Writer David Gian Maillu has written what many consider pornography. However his publishing of the Bible of African religion and growing interest in politics is confounding many.
If you believe the controversial writer, he will succeed President Daniel arap Moi later this year when elections are held. Yet he is not among the garrulous politicians jostling for power in the media glare. Maillu, who says he has a “blueprint” for Kenya’s development, declares the country’s current parliament as an exclusive men’s club that marginalises women and youth. “This club can’t discuss polygamy, rape or any other issue affecting women and youth. Riots are common in our institutions of learning because the youth feel the government does not care about them,” he says, adding he hopes to correct this anomaly through “The Dr Maillu Revolution: Mapinduzi ya DR Maillu” that he says is based on African social order of age and gender.
He calls for three political parties corresponding to youth (18-25 years), women, and men. “Such a system is inclusive, has no room for tribalism or gender insensitivity, and does not give room to political party defection unless, of course, one changes one’s gender or age,” he chuckles. In his theory, each party elects its own representatives to a three-chamber parliament at grassroots and national levels. There is no voting across gender and age divides at civic and parliamentary levels except at Presidential polls where candidates from the women and men’s parties are fielded as the youth party is ineligible on the virtue of the age of its members. But Maillu says this is not marginalisation as the best youth candidate becomes prime minister with the winning presidential candidate being declared President and the runner up deputising. Asked why he has not publicised his revolutionary views as elections are fast approaching, Maillu says “Timing is important in African politics. This is why I am bidding my time lest someone short-circuits it.”
What are his credentials for the presidency-does he have experience? “Kenya needs untainted-not experienced-president,” he retorts. “Those who are messing up Africa are experienced politicians.” In 1997, Maillu’s declaration of interest in the presidency at a Press conference in Nairobi was largely ignored by the media which, he speculates, colluded with politicians to frustrate him as “Kanu has a phobia for writers.” This time round, Maillu believes he will succeed President Moi. And who can argue with this palmist over his contention unless one communicates directly with the supernatural as he? A self-made man, Maillu was in the 1970s rebuffed by editors and publishers and vilified by academicians and critics in the 1980s. Although his formal education ended at Standard Eight, Maillu is considered East Africa’s most published author. He has over 70 books in print and numerous manuscripts on various subjects in the works. His humorous, sexually explicit pocket size novels had been bashed as pornography although it was widely read. Had it not been for his winning of the coveted Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literauture in 1992 which left critics dumbfounded, he probably would have continued to be ignored.
Six years later, in July 1998, Maillu stunned detractors further when he earned a Doctor of Letters degree in African Literature and Political Philosophy from St Clements University of south Australia. Maillu says this was not an honorary but earned degree “through rigorous academic research and writing.” “The institution was impressed by my African Indigenous Political Philosophy, Our Kind of Polygamy, and Broken Drum novel” he says. The 1124-page Broken Drum is arguably Africa’s longest novel. As to why he had to be recognised by a foreign institution and not a local one, Maillu says the latter did not like him for his un-conventional thinking. DR Maillu, who plans to stand on the yet to be registered Communal Democracy of Kenya Party (CDK), says he began his writing career as soon as he learnt how to read and write. His first writing was the translation of an English story book, The Prince With Golden Hair, into his Kikamba language. After Standard Eight, he conducted his education through correspondence and attained an Advanced Level certificate in fine art and economics.
While working as a graphics designer with Voice of Kenya, Maillu composed and recited Kikamba poems on the national broadcaster. He says the programme was so popular that it inspired Ngugi wa Thiong’o to start writing in the Kikuyu before he ran off tangent into irrelevance after marrying what Maillu terms unAfrican (Marxist) ideologies which have alienated him from the people he purports to be writing for. Maillu later published the poems in an anthology-Ki Kyambonie (What has Happened to Me?) in 1972. Maillu says he turned to self-publishing because publishers at the time preferred academic books to creative writing. They had also rejected his manuscripts terming terming them pornography. His first products were Kisalu and His Fruit Garden and English Spelling and Words Frequently Confused (1972), and Unfit for Human Consumption, My Dear Bottle, and After 4.30 (1973). Although the 1973 publications were condemned, Maillu does not think they were pornographic as “openness is called for in African literature.” Saying his “writings are usually at two levels: the humorous (surface) and the critical (intellectual),” Maillu explains that anyone who reads them at only one level is likely to misunderstand it.” He wrote My Dear Bottle after newspapers declined to print Mathare Valley, a poem he had written, for “allegedly being critical of the Jomo Kenyatta regime” for making people live in squalor. He created a fictional character to say everything the poem had contained and, he says, readers devoured it.
