Bar Tore-The Killer of Leopards

Imagine 1924, in the settler farms of Uasin Gishu. Arap Amdany is 22 years old and has been employed by a Scottish farmer named Charles, as a baker. He is assigned an outdoor oven, made from mud, from which bakes bread and scones daily for Charles and his brood. But he is never allowed to eat any. Then, think of one Saturday, when the sky is clear and the sun intensely hot. Charles and his family are away, attending a fair, but are to come back later for dinner. Arap Amdany, feeling pleasant and happy with himself, takes such tender care as he mixes the flour, sugar, eggs and whatever else he has been taught to use. The heat from the firewood is just right that day, and the scones come out golden, crispy and very tempting. Arap Amdany tells himself he is only going to eat one, but naturally, finishes everything.

Charles comes back and finds no scones. Arap Amdany tells him that the oven was hot and everything got burnt. Still, Charles swells with rage and shouts back at him in the harsh, abrasive language called English which Arap Amdany would never care to know. But even despite his inability to understand, something about how Charles looks at him, something about how sweat trickles down to collect on his nose, something about his voice, sets Arap Amdany off. Before he knows it, he swings his bare foot and smacks Charles on the face with such force that the latter crumbles on the ground. As Charles’s wife begins to scream, Arap Amdany flees the scene.

As he runs, Charles’s dog-a kind of terrier, follows him. The dog has become attached to him ever since he began baking and insists on being by his side. But Arap Amdany is terrified. Behind him, he can hear settler farmers pursuing him on horses, with that kindit, kindit sound galloping horses make, getting closer and closer. He scans the plateau and finds an ant-bear hole to dive in. The terrier also snuggles in and nestles quietly beside him. Arap Amdany holds his breath as the horses pass over him and waits for the kindit, kindit sound to fade before he emerges. He keeps running with the dog, all the way to Oldoldol, on the edge of Kerio Valley.

There, Arap Amdany realizes the necessity of getting rid of the dog. As the dog laps water, he fetches a heavy log of wood and smashes its head. He takes the collar off its writhing body, ties it around his knee, and goes down the valley to his village in Kipsabwei. At home, he displays the collar and sings a naughty song he composed, about how he kicked Charles and killed his dog, to the cheer of his peers.

Two weeks later, colonial police forces come down to Kipsabwei and ask the chief to reveal the suspect. But the Chief is Arap Amdany’s uncle and lies, claiming that Arap Amdany never came to the village, but went to join his mother’s relatives in Aldai, which is on the other side of Uasin Gishu. Thus Arap Amdany is never caught. A year later, he accessorizes the dog collar with the skin coat of a leopard he kills. Applauding his bravery, the people of Kipsabwei change his name to Bar Tore, The Killer of Leopards.

It was a name he insisted in his old age, when he had moved from Kipsabwei to become our neighbor in Iten. I used to love going to his place, especially since he would let me pluck fruit from the loquat trees that grew in his compound. I cared less about his stories then. Luckily, someone listened keenly and reminded me of this tale.