Storytelling to unravel our history

Saturday January 5 2019

Author and storyteller Muthoni Garland.

Author and storyteller Muthoni Garland. PHOTO| AUGUSTINE SANG| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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During the just ended festivities, my mother trooped us to the village with one main agenda; to ensure we met our old relatives from her family’s side.

We visited homestead after homestead talking to my mother’s aunts and uncles as well as distant relatives who saw her grow and it was such a wonderful experience.

We listened to stories of my mother’s escapades (I am getting a lot of free passes this 2019 for sure!) and watched her squirm in her seat because old people have no filters—they tell it as it is.

I envied the unity that existed among extended family members and their communal way of doing things.

In one homestead, we met my mother’s other grandmother who was literally a fountain of tales--fond memories of when homes were filled with laughter and people “shortened the evening” round a fire sleeping way past midnight.


I heard stories about night masses on Christmas Eve at the local Catholic Church, and late grandmothers who had a ruthless sense of humour.

When it was time to leave, I could sense a tinge of loneliness in their eyes.

“You should have spent the night,” one of the grandmothers said wistfully as she handed us a bunch of ripe bananas.

My mother explained that we had four more stops to make and we waved them goodbye. As we left, I was certain of one thing; we didn’t exhaust those stories. If anything, we only scratched the surface.

On December 20, 2018, a group of storytelling enthusiasts gathered at Lava Latte restaurant, Nairobi for a storytelling show dubbed 55 Questions for Kenya and sought to bring to life the untold history of Kenya through storytelling.

The show was based on the book Living Memories by Al Kags which features interviews with elderly Kenyans.

It was headlined by theatre-maker Ogutu Muraya and writer Muthoni Garland. The duo is also part of a group called Nyef Nyef storytellers.

Ogutu Muraya

Ogutu Muraya narates the story "Toilet Trainer." PHOTO| AUGUSTINE SANG| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Watching the performance was such an emotional roller coaster—take for instance Ogutu’s performance of the story “Toilet Training.” One moment the audience was doubling over at Hussein Warutere’s woes of trying to hold back the overpowering urge to use the toilet, the next moment they were blinking back tears when Warutere is slapped with a 13-year jail term for using a ‘Whites Only' toilet.

He gets roughed up first then is framed with attempting to plant a bomb in the loo!

Storytelling enthusiasts enjoy the ‘55 Questions for Kenya’ show.

Storytelling enthusiasts enjoy the ‘55 Questions for Kenya’ show. PHOTO| AUGUSTINE SANG| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Muthoni performed a powerful story called “Wairia”, narrating the horrifying ordeal of a young woman in the hands of the colonial home guards—a heart-wrenching story of the price that women have paid for us to be where we are today.

Muthoni Garland.

Muthoni performs during the storytelling show. PHOTO| AUGUSTINE SANG| NATION MEDIA GROUP


Kenya marked 55 years since it became a republic on December 12, 2018.

Despite attaining self-governance the atrocities of old continue to haunt us depicted by the storytelling show.

Today, people continue to face judicial injustices in the height of corruption, violence against women continues to soar so much such that we have campaigns like #16Daysof Activism; rogue police have replaced ruthless colonial home guards…sadly, the more things change the more they have remained the same.

A spell-bound audience enjoys the performance.

A spell-bound audience enjoys the performance. PHOTO| AUGUSTINE SANG| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Besides storytelling, the show also featured a series of 55 thought-provoking questions on the progress made ever since Kenya attained independence under the Twitter hashtag #55Questions4Kenya. Some of these questions included:

1. Did we attain mental independence?

2. How did our independence lead to the three biggest challenges (tribalism, corruption and poverty) that Kenya faces now?

3. Is death by a white person worse than death by black hands?

4. What role did women play in the struggle for political independence?

5. Was the struggle for political independence the same as the struggle for land?

6. How many dead bodies (besides death by natural causes) have you seen in your life?

7. Is rape a crime against humanity when used as a weapon in war?

Organisers of the event plan to have monthly storytelling shows in 2019.

Organisers of the event plan to have monthly storytelling shows in 2019. PHOTO| AUGUSTINE SANG| NATION MEDIA GROUP.

From the audience’s feedback, it became clear that there are indeed many stories that remain untold, buried deep in the memories of the elderly and with no prospects of seeing the light of day…unless something is done.

“We plan to run similar shows on a monthly basis in 2019. In future, we will require every attendee to come with an elderly person to further enrich the storytelling experience. We would love to hear their views, their version of how they remember certain events…most of them do not like to talk about these events but storytelling can be an entry point to them opening up about their experiences,” offered the show’s organisers.

The show concluded with a mandate for everyone to stir up the storytelling tradition once they went back home.

“Engage the elderly, ask questions and listen to what they have to say.”