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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Meeting the chiefs
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

I have met chiefs before. My first chief was the chief of Bouchipe in Ghana. He was frail man with withered skin and unbelievably thin legs. Yet his face add the wisdom of someone who had absorbed so many years – someone who had seen it all. He always seem most at peace when he sat in his chieftancy chair a folding chair that leaned back a little too far for my comfort, it suited him though. He would speak with such great passion in his native tongue that I imagined myself sitting in front of some great leader of old, preparing us for battle. His gratitude was amazing as he thanked us for taking an interest in his people, his place, and his environment. My favorite moment with him came towards the end of the trip. I was watching a school procession in an open field not too far from the once-clinic where we stayed. The children were marching with great pride and their voices rang clear and loud. I noticed the chief walking towards us and lowered my head. I began to give my best attempt at the local greeting as I offered my hand, one arm holding the other as was a customary sign of respect in these parts. I just uttered up the courage and memory to begin the pronunciation of this foreign tongue, when the chief who spoke not a word of English to my knowledge, let out a very loud “Good morning!” He smiled as he said it, proud to have communicated with me and just looked at me cheerfully, disinterested in my efforts at formality. Instead he stood calmly next to me and the Ghananian mamas, who had gathered around to watch their children practice.

I met the chief of Siana first. The chief was in a full suit with grey fleck of air gracing his head, a runga (or small club) in his hand. Forgetting that I am not in Ghana anymore, I offered one hand, holding my own arm with the other. He seemed unimpressed and after shaking all the hands of all the men around me, he patted me on the head as an adult Masai would do a child. Slightly uneasy, I began my speech about our work and the involvement of his community. It was quickly translated by his son and other important men who had come for this meeting. He offered his full support and seemed happy to have heard what I had to say. I drove him to his next destination as his son and followers piled into the car and then after a brief exchange of contact details we were off.

Two days later, I would met the chief of Koiyaki. He could not have been more different. A young man he stood in casual clothes with the phone at his side. We shook hands and talked for a while in English. At the end I wrote down his phone number and he introduced himself as Denis Naurori. A bulb went off in my head. Last year William Naurori had helped us out after a double puncture had left us stranded. In addition, Pilot Naurori who was also at this meeting was one of the tour guides at camp. After the meeting, which also went well, I asked Wilson how many Naurori brothers there were. I was thinking perhaps these were the “Three Brothers” and felt pleased to know so many members of the family.

“Oh, there are about 80 children,” Wilson began. “Their father had 12 wives.”

I tried not to gawk a bit dumb-founded. 12 is a lot! Wilson just smiled at the effect. “How many wives does the chief have?” I asked.

“The chief has three; Pilot has two and William has six,” Wilson went on, still smiling at my surprise. (Wilson only has one in case you were wondering).

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