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Nyeri park keeps Wahome Mutahi memory alive

Friday August 23 2019

Whispers Park

Whispers Park in Nyeri Town. It is dedicated to the late writer Wahome Mutahi. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

WILLIAM RUTHI
By WILLIAM RUTHI
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It seems fitting that a park dedicated to the late Wahome Mutahi, one of Kenya’s most celebrated writers, humourists, thespians and political activists, would be located on the same piece of land where the old Nyeri Municipality Town Hall still stands.

After all, it was in the old hall that people from Majengo Estate and other less affluent areas would flock to watch The box TV, a marvel in the 1970s.

A young Wahome would later stage shows through his Igiza Productions in the old hall in the 1990s. The hall also hosted other travelling theatre troupes, besides hosting the usual political and administrative meetings.

“Growing up in the 1980s, we’d gather in the hall to watch TV or a theatre show,” recalls Mr Sam Kairu, a Nyeri-based cultural curator and photographer.

Erected on the busy Gakere Road in Nyeri Town, the park is a fitting tribute to “the son of the soil”, as Mutahi preferred to call himself in his weekly Whispers column in the Sunday Nation.

After all, it might not be a stretch to suggest that no one born in Nyeri — or “the slopes”, as Wahome, who died in July 2003 at the age of 49, loved to refer to his homeland, is yet to hold a candle to his body of work.

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The column made its debut in 1982, and until Wahome’s death following an operation to remove a swelling from the base of his neck, was rated one of the most popular columns in Kenya, and later in East Africa, throughout the length of its run.

According to Wahome’s brother Richard Mutahi, it was the endorsement of controversial former Nyeri Mayor Wanyaga Gathaka that led to the creation of Whispers Park.

The sign announcing the park bears the crimson of the sponsor, the Coca-Cola soft drink brand, as do the walls of the municipal hall.

The hall has been repurposed: where people gathered to watch the drizzly TV screen or a stage play decades ago, now the seats fill with church folk on Sunday.

On a recent, uncharacteristically hot Saturday in July, a few people, most of them young couples out on a date, bathe themselves in the warmth, whiling away the afternoon.

The park was named in the early years of former President Mwai Kibaki’s first administration. In January 2016, it was temporarily converted into a market after the county government moved traders there to allow for the refurbishment of the main Nyeri Open-Air market down the road. The park was reinstated in 2018.

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