year to year. They were fighters who had been stopped fighting, a dying lion with his claws clipped, a castrated nation. Their spears had been taken from them, their big dashing shields even, and in the Game Reserve the lions followed their herds of cattle. Once, on the farm, I had three young bulls transmuted into peaceful bullocks for my ploughs and waggons, and afterwards shut up in the factory yard. There in the night the Hyenas smelled the blood and came up and killed them. This, I thought, was the fate of the Masai.
“Kaninu’s wife,” said Farah, “is sorry to lose her son for so many years.”
I did not send for Kaninu, for I did not know whether to believe what Farah had told me or not, but when he next came to my house I went out to talk with him. “Kaninu,” I asked him, “is Kabero alive? Is he with the Masai?” You will never find a Native unprepared for any action of yours, and Kaninu immediately burst into weeping over his lost child. I listened to him and looked at him for a little while. “Kaninu,” I said again, “bring Kabero here. He will not be hanged. His mother shall keep him with her on the farm.” Kaninu had not stopped his laments to listen, but he must have caught my unfortunate word of hanging; his wails were drawn into a deeper note, he dived into descriptions of the promise that Kabero had given, and of his own preference for him above all his other children.
Kaninu had a lot of children and grandchildren who, as his village was so near to my house, were always about it. Amongst them was a very small grandson of his, the son of one of those daughters of Kaninu who had married into the Masai Reserve, but who had come back from it and had brought her child with her. This child’s name was Sirunga. The mixture of blood in him had come out in the quaintest vitality, such a wild profusion of inventiveness and whims that he was like nothing quite human: a small flame, a night-bird, a diminutive genie of the farm. But he had epilepsy, and, because of that, the other children were afraid of him, chasing him away from their games and naming him Sheitani,—the devil,—so that I had adopted him into my household. As he was ill he could do no work, but he filled with me exceedingly well the office of a fool or jester and followed me about everywhere like a small fidgety black shadow. Kaninu knew of my affection for the child, and till now had smiled at it in a grandfatherly way; now he seized it, turned it at me and worked it for all it was worth. He declared with great strength that he would rather have Sirunga ten times eaten by leopards than he would lose Kabero, indeed now that Kabero was lost let Sirunga go as well, it would make no difference,—for Kabero, Kabero had been the apple of his eye and his heart’s blood.
If Kabero were indeed dead, this was David grieving over his son Absalom, a tragedy to be left to itself. But if he were alive and hidden with the Masai it was more than tragic, it was a fight or flight, a struggle for the life of a child.
I have seen, on the plains, the gazelles play this game when I have unknowingly come upon the spot where they were hiding their newborn fawn. They would dance to you, step up before you, jump, caper or pretend to be lame and unable to run,—all to distract your attention from their young. And suddenly, actually under the hoofs of your horse, you saw the fawn, immovable, the small head stretched out flat on the grass, lying low for his life while his mother dances for it. A bird will do the same tricks to protect her young ones, flap and flutter and even cleverly act the role of the wounded bird, which trails her broken wing on the ground.
Here was Kaninu performing to me. Was there so much warmth and so many gambols left in the old Kikuyu when he thought his son’s life at stake? His bones creaked in the dance, he was even changing sex in it, and had taken on the appearance of an old woman, a hen, a lioness,—the game was so plainly a feminine activity. It was a grotesque performance, but at the same time highly respectable, like the cock ostrich taking turns with the hen in sitting on her eggs. No woman’s heart could have remained unmoved by the manoeuvre.
“Kaninu,” I said to him, “when Kabero wants to return to the farm he can do so and no harm shall come to him. But you must bring him up here to me yourself at that time.” Kaninu became dead silent, he bowed his head and walked away sadly as if he had now lost his last friend in the world.
I may as well tell here that Kaninu remembered, and did as he had been told. Five years afterwards, when I had almost forgotten the whole affair, he one day through Farah applied for an interview. I found him standing outside the house, on one leg, very dignified, but at the bottom of his heart uneasy. He addressed me in an amiable way. “Kabero is back,” he said. By that time I had learned the art of the pause, I did not say a word. The old Kikuyu felt the weight of my silence, he changed feet, and his eyelids quivered. “My son Kabero has come back to the farm,” he repeated. I asked: “He is back from Masai?” Immediately, by the fact that he had made me speak, Kaninu took it that our reconciliation was effected; he did not smile yet, but all the cunning little wrinkles in his face were adjusted for a smile. “Yes, Msabu, yes, he is back from the Masai,” he said, “he has come back to work for you.” The Government in the intermediate time had introduced the Kipanda, the registration of each individual Native, in the country, so that we would now have to call a Police Officer out from Nairobi to make a lawful inhabitant of the farm out of Kabero. Kaninu and I appointed the day.
