We buried my late grandfather on Friday 19th April 2013. The burial was preceded by a memorial service on 18th April where I read the following tribute...............!
Mine is but an attempt to eulogize our late ‘guka’ Ernest Mureithi a.k.a Githui wa Kigire as his oldest grandchild on behalf of his 28 grandchildren many of whom are present here today. Some have been unable to attend today’s memorial service as they live outside the country and are pursuing their various personal interests and agendas. They are however with us in spirit as we mourn this great man.
As the eldest grandchild among many, I have many vivid memories about ‘guka’ when we were growing up as seen from a perspective of a child whenever we visited him in Kiawarigi village and later on in Karatina town where he relocated to run his hotel and general shop at “Rwendo Rwa Andu” literally translated into “love of the people”. The hotel which also had his living quarters at the back was located directly across from Karatina Catholic Church where he attended mass religiously every day as a god fearing prayer warrior. I will try and narrate some of the experiences shared then which will in all likelihood mirrors those of my numerous cousins who came after me.
I am not sure if his business was run on a profit basis because one of the signs in the hotel was that he had no change for anyone paying with a Kshs. 50.00 note. After all this was an establishment which sold a mug of piping hot tea at Kshs. 2.00 with a huge mandazi or buttered bread at Kshs. 3.00, or kima and rice at a mere Kshs. 10.00 meaning that a full meal washed down with a mug of tea would put you back a mere Kshs. 12.00. Where would change for Kshs. 50.00 note come from? Idling and gossiping were not allowed in his hotel which meant that if you were waiting for someone you were not welcome unless you had a cup of tea or something to eat. While I might be exaggerating a bit, it is safe to say that for many years and despite the rising cost of many of the inputs that were required in running his hotel business, the prices were rarely increased and were probably the fairest in the whole of Karatina town……..and dare I say probably in the whole of Nyeri County!
“Guka” also accommodated even those that could not afford to pay for his tea or mandazi and offering them food for free did not seem a particularly good business idea at all to me. It would seem that his generosity had started even in Kiawarigi village where he sold the local muratina brew at his bar despite being a teetotaler because once he realized that one was drunk and may bring trouble to other patrons, he would tell him that he would not charge him for the last drink but he should go home immediately after he finished. I can almost guarantee his bar was therefore the last choice of many a drunkard as they staggered home knowing that they would get a free drink if they sang the lines of a song or raised their voices as drunks often do guaranteeing their last (and probably only) drink for free! How he balanced his books in all his business enterprises is a mystery to me to this day as I am sure it is too to many members of his family.
“Guka” was a disciplinarian being a former teacher, something that some of my cousins who had the great fortune of living with him in their formative years and while attending school will attest to better than me . My cousins instead of being spoiled rotten by their grandfather as often happens were many times at the receiving end of a telling off for one transgression or another, whether real or perceived, and since they lived with him while in school they had few places to hide. Those cousins I must say have remained disciplined and have been exemplary role models in their personal and professional lives to date and I am sure that it was as a result of the discipline instilled in them at an early age.
I would like to also state that as grandchildren we are all a fairly disciplined lot. This discipline among us stems from the fact that ‘guka’ equally disciplined all his children as they grew up, as my mother so often told us, and they had a strict regimen and duties that they had to perform or risk the wrath of their father. As a god fearing and staunch Catholic, this included long walks each Sunday over a great distance to attend mass which journey commenced at 3.00 or 4.00 am and they would not get back home until 6.00 pm physically famished and tired but spiritually nourished. My mother later became a teacher and this same strict discipline was often visited painfully on me and my siblings as well as my cousins whenever we transgressed. As the eldest grandson, I was expected to be the role model for all my many cousins both boys and girls a majority of whom were many years my junior a daunting and unenviable task that I carried out with great fortitude and I was looked at by all of them in this light. Much of the way, I was helped by my youngest uncles Nicholas and Gaiko who were not much older than me and I hope that I have not disappointed!
In “guka’s” eyes, everyone had a role and a purpose in life. If you were a parent, you had to take care of your family. If you were in school, you had to perform to the best of your ability. If you were a farmer you were expected to till your land and grow healthy crops and if a teacher you had to give your all to your students so that they excelled in whatever they did. He detested rumormongering and idleness and would admonish anyone without fear or favor including his children whenever we went to visit him telling them by 5.00 pm that it was getting late and they had to leave for Nairobi before it got dark for the sake of us the children while they had no intention of leaving at that time.
