- Category: Archives
- Created on Friday, 18 July 1969 21:11
- Written by Time Magazine
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Throughout his life, Tom Mboya worked for an end to tribalism and for the growth of a Kenyan nationalism.
Ironically, his sudden death by a still un known assassin aroused Kenya's tribal rivalries. As his body lay in state in his Nairobi home last week, his fellow Luo tribesmen closed ranks against the rest of Kenya. Any mourner who was a Luo was welcomed, even if he had been an opponent of Economic and Development Minister Mboya. As the day wore on, Luo bitterness increased and even Mboya's close friends, if they were Kikuyus, Tugens or of any other tribe, were turned away with taunts and stones.
The Requiem High Mass for Mboya in Nairobi's Holy Family Cathedral be came a shambles. A crowd of 20,000, mostly Luo, jammed the cathedral square. When venerable President Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, arrived in his black, bulletproof Mercedes, the car was pelted with anything handy, even shoes. The police reacted with flailing batons and white-foaming tear-gas grenades. The gas penetrated the cathedral, and its sting set children wailing. Some of the harried congregation used holy water to rinse their eyes, and one retired government official died the next day of the gas's aftereffects. The words of Archbishop J. J. McCarthy were lost in the shriek of sirens, the lamentations of women, the crash of plate-glass windows. When a rock smashed the windshield of his car, a German bank official drove into a tree and was killed.
Negative Rays. A public viewing of Mboya's body, scheduled for that night, was canceled. At four in the morning, the funeral cortege set out, headed for the shores of Lake Victoria, the heartland of the Luos, 300 miles away. Mboya's coffin was draped in the national colors of black, green and red, and covered with tropical flowers. Nothing went right. After only five miles, one car broke down. On the escarpment of the Rift Valley, the car carrying Mboya's pregnant widow, Pamela, was involved in a three-car collision that injured five people. At Nakuru, where 50,000 had gathered, Pamela Mboya complained of chest pains. She was rushed to the local hospital, but when X rays proved negative, she returned to the cortege. The hearse broke down and was hastily repaired. Thereafter, it had to stop for ten minutes every 20 miles to prevent the radiator from boiling over.
The progress through Luo-land was agonizingly slow. Women in vividly patterned dresses flung themselves onto the road ahead of the hearse; men and boys clung to the hood and the body. Other Luos sat half naked by the road, smeared with the traditional clay of mourning, while witch doctors in white ostrich feathers and monkey-skin skirts pranced among them. Trucks, cars and buses decorated with palm fronds and jacaranda branches brought thousands more to vantage points along the way.
Strong forces of police, armed with Sten guns and rifles, charged repeatedly in an effort to keep the route open. At Kisamu, a grass fire started, and a curtain of ash hung in the air. The lamentations of the huge throng continued for hours after the cortege passed by.
The political effect of Mboya's murder will apparently be to strengthen the opposition to the government. Mboya himself had been in Kenyatta's Cabinet and a supporter of the government. But most Luos, led by Leftist Oginga Odinga, belong to the opposition Kenya People's Union. Along the entire route of the cortege, crowds shouted the defiant party rallying cry of "Dume! Dame!", which means bull, and refers to the K.P.U. party symbol. How badly the government will be hurt depends, of course, on how swiftly it can capture the assassin and on the discovery of which faction the killer represents. If the killer turns out to be a fellow Luo, the K.P.U. will be unable to use Mboya's death against the government. But if he should be a Kikuyu, Kenya's dominant tribe, Odinga will probably be able to rally Luos to his party in large numbers.
Buckskin Drums. The final leg of the journey was to Homa Bay on the shore of steel-gray Lake Victoria; the cortege arrived after nightfall, and the surrounding hills echoed with the ceaseless throb of buckskin drums. Another Requiem Mass was held, celebrated by the African Bishop of Kisii, Maurice Otunga, and throughout the night mourners filed past the casket at the rate of 100 per minute. Finally, the coffin was ferried across the choppy water to Rusinga Island, the ancestral home of Mboya's clan. Outside the family home, Mboya's coffin was placed under a shelter of poles and cornstalks—to take the coffin into the house would be to run the risk of bringing another death to the family. Next day, Mboya was buried beneath the yellow blossoms of an ayieke tree, together with his oxhide shield, beaded cap and walking stick, as required by Luo law. After five days, the tribal elders will go down to the lake to bathe and cleanse themselves of evil spirits.