Thursday, January 29, 2009

Every Woman Needs A Good Wife - Part I


It's time for me to stop being tentative about this. I'm in a heady state of mind, perhaps as a result of the drugs my Ear Nose and Throat specialist prescribed for my bacterial tonsillitis.

When this illness began on Monday night and I faced the painfully intimidating minute-by-minute task of trying to swallow, I found a new appreciation for the simple things in life.

I need a good wife. It's that simple.

I mentioned to my husband, who is a great provider, a wonderful caregiver like most out there, and has been bringing breakfast, lunch and dinner trays to me in bed; that if I can participate in selecting the lucky young lady (as I am sure we will have a few candidates waiting in line) and I retain the Head Wife status, in charge of the Common Pot, then all is fair in love, and all in love is fair.

Gauging from the big bright smile on his face, I imagine that unlike me, he has one thing on his mind, whereas I have several including: picking up dry-cleaning, house-cleaning, kids homework, grocery lists, blogposts, etcetera, etcetera.

Here is a bit of an historical tidbit, and you will have an opportunity to read about it in a book to be published later this year entitled, Women Of Courage And Power In Kenya's Oral History, by Rebeka Njau.

One of the fascinating women featured in the book had a large family because she married other women and handed them over to her six male workers to bear her more children. The children born out of those marriages and the family units created, carried the matriarch's name. The male workers did their chores and served as 'escorts' on her many business trips...mmpphh!

I like to trace my heritage matri-linealy as you can imagine, for good reason. It's my prerogative. But since we live in America how do I go about crystallizing my idea? It's one thing to fantasize about Big Love. It's quite another to put it into practice in a society where the media tends to dictate what is normal, abnormal, cool, and uncool.

So, as I take my family and friends advice to rest and get well soon, I can only fantasize about how much better everything would be if I had a good wife. But I'm sure once I recover and I'm off the meds, the thoughts will cease, ama?

TO BE CONTINUED...yaani [i.e.] fleshed out.

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Beyond The Ashes


I met Todd from Santa Fe today. We were introduced by just another young poet walking the broken road to freedom. I invite you to follow the links to each of their spaces.

The Peace Tile above is one of Todd's creations and his creative medium of finding peace through pottery resonates deeply with me; a soothing balm for my wounded soul as I slowly summon the courage to revisit memories of our kiln, destroyed in a ferocious fire that consumed the gallery where I grew up...


...now I can look at the lone surviving figure above.

A small but monumental sculpture
bearing the personification of life force
beyond the anguish,

a gateway to the history of Africa
where slash and burn agriculture
cultivates seeds of creativity
which,

when practiced purposefully
breaks the boundaries
as we reach the unseen,

a more compelling future.

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pole Pole Tutafika


When Baba na Mama founded Kibo Art Gallery on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Moshi, Tanzania in 1963, they called it their African Mango Tree, their mascot was the African tortoise.

"It is like a mango tree; too slow in growth to compete with emphemeral fashions of the art world; but with roots too deep in the soil to be uprooted by any shallow wind of civilisation.
Its roots sink deep into the earth to reach out for the bones of our ancestry and the sap that is our heritage from God.
Its trunk powerful and round like true communal life in unity and harmony.
Its branches open up into a generosity of leaves, flowers and colourful fruits to feed the world and inspire humanity with spiritual health, joy, love, peace and humility in eternal wonder."
I share this with you today on the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Barack Obama,
Whose face glows with love and compassion like the sun of Africa.
Who brings with him the fertility of America and the beauty of the land, he belongs to us all.

Barack Obama,
Who believed in Martin Luther King's dream,
A dream deeply rooted in the American dream that has sustained its power through generations, and sacrifices.

Today, there will be pomp,
There will be glory, and jubilation.

In unity and harmony, we will continue the journey.
Pole Pole Tutafika [slowly, slowly, we will get there].

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Too Raw?

As a child I often wished I could climb the Mau Mau Freedom Fighter behind our home. If Samwel Wanjau had carved a flight of steps up the back of a leg, I would have ascended the twelve feet to the fierce dreadlocks, and settled a few scores.

"I'm the king of the castle,
You're the dirty rascal.
I'm the king of the castle,
Get down, you dirty rascal!"

The taunt, directed at my older brother, would have penetrated the canopy of eucalyptus trees and instilled the fear of god into the bullies of Ridgeways Estate.

Instead, I climbed the Jacaranda tree in front of the house and daydreamed amidst clusters of fragrant, purple, trumpet-shaped blooms...

If Wanjau had carved an aesthetically "palatable" symbol of Kenya's fight for independence, as he was commissioned, the Mau Mau Freedom Fighter would be standing in front of the Kenya Parliament building today, celebrating forty-five years of independence from British colonial rule.
Instead, Wanjau conveyed what he envisioned with characteristic honesty and vigor.

As a result, Sir Charles Four Piece Suit Njonjo, the attorney-general of Kenya at the time, declared the Mau Mau's stance
too raw, unfit for human consumption and therefore, unfit for Parliament buildings.
The deal was off. Wanjau's big dream was disrupted.

But I could still daydream in the Jacaranda tree amidst clusters of fragrant, purple, trumpet shaped blooms...

