I have slowly made it a habit recently to frighten cats that come too close to me. Not because I’m scared of them but because I have mastered the mini roar that big domestic cats use to shoo away others that may not be as formidable.
It may be a bit of a cheeky pleasure but to see those animals jump and scamper for safety, confused, because they least expected another cat nearby, makes me extremely happy.
So needless to say, while I was in a jovial mood this weekend as I walked for the first time through the streets of Lamu town, I naturally, was about to do it to the first cat I saw. It was a black cat; at night… at the Coast. Where stories of genies in the water and people taking the form of cats when they see fit ring supreme… I held back just in time.
I do not consider myself very superstitious, I don’t even read my horoscope, but I think there exist good and evil spirits and I was not about to disrupt my holiday for the needless pleasure of trying to scare a cat. I would get a heart attack if one of them spoke to me.
I usually laugh at such stories, but there is always an underlying fear. And it is that fear that kept me in check in Lamu. For the few days I was there I marvelled at how easily these tales frightened me into behaving myself properly.
I thought it was much like the days of taboos. when to keep young children quiet as they waited for dinner, a mother would warn them for example not to sing while she is cooking lest the ugali jumps out of the sufuria and starts dancing.
Or in the luo community where no one is meant to sleep in their grandmother’s house unless the first male son has slept there. Another one is that girls are not meant to whistle at night because it calls out the snakes.
Somehow these made up rules were thought up and effectively managed to streamline good behaviour among Kenyan communities a long, long time ago. Men, women, and children alike would follow taboos to the tee, for fear that the promised punishments or consequences would actually happen.
Can anything be put in our curriculum where children in nursery school and up until class one have various taboos inculcated in them so that as they grow up they know their place in life, respect their elders and peers, and treat each other a little bit better? I think we need to reign in ‘this youth’ before it gets any more out of hand.