Objects of Beauty, 4.

In Objects of Beauty Series, Travel by David54 Comments

This is a rungu, an African war club, traditionally made of olive or acacia wood. It was given me by my village, Ongeli, in northern Kenya, but to get the full meaning of it, and therefore it’s full beauty, I need to tell the story.

I was in northern Kenya on assignment for the BOMA Project, making portraits of people from Samburu, Rendille, and Turkana tribes. One morning I was sitting in a low hut made of sticks and goat-skins, and in places, orange bedsheets, photographing and listening to the women talk, a flurry of beads and hand gestures, and conspiratorial laughter. Their discussion was heated and animated and there was a lot of pointing involved. Mostly at me. I was getting nervous. I asked Kura, my friend and the only one who understood the language, what these Rendille women were saying.

“They are talking about you, David.”

“No kidding, Kura. What are they saying about me?”

“They are arguing about your name.”

“Why don’t they just ask me my name?”

“No, they argue about your Rendille name.”

“Kura, I don’t have a Rendille name. I’m as white as they come.”

“That is what they are trying to fix.”

“What do you mean, Kura?”

“They are adopting you as Rendille, into Ongeli Village. You must have a Rendille name.”

“I see,” I lied, “and what is my name, Kura?”

“You are Akeno. It means “He who brings good.””

I spent a few days here, and this place and the people there, among the poorest of the poor on this planet, mean the world to me. They are among the most beautiful people on the planet, their skin dark and richly textured, but smooth like leather, and their eyes often ringed with the most astonishing blue, which I later learned was cataracts. So much beauty in the midst of such harshness. One morning I arrived and was photographing two women walking towards me at dawn, when one of them threw her hands in the air, one of them wielding a machete, and ran towards me screaming, flailing the large knife. I did what I could to remain calm and not wet my pants; this tiny woman was about to kill me. When she got closer I saw it was one of the women who had named me, and she was calling me by my name, saying, “I’m your mother, do you remember me?” Later that day she gave me a beaded bracelet that is the most beautiful beadwork I’ve ever seen, and told me “don’t ever forget us,” as if it were possible to pull these memories from my heart.

When, through Kura, the village heard of my fall in Italy they sent word that the elders had gathered the village under the thorn tree to discuss this. And to pray, I think, though I’ve no idea what form those prayer take. And they sent their healing wishes to me. They also sent this Rungu. I cried to receive it, lying there in the hospital. It sits on my dresser and every day it whispers to me, in the voices of my adopted family in the far north of Kenya, to keep fighting. To never give up. If anyone knows about not giving up, it’s they.


  1. Such a beautiful story David. Thanks you for sharing.

    The best gifts tend to be so not because of their physical manifestation, but because of the story behind them and the relationships they represent. This is a perfect example of one of those precious gifts. 🙂

  2. Oh WOW! What a GREAT story! It made me miss my friends in Africa reading this post. Took me right back to when I used to live there myself! Thank you, David! This is indeed a beautiful memory that I’m sure you’d never forget! Keep fighting! :c)

  3. Such an amazing story of how you were “adopted”! I love it and hope to one day have stories like this of my own! Hope you have a good day, “he who brings good”!

  4. That was a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Very moving! Thank you! My six year old boy that cannot speak to tell you it…but he knows a thing or 2 about not giving up too. Beautiful words! Thank you!

  6. The story really moved me. It is beautiful, so full of life, love and sharing. I also think you really do deserve that pen too, you write so as to connect the reader, very powerful. Thank you.

  7. My wife and I have spent many years in both Kenya and Tanzania and have experienced many connections with the people of East Africa. Your story is very intense with such an acceptance of you and the connection made. Very powerful. Africa is in your blood somewhere.

  8. Hey David,

    So good to read this entry! Glad the tissues were close. Very uplifting.

    Thanks Akeno

  9. David
    you caught me by surprise with this story- I follow along on your adventures as you post- and was thinking that this was going to be interesting as always; what I didn’t expect was for it to make me tear up….
    To be accepted by another culture is an honor; to be loved by the people is a gift.
    well told Akeno, well told indeed….

  10. What a wonderful story, and what a privilege to be so accepted and loved by those in the village. I can imagine how proud you might be to be Akeno. I look forward to seeing the book when published.

  11. That’s an unbelievable and beautiful story David. I can see why the Rungu is something you treasure so deeply.

  12. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. I am glad their healing prayers took flight and reached you during your time of need.

  13. What an amazing story and great example of making an impact on folks, both on your behalf and theirs. Wonderful.

  14. Eloquent, poetic . . .
    Love IS the most powerful force in the universe.

  15. David – Thanks for letting me know. It’s often the way, we have a number of portraits ‘in the bag’ so to speak but can’t put them up on our website until our clients unveil them. Still there’s plenty other work to look at on our site. Actually you might be interested in my partners personal work (www.broaddaylightltd.co.uk/tricias-stuff-1/) and some shots I took in Chiang Mai (www.broaddaylightltd.co.uk/blog/?currentPage=2).

    Look forward to seeing your portraits along with the unpublished work in your next book.

  16. That was supposed to be a smiley face, not a question mark, cuz I’m sure the idea has already come to you.

  17. You are such a great storyteller David. I was transported to that little village for a few moments. You could put these stories together in a book ?

  18. Author

    Ross – No, not yet. Those portraits are part of a larger project with BOMA and they’ll release them as they choose. I can tell you they’ll be part of my next book, along with my unpublished Antarctica work.

  19. Made my day. (And confirmed how well they chose your name.) Thanks.

  20. Amazing story. We should all strive to have that kind of impact on those we come in contact with. Thanks for sharing your experiences, they are very inspirational

  21. I’m humbled to speechless silence just to read the story.

  22. To mis-quote the Bard; ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy ”
    Great experience David.
    Dick K.

  23. Love this David. It truly is the people we never forget all along the journey. The pictures in our minds, the memories, are the one portfolio that brings the greatest joy.

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