opinionBy Peter Mwaura
In all cultures, grabbing someone's nose and pinching it, pulling it, or tweaking it, is intended to insult, affront, demean and humiliate.
In African cultures, when it is done to a child it is less of an insult and more of a disciplinary action that falls short of beating. When it is done to an adult, it is the ultimate insult.
In the celebrated case of Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza and Village Market security guard Rebecca Morara Kerubo, nose pinching -- real or imagined -- became more than the ultimate insult.
In recorded history, there has not been such a potentially life changing act of nose pinching -- again real or imagined -- outside the duels of Europe and America increasingly fought with pistols.
In medieval Europe and early America, duels were often fought by men to protect their honour because another person had tweaked their nose.
Besides threatening to blot out Ms Baraza's judicial career, the Village Market drama on New Year's eve has popularised nose pinching as the ultimate insult, even as a joke.
In the Village Market nine-days' wonder, nose pinching was everything. Claims that Ms Baraza also ordered her bodyguard to shoot Mrs Kerubo (but he refused), that she then went to her car and returned with a gun and threatened to shoot her, pale in comparison with nose pinching.
If true, they were nothing more than swashbuckling heroics. The real clincher for the cause célèbre is the claim of nose pinching.
In law, nose pinching is common assault, which is punishable with imprisonment for one year, or five years if the assault causes "actual bodily harm", according to sections 250 and 251 of the Penal Code.
But the claim of nose pinching in the Village Market theatrics on December 31 carry the possible loss of a judicial career, including the possibility of becoming a future chief justice.
The sensational claims have also put new life into the ancient art of tweaking the nose.
Nose pinching is an art because, apart from delicate manoeuvres, it is also often accompanied by some well-chosen terse words of a warning, or final warning, or of a lesson, counsel, ultimatum, admonishment or reprimand.
Sample Mrs Kerubo's claim that during the alleged nose pinching, Ms Baraza told her "to know people."
That was a cryptic and poetic way of saying "Do you know who you are dealing with?"
Nose pinching is also an art because it requires superior skills, though anybody can learn them through practice and observation.
The Baraza sensation provides important lessons. One, probably the most important to learn, is that you must take into account your height relative to that of the owner of the nose.
It is almost impossible to tweak the nose of a person much taller than you. The Baraza-Kerubo confrontation was a near-perfect match, though with dire consequences.
It would be a tall order, for example, for Garsen MP Danson Mungatana to tweak the snout of six-footer Jeremiah Kioni, no matter how despicable he thinks it is for the Ndaragwa MP to plan to introduce a Bill in Parliament to abolish the Senate.
Equally, it would be futile for diminutive Joshua arap Sang to try to pinch Luis Moreno-Ocampo's long and almost aquiline beak -- assuming he can get anywhere near him -- for roping him in with the politicians accused of post-election violence.
Even if you are of the same height with the owner of the nose, tweaking requires dexterity.
The owner can easily ward off your pinching fingers. Nose tweaking works best if you can catch a person by surprise, such as flinging your hand to catch his nostrils with the speed of a chameleon darting its tongue to catch a fly.
If the nose owner is shorter than you, it is easier. That is why children are so much easier to pinch and pull by their schnozzles.
The object lesson is that the pincher should have a nose for sizing up people -- for their height and standing (in society) before attempting a squeeze.
The owner of the nose matters, just as much as the tweaker, and always there are consequences.