Facing Mount Kenya is a masterpiece in anthropological studies! It is written by a true student of the Gikuyu way of life, Jomo Kenyatta. A man who would later on go down in history as Kenya’s founding president and one of independent Africa’s pioneer statesmen.
In this book, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, as we refer to him in Kenya, walks the reader through the Gikuyu way of life. He elucidates in detail, the stages of life that Gikuyu men and women underwent from childhood to adulthood. He eruditely speaks on the Gikuyu tribal origin and kinship system, their system of land tenure, economic life, system of education, initiation ceremonies, sex life among the young people, marriage system, system of governance, religion and so on. He also speaks on life prior to the coming of the British, and the drastic change following their arrival and subsequent colonisation of Kenya.
Mzee, in writing this book, had the benefit of being both an active son of the soil and participant, and also a student of the International Institute of African Languages and Culture. He doesn’t write this book with an aim of defending his culture, no. He writes it with an aim of explaining it. He seeks to give an African’s point of view on African life and culture.
Indeed, therein he makes a case that Africans, specifically the Gikuyu, did have a life before the British came. That the British didn’t come to save them from anything. They had run a society for eons before the colonialists and would have run it for eons after.
He unapologetically contends with the idea that Africans were poor savages who needed saving from the British. He wards academically words this school of thought of as baseless and misinformed. In fact, he has evidence to the extent that as far as the colonialist were concerned, it was deemed unnecessary for white men to have any special training before dealing with and being put in charge of African natives. That it was common assumption that work on the colonies required men of less education than work in their home countries, so the colonies became a sort of clearing-house for failures and worse.
Moreover, it was prevalent opinion that the Gospel could be better preached and interpreted to ignorant and degraded savages by less intellectual and less educated men. To this end, he attached an excerpt from the Report on Higher Education in East Africa, September 1937, p.67, that corroborated that; of the European women missionaries who were engaged in educational work in Uganda, only one-third had any professional training as teachers. Only 20 had received any kind of training, and of those, only about 10 were fully certified.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta tells of African life, from an African point of view. He shows meaning, importance, and value of the African way of life, as only an African who has lived and experienced it, can.
There’s no doubt that a lot has changed since the time this book was first published. Kenya regained her independence, it has had three presidents since and has made huge milestones. The Gikuyu culture has likewise evolved in matched measure. One fact however remains. That this book will prove to be a useful study for anyone interested in the Gikuyu way of life and how Africans conducted their affairs before the coming of the Europeans.
REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO