Mukinyei (Kamba and Kikuyu), ol kinyei (Maasai), Magic Guarri (Khoisan), Cheptuya (Pokot)
A Story from Karichota
A young Mukenyei with Tree Friend William
Sometimes it is a wondrous exercise to look at the background of a vista, or to acknowledge the work of the foot soldiers, or the factory workers who create the great engineering feats of the world. Likewise, as we observe the forest we may immediately notice the majestic figs, the luscious erythrinas and twisted olives, but somehow overlook the less glamorous trees filling in the landscape. Who ever looks at the trees behind the Mona Lisa? But they are really rather lovely.
This week let us invite one of our background trees into the limelight, and look closely at one of our unsung heroes, the Mukinyei, or Euclea Divinorum.
In the areas of Kenya which were once giant cattle ranches but now fulfill a more general purpose as conservation areas and game reserves such as Ol Pejeta, we find Mukinyei to be ubiquitous with other colonizing trees such as Ololeshwa. It freely spreads underground roots so it can cover overgrazed areas in a relatively short time period.
As we travel further South we find it has more, mystical connections, hence the Latin name Euclea (“famous”) and divinorum (“magical”) because the tree is used for healing and finding water by the Sangomas or Maganga, as we refer to traditional healers in East Africa. Divination is a powerful, important skill, to which I was introduced in the 1970s at Innisfree Village in Virginia by the amazing Mr. Sato. If you want me to find water for you, just ask. As long as you promise not to put it in plastic bottles.
I also suggest you have a look at Les Ashley’s short video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUQawfx0K14 to see him explore the various uses of Mukinyei, which the Khoisan call Magic Guarri.
Mukinyei is one of the most utilized trees in our forests: twigs are used as toothbrushes (mukinyei is the Kikiyu and Mbeere name for the natural toothbrush, mswaki in Kiswahili); dye is extracted from the bark and the fruit is edible, though it can induce vomiting if taken too often. Flowers are tiny and sweet-scented. The tree seldom reaches above 5m so its usefulness for building is limited to support posts. Its hard wood burns evenly on the fire.
So when we come to think of this humble, unglamorous foot soldier, we realize that it really is a star, in its own unassuming way, deserving to be honoured along with all the spectacular trees of our amazing forests.