THE WEST CONNED US INTO DESTRUCTION OF OUR INDIGENOUS FORESTS
I was born four decades ago. In western province of Kenya. And I grew up in the same place. I saw the indigenous forests and experienced the human friendly environment. A sharp contrast to what I am experiencing to day. The environment of my child hood was totally supportive to human life. It supported availability of food and conduciveness of whether, but as per today these old glories are not there, they went with the destruction of indigenous forest.
During the last two decades of the last century, there were spirited campaigns sponsored by the Western powers. Campaigns to destroy the indigenous forests and replace it with exotic trees, to practice family planning, to do away with native cows and replace them with exotic ones, to ignore indigenous languages and focus on English and French, to forego African names for English and Biblical names like Nick and Johnny and to focus on commercial crops like sugar cane but not food crops, just but to mention a few themes of the Western empowered campaigns in Africa of that time. Sadly, our compliance to these campaigns has made us more stranded than what we were before. My concern above all else, is with the campaign that exhorted us to destroy the Natural or indigenous forests so that we replace them with cypress, pines and blue gum commonly known us eucalyptus. It was a bad trick. Beckoning Africa, to at least, suspect White-man’s advice come next time.
I remember very well, as any of you my dear reader can equally remember, how we looked after animals in the thicket of our indigenous forests. The forest made of more than a thousand different species of trees, shrubs, and grass in less than a hundred acres square of land. The canopy of the trees ecologically facilitated natural growth of special breed of grass that was very nutritious to animals. It similarly supported the mushrooming of shrubs, twigs and twinning vines that was good for goats and sheep. The same forests provided very good shade for the animals and herdsmen. Leave alone the medicinal values it held for the animals.
There were a lot of natural fruits from guavas to mangoes; I mean numerous fruits were available at no cost to any willing eater. During that time our mothers never took us to clinics for multivitamin chemicals, but you were only told to go and look after cattle in the forest. It wouldn’t go for more than one year before your immunity is upgraded, courtesy of diverse natural fruits then available to the willing eater.
Herbal medicine was working well. It had sustained medical needs of the African communities since God’s creation of man. The indigenous forest provided all types of substances to combat the diseases of that time. I remember a case of my brother who had developed a condition of cerebral malaria, only my mother to concoct for him a solution from crushed barks of a tree we used to call kumukhonge in my mother tongue. On few sips, my brother got well the following day until today he has never displayed the same condition. He is now an accountant in certain high school in western Kenya. It was the same for reproductive health, epilepsy, health of the digestive system; I mean health challenges were managed at a cheaper cost. When I was in class five, I was at the age of twelve. I became sick of a viral disease known as mumbs in English. Its main symptoms are swollen cheeks below the ears and extreme pains on swallowing saliva. My mother diagnosed it to be bitantanyi, a vernacular name for mumbs. She told me to go and shoot one strong kick with my left leg at a certain tree known as Kumurembe in my mother tongue,then to come home running without looking back. I did so, and before I reached home the Bitantanyi had already disappeared from the muscles of my mandibles.
I grew up seeing different types of snakes every day as I looked after my father’s animals. I never feared snakes because my father had already taught me that not all snakes are poisonous and he had also showed me a special herb to treat my self or our cow in case of snakebite. Thus, I could see green mamba, after a short while then the black mamba, the snake with a head on both ends, it had no tail, it never turned back when it has no eyes ,you it only scrawls away by using the head at other end we used to call it kunywamafura in my vernacular. Then in the afternoon the puff adder or the poa constrictor could appear, or the yellow mamba could pass by my legs running fast like a lightening! Only after a few seconds to discover that it was being chased by a black mamba because black mambas eat the yellow and green mambas on sight. I could also see chameleons, porcupines, stinging caterpillars, Hedgehog, gazelles, antelopes, all types of fox; especially the one that Oftenly released a strong bad smell was common, we used to call it in my mother tongue as enjusi lunjiri.Also the birds. In a day I could set up more than one hundred traps on birds’ nests. Different kind of birds. From doves, to rain bird, hornbill to wild goose, kites to crane bird. I saw almost seventy percent of the species of the birds in the world before I was the age of fifteen. I was so familiar with the birds that I could make more than a hundred bird sounds to decoy a bird to come to where I am. This was due to the indigenous forests.
