When I was about 16 years-old I found a small Swahili novel, Siku Njema , in our classroom. One of my classmates in Kirisia High School in Samburu forgot it on his study desk. I took the book and started reading it. It was easy to read because it’s written in the First Person.
I didn’t have a copy because I could not afford to buy one. So I kept borrowing it from my classmate every time. I read it during break time, at the dormitory and in the evening during preps’ time.
I got so much into it because of its simple storyline. I would sit with it on my lap and feel like I was no longer there. My love for reading paired with my active imagination slowly grew, allowing me to travel into a different fictional world.
Siku Njema is about the life of a young man, Msanifu Kombo (Kongowea Mswahili). He is born in Tanzania’s Tanga and brought up in a rather hostile environment. His single mother, Zainabu Makame, is a talented singer of Coastal music,Taarab.
While in Tanzania, Kongowea Mswahili struggles after his mother dies. He faces a lot of challenges with school and at the same time lives getting mistreated by his aunt and foster mother.
However, his talent in writing bails him out and he becomes quite a successful student. He was later nicknamed Kongowea Mswahili in reference to a prize-winning essay he had written.
He manages to escape to Kenya in search of his father whom he had only seen in a snapshot in their house in Tanga. After along time of searching for him, he finds his late father who happened to have been a known poet Juma Mukosi but who used the pen name of Amuj Isokum, a backward spelling of his real name.
Siku Njema inspired my life and changed my perceptions about life. I related to the characters especially Kongowea Mswahili. I fell in love with his life philosophies and what he believed and stood for. The book made life seem really short and unpredictable.
I was only a form two student when I finished reading it, but the book made me question my purpose in life and how I could make the best out of everything. When Kongowea’s mother dies and doesn’t get to do many of the things she planned, it made me really think about how life can end so suddenly, and to seize the day.
Because of its first person narration, I could hardly differentiate between the author and the main character. But I liked Kongowea Mswahili. I wanted to emulate him and speak fluent Kiswahili like him.
I even told my former Kiswahili literature teacher, Mr. Simon Kahuthu I wanted to meet Ken Walibora. He encouraged me to work hard and perform well in Kiswahili language and Literature because that is the only way I can meet the writer.
I started writing Swahili poems, short stories which got published by Taifa Leo (A Nation Media Group Swahili daily) editors. This encouraged me a lot. I later came to Nairobi to Study Journalism and Mass Communication and that is how I met Ken Walibora: a humble guy, an attentive and empathic listener. And despite his busy life he still had time to read and edit my first Swahili short story which was later published by Vide-Muwa Publishers in Nairobi.
Some of Walibora’s books. He also had a memoir, Naskia Sauti ya Mama
Everytime I read other Walibora’s books like Kufa Kuzikana, Kidagaa Kimwemwozea and the humourous Ndoto ya Almasi, I’m fascinated by how he can form sentences so perfectly that he forces me (the reader) to feel things that I normally wouldn’t. How he seems to just roll off the tongue, and how he doesn’t always mean exactly what I would think. It’s an art, and Ken Walibora was good at it.
The famous Siku Njema ends with.
“Siku moja nitawadia- na nitarudi kuko huko moyo wangu uliko, na labda maisha tena nitayatamani…. na hiyo itakuwa SIKU NJEMA kwangu..”
Do writers predicts what will happen to their lives in future? For instance, in Kidagaa Kimwemwozea, Walibora writes on a character called Mtemi Nasaba Bora who after going missing for a few days, his family go on a searching spree for him,only to find his dead body in a forest.
In the book Mtemi Nasaba Bora said his burial would be attended by great people from all over the world, but the burial was attended by only family members, now because of COVID-19 and the government’s directives on social distancing the author will be buried by a few members of his family. Rest well my mentor and good friend. I will miss you.
Mr. Letiwa writes for Daily Nation and Taifa Leo Newspapers in Kenya.