By Ogova Ondego
Published January 27, 2009
David Gian Mailu, he of the After 4.30, My Dear Bottle, and Unfit for Human Consumption fame, not only has a new book that catalogues what he refers to as his suffering at the hands of all three Kenya’s post-independence presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, but has gone online and is turning his rural home into a museum of Akamba artifacts and college of creative writing.
In his 236-page book titled Behind the Presidential Motorcade, this prolific Kenyan writer who is also popularly referred to as Kenya’s Father of Popular Literature for his much maligned but highly popular publications, appeals ‘to the citizens’ public court for the justice he feels he has been denied by the state. But one wonders why Dr Maillu should dedicate Behind the Presidential Motorcade to the Judiciary of the Republic of Kenya whereas it is clear that if the state has indeed persecuted him, then the judiciary can hardly be referred to as a bastion of justice. But then Dr Maillu’s website, davidgmaillu.com, presents him as ‘an enigma’ that is wrapped up in mystery.
A musician, painter, philosopher, theologian, palmist and politician, Dr Maillu says he is re-issuing 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.
But how did Maillu’s journey into the world of books begin?
“I began my writing career as soon as I learnt how to read and write. My first writing was the translation of an English story book, The Prince With Golden Hair, into Kikamba,” he says.
After Standard Eight, Maillu says he conducted his education through correspondence and attained an Advanced Level certificate in Fine Art and Economics.
“While working as a graphics designer with the Voice of Kenya, I composed and recited Kikamba poems on the national broadcaster. The programme was so popular that it inspired Ngugi wa Thiong’o to start writing in the Gikuyu language before he ran off tangent into irrelevance after marrying unAfrican Marxist ideologies which have alienated him from the people he purports to be writing for,” Maillu contends.
Maillu says he later published his Kikamba poems in an anthology, Ki Kyambonie? (What has Happened to Me?) in 1972.
“I turned to self-publishing because publishers at the time preferred academic books to creative writing,” Maillu says. “They had also rejected my manuscripts, 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, I do not think they were pornographic as ‘openness’ is called for in African literature,” Maillu says, adding that his “writings are usually at two levels: the humorous (surface) and the critical (intellectual).”
Dr Maillu explains that anyone who reads his writings at only one level is likely to misunderstand it.
“I wrote My Dear Bottle after newspapers declined to print Mathare Valley, a poem I had written, for ‘allegedly being critical of the Jomo Kenyatta regime’ for making people live in squalor. I created a fictional character to say everything the poem had contained and readers devoured it,” he says.
“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.
Maillu says that his ability to 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 para-state financial institution, the politicians used auctioneers to attach my publishing equipment including household goods.”
Maillu says he later rose from the ashes with another outfit, Maillu Publishing House. He also wrote for other publishers who had by now accepted him.
Maillu, whose Ka: The Holy Book of Neter (The Soul of God) has been published, says he is currently working on My High School Love Affair (a novel on AIDS).
Maillu says he is merely formalising African religion through Ka: The Holy Book of Neter .
Saying he owes no apology for being African, Dr Maillu says, “There is neither hell, heaven nor paradise in African religion. All people are born innocent and sinless.”
He contends it is discriminatory to teach Christianity and Islam in schools in Africa without according African religions 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.”
Maillu, who -chaired the six-man (all university professors) team that compiled Ka: The Holy Book of Neter (the Soul of God), argues that Christianity sprung from the African religion. He plans to have Ka: The Holy Book of Neter (or AfricanBible)- 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 of Nigeria and Ayi Kwei Armah of Ghana for their commitment to Africanism but criticises Nigerian 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, adding that Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o began well but lost his way when he “copied others.”
Dr Maillu says he wrote his African Indigenous Political Ideology to prove to the West that Africa indeed does have an advanced political system.
“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. This anomaly, he adds, can be corrected through his, “The Dr Maillu Revolution: Mapinduzi ya Dr Maillu” that he says is based on African social order of age and gender.
In his “The Dr Maillu Revolution: Mapinduzi ya Dr Maillu”, Maillu 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 says, chuckling.
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 account 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 Deputy President.
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 more than 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 Literature 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’.
What does Dr Maillu consider to be his achievements?
“I have a happy family, I am at the peak of my career, and I have attained a nice ripe old age,” he says.
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 is ‘more African than many black people’, Maillu 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?
When he is not giving lectures abroad or writing in Nairobi, Maillu says, he enjoys travelling to his Makueni home where he has a botanical garden and a two-storey house styled on the traditional Kamba basket-weaving model.
“I plan to turn this property into a museum of Akamba artifacts and college of creative writing,” Dr Maillu says as he retires to an international conference in the Lukenya Hills area on the outskirts of Nairobi, in late January 2009. And I thank the highly gifted man for granting me a long interview with him.