The world is rat-panicking due to the hard-hitting negative impact of the COVID 19 Pandemic. Writers are writing still. Chroniclers are chronicling still. Poets and Artists are the most affected, remember resilience is our master key. The WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS African Continent Editorial Associate Nancy Ndeke rewinds the clocks of time, back to the bullet shredded dawns and grenade burnt vigils. In this special personality profiling feature Ndeke vividly captures the life journey of one great veteran of the liberation struggle in Kenya, Virginia Edith Wambui Waiyaki -A life worth lived, a rare and unique personality worth reading, a legendary, a leader, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a she- hero and a struggle stalwart . *(Blurb by WOMAWORDS Curator) *
There are people who thrive in controversy by their very nature even with their best of intentions. There are people, who despite controversy dogging their every breath and move, somehow, their star remains intact and shines through it all. Such was Virginia Edith Wambui Waiyaki, born in present Kiambu County of Kenya on the 21st of June of 1936. She passed on at the age of 75 on the 30th of August 2011. Her life and times were a multicolored mosaic of adventure often gone wrong, a daring that set her up for conflict with family and the law, human rights and workers union activities that saw her marked as a trouble shooter, a woman whose choices she lived with regardless of who was against it, a doting wife to the love of her life and a wonderful mother to fifteen children, six of whom were adopted. Her memoirs, in the book ‘Daughter of Mau Mau’ detail her life’s journey. The book received as much controversy as she did in real life.
This article does not seek to unravel the source of Wambui’s controversial life. Its purpose is to high light the resilience of a woman in a society not yet ready for the voice of a woman in leadership, to show case her bold stand against rape which by the time it happened to her, the topic was not just a taboo but a subject that spelt doom for the victim and the child resulting from it.
Wambui’s brush with rape came during the stint at detention in Lamu, an island off the Coast of Kenya for her involvement in the Mau Mau politics against land grabbing in former central province, a location that was highly favored by British colonialist for its growth of priced cash crops.
She had taken the oath of allegiance to help the Mau Mau in recruiting domestic workers in Nairobi to join the movement. That in the process, she contested the ‘color bar rule’ that segregated meeting places for the different races, mainly white or European sections, Asian places and the African unsettled the colonial administration. That she defied the system when she was declared a persona non granta in Nairobi irked the system more, for she would be sent off to Kiambu her native village, only for her to trudge back to the city the next day.
As if not her activist life was not challenging enough, Wambui had another family drama going. She was cohabiting with a lover from a tribe different from her own and her family would not give her blessings to wed the man of her choice despite them having three children.
At detention in Lamu, she was constantly raped by a British officer who is quoted as telling her that the purpose of the rape was to have her pregnant. Having understood the animosities of the Kenyan tribes against intermarriages, the system was sure upon release with a half caste child, Wambui would loose faith and trust not just with the family but with the Mau Mau movement that she had spied for all along.
Wrong woman! Yes, she got pregnant. Yes, she got released. Yes, she gives birth to a half caste child. BUT! She didn’t hide the facts of her situation. She refused the victimhood visited upon her and she chose to look at the resulting child as a blessing in revealing the rot of the master colonialist against a woman. And long before rape became an NGO affair and laws passed against it, Wambui’s personal experience became the barrier breaker against a vice the world is still grappling with. That was Wambui and the British colonial masters of the day. Did she win when she sued that institution later for its crime? No. But the truth of rape as a tool of war and warring showed its ugly face. Intimidation and dehumanization among women in conflict zones came out. That it’s happening cannot be denied. Lesson.
The father of Wambui’s first three children bolted after her incarceration in Lamu. A rumor that he sold her out still floats out in the clouds. Now, a single mother of four with the last one clearly bearing a different color orientation cannot have been flattering to interested suitors. But it did. She met and married one lawyer by the name of Silvanus Otieno who went on to adopt her four children. That he was a Luo and she Kikuyu, an unheard-of thing at the time was inconsequential. They went on to have five more children and adopt another six, making a brood of fifteen children. That tells a lot about their relationship as a couple. They were tight, made decisions together and were kind people who shared their much with the lesser fortunate members of the society,
Come the death of Otieno, and the mother of all controversies hit Wambui.
She had mouthed her intentions to bury her late husband at their upper Matasia farm. The Luo clan would not hear of it. To them Wambui was not even legally married to their son since they had not done a traditional ceremony opting for the Christian wedding. A court battle ensued that lasted several months with daily newspapers sitting it out in court for the daily drama as lawyers shined their biased torches on gaps that ensured Otieno was finally buried in his rural home against the wishes of his wife.
What came out was that a woman had no say in the affairs of a man who had died, his clan had a upper hand. According to the judgment at the time, ‘a spouses( read Wambui) wishes were not sufficient to determine a dispute between opposed parties’ so Wambui lost and the clan won. For such a fight and lorded over by the best legal minds in the Country, something was lost to the patriarchal brains. That of the extensive estate of Silvanus Otieno, most of it was jointly held by him and his wife, hence, had the brouhaha abroad then was centered on property, then by a large margin Otieno had secured his wife in this case. What has changed since the eighties when Wambui was battling in courts for her rights over her spouse to make the lot of women in such circumstances? Sadly, the answer is fairly dismal. At least Wambui had resources to take the case to court. Most women are quietly bundled out of their matrimonial homes onto the nearest street upon the death of their spouse. A few have faced death. Disinheritance is as real as it was then. The difference is there are a few institutions scratching the hard backs of these monstrous societal biases. It took Wambui to start the documentation.
