All the world is fascinated with the competitive American elections.
For the very first time an African American is the nominee for the democratic party: Senator Barack Obama. Kenya is a-buzz with speculation, discussion and bets. After all, Obama’s Dad was a genuine Kenyan, in fact, his Grandma still lives in a village in Western Kenya.
Many of us here follow every bit of news we can get, so we came across an article written by one Nancy Benac, (Associate Press Writer) that is making its appearance in newspapers this week. In it she compares the decorative aspect of the offices of the two nominated candidates. We are informed Obama’s office has “a fresh clean look to it,” “carefully choreographed” with “not many knick-knacks.” The accompanying photograph shows a side table with a good old fashioned “Rungu” on it.
Ms. Benac, the Associated Press Writer identifies it as a “tiger-beating stick from his grandmothers village in Kenya.” Why would they have a “tiger beating stick” in a village in western Kenya? Hardly!
It reminds me of a public notice I saw in a government office in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1965, that announced that the hunting and killing of tigers was strictly forbidden under the laws of Somalia. It proved to be the only law that was never violated there.
Why? There are no tigers in Somalia to hunt, not any more than there are tigers in Kenya.
There are no tigers, never were, on the African continent Ms. Benac. Tigers belong to that other mass of land to the east, remember?
As for the rungu in the good Senator’s office: It’s a traditional African weapon, a throwing club traditionally cut from hardwood bushes or roots that have especially strong knots. It is probably mostly seen used by the warriors of the colorful Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania. No self respecting traditional pastoralist would be caught out in the bush without one, it has so many uses in self defense (bar tiger beating) and hunting, even lion hunting although the Maasai possess more suitable and lethal home made weapons for this pursuit. Young boys training to be warriors have rungu throwing competitions until they become so proficient that they can hit small object such as a small mammal or bird at great distance.
But there is another equally important function for the rungu. It is a ceremonial status symbol giving the bearer the aura of great importance. (Past President Moi of Kenya carried one made of ivory and gold wherever he went). The rungu is often given in honor to a speaker of great importance as a sign of respect. Which is probably why Senator Obama received one in his Grandma’s home village when he visited there some time ago. Kenyans are proud that it has a place of honor in his office. If the rungu does make it to the White House… we hope NOT as a “tiger beating tool”!!