“I used a prostitute in After 4.30 to warn newcomers to Nairobi of the dangers of city life while Unfit for Human Consumption was a commentary revolving around a model family man who backslid from his Christian morality to go into debauchery,” he explains. That he could write, edit and design enabled him to launch his Comb Books with his wife, Hannelore. He however laments that powerful politicians conspired to destroy the company in 1978. “Although I still had four months remaining before I could start repaying a loan from a parastatal financial institution, the politicians used auctioneers to attach my publishing equipment including household goods.” Maillu later rose from the ashes with another outfit, Maillu Publishing House. He also wrote for other publishers who had by now accepted him.
He is currently working on My High School Love Affair (a novel on AIDS) as he awaits the publication of his African religion bible, Ka: The Holy Book of Neter (The Soul of God). Through it, he says, he is merely formalising African religion in which there is neither hell, heaven nor paradise. People are born innocent and sinless. He says he owes no apology for being African. Maillu contends it is discriminatory to teach Christianity and Islam in schools without according African religion a similar status. Comparing The Soul of God with John S Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy, Maillu says the latter is “a scholarly view of African religion” while the former is “the law of African religion.” He claims Christianity sprung from the African religion. Maillu chaired the six-man (all university professors) team that compiled the Soul of God. The said Bible will be in various African languages. A specialist in African literature, philosophy and art, Maillu argues that formal education does not make any one a better artist but that it nevertheless affirms one in today’s certificate-obsessed world. “Unless a balance is struck between creativity and academics, the latter usually stifles the former. But I am not discouraging people from going to school.”
Claiming that most African academicians and writers are hypocrites, Maillu commends writers Chinua Achebe and Ayi Kwei Armah for their commitment to Africanism but criticises Wole Soyinka for being a by-product of the West whom he aspires to please through difficult vocabulary on the pretext that he is not writing for the hoi polloi. “There are no classes in African thinking. Africans write and speak to communicate and not to impress Soyinka’s so-called intelligentsia.”He says Ngugi WA Thiong’o began well but lost his way when he “copied others.”
Maillu is reissuing some of his best sellers as double volumes in an attempt to promote African languages. While After 4.30 has a Kiswahili novel (Ameokolewa), My Dear Bottle has a Kikamba novel attached to it. Ki Kyambonie, on the other hand, is accompanied by a social commentary, Kila Kimuisaa Mukamba (What devours the Kamba community?). “This is an explosive political commentary on the Kamba political landscape since Kenya’s independence in 1963,” he explains. He claims politicians have used the Kamba culture of servility, isolationism and individualism to destroy the community. A musician, painter, philosopher, theologian and politician, DR Maillu says he wrote African Indigenous Political Ideology to prove to the West that Africa indeed does have an advanced political system.
What are his achievements?
“I have a happy family, am at the peak of my career, and have attained a nice ripe old age,” he says. “I need this revolution to move things and improve the lives of Kenyans.”
Second born among six siblings, Maillu was born of peasant parents in 1939. His father died while he was still a child and was brought up by his mother. No wonder he says it is from she that he derived most of his inspiration. Paying tribute to his German wife whom he says she is more African than many black people, he says, “My wife Hannelore is the controller of most of the things I do.” Father of two-Christine Mwende and Elizabeth Kavuli-Maillu says he has no regrets in life.
So how would he like to be remembered? “A thinker who was gifted in many things. I want to leave a melody in people’s lives, something that will inspire them.” When he is not giving lectures abroad or writing in Nairobi, Maillu enjoys traveling to his Makueni home where he has a botanical garden and a two-story house styled on the traditional Kamba basket-weaving style. Maillu hopes to someday turn the property into a museum of Akamba artifacts and college of creative writing.
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