Wambui’s widowhood led to the next big controversy of her life that read like a movie. She fell in love with a young man whose name she bore to the end. She married the young man named Mbugua at the age of 67. Mbugua was 25 then. The animosity Wambui was to experience was as sad as it was funny with her own children vocalizing their disgust and intimating that the young man was after their mother’s property, a view shared by many who added their voice to this saga. Media played the incident to the full gallery. A video of Wambui kissing the groom outside Sheria house after tying the knot went viral. Men had theirs views and, less than palatable by and large. Youths too, but to this group there was the element of jest, pettiness and outright mirth. Women gossiped in groups with sly smiles playing at the corners of their mouths as they recounted the story. Those with sons Mbugua’s age shuddered just thinking about it. That Mbugua’s mother died shortly afterwards from what was presumed from shock only fueled the fantasy of this story of love of a woman to a younger man to wild accusations of a curse over the young man for letting down the mother.
The lesson can’t be missed here. A wedding in daylight took place. No one could accuse the two of living in sin or eloping, which leaves hundreds of thousands of men and women living lies in shady affairs that only come up after one spouse dies.
Not even in the constitution of the land does it say anything against consenting adults entering the institution of marriage on mutual agreement. When two agree and act within the moral and penal code of a country, the rest are stories that people entertain themselves with.
Wambui passed at the age of 75 having lived with her Mbugua in a blissful marital state for 8 years. Her story is that love is not defined by tribe or clan. That personal choices matter. And one has to stand on what one believes in within the boundaries of truth that can stand the test of time.
Brave voices celebrate the life of Virginia Edith Wambui Waiyaki Otieno Mbugua as a woman of resilience.
CHRONICLED by NANCY NDEKE *( WOMAWORDS EDITORIAL ASSOCIATE IN AFRICA)*
NANCY NDEKE *( EDITORIAL ASSOCIATE OF WOMAWORDS IN AFRICA)* is a Poet of international acclaim and a reputable literary arts consultant.Her writings , profiles , press clips and poetry are featured in several collections, anthologies and publications around the globe including the American magazine Wild Fire, Save Africa Anthology. World Federation of Poets in Mexico. Ndeke is a Resident Contributor of the Brave Voices Poetry Journal since mid-2018. African Contributor to the DIFFERENT TRUTHS, a publication that sensitizes the world on the plight of Autism edited by Aridham Roy. SAVE AFRCA ANTHOLOGY edited by Prof. Dave Gretch of Canada and reviewed by Joseph Spence Jr has featured her poetry and a paper on issues afflicting Africa and Africans. Ndeke’s poetry and other literatures in WILD FIRE PUBLICATION in America published by Susan Joyner Stumpf and Susan Brooke Langdon. ARCS MAGAZINE in New York Edited by DR. Anwer Ghani. Her women Arts Presentation was recently published by WOMEN OF ART (WOA) in Cape Coast in Ghana. Soy Poesia, in Peru, Claudette V pg 11 featured her writings with great reception.AZAHAR from Mexico, with the initiative from Josep Juarez has also featured her poetry. She is also featured in WORLD FESTIVAL OF POTRY (WFP) from Mexico under the able editorial team comprising Luz Maria Lopez .INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN WRITERS from Nigeria, under the able hands of Munyal Markus Manunyi .Patricia Amundsen from Australia featured her poetry on this year’s international women’s day at Messenger of Love, Radio Station. Esteemed poetess Jolly Bhattacharjee featured my works on her greatly acclaimed awareness anthology for 2019, India.Nancy Ndeke is a Poet of international acclaim and a reputable literary arts consultant. She brings along vast experience in literatures and other arts.
MBIZO CHIRASHA is the Poet in Residence at the Fictional Café (International publishing and literary digital space). 2019 Sotambe Festival Live Literature Hub and Poetry Café Curator. 2019 African Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival( ihraf.org) , Essays Contributor to Monk Art and Soul Magazine in United Kingdom .Arts Features Writer at the International Cultural Weekly . Founder and Chief Editor of WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS. Founder and Curator of the Brave Voices Poetry Journal. Co-Editor of Street Voices Poetry triluangal collection( English , African Languages and Germany) intiated by Andreas Weiland in Germany. Poetry Contributor to AtunisPoetry.com in Belgium. African Contributor to DemerPress International Poetry Book Series in Netherlands. African Contributor to the World Poetry Almanac Poetry Series in Mongolia. His latest 2019 collection of experimental poetry A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT was released by Mwanaka Media and Publishing and is both in print, on Amazon.com and at is featured at African Books Collective. Mbizo Chirasha is the Originator of the Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Campaign. Founder and Creative Director of Girl Child Talent Festival and GirlChildCreativity Project. 2003 Young Literary Arts Delegate to the Goteborg International Book Fair Sweden (SIDA AFRICAN PAVILION) .2009 Poet in Residence of the International Conference of African Culture and Development (ICACD) in Ghana.The Vice President of Poetsof the WORLD,poetasdelmundo.com ,African Region. Global Peace Chain Ambassador. 2009 Fellow to the inaugural UNESCO- Africa Photo- Novel Publishers and Writers Training in Tanzania. 2015 Artist in Residence of the Shunguna Mutitima International Film and Arts Festival in Livingstone, Zambia. A globally certified literary arts influencer, Writer in Residence and Recipient of the EU-Horn of Africa Defend Defenders Protection Fund Grant, Recipient of the Pen Deutschland Exiled Writer Grant. He is an Arts for Peace and Human Rights Catalyst, the Literary Arts Projects Curator, Poet, Writer, publicist is published in more 200 spaces in print and online.
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