By Joyce Kiragu (RVA School Trip Leader)
Spending time with our grandparents or elderly in the community is eroding away. We have become a virtual community. Make a quick call on phone, skype, whatsapp. Send money to their mobile phones and we are good to go until the next Christmas. In one way, we have become closer and in others so much more distant to our families and community. With this growing distance, we are losing touch with our stories, the fabric of what made our traditional communities…
The International School of Kenya (ISK) and Rift Valley Adventures came together recently to see how we might use the inter-cultural programs and school trips to build on our previous ICT outreach programs and use digital media to tell the African story all over again: The Kikuyu story.
So, last year in October, a group of very determined 12 to 14 year olds students from ISK and Irura Primary School in a remote area of Ol Pejeta Conservancy set out to test this initiative using cutting edge homegrown technology: The BRCK KioKit.
55 students and their teachers from both schools put their heads together on how they could digitally capture Agikuyu folklore. They visited an elderly woman in the community who was more than willing to narrate traditional stories. Armed with tablets and smartphones, the group was ready to hear her colourful and adventurous stories. It would all be recorded and shared digitally. They all sat in the shade, on the grass just as we would have done once upon a time not so long ago. And the stories unfolded…tales of her people and their culture was passed to them as it was still fresh in her memory from several decades ago.
Mama Elizabeth Wangari is her name.
Her nickname is Nyakiambi, as she was the first wife. Nyakiambi literally means “the beginner”. She narrated stories of how she spent her childhood, the games she played and told a few jaw dropping folktales; sung her play songs and invited the whole group to join in. Their dress code caused a lot of excitement in the students. And lots of philosophical questions, comparing Mama Nyakiambi’s dress code and the modern. It was just a piece of shuka (cloth) swung across her body and a knot tied on her shoulder. It would be blown off by the wind and expose her. (Ironically, she cannot stand women in tight jeans and leggings). But she was swift to state that it was important to have their legs, especially thighs, basking in the hot African sun. If they did not have a good tan on the initiation day, the older women would make fun of them.
They were surprised to find out piercing her ears was also a ceremony. It was done using shaped twigs. It was the most painful thing she had ever experienced! After several days, they would force wider twigs through the piercing, hence the loose hanging ear lobes on her. Hers were very big because she was brave enough to have larger twigs put through.
Then later she told us about her most memorable day: her wedding day. She told it with such emotions and excitement like it happened yesterday. Mama Nyakiambi narrated how her family and the in-laws participated in the whole ceremony, how the girls would proudly carry her up high and sing songs to show her off. Then it was the turn for the mother-in-law to invite her into their homestead by giving her a new kitchen. It had to have three stones for making a cooking stove, nyungu (a clay cooking pot), a mwiko (cooking stick), a kinya (a Gourd) for storing milk and a kiihuri(a calabash) for serving food. She could not even remember the number of goats and cows that were slaughtered in this ceremony. And the number of hang’i (African ear rings) her father gave her. The earrings are the most prized gift a girl would receive on her wedding day. Her dad spoilt her on this day and all girls were green with envy!!
Her husband had the best thingira (man’s house). A round thatched mud house that he shared with the goats. She had her separate room that she shared with her daughters. The boys had their own shack near the main entrance. They had a happy life together. So good that her husband married three other women! Having more than one wife was expected of every Kikuyu man worth his salt. The women adored and respected her.
It came to a question-answer session. Amongst others, when asked what she missed most about those old days, her answer was what we take for granted: she misses sitting down with children and telling them all her favorite folktales and sing songs. She also misses the respect young people had for the whole community. The good and healthy food they had and it was easily accessible.
At the end of the day, she was very pleased to see very young students finding time to come talk to her in their endeavour to bring back what is almost getting lost. The story of the Agikuyu; the folktales and folksongs. And that she will soon see herself in this ISK and RVA “movie”: The digital story of Nyakiambi. Telling her Gikuyu story. Coming soon!