The indigenous forest also formed an avenue along the river banks. The waters were cool, and ever clean. I used to drink direct with my mouth from the river bed at the creek. The ecology of the rivers was intact. There were a lot of fish in the rivers. Those of you my dear readers that are familiar with river Nzoia, river Kuywa, river Yala, river Bokoli, river chwele, river kivisi, river sio and river Lwakahakha of those days can readily attest to this position. Rivers could throw out fishes during the rain season, or a fisher man could trap more than a thousand fishes at one point of the river and the fish trapped would obviously be of more than twenty different species. It was possible for the living things in the river waters to thrive abundantly because of the regulated environment. A fact which I substantially attribute to heavy presence of indigenous forests. But after we were misled by the western world that we destroy the indigenous forest and replace them with exotic trees, given the reason that indigenous forests were primitive, and we made a mistake to follow them blindly, and planted blue gum or eucalyptus trees along the riverbanks, the water volumes have reduced, the eco and biosphere of the rivers have terribly changed that we no longer have the fishes in our rivers. There are no crabs, scorpions, millipedes, centipedes, tortoise, turtles, monitor lizard, and river snakes in our rivers.
We used to practice tree climbing. Compete with one another for tree climbing as we looked after our fathers’ animals. One could also climb a tree and relax and even sleep between the branches under the canopy. We could also read as we relax on our well branched indigenous trees. I remember reading Sembene Ouasmane’s God’s Bits of Wood and also Mazizi Kunene’s epic poem of Shaka the Zulu while perching comfortably between branches of a tree full of sweet fruits we call in my mother tongue as Kumufutu. So I was eating one fruit after finishing reading one page. We have lost this glory because no one can climb and rest on a pines tree, or even cypress or the eucalyptus. They have a branching system that is not friendly. Unlike our indigenous trees that cultivated growth of grass under them that in most cases when I was looking after animals an adult man and woman would pass by walking in a style and talking in low tones only to see them falling on the ground and wrestle from there for some minutes. When they come back they would be still clean with slight stains of faint chlorophyll on the white skirt of the woman.
There is a strong positive relationship between indigenous forests and growth of eatable insects.The white ants was available around the year. Grasshoppers were abundant, the crickets were in plenty. Every month had a growth of specific mushrooms. December up to march had brown mush-rooms; we called them Burunda in my mother tongue. From April up to July we had mushrooms that grew in groups, we called them buchalamachi in my mother tongue, and from august to December we had white mushrooms in plenty especially the ones we called bumekele, bukusuma, busiina and bukonakhisi.it is last year that I realized how we lost this nutritional boon after reading an article on entomophagy in Germany. The article had conclusions that proteins from insects and mushrooms release a lot of amino acids in to the human body hence the high level of immunity. We are no longer having growths of insects and mushrooms in Africa as it used to be, due to massive destruction of indigenous forests on advice of the western powers.
I don’t want to mention quality of timbre made from indigenous trees like Elgon Dick, found in Mount Elgon compared to that one made from cypress. But let me explain how it started; it was but a matter of colonial maneuvers and then a colonial legacy. It began as an inculcated mentality. Where western powers campaigned to make Africans believe that if an African man or woman plants cypress and pines trees in his or her homestead then he will be civilized and developed. But the one who has indigenous trees in his or her homestead is primitive, poor, a sinner and even a witchdoctor. The western powers branded this idea swiftly and cunningly that our political leaders of that time never suspected anything foul. Even all the political leaders had cypress trees around their home compound as positive political overtones. This was the time Professor Wangare Luta Mathai, began the Green Belt Movement, a tree planting revolutionary movement in Kenya. But her sponsors in Norway forced her to campaign for planting of cypress, pines and eucalyptus trees if at all she wants some funding from them. But bravely enough, she called for the people in Africa and a whole world to plant both exotic and indigenous trees and also to conserve indigenous forests. But the illiterate government of the day frustrated her the way the government of Athens persecuted Socrates. She was persecuted in all possible manner of persecution for this call. She died a regretting woman. God rest her soul in eternal peace and wisdom. This is now the time to benchmark her philosophy. It is my call to all people of the world, but mostly my African brothers in Africa and in the Diaspora wherever your are living .we are imbued with a moral duty of collectively conserving the existing indigenous forests. Let us plant five indigenous trees any time we cut an exotic tree. We are two billion Africans; if to day all of us planted five indigenous trees then we shall have an indigenous tree cover of five billion trees. We would have staved the negative forces of climate change. Cypress, Pines and eucalyptus trees are not useful to us as Africans. They were only imposed to us out of Whiteman’s malice and usual stupid trickery by a Whiteman of making an African to doubt herself. Thank you and God bless you.