23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton

Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, recipient of the Grand Warrior Award (2001), was born into the Ariaal clan of the Maa (Maasai) ethnic group in northern Kenya in the early seventies. He grew up in a village of nomads, and was the only child in his family to go to school. In 1989 he went to the USA with a scholarship and a plane ticket in his pocket, for which his village had sold a number of cattle. He earned a degree in Economics and Government at St. Lawrence University in New York and a Master of Administration from St. Lawrence as well. At Harvard, he earned masters in International Educational Policy. He taught history at The Langley School close to Washington D.C. Lekuton regularly returned to Kenya for longer periods of time in order to promote development aid projects with NGOs such as the Nomadic Kenyan Children’s Fund.

Friends of his convinced Lekuton to write his life story down, and that is how his much noted literary début, »Facing the Lion: Growing up Maasai on the African Savanna« (2003), originated, which impressively describes the archaic and ritualised world of the Maasai warriors and cattle shepherds. Lekuton’s autobiographical story is a non-fiction book and a young adult novel at the same time; his language is descriptive, clear and warm-hearted. He grippingly gives an account of his first encounter with a lion, of the social rules in the village, and the tradition of circumcision, »in which enduring the pain is an imperative for entering adulthood« (»Neue Zürcher Zeitung«), of the confrontation with modern technology and culture shock in the USA. Lekuton’s name documents his life’s journey; »Lemasolai« means »the proud« and was given him by the Maasai women of his village, while he was later baptised »Joseph« in a Protestant missionary school. In the school holidays he always had to find his family on kilometre-long walks, because the Ariaal always move to where there is enough grass growing to feed their cattle. »It is so difficult to explain how I felt as a small child in a culture which was mine, and in another which I was learning«, he related. »But I remember that from the beginning I wanted my culture to come first, and school to come second.« His book is not meant to astound the reader with the story of how a cattle shepherd became a scholar, »but rather to listen to someone who has managed to take his home and his culture with him into a new life«. He tells of the challenges he must rise up to with »much humour and self-mockery« (»WDR 5«).

In 2006 Lekuton returned to his home and was elected to the Kenyan Parliament. As a politician he is dedicated to improving the infrastructure in the countryside, protecting sustainable forms of life in the age of globalisation and furthering the democratisation of his homeland. »The whole world is becoming small«, said Lekuton. »The problems of the village will very soon be the problems the rest of the world is facing«. He is married, has four children and lives in Nairobi

© international literature festival berlin