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April 25, 2018

Madman takes Queen's head

The headless statue of Queen Victoria by Jacob Barua
The headless statue of Queen Victoria by Jacob Barua

An Era has come to a whimpering halt, as an event took place that completely went unnoticed by Nairobians.

For over a hundred years, a statue of Queen Victoria had graced the oldest park in the Capital, which dabbles as the city’s version of Speakers Corner. Perched in the middle was a splendid marble artefact.

A plaque beneath engraved stated; "The statue of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India. Presented to the town of Nairobi by A. Jevanjee. Unveiled by H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught, 17th March 1906." As a piece of artwork it was impeccable, with finely carved details, all the way from the crown, pearl necklace, medal, twirling mace, scroll in hand, flowing cloak and a shoe teasingly poking from underneath the regal robes.

Sometime over the year I began receiving frantic calls; “The Queen has disappeared! What has happened to her? Where is she now?” My curiosity piqued, I went to the park a few days ago, and indeed to my astonishment all that was left was an empty pedestal. Behold, the Queen had vanished! I had always wondered when this inevitable occurrence was going to take place anyway.

How did it escape the purging of all colonial figures from that period? All that she lost over time was her nose, making it but impossible for younger generations to tell whether it was pretty or not. Over the decades, I’d saunter around the park, asking who this lady was. To the majority she was the Virgin Mary. Unsurprisingly then, no one bothered this matronly figure. For Kenyans are a religious and generally most tolerant lot. As a result, I penned a poem about this phenomenon way back in the 1980s, entitled Jevanjee Gardens.

Upon further sleuthing I discovered that the statue itself is safely hidden somewhere in Nairobi, though in an admittedly ramshackle and undignified shed, ostensibly tucked away for its own good, well, minus its head that is. Upon further investigations I gathered that an intemperate ragged man that Nairobians impolitely continue to brand as ‘madmen’, made an unprovoked assault on the statue, knocked off the head, tucked it under his arm and ran off. As to where, no one knows.

It is a fact that Kenyans ran very fast, so no one bothered to chase him down. Witnesses do not suspect the man harboured any political or historical motives. Perhaps he was lonely wherever it was that he puts his head down? The most acclaimed sculpture in the world is the headless winged statue of another woman; the Nike of Samothrace. Statues of the most famous Egyptian Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut had their heads lopped off. Nairobi is therefore hot on the heels of fame.

Does it then take madmen to end Empires? All the same, the British one during its tenure left on the whole an indelible and largely positive legacy. Most of all by bestowing upon its territories a universal language, while amongst other gifts; a fine law, educational, agricultural and infrastructural system. But most significant of all the British brought with them modern medicine, enabling tens of millions of subjects to exist at all in the first place, and have a chance at begrudging and haranguing their former benefactors; that is masters.

Jevanjee Gardens

Queen Victoria gazes unperturbed, unsweating,

As the unbridled hordes below from the offices nearby,

And other minion, linger on the last pieces of fish and chips,

Wrapped up in newspapers greased in yesterday’s headlines.

The bold print marking another Independence celebration gone by

Soon joins the other litter scattered most liberally and democratically,

Over the dusty park’s reddish turf filled with paths radiating defiantly

From a lone plaque, proclaiming the sanctity of scrawny lawns.

The aged Jacaranda trees, scant in shade

Flout their unwavering petals of purple hue

Over their Regina, so still, so triumphant,

When in her greatest coup she passes off herself

As the Virgin Mary to the indigenes beneath.

 

 

 

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