Whenever ‘guka’ visited Nairobi for one or the other family function, he would rarely spend the night. By 4.00 pm he was already fidgety and ready to leave asking my uncles to take him to ‘Tea Room’ to get a Peugeot matatu to take him home and my uncles would have to make time to take him to town. This duty later fell upon me and my brothers John & Jimmy and later my other cousins when we all learnt how to drive and the final duty was ensuring at Tea Room – where he had a no nonsense reputation - that he was comfortably seated in the front seat of the Peugeot matatu no doubt ready to admonish the driver who drove too fast or too carelessly on the trip to Karatina before heading back to the function that was only just beginning to as they say nowadays “kick”.
He was also blessed with a very good memory and was able to remember even his great grandchildren by name whenever we visited him and he was very fond of enumerating his many accomplishments over the years to all who visited him particularly when he came to live in Nairobi. He was a pioneer of many schools and churches in Mathira often on land that he had donated; he gave bursaries to many deserving and needy children for those who asked for his assistance. In his discussions when we visited him, he asked us to inevitably remember three things:
1. To believe in God and respect the church and to pray often.
2. To respect and look after our families and the society that we lived in.
3. To respect our work and other people and to shun idleness, alcohol and tobacco.
This was followed by a final prayer and a curt dismissal after a 15-20 minute visit with him professing that you must be busy and hence should leave to continue with your work. Despite this curtness I am sure he prayed for each and every one of his family members every day being the god fearing and prayerful man that he was.
As he grew older, and more and more of his peers passed on he started lamenting whenever you visited him about how his time was up and also how he had already prepared himself for acceptance into the Lord’s kingdom after his long and illustrious journey through life. He was an organized man and even mentioned to me on one of my visits that he had documented all his issues and had shared them with his children so that they would be no squabbles when he was gone. No doubt these discussions were exchanged with his other grandchildren as well.
“Guka” is now gone after a life well spent and at over 100 years. What comes out of my narrative is a man who was god-fearing though a disciplinarian but who was also generous, focused and intolerant of idlers. He respected people’s time and believed that all had a purpose in life which they must accomplish to the best of their abilities. He dedicated his life and assets to enriching the community he lived in asking for nothing back in return.
This is a man who has dedicated his life to improving the lot of his community through building churches and schools and through many random acts of kindness to those unable to fend for themselves. It is impossible to know how many lives his actions both directly and indirectly have impacted over the years but in view of his advanced age I can safely conclude they must be in their thousands and others will continue to be affected positively in the years to come.
How many of us can say that we have lived our lives positively and left a strong, enduring and lasting legacy as ‘guka’ has done? How many will be remembered when they are gone for the enduring passion and dedication that they have served within their communities in regards to issues and ideals that they held close to their hearts and in ‘guka’s’ case in the Catholic church and education? This is a role model that many should emulate and copy, a great man who has left his mark on the world, in our hearts and in our minds, a man who wanted little from the world other than to leave a mark through his convictions, foresight and generosity of purpose.
To my many cousins and your families, I know it was your wish to have visited ‘guka’ more often while he was alive and I will be the first to admit that I did not perform particularly well in this respect but you can rest assured that he was alive and well aware to the fact that we had different demands and dictates to our time and when we could spare time we visited him with our families.
To my Uncle Gaiko & Mama Ngunju and their family and the care givers who have been living with ‘guka’ for the thirteen years ever since he came from Karatina in his old age, taking care of him and his many needs and making him feel at home, on behalf of us your nephews and nieces and our families we would like to thank you most sincerely from the bottom of our hearts. It is never easy looking after someone of an advanced age but you did it with humility, dedication and devotion. I would also like to thank you also for opening the doors to your home to us whenever we visited ‘guka’ and for the hospitality that you showered on us through the cup of tea or glass of water or juice you offered after our usually short visits to greet ‘guka’.
To our uncles and aunties, you were blessed with a wonderful father and he has lived a long and fruitful life and though now physically gone from our midst, you will remain as shining examples of the discipline he instilled in you and by extension in us your children.
“Guka’ you have lived a long life and you have fought a good fight but the Lord has chosen to take you to be with him and his angels. As we continue to celebrate your life may God rest your soul rest in eternal peace.