by Braz Menezes
More Matata Reviews

[Review] Colonial Kenya from Goan eyes; stray thoughts of a Toronto Goan

Black headed weaver bird

Black headed weaver bird

If you want to read Diaspora history and relate to it, there is nothing better than to get it from the perspective of someone who lived through it, has a talent for vivid memories and sequences, can recount it well enough to hold your interest and more importantly has no agenda in the telling.

By those standards, Braz Menezes’ More Matata now available in selected bookstores and on Amazon is a book worth reading not just by the Goan community, but by everyone else who enjoys being transported to an era that seemed more simple but was not. Braz has accomplished a fluid continuation from his first book, Just Matata, so that even the reader of solely this second book of the trilogy, finds nothing missing.

While the previous story is of Lando’s early childhood and is virtually bereft of any of the politics that prevailed in East Africa in the mid-20th century, the author does not shy away from those prickly issues in this one. A good part of the current narration revolves around the Mau Mau rebellion of the Kikuyu tribe of Kenya as seen from the daily life of a young man in Nairobi. The politics of the time do not totally cloud the author’s writing. There is still enough devoted to the real story — that of a young boy becoming a man living in a society that we would find hard to understand in today’s world and yet can sympathetically view it from Lando’s growing up.

The unhitching of a country from its colonial presence always makes interesting reading when done many years after. When lived by the settler-people of that day, it is always traumatic. To narrate this without seeking sympathy or victimhood is creditable. When told matter-of-factly, it makes for a good book.

Picture communities living the good life in a beautiful country not their own, though not without the many sacrifices they have to endure. Imagine the turmoil they find themselves in when the yoke of colonialism is finally being unburdened. And then when the process of freedom is almost complete, feel what they feel when told that they have no place in the new country despite living for generations in it. All of that happened in Kenya and Braz Menezes records it for posterity. Not much has been written about this except for the coldly historical, so such writings must form a reference for those who one day need to come back to that age and experience.

More than a little space has been devoted to Lando’s love affair with his childhood sweetheart Saboti. I would have preferred a little less of that and more of something else. However, an author writes what he feels and not according to a critic’s dictates. Menezes can therefore be forgiven for that.

Not much has been written about the Goan experience in East Africa besides the books of Mervyn Maciel, Theresa Albuquerque and now Menezes. Therefore, a novel such as this becomes valuable and not to be missed. Goans can be great debaters like the Bengalis. But when it comes to recording what they experienced, they seem to be singularly lacking.

To a non-East African Goan like myself, every written word becomes a treasure chest to be opened. These thoughts are not a critical view of what Menezes has written (I leave that to others), but rather an acclaim of his having written it in a way that is pleasurable and informative. I hope others from East Africa, especially Uganda about which there is virtually nothing, follow Menezes’ path.