From the Land of Pashtuns to the Land of Maa

Volume 12, Issue 2  | 
Published 13/10/2015

Author: Muzaffar Juma Khan

Publlisher: Muzaffar Juma Khan & Asian African Heritage Trust

Reviewer: AwaaZ

The Pashtuns-Maa book is primarily an account of a Muslim Punjabi family from South Asia which settled in Kenya’s Maasai land. But given the author’s credentials as an official of the KFA (Kenya Farmers Association), Chair of KANU Bondeni Ward, Nominated Councillor of Nakuru Municipal Council for 10 years and Chair of several Education Boards and Committees; the reader gets to meet a wide array of personalities, brown, black and white, who have featured in Kenya’s history ; and shaped it.

The story of migration begins with the early, troubled child hood of Juma Khan, the author’s father, in the North Western Frontier Province of then India, now Pakistan. In circa 1928, without education or experience he set out on ‘a journey of thousands of miles in a dhow to an unknown land’. He settled in Ngorongere, near Narok, married a Maasai woman who was renamed ‘Halima Tome’ and together they had four daughters.

Mixed marriages, though generally a taboo in South Asian communities, were quite common then amongst the Muslim Punjabis. When Juma Khan later, to inculcate Muslim culture and language in his daughters, took a second wife (the author’s mother); she too was a grand-daughter of a mixed race marriage. So common was it that at one time Joseph Murumbi, himself the son of a Goan father and Maasai mother, tried to form a Kenya Coloured Association but gave up saying: ‘You are either black or not’. The author mentions many of the descendants of these wedlocks who have achieved distinguished positions in Kenya and abroad. Hon. Fred Kubai was married to the daughter of an Afrikaner, Ramdall, who in turn was married to a Kikuyu woman. Society then in those pre-independence days seems very different from the cocooned and ethnic based one of today.

The book abounds with innumerable fascinating vignettes of the intrepid ‘Pashtuns’, the African ‘rebels’ and the colonial ‘masters’. The warrior trait of the Pashtuns (is that why they chose Maasai land to any other part of Kenya?) is evident in the character of Lala Noor Dad Khan who took offence to a joke that Juma Khan made about him, and stabbed him. Khan bandaged his arm and then loaded his twin barrel gun; but the two were reconciled by community members.

How many of us know about the Maasai moran who speared a white District Commissioner of Narok and lived to tell the tale? D C Hugh Grant had sold off the moran’s favourite bull as payment of tax. Grant’s daughter, Anne Goldsmith whom the author traced, related that the Grant family accepted a compensation equivalent to two thousand sterling pounds paid by the Maasai clan.

Then there was the Turkana man who was charged by DC Whitehouse, also of Narok, for trespassing within the railway station. He was let off with a warning when in his defence he protested ‘Mimi siku kanyanga reli, nili ruka!’ (I did not step on the railway line, I jumped over it.)

Born in Nairobi in 1941, Muzaffar Khan has also lived in Narok, Kijabe, Naivasha, and Nakuru. The last was his base during the 27 years he served the Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) in various capacities. Elspeth Huxley in her book No Easy Way has written a detailed history of the KFA from its birth in 1919 to 1957. Khan joined the KFA in 1957 and in Pashtuns-Maa gives us not only a history, but an insider view of that ‘great and unique Co-operative organization . . . which was not only the pride of Kenya, but of the African continent . . . and whose sole aim was to assist members’ access to credit and to efficiently market their produce . . .’; and relates the political manoeuvres which led to its final dissolution in 2008. Henry Ole Kulet, one time Personnel Executive of the KFA, sadly laments ‘all that is left is a heap of ashes’.

Reuben Chesire, the very professional chairman appointed in 1971 and under whom corruption was unheard of, became the envy of many. The rumour that he was planning to contest the Baringo Central Parliamentary seat – the constituency of then Vice-President, Daniel arap Moi – was the beginning of the end of KFA. In 1984, the registration of the Kenya Grain Growers Co-operative Union with Alfrick Birgen as its chairman, signalled the end.

Muzaffar Khan has given us a frank and authentic account of the often contradictory decisions our post-independence leaders made. He has also given us a peek into the daily lives of brave and hardy men and women who overcame the odds and moulded Kenyan society. Amongst the myriad photographs the reader is sure to find an acquaintance, friend or relative. The index is a further guide though some names are missing; it could have more extensive.

More details of the rituals followed in the mixed race marriages, and the challenges they faced, would have been interesting. The Mau Mau War of Liberation is only mentioned in footnotes – not surprising given that Juma Khan had enlisted as a Kenya Police Reservist and that it negatively affected his business fortunes.

In writing this story, the author has revisited old places, searched internationally and met with the descendants of his subjects. He has unearthed long-buried narratives and written a book that will interest and inform many.

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