By Noor Khamis
The Sunday Nation, August 6, 1995

Talking to David Maillu can be a lot of fun. To start with, the man has an aura about him that is quite fascinating. So is the way he tries to stick to African traditions.
For instance, when we met at a tourist class hotel for the interview, he struck an odd note because, although the writer wore conservative Western clothes, he was also carry­ing a large f1ywhisk which he swung to and fro and occasionally caressed, not without a certain amount of self-consciousness.

 Getting to serious business, Maillu said he was into serious self-publishing, and had nu­merous manuscripts at home which he hoped to take to the printers soon.
“I am married to writing,” he says, “I thought the creative bug would disappear with age, but it simply won”t go away. I have a problem keeping up with the flow of my creative ideas!”

In an attempt to give vent to all his ideas, Maillu writes several books at the same time, and says there is never a dull moment. He ex­plains that whereas some books are fairly easy to execute, others take longer to complete since they require a lot of research. “You know, although I”m the most published writer in Africa,” he says without any touch of either vanity or arrogance, “I am at the peak of my creativity and I cannot afford to sit on my laurels.”

As if to prove his point, Maillu shows me a list of more than 40 of his books published over the years. He says that the list, accompanied by some biographical data, has been prepared by a leading scholar at the University of Nairobi, and will soon be published in an encyclopedia of literature. The list contains titles in Kikamba, English and Kiswahili, and reflects great thematic flexi­bility on the writer”s part. For instance, apart from the better-known popular books like Unfit for Human Consumption, My Dear” Bottle and After 4.30, Maillu has published serious hooks like Our Kind of Polygamy and several books on political science.

Talking about the first three titles, Maillu denies that they were just exercises in base por­nography as his detractors have alleged. On the contrary, he says, the success of the titles proved that people had been yearning for books like that. “I wrote those books after a lot of research into what people would like to read,” Maillu says. “They were deeper books than the critics thought, and they became popular because] they had a good background on how people thought and behaved. When I asked him what he means by that, Maillu says he knew that the general reader is fascinated by power, sex, religion, money, human relations, drink and marriage. This is why he chose to fuse these ingredients in his early books in order to com­municate serious messages to ordinary people. “We must train our people to think openly about issues,” says Maillu, adding that he chose to look at the problems bedeviling society through the eyes of ordinary people. “I think I have done a lot for popular literature in this country, and the academic world has developed a claim that I am the father of popular literature in Kenya!”

But Maillu is also into serious writing, and his current project is on indigenous African po­litical ideology, which he will publish himself. He had already made his mark in the scholarly world with the publication of Our Kind of Polygamy, which was received very well.

“I started in a modest way,” Maillu says, “and when I became more published in social science circles, I began to be invited to many international conferences and seminars.”

Maillu – the self-made and self-taught man – readily accepts that he had no good formal academic background. He is a man who pursues his natural in­terest in philosophy, art and literature.

According to Maillu, too many lies have been told by Western scholars concerning African customs, and it is time things were put straight. In Our Kind of Polygamy for instance, he sought to put the practice of polygamy in tradi­tional African society in its proper context. “To start with,” he stresses, “it must be recognized that Africans have one of the highest social order on the planet. I find it my duty to point out that, traditionally, marriage played a sacred role in. In fact, incidences of polygamy were relatively limited, despite allegations to the contrary.”

But despite his enthusiasm for defending African traditional practices, Maillu is married to a European woman, the German-born Hannelore, whom he fondly describes as his greatest supporter in everything he does. “She is more African than most Africans,” he says. “She is one of the two most important women in my life – the other one being my mother, Esther Kavuli.” Maillu has two daughters: 20-year-old Elizabeth Kavuli, studying Interior Architecture in UK, and Chris Mwende.

According to Maillu, he was a very bright child who jumped classes in lower primary”, but had to leave school after sitting for the KAPE to study painting at Machakos Technical School, where he started embarking upon pursuing academic courses through the British Tutorial College, which he continued while working as a painter for the then East African Airways. He declined a scholarship to go study in the United States due to fending for his poor family. Yet he would not give up pursuing his academic interests. By then he was pursuing Literature and African Philosophy which, in later years, earned him doctorate degree. He made friends with scholars like John Mbithi and Ngugi wa Thiong”o, who admired his writ­ing in his native Kikamba. In fact, according to Maillu, he is the one who inspired Ngugi to start writing in his mother tongue. Maillu’s published his first work in Kikamba in 1972, Ki-Kyambonie, (Kikamba poetry, which he had broadcasted on VOK radio for years, long before Ngugi wa Thiong’o ever thought of writing in his mother tongue.

Maillu says he cannot be discouraged by the harsh words of critics. A determined writer should publish his idea, and let people talk,” he says. Looking at some children”s books Maillu has written recently, one is left with little doubt about his incredible versatility. One of the most recent is Dancing Zebra, which offers an indigenous outlook to the young ones. The book is the first in a series of 15 that Maillu is writing for the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation’s Pyramid series.

Besides writing, Maillu takes a lot of interest in community development projects at his home in Koola, Machakos District, where he plans to assist in the construction of a water dam for community consumption and irrigation. He says he loves planting indigenous trees and he has an exotic bo­tanical garden in his nine-acre farm. He collects plants of ornamental and medici­nal value. “It is the kind of place the early Greeks would have called paradise,” he says. It is little wonder that my efforts to conserve indigenous plants have led to the local people calling me, “Tree Man!”