Wanjiku is dead but who will mourn her when everyone wants to move on?

Sunday March 31 2013



Rasna Warah

Rasna Warah 

By RASNA WARAH

Wanjiku died last week. There was no state funeral, no wreaths, no eulogies.

She was buried in a quiet ceremony in her small plot of land.

They say she died of a broken heart. A note was found next to her body. It read: “I am tired.”

When the villagers learnt of her passing, they shrugged and said: “That is life. We need to move on. We can’t mourn that which was never ours.”

You see, Wanjiku didn’t play by the rules of the village. As a young girl she had been branded a witch by the village chief. For several years, she was shunned and ridiculed as a stupid woman with strange ideas in her head.

One time she was stripped naked and made to walk to the chief’s house where she had to kneel down and apologise. She was whipped 10 times. The scars from her wounds, like her humiliation, never quite healed.

Wanjiku’s crime was that she dared to ask the chief why he ate plump chickens every day while the villagers starved.

She rocked the boat too much. Like the time when she dared to speak on behalf of the villagers when the government official came on what they said was “a fact-finding mission”.

The chief was not amused. He told her that as a woman she should know her place. She should learn to shut up. Without peace there can be no development. She was disturbing the peace.

The rains failed the following year. Many villagers died of starvation. Wanjiku orchestrated a revolt against the chief. Villagers burned down his house, and stole all his chickens. They demanded change.

A new chief was installed. He promised to end corruption. Women, the vulnerable and the sick rejoiced. Wanjiku was appointed deputy chief.

She created a people’s court where everyone could speak and air their grievances.

People from neighbouring villages and around the world marvelled at the new democratic structures in Wanjiku’s village. Her village came to be known as the “Wanjiku Model”, and even won a United Nations award.

But as the years passed, Wanjiku realised that the new chief had no intention of bringing about real change in the village.

He had filled his Cabinet with cronies of the old chief.

The villagers were still poor. Chinese contractors had built a road leading to the major town, and there was a new borehole in the school compound. But Wanjiku was not satisfied.

Too many people in the village were still starving, even when there was a bumper harvest. She knew the chief’s cronies were siphoning off bags of maize from the village granary and selling them to neighbouring villages.

She wanted the chief’s cronies removed. The chief would hear none of it. He banished her from his court.

The villagers were divided. Some felt that Wanjuku was being too hasty, too impatient, too ambitious. They claimed she was working on behalf of foreigners to destroy the village.

Rumours began circulating that her goal was to wrest power from the chief. Imagine that. A chief who is a woman? How can that be? They said a curse would befall the village if she became chief. They began plotting her assassination.

Meanwhile, Wanjiku’s growing group of supporters planned a counter-attack. They formed a “chama” and appointed her as their leader.

They argued that no chief in the village could be appointed without the backing of at least half of all the adult villagers. Vote counters were appointed and an election by secret ballot was held. Villagers stood for hours to cast their vote.

Wanjiku lost by a one per cent margin. She demanded a re-count. They told her not to be silly, to think about the interests of the village, to stop disturbing the peace.

Who cares who is chief anyway? they argued. We are a model village, remember? We now have institutions in place that will check the excesses of the chief. There will be no re-count. The village and the villagers need to move on.

That is life.

That night Wanjiku lay in bed, caressing the scars that had formed when she had used thorns to hold her flesh together.

Then her 50-year-old heart stopped. Just like that.