Upon that day, Kaninu and his son arrived a long time before the Police Officer. Kaninu presented Kabero to me in a jovial manner, but at heart he was a little frightened of his recovered son. He had reason to be so, for the Masai Reserve had had from the farm a small lamb, and now gave us back a young leopard. Kabero must have had Masai blood in him, the habits and discipline of Masai life could not in themselves have worked the metamorphosis. Here he stood, a Masai from head to foot.
A Masai warrior is a fine sight. Those young men have, to the utmost extent, that particular form of intelligence which we call chic;—daring, and wildly fantastical as they seem, they are still unswervingly true to their own nature, and to an immanent ideal. Their style is not an assumed manner, nor an imitation of a foreign perfection; it has grown from the inside, and is an expression of the race and its history, and their weapons and finery are as much part of their being as are a stag’s antlers.
Kabero had adopted the Masai fashion in hair-dressing, he wore his hair long and braided with string into a thick pigtail and a leather strap round the brow. He had acquired the Masai carriage of the head, with the chin stretched forward, as if he were presenting you his sullen arrogant face upon a tray. He had also the general rigid, passive, and insolent bearing of the Moran, that makes of him an object for contemplation, such as a statue is, a figure which is to be seen, but which itself does not see.
The young Masai Morani live upon milk and blood; it is perhaps this diet that gives them their wonderful smoothness and silkiness of skin. Their faces, with the high cheek-bones and boldly swung jaw-bones, are sleek, without a line or groove in them, swollen; the dim unseeing eyes lie therein like two dark stones tightly fitted into a mosaic; altogether the young Morani have a likeness to mosaics. The muscles of their necks swell in a particular sinister fashion, like the neck of the angry cobra, the male leopard or the fighting bull, and the thickness is so plainly an indication of virility that it stands for a declaration of war to all the world with the exception of the woman. The great contrast, or harmony, between these swollen smooth faces, full necks and broad rounded shoulders, and the surprising narrowness of their waist and hips, the leanness and spareness of the thigh and knee and the long, straight, sinewy leg give them the look of creatures trained through hard discipline to the height of rapaciousness, greed, and gluttony.
The Masai walk stiffly, placing one slim foot straight in front of the other, but their movements of arm, wrist and hand are very supple. When a young Masai shoots with a bow and arrow, and lets go the bow-string, you seem to hear the sinews of his long wrist singing in the air with the arrow.
The Police Officer from Nairobi was a young man lately out from England and full of zeal. He spoke Swaheli very well, so that I and Kaninu did not understand what he said, and he became absorbed in interest in the old case of the shooting accident, and put Kaninu to a cross-examination under which the Kikuyu turned into wood. When he had finished it, he told me that he thought Kaninu had been monstrously treated, and that the whole case ought to be taken up in Nairobi. “That will mean years of your life and mine,” I said. He asked me to be allowed to remark that this was no consideration to be taken, where the execution of justice was concerned. Kaninu looked to me, for a moment he believed that he was being trapped. In the end it was found that the case was too old to be taken up, and nothing more was done about it, except that Kabero was regularly registered on the farm.
But all these things were to happen only a long time later. For five years Kabero was dead to the farm, wandering with the Masai, and Kaninu had much to go through still. Before the case had done with him, forces came into play which seized him and ground him very small.
Of those I cannot tell much. First because they were in themselves of a hidden nature, and secondly, because at the time things were happening to me myself, that took my thoughts off Kaninu and his fate, and left, in my mind, the general affairs of the farm in the background like that distant mountain of Kilimanjaro, which sometimes I could see from my land, and sometimes not. The Natives would take such periods of distraction of mine meekly, as if I had been in reality lifted from their existence into another plane, afterwards they referred to them as to times when I had been away. “That big tree fell down,” they said. “My child died, while you were with the white people.”
When Wanyangerri was well enough to leave Hospital, I fetched him back to the farm, and from that time only saw him at intervals, at an Ngoma or on the plains.
A few days after his return his father, Wainaina, and his grandmother presented themselves at my house. Wainaina was a small rotund man, a rare thing in a Kikuyu, for they are nearly all of them lean people. He grew a spare thin beard, and another peculiarity of his was that he could not look you straight in the face. He made the impression of a mental troglodyte, who wants to be left to himself. With him came his mother, a very old Kikuyu woman.
