Kiundu Waweru is a features writer who believes in humanizing the science story. He is a media trainer and Project Manager, East African Media Coverage of Conservation and Wildlife at Internews Earth Journalism Network.
“Somehow we have lost it, the art of storytelling to connect people ‘s hearts with nature, instead we have told the stories from boardrooms and international conventions. We must use our pens and lens to promote the local voices.”
I was fortunate to be born when my great grandmother was still alive, to enjoy her storytelling, before death took her aged over a hundred… her son, my grandpa, also lived to a hundred years. I took every opportunity to learn from their stories of ogres, heroes, and heroines.
These stories had one recurring theme, land. Whether about an ogre, or a ‘small person’ who must conquer the giant, the setting of the story - told in a gripping tone inside a semi-lit smoke-filled room - would be a thick cool forest with all sorts of animals from chirping birds to snakes basking on stones, and elephants sharing a drink with other animals at the pool. The people in the stories cared deeply for their land and they feared cattle raiders more than the wildlife that was ever present.
Even the story of my people’s origins, passed orally down the generations, has the backdrop of the omnipresent and nature. The God of my people, the Agikuyu of Central Kenya, Ngai or Mwene Nyaga lived in Kirinyaga. The folklore has it that the world-famous snow-capped Mt. Kenya resembled Nyaga, an ostrich, with its black plumage and a white tail; but when the explorers discovered this second highest mountain in Africa, they could not pronounce Kirinyaga, they ‘corrupted’ it to Kinyaa, and later Mt. Kenya. Nature had given this country, known for its diverse wildlife and rich soils, a name.
This oral history would influence the first Kenyan sons and daughters to get western schooling. And, with the traditions of their forefathers, authors like Ngugi wa Thiong’o feature land as a big theme in their writings. His 1965 book, The River Between is a good example; the first Kenyan President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1938 published Facing Mt. Kenya. Many years later, a young pediatrician would pen a book with an historical account of four generations of women from her Luo community titled The River and the Source, and most recently, Peter Kimani told the history of this country through the highly acclaimed, Dance of the Jakaranda But, somewhere, we lost it. The art of storytelling to connect people’s hearts with nature.
We have instead told the stories from boardrooms and international conventions, ignoring the local voice, forgetting the indigenous peoples, who, like the Mijikenda of Kenya’s coast, have kept their ancestor’s truth in looking after their forests, Kayas, by simply believing they are sacred.
In 2020, nature has looked inward and used the mistreatment of biodiversity to unleash a lethal virus. As nature takes a breather, forcing us all back to our homes and families, media, which has not been spared the turmoil, must rethink. Politics, and its attendant hate, and negative news is so last decade. We must look back retrospectively, so that we may be able to conquer the future, which epidemiologists are predicting to be grim, where three in four new infections will be zoonotic, probably worse than COVID- 19.
As my people say, we must take the river back to its course and use our pens and lens to promote the local voices. They know