TENE: Glimpses into the lives of an early Gikuyu christian couple
At first, reading ‘Tene’, a book by Prof. Christine Gichure, Dean Emeritus of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, was inspired by the desire to understand the life of the protagonist couple, André and Gũthera, in the light of the rapid changes in the institution of marriage. How would a couple, faced with so many odds hold together and raise a family that has remained united and productive years later? But the book turned out to be much more than a marriage story. It is a glimpse into the traditional Gĩkũyũ way of life; into the making a country called Kenya. It is also a glimpse into the advent of evangelization in the colony. In the author’s words, it is a story centred on André and Gũthera’s “epic love story and marriage, and how staunch faith saturated and imbued their whole beings, igniting them with zeal to pass it on, together with their children, to hundreds of their neighbours, children and adults, at time of great political upheavals in the country.”
The author starts by marking the setting of the book – detailing the extent of Gikuyu land. However, the land is not as we know it today where, many parts have been taken over by urban development and Nairobi Metropolitan area. The picture painted by the author describing the territory and its people depicts an expansive area inhabited by the hardworking and religious people Gikuyu people. The book takes the reader through a stable community oblivious of any impending “shocks” in its system. Largely, the Gikuyu remain unbothered by any external influences, until Cege’s prophecy about newcomers whose magical sticks would spit fire is fulfilled. Their tranquility is suddenly disrupted by the coming of the White man and the developments such as the railway, which accounts for the sprouting and growth of towns like Nairobi and Limuru.
It is at the fulfilment of the prophecy that André and Gũthera’s story begins. Consequently, the book demonstrates the intrigues of the three generations of the early Gĩkũyũ Christian converts and how their lives transform, pre, during and the post-colonial rule. To an extent, the couple also serve as eye witnesses to Kenya’s history.
André walks a long distance to escape biting famine, accompanied by its accomplices – disease and drought – that has wiped his entire family. This ruthless famine is thus described: “people chewed on leather ropes that were generally used by women as straps to tie firewood together before carrying it on their backs, in order to have something in their mouths. They uprooted dry sweet potatoes vines and ate the stems that are normally fed to goats and sheep; they ate dry banana stems. More often than not, people died from what they had eaten than of the hunger itself, because some of the roots they ingested proved to be poisonous”.
He is rescued and taken in by a priest at Mũthangari mission. This marks the beginning of a lifetime adventure and fulfillment of God’s mission in his life. Through this interaction, he is taken through the Christian teachings and he freely accepts the Catholic Faith, a journey that is not devoid of challenges. Through André, the book details the challenges faced by those who accepted the Christian faith and the hangover of traditional beliefs they had to deal with.
Andre soon met Guthera, the love of his love with whom he would conquer “the world”. Brewing their love affair at the Mission and starting their family in the same setting, Guthera, now a new convert, embraced the teachings of the Christian life and became a wife to Andre according to the teachings of the faith. The couple, blessed with numerous moments of joy and sorrows, stood with each other at every step. Blessed with twenty children, they treated their family life as a vocation, doing their best to uphold the sanctity of raising and educating the children.
Walking through the life and times of André and Gũthera and with all its joys and sorrows detailed in the book with precision, the story of the couple captures the story of our country, Kenya. The aspirations and struggles of the couple mirror the struggle of our country. It also details the brutality of colonialism and the betrayal resulting from those in leadership who cooperated with the colonialists; the betrayal of a people becoming squatters in their land.
Tene is indeed a journey of faith, as much as it is a well-researched documentation of family history, deeply intertwined with Kenya’s history. This story needed to be told, and we’re glad it was. And for this, it deserves your attention.
This article was written by Verah Omwocha and Gabriel Dinda.
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