Heshimu Punda: Man and Animal in Backbreaking Harmony

Photo by Mburu Muruthi @nyuso_za_nairobi https://www.instagram.com/p/BpgARdSArWc/

This photo brings to mind a quote from the KSPCA website which says;

“Living with animals can be a wonderful experience, especially if we choose to learn the valuable lessons animals teach through their natural enthusiasm, grace, resourcefulness, affection and forgiveness.” – Richard H. Pitcairn

For me, no animal is more forgiving than the donkey. Because Mburu Muruthi’s photo is not something that I grew up seeing. A donkey-drawn cart ferrying water or other heavy-looking items was a common enough sight. But usually, there would be space on the cart for the person controlling it to sit on. And there was always the whip that doubled as a donkey-GPS, that would be used to keep the donkey in line.

In the picture, for instance, the donkey appears to be stuck, overwhelmed by the load that it’s carrying. And the man looks like he is trying to help it, gently, or as gently as he can be given the circumstances. In the past, there would have been loud lashes that lasted as long as it took the donkey to figure out a way to get out of there. There would have been brays of pain as each lash landed and maybe a yell or two from the man controlling the donkey, as an added incentive for the donkey to get its act together.

Never was the phrase “beast of burden” truer than in those days. And this was the reason for the rise of organizations and programs like Heshimu Punda and The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya which promoted the idea that while donkeys are vital to the livelihood of some communities, there is a way for those communities to treat their donkeys humanely and still use them to earn a livelihood. The man in the photo espouses this ideal. The donkey is a partner and together, they are working to earn a living. Man and animal in backbreaking harmony.

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If asked to caption Mburu Muruthi’s photo, the piece above is what comes to mind. Used to be that the above was the point of contention – whether donkeys were being treated well or not – that and the ethics of eating donkey meat, with a few butcheries that were caught selling that meat facing public backlash.

Now thanks to the “Hideous Burden” feature on NTV Kenya Weekend Edition, to my horror, I have realized that there’s another issue. And it’s one that is threatening the livelihood of people who depend on donkeys, as well as the very existence of donkeys in general. Donkeys are apparently being stolen all over the country and neighboring Tanzania, and this is because their hide is an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

Watching the women interviewed, recount how they lost their donkeys and how harder their lives have become since then is heart-wrenching. And this is not just affecting them but their children as well, as they now find themselves being drafted to fill in the gap left by the stolen donkeys – fetching water and firewood – and missing school in the process. This should not be allowed to go on.

As a country that has been struggling to combat wildlife poaching for years now, I do hope that we are equipped to handle this latest crime involving animals. For the sake of the affected communities, and the donkeys that according to local news, now face the threat of extinction, I do pray that this problem is resolved soon. Santa, I hope you’re all ears. How is that for a Christmas miracle?