Native women shave their heads, and it is a curious thing how quickly you yourself will come to feel that these little round neat skulls, which look like some kind of dusky nuts, are the sign of true womanliness, and that a crop of hair on the head of a woman is as unladylike as a beard. Wainaina’s old mother had left the little tufts of white hair on her shrivelled scalp to grow, and thereby, as much as an unshaven man, she conveyed the impression of dissoluteness or shamelessness. She leant on her stick and left it to Wainaina to speak, but her silence was striking sparks the while; she seemed to be all loaded with a graceless vitality, of which she had passed none on to her son. The two were in reality Uraka and Laskaro, but of that I did not know till later.
They had come shuffling up to my house on a peaceful errand. Wanyangerri, his father told me, could chew no maize, they were poor people and short of flour and they had got no milking cow. Would I not, till Wanyangerri’s case was settled, allow him a little milk from my cows? Otherwise they did not see how they were to keep the child alive until the time when his indemnification should come in. Farah was away in Nairobi on one of his private Somali lawsuits, and in his absence I consented to let Wanyangerri have a bottle of milk a day from my herd of Native cows, and instructed my houseboys, who seemed strangely unwilling or uncomfortable about the arrangement, to let him fetch it from us every morning.
A fortnight passed, or three weeks, then one evening Kaninu came to the house. He suddenly stood in the room where I was reading by the fire after dinner. As the Natives generally prefer a discussion to take place outside the house, the manner in which he shut the door behind him, prepared me for surprising communications. But the first surprise was that Kaninu was dumb. The subtle and honeyed tongue was as dead as if it had been cut out of him, and the room, with Kaninu in it, remained silent. The big old Kikuyu was looking very ill, he hung upon his stick, there seemed to be no body inside his cloak, his eyes were dim like the eyes of a corpse, and he kept on wetting his dry lips with his tongue.
When at last he began to speak it was only to state, slowly and dismally, that he thought things were bad. A little later he added in a vague manner, as if it were altogether a matter to be ignored, that he had now paid over ten sheep to Wainaina. And now Wainaina, he went on, wanted a cow and calf from him as well, and he was going to give them to him. Why had he done that, I asked him, when no judgment had yet been given? Kaninu did not answer, he did not even look at me. He was, this evening, a traveller or pilgrim who had no continuing city. He had come in, as it were on his way, to report to me, and now he was off again. I could not but think that he was ill, after a pause I said that I would take him into hospital the next day. At that he gave me a short, painful glance: the old mocker was being bitterly mocked. But before he went away he did a curious thing, he lifted up a hand to his face as if he were wiping off a tear. It would be a strange thing, like the flowering of the pilgrim’s staff, should Kaninu have tears in him to shed, and stranger still that he should put them to no use. I wondered what had been happening on the farm while I had had my thoughts off it. When Kaninu had gone I sent for Farah and asked him.
Farah at times was loth to speak about Native affairs, as if they were beneath him to dwell upon and me to hear of. In the end he consented to tell me, all the time looking past me out of the window, at the stars. At the bottom of Kaninu’s loss of heart was Wainaina’s mother, who was a witch and had cast a spell upon him.
“But, Farah,” I said, “Kaninu, surely, is much too old and wise to believe in a spell.”
“No,” said Farah slowly. “No, Memsahib. For this old Kikuyu wife can really do these things, I think.”
The old woman had told Kaninu that his cows would live to see that it would have been better to them had Kaninu at the beginning given them to Wainaina. Now Kaninu’s cows were going blind, one after another. And under the ordeal Kaninu’s heart was slowly breaking, like the bones and tissue of those people who, in old times, were put to the torture of ever increased weights laid on to them.
Farah spoke of Kikuyu witchcraft in a dry, concerned manner, as of foot-and-mouth disease on the farm, which we ourselves would not catch, but by which we might lose our cattle.
I sat late in the evening thinking of the witchery on the farm. At first it looked ugly, as if it had come up from an old grave to flatten its nose upon my window-panes. I heard the Hyena wailing some way off, down by the river, and remembered that the Kikuyu had their werewolves, old women who at night take on the shape of Hyenas. Perhaps Wainaina’s mother was trotting along the river now, baring her teeth in the night-air. And I had by now become used to the idea of witchcraft, it seemed a reasonable thing, so many things are about, at night, in Africa.
“This old woman is mean,” I thought in Swaheli, “she uses her arts in making Kaninu’s cows blind, and she leaves it to me to keep her grandchild alive, on a bottle of milk a day, from my own cows.”
I thought: “This accident and the things which have come from it, are getting into the blood of the farm, and it is my fault. I must call in fresh forces, or the farm will run into a bad dream, a nightmare. I know what I will do. I will send for Kinanjui.”