BOOK REVIEW: Blossoms of the Savannah

Author: Henry Ole Kulet

Genre: Fiction    

Publisher: Sasa Sema Publications, Nairobi. An imprint of Longhorn, 2009

Reviewer: Zablon Ogutu

The novel Blossoms of the Savannah is a story of harshness and hardships of two girls who are at the verge of womanhood. It depicts a sudden confrontation with unfamiliar traditions by Taiyo and Resian. Basically, this foreign encounter is the umbrella of the main events that revolve in the novel. I would actually relate this novel to Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood, which presents the protagonist Nnu Ego going through hard moments in her life. Apart from her early marriage, most of what she endures in her life is also depicted in this novel.

This novel has a title that can metaphorically be referred to Taiyo and Resian’s lives, which advances amidst peculiar tribulations. Ole Kaelo’s family is on the move back to Nasila after a sudden retrenchment from his job in Nakuru. The encounter at the village is unique as the family is introduced to their culture. It is at this point during the welcoming ceremony that Ole Kaelo realizes that he doesn’t understand even the simplest moves in the traditional dance. What a surprise!

Indeed, the sisters at the village encounter an invasion of privacy. They are mocked and ridiculed due to their uncircumcised state. To the villagers, they believe that, “Circumcision is meant to tame the women who to them are wild, and like a cow must be dehorned”. These people go further to attribute uncircumcised girls to be possessed by a bad spirit. Yeiyo Bottor tells Mama Milanoi that her daughter Resian has Olkuenyi, a despicable spirit which could only be exorcised by circumcision.

Ole Kulet is very careful with his presentation of the girls’ parents. Due to his selfishness, Ole Kaelo trades Resian to be married by the unscrupulous Oleisudori from whom he expects to siphon material benefits. He also portrays the submissive Mama Milanoi who can’t defend her children from the calculated atrocities of their father. As a man, Kaelo is the only one vested with the rights to make decisions in the family, which is actually an aspect of patriarchal exploitation. He partners with Oloisudori with the ultimate aim of enriching himself without even involving his family.

Olarinkoi builds trust to Resian when he safes her from a forced marriage. He however destroys the trust when he takes her to his own hut and attempts to rape her. The author has depicted individuals who feign goodness while they have a destructive motive. Kaelo also betrays his daughters’ ambition to join their dream university. He simply bars them from their dream of joining Egerton University to pursue their careers.

Joseph Parmuat is trusted too with the duty to educate the girls about their culture, another instance that lays bare the fact that women cannot be given a chance to led and monitor themselves in what they do, especially academically. They have to be lead by men. This causes Parmuat and Taiyo to fall in love with each other, a situation that triggers further issues since their love is considered illegal as they are from the same clan. According to tradition, it is considered a taboo when one profanes the traditions by marrying a member of the same clan.

As readers, we can’t fail to recognize that culture is not a static state but rather a dynamic process that has to undergo changes. In spite of it being characterized by beliefs and social institutions which assume that any new formation that interrogates the already existing one is an abomination, it still has to change.

The author manages to bring out the significance of culture and its practices and hence showing how powerful the influence of culture is for people living within it regardless of their educational level. He contends that even before the coming of the Europeans, Africans were strongly bounded together and lived comfortably within their culture.

The use of a third person narration has assisted the author to accurately introduce and portray the characters. Throughout the novel, a tone which reflects fear and anger from the side of the sisters creates suspense that provokes a reader to envision the events in the mind even as the mood changes from one of helplessness to one of optimism.

The text is beautifully interwoven in a lyrical language owing to the author’s concern with nature. Precise sentences with a clear description that draws a lot from the Maa tradition and the local dialects such as Enkaibon which will continue to preserve the community’s language. The symbolic narratives such as the one describing the occurrence of war in the community have pinpointed the writer’s sense of amazing artistry.

It is actually a good and interesting novel to read since the author has succeeded in bringing out the intricacies and complexities of the Maasai culture. Owing to the struggles they face, the sisters finally triumphs at the end, which is a motivation to any individual facing a particular struggle. It is only that I feel that the author should not have killed Joseph Parmuat. He should have let him live for us to see what conspires on his love with Taiyo .What would the community say of their continued love? Would they accept them at last?

Apart from this novel, the author has done other works including The Hunter, Moran No More, Maisha Hatari, Daughter of Ma, Vanishing Hearts, Bandits of Kobi, To become a man and The Elephant Dance. He has been awarded The Prestigious Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

As a reader, it is unbelievable that even at this modern age people should have to live under the spell of outdated culture. Having no right to choose or make a decision. Even as a particular species of plants blossoms in the harsh conditions of the desert, there are some people who still survive in the contemporary society being spellbound by their culture!

Unfortunately, we have lost the legendary writer, a friend and a role model. Will we ever have a writer so proficient as this one? May your soul rest in peace. Kulet, you will always be our hero!

Ogutu’s contact is

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