My Maitu (great grandmother) is well over 100 years. She was the second wife, in a polygamous family of 4 co-wives. Two are now deceased, and is best of friends with the surviving co-wife. As to how her children and those of the other wives are doing is a story for another day.

Marriage was for the continuation of the family lineage. It was to make sure that whenever an ancestor needs to come back, they had a lineage to come back through. It was therefore important to do what needed to be done to ensure this continuation. This is why, Maitu told me, when she got married, the first wife had just died and therefore she was brought in to take care of the children left behind as well as add more. My great grandfather was wealthy by the standards of the time and therefore he requested for more co-wives in order to ensure there was enough hands for labor to multiply the wealth and also multiply the lineages through which ancestors would return through.

Then one day the world as they knew it was disrupted. Nyakeru (white man) had taken all the land, introduced taxes and therefore they now needed to send their children to his schools if they were to have a chance at surviving and still keeping ancestral return pathways intact.

Maitu also now had to work for nyakeru as a maid. No one prepared her for this kind of labor. Nyakeru lady was always angry, maitu observed, and there was always a problem of communication until one day she could understand her language. Blarry foko, fak you, schtupid, were just some of the names she endured. And being beaten with kiboko sometimes even infront of her children. And her children too were asked to perform labor instead of playing. Everyone was required to earn their keep because now they had to live as squatters in what was now nyakeru’s land.

Maitu went through several ‘Igongona'(rituals) and ‘Kirira’ (instructions) as part of her growth and development in accordance to the Agikuyu traditions. As a result she had a firm grasp of how to navigate life. The test of how well prepared she was came when she had to be part of the women chosen to feed the Mau Mau freedom fighters as well as serve as their eyes and ears while the men organized and fought the war in the forest. Her husband and firstborn son were part of the Mau Mau freedom fighters and she was very much invested in making sure they remained alive as well as also hold the rest of the family together. How did she do it? She can’t explain it but everyday she had to make sure there was food to eat. And also make sure no one betrayed her as part of the Mau Mau sympathisers. So in order to fit in, she decided to convert to Nyakeru’s religion, Christianity. At heart though, she believed in the God of her ancestors for only that God would give them back their land and freedom. Maitu though was not deluded. A whole generation now was alive that had not been taught in some of the ways and values of her Agikuyu traditions. And this meant that there was a whole generation that did not really understand who they are from this perspective. What to do? Teach them core values and especially reverence to Ngai (God), respect for human life and the value of investing in connection and relationships.

She harbors no grudge or hate in her heart. She witnessed so many unnecessary deaths. muito wa Lari (Lari massacre) is edged in her consciousness because she has never come across a force that is so blood thirsty. Yet according to her, this is not reason to harbor anger, resentment or bitterness. This are poisons that will only end up destroying you. The person evoking this feelings is the one with the problem so don’t let their issues become yours, she says. Learn to let things go. God is always there to help you deal. Sing songs of sadness, dance because it will remove some of the sadness. That is maitu’s remedy.

She has lived in the old world and the new world brought by nyakeru. She has no nostalgia. All she says is life changes, so move with what changes it brings. Life is suffering she also says. Don’t let it put you down though, learn and teach others so they may also learn how you have overcome and keep moving.

Maitu doesn’t have words for mental illness. It didn’t exist in her language nor was there anything taught to her about it. However she understands there is how the world works and you keep going through cycles, and how you survive one depends on how well you prepared in the last one. So she says ask God to reveal to you why you are here and just may be it will give you the strength to face challenges. But anything can be lived through. And there is always an answer if you look hard enough.

That’s how Maitu has stayed sane after Nyakeru wrecked their world havoc.


Please use this for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for seeking out professional help. The views expressed here in are  from my personal experiences as well as from those I have interacted with and while one may resonate with what is shared, it’s not a substitute for appreciating your own unique personal experience. Always do your own research on any topic to guard against being hoodwinked.

Published by nasewangari

Clinical Psychologist| Humanist| Great passion for demystifying and decolonizing mental health

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