Henry Rufus Ole Kulet’s epic writing

Award-winning author Henry Rufus ole Kulet

By Lemomo ole Kulet

The late Chinua Achebe quoted that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

My dad Henry Rufus Ole Kulet was to the Maasai community what Chinua Achebe was to the Igbo community in Nigeria.

When my dad passed on recently, I received a lot of calls from friends, journalists, readers of his books and many more well-wishers to condole with our family.

Most of these readers who called had a specific question that seemed to be asked by each and every one of them.

They all wanted to know more about him and how he began his writing career. This year he was to celebrate his 50 years as a writer.

Henry Rufus Ole Kulet, DSM, EBS was born on 8th November 1946 at Enkare Ngusur, Narok County.

He began his academic journey at Siyiapei Primary School between 1955 and 1958 then later went to DEB Kilgoris Primary School from 1959 to 1962.

In 1963 he joined Narok Boys High School where he graduated in 1966 with Cambridge School Certificate.

Lemomo ole Kulet

He did his professional certification at both Kenya Institute of Management(1970) for his Management Certificate, and Institute of Personnel Management (1975) for Human Resource Management Certificate.

He began his employment as Assistant Branch Manager at Kenya Famers Association-KFA in 1969 and rose through the ranks, becoming the Personnel and Administration Manager by the year 1987. He retired from employment in 1988 to focus on his business and his writing career which spanned almost five decades. 

His authorship history began in 1971 and it didn’t stop until his death. Over the five decades he wrote ten novels which include Is it Possible?, To Become a Man, The Hunter, a Swahili novel titled: Maisha ya Hatari, Moran No More, Daughter of Maa, Bandit of Kibi, Blossoms of the Savannah, which is the current set book in our secondary schools, Vanishing Herds and The Elephant Dance.

He received many literary awards during his writing career. The most notable include; in 1998 he was awarded -Third World Literary Award for Young Persons – Denmark – For his work on the novel To Become a Man.

In the year 2008 he was nominated the – International Dublin Impact Award for his novel Blossoms of the Savannah. In 2009 he was awarded the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for his novel Blossoms of the Savannah.

In the year 2013 he was awarded for the second time the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for Vanishing Herds.

In the year 2017 for the third time, he was awarded the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for his novel Elephant Dance. This made him make history as the first writer to have ever been awarded the price thrice.

For his literary contribution in the country, he got three National Recognitions by Head of State which include; Distinguished Service Medal -DSM awarded in the year 2000 by His Excellency D. T. Arap Moi former President of the Republic of Kenya. In the year 2018 His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta, during Mashujaa Day Celebrations at Kakamega, recognized him as a National Hero on account of his Literary work done as a service to the Nation and in 2020 he was awarded the Elder of the Burning Spear -EBS by His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta for his exemplary work to the nation of Kenya.

How did he begin his writing career? My dad went to school by force through the intervention of the colonial government.

He said: “Like the characters of my first and second books, Is it Possible? and To Become a Man, my early education that was in the 1950s and 1960s was a game of hide and seek with the colonial administration. It was erratic and oftenly on and off.”

He informed me that while he continued uninterruptedly with the traditional form of education, he was most of the time in and out of formal classrooms depending on where the family was residing at a given time of the year.

“When the prevailing circumstances dictated that the cattle be driven to Tanzania in pursuit of pasture, there we went without giving a hoot on what became of our schooling.

The formal learning had to wait until the following year when the cattle were driven back to Kenya,” Ole Kulet said.

His schooling according to him stabilized when he attended Intermediate school in Kilgoris between 1959 and 1962. It was during this period that he was initiated into moranhood.

During school holidays he tells me they participated in lion hunts and other escapades that one was required to participate to prove he was fit to be called a man.

“Those years were full of adventure and apparently, my future in writing seemed to have been anchored in those formative years,” he told me.

It was during this period that an event took place which permanently etched in his young mind and which seemed to have been the catalyst that sparked off, inspired and defined his future in creative writing.

It was in 1959, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I, the Queens Mother visited the country and Narok town was part of her itinerary. He was among the morans picked to entertain her.

“After Her Majesty was gone, I scribbled something about her visit on a meat-wrapping khaki paper I picked from a  butchery. My English teacher, a Mr Kigen chanced to see it and thought I had written something interesting.

He showed it to the Headmaster who too thought it was great. The following morning during parade, he called out my name and fished out the paper from his pocket and read it loudly in front of the entire school.

He showered me with praises and patted me on the head. I cannot describe how happy I was, but believe me, there and then, a future writer was born,” he said.

The other incident that motivated him into becoming a writer happened while he was at Narok Secondary School in 1964 when the Prime Minister of the independent Kenya, His Excellency Mzee Jomo Kenyatta visited Narok town.

Ole Kulet later wrote an article that he showed his English teacher who in turn showed it to the principal a Mr Shaw who thought it was captivating. Shaw decided to send the article to the Nation Newspaper and it was published as a feature article and that was his debut as a writer.

Ole Kulet would later meet three people who started him off on the road to becoming a writer; Sylvia Cornor, an English teacher at Kericho Secondary School, who gave him a typewriter and introduced him to a Mr. Samwel Langat who was then the Executive director of Jomo Kenyatta Foundation.

It was Mr Langat who was to make the vital connection between him and Longman Kenya Limited. He introduced him to a Mr. Osborne, the then Longman’s publishing manager.

Longmans became his first publisher when they published Is it Possible? which has since been translated into French, German, Swiss and lately into Indian language) and To Become a Man, in 1971 and 1972 respectively.

Later in 1973 a lady by the name Ellen Kitonga took over as Longman’s publishing manager. She took keen interest in his writing, encouraging him and inspiring him to write on themes based on Maa culture. That’s how it all began.

All his books have been subjects for research resulting in awards of numerous MA and PhD degrees to students in universities all over the world.  A number of his books have been translated into French, German, Swedish and a Hindu dialect called Kerala. 

In 2017 his book Blossoms of the Savannah was selected by Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development as a KCSE set book for the years 2018-2021. 

This same book has also been an ‘A’ Levels set book in Uganda.  Is it Possible has also been a set book in Tanzania. 

All his books have appeared in the ‘Orange Book’ as course books or class readers in Secondary schools in Kenya.

Lemomo is a PHD student as well as an astute commentator on Maasai cultural traditions.

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