Kenya's Mau Mau in Ruark's masterpiece

"Something Worthwhile," inescapable and enthralling

09-07-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo

In a war there are never winners or losers, if anything there are exploiters and victims, and in the end armistices, agreements and sometimes compensation between the parties.
Even in the case of the war for independence in Kenya, an atypical war that was fought almost exclusively by one tribe, the Kikuyu, against the British colonialists and all the other Kenyans who did not want to take sides, it would be too easy to side with one or the other faction without knowing the history, the modalities of the white man's settlement in Kenya, and the origins and background of the libertarian sentiment of the local people.

Once the legitimacy of the Kenyans' desire for independence and self-government is established, everything else, right down to the most dramatically human and most "Africanly" inhuman folds, is recounted and described in the novel "Something That Matters" by American writer Robert Ruark.
A book published in 1955, when the Mau Mau uprising had not yet exhausted itself and just before the process of transition to Kenya's first republic began.

Ruark, with a descriptive skill that is at times epic, at times romantic, often cynical and ruthless (as in the safari hunting scenes and later, in the Kikuyu oath-taking practices) and with an infinite love for that land, manages never to take sides, recounting two peoples at the antipodes who, at the mercy of their traditions and status, defended their values (hence the title) to the point of death and, even worse, to the most terrible atrocities.
The story is of a family of "farmers," farmers settled from London between Nyeri and Nanyuki, in the foothills of Mount Kenya, and their Kikuyu laborers. The sons of the English farmer and his most loyal servant, childhood friends, become insurgent hunter and Mau Mau chief respectively, destroying their lives and those of their families.

In between is the wonderful, wild Kenya of the 1950s, with the spectacle of place, the sense of freedom to the extreme that captivated not only the whites who lived there, but wealthy safari tourists, professional hunters, women on the prowl, film crews, writers and travelers from around the globe.
And the Kenya of the natives, with their ancestral customs undergoing changes due to Christianization and Western imposition of certain "civilized" rules. Westerners, those strange people who punish circumcision and polygamy, animist witchcraft rites and blood pacts, but approve of slavery and shoot animals, behead them and skin them for trophies, without mercy.

"Nothing will ever be the same again," but if every human affair is a child of its times and the thinking of the age, it is far better to read it in Robert Ruark's masterpiece than to imagine it or, worse, rewrite it with today's mentality and morality.
Especially since "Something Worthwhile" not only helps to better understand who Kenyans and their colonizers were seventy years ago, but is a splendid, interminable epic novel to be devoured with the same passion with which it was written.

The novel in Italy is published by Bompiani but has been out of print for years, so it is very rare to find.
It is possible to retrieve used copies (very few) online, especially on the E-bay platform.

From Ruark's book, an (unsuccessful) film of the same title starring Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitiers was made in 1957, directed by Richard Brooks.

TAGS: libriromanzomau maustoriaindipendenzacolonia

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