KENYA SUMAKU

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Constitutional lumberjacks: A Kenyan peculiarity

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on April 3, 2010

The sounds were unmistakable, deep within the African jungles. The sonorous voices of four men sang traditional songs in tandem with the swoosh sounds the saw made as they split the enormous mahogany tree they had felled. The work required a very high level of skill which was often never recognized by the casual eye.

In the middle of the jungle, they first needed to identify a suitable tree, with the correct girth and height. Then using stepped cuts on the trunk, they ensured it fell in a desired direction and position. All this was done using the first type of saw, known in local lingua as ‘ekemuramuria’. This was a short curved saw with handles running in the same direction as the cutting edge. Watching the little saw move back and forth as the cuts were made on the enormous trunk was very fascinating. The saw was curved outwards to increase its reach.

After cutting off a good chunk of the stem, these experts could keenly look out for a critical sign; they could listen to the slight cracking sounds from the centre of the trunk. Those sounds they referred to as ‘ogoseka’ or laughter were indicative that the tree would come down shortly and everyone needed to be clear of the stem. Due to the stepped cuts, the direction of the fall was accurately predicted before hand. The huge tree could come down with a mighty roar as it broke the branches of other trees and then crash-land with a thunderous impact, shaking the ground and sending all creatures great and small scattering in various directions. Snakes and wild animals could clear the area and make for a safe working environment.

The lumberjacks then started cutting the long stem into sizable bits which could be easier to work. The bigger saw was very handy at this point. The process of setting the bedding for the timber-sawing exercise was no less elaborate. Since the blocks of wood were enormous and difficult to maneuver, they were worked on in situ. From that point, the marking of straight, parallel saw guidelines on the trunk was meticulously executed. A hole was dug into the ground which provided working space and then sawing began. Within weeks, the most beautiful timber of every description could roll out of those beds. These lumberjacks were known for their enormous appetites and endless repertoire of songs of praise for various heroes.

When the new type of tractor mounted saws came, the lumberjacks were flabbergasted. They could never again make timber in quiet surroundings and listen to their soulful voices echoing across the hills and valleys of the jungles of Africa. Another thing which gave way was the artistry and quality of timber. The new type of timber was mass produced and there was much wastage of wood.

The saw was not straight either, it was circular. To cut down the trees, ekemuramuria was now obsolete, it was replaced by a power saw. The principle however eerily remained the same! It was a metal with serrations which moved across a piece of wood and ended up cutting it because wood was softer than the steel blade. When someone mentioned that the new method was faster and more efficient, one lumberjack was heard loudly complaining that he wanted the new saws to cut without a blade and without using any machines if they were to be fairly compared.

The old lumberjacks are very reminiscent of the clergy in Kenya. They oppose the new constitution on the basis that it has a provision for Kadhi courts. They forget that once the new better one is rejected on account of kadhi courts, we shall go to the bad old one again which has the same kadhi courts. It is only dumb people who can refuse a good fruit juice which is more nutritious than the old one but which has the same colour and opt for the old one!

Tony Mongare

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