Bwana Karani by Mervyn Maciel – An introduction

I’ve always maintained that the most beautiful stories you will ever get to hear or read are life stories. Why? Because they are inspiring, captivating, unpredictable and perhaps most importantly they are unique.

Mervyn Maciel’s Bwana Karani is a book that offers more than solid testimony to this premise.

First published in 1985, Bwana Karani is a candid personal narrative of Mervyn’s life in East Africa spanning a period of nearly twenty years from 1947 to 1966. Mervyn who worked in the Kenyan Civil Service had the opportunity to work at various stations around the country namely; Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Voi, Taveta, Lodwar, Lokitaung, Isiolo, Marsabit, Kitale, Kisii(then South Nyanza District), Machakos and Njoro.

The book not only describes his day to day activities working as a district clerk but also covers the adventures, hardships and experiences that came along with it.  Offering the reader a glimpse of what it was like to be part of the colonial machinery that ran the country during that period.

What struck me most about Mervyn is his pride in his work, his positive outlook towards life and the earnest way in which he tells his story.  Taking you step by step through his journey, so much so, that you feel as if you are a part of it. His desire to live out in the wilderness in places not many would have chosen to go, is an awe inspiring one in the least and possibly one of the few memoirs written about life in the NFD.

“ For me the attraction of the N.F.D was the great feeling of freedom , the sheer vastness of the districts and the general spaciousness of the areas  “ Mervyn

Apart from administrative aspect of his work, Mervyn talks about his life and his interaction with the local tribesmen many of whom he fondly remembers. From snakes in the office to murder plots to describing the long period of courtship with his wife, Mervyn paints a picture of a Kenya that not many of us were privileged to see.

Collectively his reflections embody the aspirations of the various communities who witnessed the birth of a country and watched it struggle to get onto its feet. A country that also found it difficult to accommodate the racial diversity of those who called it home.

“ I wanted to leave something behind for posterity re the Goan(Asian) contribution in the Kenya Civil service. I felt that most of the books were about European achievements, with scant regard to what the immigrant communities had done. It was as though we never existed!  I also wanted to encourage others from my community to record their own experiences as otherwise, the younger generation would know nothing of what life was during those early days-the conditions under which we worked “ Mervyn Maciel

After the Africanization of his post, Mervyn moved to the United Kingdom with his family where he resides to this day. Mervyn donates the bulk of his profits to the people of Marsabit, for him the most fulfilling and satisfying thing is giving back to the people to whom he owes his story .

I imagine that thousands of history lovers out there just like me will appreciate his amazing tale. Those who can identify with the era and the places in his book and those who can’t. Because after all what is the purpose of a story if not to rekindle that which you had forgotten or teach you that which you didn’t know.

Read an excerpt from the book here : Life in Voi and a Taste of the NFD