Blossoms of the Savannah is the new compulsory English Set Book in Kenya by Henry Ole Kulet. The novel won Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2009. In the novel, Kulet demonstrates the challenges plaguing traditional African in the face of contemporary trends that threaten to dismantle such structures that most people have strove to hang onto or even at times to institutionalise. It is a story that casts two daughters on a collision path with their parents and their community’s cultural beliefs.
Central to the text, is a Maasai family; a father, mother and their two daughters both in their late teens who, after spending many years in Nakuru town in the Rift valley province of Kenya, have to relocate to their ancestral land in ‘Nasila’ because their father has been retrenched from his job as commercial manager of a company providing agricultural supplies. Parsimei Ole Kaelo, the father, has prepared for the change by having a new home and a large shop (supplying agricultural equipment and products) built in Nasila. The novel opens with him organizing the movers who are packing their furniture into the lorries that will transport the family’s belongings to the new home. Ole Kaelo’s irritable temperament is immediately evident as he yells at the workers while observed from the upstairs flat window by his elder and favorite daughter, Taiyo. She and her younger sister, Resian, are the savannah blossoms of the novel’s title, but this image should not be taken as indicating that these two young women are content to be mere decorative presences; they have indeed something of the hardiness of wild flowers, although Taiyo has a more submissive bent than the rebellious Resian. We are made to understand that Tayio’s attitude towards her father is the product of his delight in and approval of his elder daughter, making her generally very loyal towards him, although as the text opens she is angry with him for having forbidden her to go to a music festival, attendance at which was a reward for her talent in music and dancing which might have led to getting her a professional foothold in that sphere. Resian is generally the butt of her father’s temper; she invariably arouses his ire, and his unpleasant, constantly reiterated scoldings have turned her into a glum and somewhat cynical person, though she has an iron will and is often unwisely outspoken. Nevertheless, Ole Kaelo’s rules his household with a strong hand and refuses to be questioned; his wife, Mama Milanoi, is generally discreet and compliant, softening her husband’s harshness with her grace. One way of reading the novel is to see it as a probing study of the dynamics of the male-controlled family in a modern African.
Kulet’s Blossoms of the Savannah presents a melting pot of cultures and envisions a social continuum in which culture can never be static. It is a text that recognises individual psychic dilemmas, one that pits family members against each other and acknowledges the inevitable clash when an individual’s desires and aspirations are at odds with old and at times outdated cultural beliefs. Ole Kulet recognises that it is not enough to lay blame on colonial structures and changing times, we have to take responsibility for our own shortcomings and individual choices. However, just as certain species of plants bloom in the hot Savannah climate, we will have individuals amongst us who will thrive or blossom irrespective of the debilitating cultural hurdles.
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