Where Only The Brave Survive

I use to sleep with a Somali simi sword under my mattress and a carved club with a knob the size of a baby’s head within reach disguised as tribal art. Fortunately, it has been years since I had to step outside in a vest and shorts wielding a club to repel opportunistic thieves.

I picked up these self defense instincts in circa 90s BC (Before Cellphones), living on the fringes of Kawangare in what is sometimes referred to as Landhies. These typically comprise of rows of one roomed houses with communal bathrooms and toilets located within a single compound, managed by a punitive land lady who rationed power and water. Out in that neihgbourhood, thugs operated with impunity. They arrived in gangs of over 15 men, held the entire plot hostage for hours and not only robbed you, fondled your women but ate up any food they found. Two months later, they would be back to pinch the replacements.

The harassment was cyclic, the land lady helpless and there was a looming mass exodus until a nondescript individual moved into one of the vacant rooms. He was known as “Japolo” a religious devotee from the Legio Maria sect, known for their energized worship ceremonies. he worked as a mason professionally and doubled as a charismatic preacher on the weekend. Japolo had a sinewy body shaped from a lifetime of physical labour and he showed an amicable disposition. Shortly after his arrival, the rude boys returned for another post midnight raid.

Loud noises emanated from the first house in the row and we cowardly prayed in our rooms hoping to endure the torment unscathed and thieves would skip your door. It would take us awhile to realize what was going on outside our securely bolted doors. The rising crescendo of noises turned into a blood curdling scream, followed by what sounded like a stampede. Followed by was an interlude of silence before we had a deeply throat Dholuo accented voice commanding, “Wanaume ote otoke inje” ( all the men step out) repeatedly.

When I eventually stepped outside cautiously, club in hand, the sight was one to behold. Standing out there in the dead of the night was a stark naked Japolo, breathing heavily with a bloodied panga held in a vice grip by his side. There was not a single thug in sight. A nude everyday hero had emerged to save the day.

For a week he was feted like a Don, food always waiting as resident women swooned over their able protector who as we came to conclude slept naked. The thugs did came back once more to salvage their pride but they were repelled because they found all the men had acquired a pair of steel balls and found guts after months of playing victim.

With the increased spate of gun related violence and grenade attacks against innocent civilians, my sword and club feel terribly inadequate as deterrents against radicalized youth tossing about grenades with unnerving ease. As it is the only citizens who enjoy the privilege to bear arms that would serve as a sufficient deterrent against modern day criminals are a demoralized, underfunded police unit, trigger happy APs, ex military personnel, a protected political elite and licensed sports hunters. The rest of us have to put our trust in the lord and hope that we do not end up a statistic.

Meanwhile the other side is awash with illegal firearms, in the hands of criminal elements running circles around the authorities. This makes a rather strong case for a right to self defense when the government fails glaring in its mandate to protect citizens.

Anyone rendered hostage by unabated terror would accept that access to a loaded handgun is lot more reassuring than an empty pronouncement from some official functionary who enjoys 24hour guard at his residence.

What happens to a community when its good men cannot protect themselves from the brutality of evil men. There will always be the odd Japolo. One man can stand up but others have to stand alongside him for one man can only hold out for so long.


Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Esspresoul


    Oh my! i just had a visual of Japolo. The only wepaon I can manage is pepper spray and pray to God that I remember to kick hard in the shins if, (God forbid), I am ever a victim of an attack.

  2. LOL at Japolo

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