We’re going overseas today for our Sunday Sojourn, and I’m delighted to welcome Jane Bwye to join me, and tell us about Grass Shoots, available now. Over to you, Jane!
Thank you, Jenny for inviting me to talk about historical connections in my novels. This will be a change from English history, I warn you!
On Nancy Jardine’s blog earlier this month, I spoke about my first novel Breath of Africa, and Kenya’s recent history behind it. But let’s go even further back in time, and consider Grass Shoots, my latest Africa novel.
Surviving throughout history are the hunter-gatherers – elusive bushmen. Nobody knows where they came from, but they permeated Africa south of the Sahara. In Kenya, they are called the Wanderobo and they hold the secrets of Africa’s essence – its herbs and wildlife.
There is an ancient legend connecting Africa’s insects, birds, beasts and people in an unbroken chain which has a vital message to offer our modern world.
The African bee is the world’s most aggressive, and its honey is the world’s sweetest. There is an insignificant brown bird in Kenya, known as the honey-guide. Its diet is the wax from honeycombs, and the larvae inside, and its ability to digest the wax has helped scientists to find a cure for tuberculosis. But bird needs help from others to brave the bee stings and break into the hive.
It displays energetically before a honey-badger and leads it towards its favourite sweet. The honey-guide entices man in the same way. Even today, the Wanderobo are led by the noisy, fluttering bird towards the treasures of the beehive.
Both man and beast can break the hive open to get at the honey. But they must leave aside a piece of the honeycomb in gratitude to their guide – or else next time, as the saying goes … the bird will entice him into a viper’s lair.
Let me introduce you to Shillingi, the Nderobo guide who led our camel safari in northern Kenya thirty years ago. On one occasion, he hid us under a scraggly tree in the desert and, with a finger to his lips, made us squat in utter silence for minutes on end as he emitted a strong shussshing noise.
What on earth was he doing? With a ponderous flap of wings, a hornbill alighted on a flimsy branch… then another… and then a myriad of birds of all shapes and sizes flew in, chattering and squabbling with excitement. Shillingi stopped shushing, but he warned us to remain still and silent. The whole tree was full of birds at a mere arm’s length. It was wonderful.
Then one of us moved – and with a flurry of flapping wings the birds disappeared.
Shillingi was a skilled fisherman too. The men in our party cast their rods for hours for catfish in a swift flowing river while hippos wallowed in a pool nearby, but Shillingi caught several on his simple line in the twinkle of an eye and we enjoyed a delicious supper that night.
The Wanderobo have survived to this day. If you were to visit Kenya as a tourist, you will find that your safari is probably led by none other than a Nderobo guide. That was the case when the main characters in my book went on safari. But they were also seeking the secrets of an ancestral cave, which hid treasures of pre-historical times.
Tradition has a strong influence in present day Africa, and ancient taboos still hold sway. When Paul (an English accountant) and Emily (an AIDS orphan of mixed European and Asian race) go on a trip to climb Ol Donyo L’Engai (The Mountain of God), local eyebrows are raised. The third character in their love triangle, Sam, is an African palaeontologist. He is dedicated to reconciling pre-history, tradition and the exigencies of modern Africa.
You can find Grass Shoots on Amazon by following the link below. It has a glossary at the end, including information which would otherwise spoil the flow of the story.
Jane Bwye lived over half a century in Kenya. During her retirement in the UK, she has built on a lifetime of intermittent journalism by writing books, one of which is a commissioned history commemorating the 50th anniversary of her local church. She has travelled widely, and indulges in her love of horses by judging dressage.
Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Bwye/e/B00BOK0NN4/