grievance, afterlives

Kenyans line up outside the Kenya National Archives to see if their families are named in colonial records of those detained during Kenya’s emergency, to see if they are eligible to receive compensation from the British government. Discussions continue over whether 4,000 is enough to compensate for losses as yet unnamed. Systems of land expropriation and exploitation put into place during colonialism continue to dominate Kenya’s land imaginary, feeding land hunger and land greed and land gluttony.

I wonder how stories measure up against names written in books, how books make history appear and disappear, how colonial-era books create and un-create realities

To read slave and colonial histories is to find how race individuates. Several pages into Francis Hall’s edited letters, I am yet to find a single African named. White men have names. White women have names. Pets owned by white men have names. Africans are “people,” “men,” “tribe,” “treacherous,” “noble,” “punished,” “niggers,” “ferocious,” “timid,” but never individuated.

a mass of black against the browns and greens and blues of space-time

One reads of “raids” and “massacres,” or “retaliation” and “punishment,” and wonders about the making of space-place, the haunting seen as too far back, too small to matter: it was a “less civilized time,” the civilizing mission.

thingification as Aimé Césaire terms it: things cannot be individuated, though they can be measured, weighed, boxed, crated, moved, transferred, processed, labeled, broken, forgotten

One wonders how the singularity assigned to Mau Mau unmakes other events, makes other spaces ungeographic, de-individuates, as loss is named through representative figures: the names that survive as leaders. I have wondered what it means to remember Mekatilili and not the people she led in battle; to remember wars—not skirmishes—mounted by those named x ethnic group located in z region in y year.

The unwriting of names
        where memory lives

One writes of a pang, an absence, a gap, names lost to history: the people recorded in the book who die, the people who remain unfleshed, unimaginable

: how easily we read of this raid by those people
: how easily we read of losses and lessons
: how easily we learn not to feel loss, the weight of the abstracted

(the ease with which the word massacre can be used)

are there names lost to history, names that become unusable, saturated with a keening too great to bear

her name is



To ask whether 4,000 is enough is to ask about the shape of currency, the weight of the unweighable

It is to ask about anger and complicity, about how names are recorded and misrecorded, about those who feel they have a right to look into colonial-era books

        and those who don’t

: there was loss
: there is no responsibility
: the apple is a foreign fruit
: even bad ones came on           the ship

(even a little is enough
(the people are old
      (colonial-era villages remain
      )as do those who learned how
          to siphon water from
                        collective wells

    there is more
          than this

One thought on “grievance, afterlives

Comments are closed.