...about instilling the fear of god into neocolonial puppets who dared assault an African artist's creative expression.

I didn't.

Instead, I ran circles around the base of the Mau Mau playing catch with Safi, and in this picture, showing her a bird's nest I had found, complete with unhatched eggs.

Baba first met Samwel Wanjau at Nairobi's Gikomba market, making curios to feed the growing tourist industry. He invited Wanjau to join Paa Ya Paa, and he became the first official member of the artists-in-residence program. Wanjau and many other artists after him were encouraged to free themselves from the repetitive style of commercial art.

Wanjau soon became one of Kenya's most ingenious artists. In 1969 he was honored as Kenya's leading sculptor, a designation that led to his being commissioned to create an historical emblem for the new republic's Parliament buildings. The beautification committee that commissioned the work was led by Sir Charles Njonjo.

The Mau Mau Freedom Fighter was built out of cement reinforced in steel wires. For several weeks, every day after school, I would go around to the back to watch Wanjau work.

He never tired of my questions about his crooked arm and I never tired of his Kiswahili enunciated in a heavy Nyeri Kikuyu accent. He told me stories of the Emergency Period when he was a Mau Mau freedom fighter in the 1950s. The way he carved Bundukis [gun stocks] that were used in the resistance; how he was arrested and thrown in jail; how he escaped. And when the Home Guard burnt his father's hut down, how he was shot in the arm as he tried to escape and thrown back in jail. When he subsequently escaped it seemed he had finally found the path leading to his long road to national and international fame.

In my mind, the Mau Mau Freedom Fighter remains a rock solid representation of resilience to cultural domination in Kenya; a manifestation of creative independence, authentic, raw; not overdone like Sir Charles' Four Piece Suit.

And when I go home, I can sit at its base, raise my head and celebrate its inspirational power, and still daydream...

...about fueling my spiritual independence.
Au siyo? [not so?]

Mpaka next time,

Mama Shujaa.
Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Canvas

Stretched over decades and oceans is the canvas of my life, too long away from the polite, humble Africa; its music, its street life, its vast empty fields, its thick forests, and mkokotenis [rickshaws] delaying cars on the road. My heart's longing thrives on the call and response of songs; carrying me decades, across oceans, and then it all seems like just yesterday.
Where are those Songs
Where are those Songs
my mother and yours
always sang
fitting rhythms
to the whole
vast span of life?
Sing daughter sing
around you are
uncountable tunes
some sung
others unsung
sing them
to your rhythms
observe
listen
absorb
soak yourself
bathe
in the stream of life
and then sing
sing
simple songs
for the people
for all to hear
and learn
and sing
with you.

From Where are those Songs (Daughter of My People Sing! 1972) by Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo, Ph.D. A former student of my mother, to this day Dr. Mugo calls her Mwalimu [teacher].

Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo, Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence and Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University, is a poet, playwright and literary critic who has published 6 books, 8 co-edited supplementary school readers, 3 monographs and edited the journal, Third World in Perspective. Other titles include: Daughter of My People, Sing!; My Mother’s Poem and Other Songs; The Long Illness of Ex-Chief Kiti; Visions of Africa and The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (co-authored with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o ). In November 2002, The East African Standard Century listed Mĩcere among “The Top 100: They Influenced Kenya Most During the 20th Century.” A committed community activist, Mĩcere is a passionate advocate for human rights especially as they have historically been denied to Blacks, women, children, the masses and other marginalized groups.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Antelope Rising

Salaams of the New Year!

As we bear witness to the creative hopes, challenges and joys of the New Year, I am thankful for the generosity of spirit I have encountered here, a dynamic meeting point of diverse minds and collective voices. A place where we find inspiration, we string together ideas and comments as we dedicate ourselves to a wholesome new way of tackling maisha [life].

Suffice it to say that this apprentice blogger is hooked. And as the year begins, I am consciously aware of the source of my inspiration, my Utu, an intangible source of strength.

I grew up in an art gallery in Nairobi, Kenya. My trailblazing parents founded Paa Ya Paa Art Gallery in 1965, just two years after Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule. The rest of their graduating class became doctors, veterinarians, politicians, you know, the usual safe occupations. Today, Paa Ya Paa is Kenya’s oldest African-owned art gallery and holds a unique place in the preservation and promotion of art and culture in East Africa. (BTW this is an old photo of the gallery front before the fire - I'll tell you about it in a future post).

Paa Ya Paa is a compound Kiswahili name which literally means "The Antelope Rising." In Kiswahili "paa" means "rise" and also means "antelope." When my parents founded the gallery in the early 1960s the antelope had become a regular subject for wood carvers who worked tirelessly to attract some of the many tourists traveling to East Africa.

Symbolically, then, my parents envisioned Paa Ya Paa as a spiritual calling, in the hope that simple artistic expressions would rise into a new realm of open-minded, creative adventures, giving new scope for free creative self-expression.

As I pursue that realm, I am very much aware that time is a non-renewable resource. So, nitafanya bidii [I’ll work hard] on my stick-to-itness, and discipline the beating of my drum to ultimately flesh out the hints of many melodies beneath the surface: yours and mine...so that we can "paa" together!

Baadaye [till later],

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.