In The Land Of Braves, Carry A Big Stick

Do one brave thing today…then run like hell

Bravery is a word only associated with special forces and male marital confessions. Confessing to your wife about an illicit affair is an act of bravery. Spontaneous bravery, where random men save elderly citizens from burning buildings are rarely heard of in the city.

One has to venture into the countryside where acts of bravery are an everyday affair. Fearless men still prowl the rural thickets. Acts that would be deemed literally foolish in the city are regular fare as a result of an uneasy relationship between man and wildlife.

In the country side,  men are expected to defend their homesteads against any dangers. From lurking cattle thieves, granary plunderers, pesky night runners to wild animals. Real men sleep with weapons besides their beds because when the family faces danger, they are expected to be the first responders and usually the only, line of defense.

How I Became A Citizen Ranger To Save An Antelope

There is an enduring myth amongst country folk that game meat tastes better than that of farm bred animals. Very few people have any idea of what the comparative differences are but it does not stop them from offering an opinion. Presently outside the game parks very few edible animal species exist and that seems to have heightened the local craving for game meat. On the few occasions when some wild animal strays into human settlement, mobs of people come out for the kill and a share of the exotic meat. Outside of a game reserve, only the elusive animal can survive.

Granted, farming has taken up habitats that recently belonged to the animals yet we do little to acknowledge the ones that still live with amongst us. Currently we all observe the night versus daylight roaming rights that govern the conflict engagement. We humans walk around during the day and animals only come out at night. If we meet too bad! one of us has to go. This mindset unfortunately typifies the average Kenyan so it no surprise that despite all the demarcation and gentrification of farmlands there still exists a trend of hunting.

The bow and arrow, marauder hunter types are alive and well. There is a group from a neighboring county(over 10km away) who occasionally shore up to the wooded edges of my farm chasing wild game. Usually they are a gang of disheveled men with dogs strapped in harnesses. They appear in the drier seasons, armed, with spears and pangas and each one spots a bag that is slung over one shoulder and tucks below the armpit hanging slightly above the waist.

Farmers living along these hunters path get territorial when they encroach our spaces. I have developed a very protective instinct for wild animals in my area. Kenya Wildlife Services can only do so much so I have become a self appointed citizen ranger. If you kill wild game in these parts I consider it poaching and certainly not on my watch. I feel obligated because in reality, natural life has being under constant assault. While wild game can certainly inflict damage human infringement of animal spaces is what aggravates the conflict.

In the Yala Valley in Siaya County, the lush bush lands harbor the regions last traces of wild game. The humongous pythons that occasionally prey on dogs abide, monitor lizards that are now raiding our fish ponds, the mongoose that love our chickens and the elusive bucks that feed on your bean pods in the dark. It is the tasty but the elusive mwanda Yala antelope ( its what I call an antelope that hangs around river Yala) that draws the hunters into our zone. I marvel at how these antelopes survive as an isolated colony in a settled area where smallholdings lined with barbed wire dot the valley are.

I have sighted the antelopes a few times, always solo, darting out of sight, never the kind to get caught in the headlights. Credible sources have claimed that they are capable of crossing the raging waters of the Yala River. They roam the entire village, outwitting dogs and man and they have survived by staying out of sight.

I consider them a village heritage and get rather touchy when marauders attempt to cut through my farm, flattening my crop, in hot pursuit of an antelope brandishing spears and pangas, screaming as an agitated pack of scrawny yelping dogs race ahead. I have developed deep admiration for the surviving game in these rural parts and how they have lived through the waves of steady human encroachment.

The distinctive difference between farmers and hunters lies in this mentality. In the hunter mentality, they get energy off the hunt, a remnant of an ancient manly ritual. They live for the kill and travel far to run wild hoping to bag one. Farmers protect, observe and nurture while begrudgingly sharing space. However, after interaction with a few wild species one learns to leaves them alone for in the perennial cycle of the survival of the fittest, they are the hunted. The animals were here long before us. We have to learn to give them space and live with them.

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Kipng’etich Deserves A Salute

 What does it mean to be a man these days? Where do men go to define themselves? How do men see themselves?

I think we have forgotten how to describe ourselves. Women in this country have lately taken over the role of telling us what we are and how we should be. In the process we end up thoroughly confused.

So in an attempt to meet women’s standards of the perfect man, Kenyan men acquire the prescribed status symbols, the Hummer H3 with the leather seats, impressive career portfolios, a house in the leafy suburbs and find themselves still attracting the kind of woman they do not want. It is becoming quite clear that it is nearly impossible to forge an authentic identity amidst all this romantic hype.

Most guys are vaguely aware of the expectations of manhood especially within a marriage. They may remain responsible, securing comforts for the children, stabilizing the family’s future, all the while forgetting that their individuality does not cease to exist the moment they hook up with a great wife.

To get to the bottom of this pseudo cultural function, I think it is important to remember that romantic love and marriage are not synonymous. There is more to life than impressing women. As men it is important to acknowledge our imperfections as we work towards self improvement and personal growth. We must not forget our definition as men in the mad rush to meet standardized perfections. Self development is the key to any man’s success and each man must learn to run his own and often lonely race to the finish line.  We can therefore no longer look at life through the prism of our flawed individual value systems.

Economic progress is numbing us with the kindest intentions. As the new missionaries of materialism we are gradually losing significant gender based attributes. Nairobi is becoming a city of stressed high achievers, somehow corporations prefer employees who manage to strike the balance between due diligence and abject groveling. This results into abnormally suppressed or highlighted character traits. Basic attributes such as good posture and deportment have been rapidly replaced by shuffling gaits and compromised postures. Speech and manner rarely reflect the dignity of the individual within. Humility is now central only to religious groups. Economical power dictates that it is not enough to have power. One must be observed to have power. Traits recognized universally as manly are only externally maintained. Integrity and strength of character are not exhibited attributes. What happened to us?

In a ideal world we would have to clone former Kenya Wildlife Service ( KWS) director Julius Kipng’etich ( Kip) and have his brilliance forever looking over us. It’s rare that Kenyans as cynical as we are all agree on the integrity of a man. What enthralled me most about Kip was his demeanor……a steely gentleness. His words were a salve, his focus unwavering and he maintained a smile through insurmountable challenges.

Kip joined KWS in 2005 and transformed it from a malfunctioning organisation into the respected brand that it is today.  We heaped all our bets and hopes on him and he delivered. With his exit from the helm of KWS, we hope his contribution will be sustained. Kenya’s wildlife and environment are facing the serious threat of a rapidly expanding population and we are in desperate need of conscious leaders to man these sensitive dockets. Many aspiring heads of corporations could learn to emulate his style.

Fortunately for us, they are numerous examples within our borders who serve as exemplary role models and the gains made at KWS must not be reversed. Four years ago, during my stint as editor, in an issue of the now defunct Adam magazine, we had Julius Kipng’etich on the cover and he was described as a gentleman who walks with a big stick, a man who amidst us has quietly proved that he can walk the talk. During the interview, I asked him what his guiding philosophy was and he shared this statement,

‘Every day in our parks a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Similarly, every morning in our parks a lion wakes up, it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So therefore it does not matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle at KWS, when the sun comes up you had better be on the move”.

This man Julius Kipng’etich, has retired from the Kenya Wildlife Service to pursue his personal ambitions. I wish him well in his next station.

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