In bygone, happy days.
It’s not everyday you meet a 97 year-old with all her memories and energy intact. And, it’s not everyday you get to experience the innocence of history in the eyes and tales of another human being. And, it’s not everyday you understand the beauty of love, spirituality, authenticity, and freedom in eyes that have seen tides and tales ravel and unravel for decades.
Hannah, right after her breakfast
Hannah Wanjiru Kibunja
As the light shines among trees, Hannah Wanjiru Kibunja would turn out to be a woman with a heart filled with delicious pride. Born in 1922, in a small town called Magomano, Githunguri, Hannah was privilege to see her parents, Gachero wa Waithuke and Martha Njeri, age gracefully and joyfully. They both died at 118 and 114 years respectively.
Her father (Gachero wa Waithuke) and her mother (Martha Njeri)
She grew up believing that every day and life was her’s for the taking. Despite living and experiencing the colonial and MauMau regime, she never tells tales of a sad life. She never went to school, but she never let that define how her life was going to turn out.
She later met her husband, Kibunja, and together they had 15 kids. Six have since died, but she has seen her remaining nine kids grow up, have families and grand kids of their own. Like true traditionalists at heart, they named their kids Kimani, Njeri, Ndungu, Waithuke, Wanjeri, Kinuthia, Wambui, Mbiu, and Kamitha, all of whom are just as lovely as their mom.
Hannah and Kibunja made their living from farming. On bear foot, and a sack of cassava on her back, Hannah would transport the produce from Githunguri to Nairobi. They also farmed and sold sweet potatoes, arrowroots, and bananas. To date, she still thrives on farming and selling milk.
It is the hand that hold the pen that writes history. However, in this case, it’s the woman who never took being alive for granted, who drafted hers. In a sense, we are grateful when we see our parents and grandparents age gracefully, however, Hannah isn’t grateful she’s 97 years old, she’s been grateful everyday of her life since she was born.
I asked her how she has managed to get this far and still be so happy and she said, “God gave you brains, what else do you want?”. It was the first time I ever truly understood the essence of those words. For Hannah, was just a farmer born to farmers, who has managed to live through historical eras and come out of the other side still lavished in joy and innocence.
Purify your heart and know how to live with people – Hannah Wanjiru Kibunja
She truly believes that it is by knowing how to live with people, she has managed to live this long. And at 97 years old, Hannah still finds the time to visit her friends as well as pay her respects to those who are dead. She never passes the chance spend time with her family and visitors.
Over the years, she has gone to support and be there for many people, including politicians, who have seem to forget all about her. She need not fight in the war to be a hero, she need not stand for a particular “right” to be recognize, she is a hero in a pretty small design, one who needs no recognition but will always remain an unsung hero.
She recognizes the fact that having lived nine decades brings her down to living as a child. Like a child, she is taken care of, but like a child she is not. She is a remarkable woman. She is the prefect combination of kindness and warmth, love and laughter, overlooking all faults, encouraging dreams, and recognizing the presence of God in her life.
She has the sincerity of a true friend, the tenderness of a mother, and the wisdom of a teacher. She has managed to live a peaceful and loving life for nine decades, and the universe continues to look after her like pure treasure.
On The Right Side Of History
Hannah hasn’t just lived history, she is history!
When she got married to Kibunja, they bought a land in Githunguri. She still lives in the same land to date. It was here, she and her husband first met His Excellency, the late President of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
I know what you’re thinking, “People meet presidents all the time, its no big deal”
Well, this isn’t the case. They didn’t just meet him, they were his friends.
Way before Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was president, he was a teacher. Teaching at Kenya Teachers College (has since been replaced with government offices) and it was here that a beautiful friendship was brewed. The college was just next to their home. And when the heat of the sun was scorching and the white man stingy with his food, Hannah sneaked him food. They fed him and offered him friendship.
Yes, Githunguri, a town that people hardly recognize, where Kenyatta left a mark way before he became president. Even after Kenyatta became president, she recalls how he would leave his motorcade just to sneak into their home and drink her husband’s Muratina (a kikuyu traditional brew).
Her husband Kibunja on the day his dear friend, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died
In August 22, 1978, they received the news of the president’s death. While the country mourned the loss of a leader, they mourned the loss of a close friend. In fact, she recalls her husband having not worn a suit in a while, wearing one that day, went the studio, had his photo taken to commemorate what was a really sad day.
Photographed on the day of the Githunguri Buses Launch. President Moi in the middle.
They also got to be in president Moi’s (the second president of Kenya) presence a couple of times. When the Kenya bus was introduced in Githunguri, they are seen photographed on the day of the launch.
Her other friends include the late Mbiu wa Koeinenge, the late Njenga wa Karume (former mp Kiamba), Stanley Githunguri (former mp Kiamba), Kariuki Nginyo, the late Aurthur Kinyanjui Magugu (former mp Githunguri), and Gitu wa Kahengeri (Mau Mau representative).
Years after her husband passed away, Hannah has gone to meet the current first lady of Kenya as well as many other politicians. Hannah, being reserved yet brave, has never once complained about being an unsung hero.
Hannah shaking the hand of First Lady Margret Kenyatta
However, in the wake of history, when people who helped define this country still existence, she has never received acclaim for anything. Not even for having lived through the Mau Mau Uprising.
Yes, she should be recognized, but Hannah doesn’t really care about that. Once we were talking about the politics of Kenya and what people have turned out to be and she said, “Respect has more value than money”. She has lived by this mantra her whole life, and it is the likes of Hannah that give our history substance, virtue, and innocence. She continues to be on the right side of history.
The mugumo tree in her compound
Mugumo tree also know as Wild fig or Strangler tree, is a sacred tree as per the Ancient Kikuyu Tradition. It was thought that the spirits of deceased ancestors lived in this tree. Old traditions may not be as alive in this world like they used to be, but in some places these traditions are still held dear.
In ancient times, our ancestors carried out ceremonies and sacrifices under large Mugumo trees. To date, when people are clearing out their fields, it is a bad omen to cut down a Mugumo tree and as a result, these trees grow up to be really old.
Right in the middle of their land, Hannah and Kibunja found a Mugumo tree, and to date the tree still stands in the same spot. The tree has been there longer than either of them have lived. It’s appearance dictates its essence and age. It probably grew up around another tree and eventually strangled the host (why they are called strangler trees) but that doesn’t still from the fact that it’s a sacred tree.
In my case, it was Mugumo tree sitting so gracefully on her land that lend me to her. Traditions have grown feeble in our world, but Mugumo will always be a sacred tree. To live more than 100-200 years and still radiate more beauty and life than most trees, nothing can take away its grace.
Roots of the Mugumo tree in her compound
As precious as the Mugumo tree on her land is, as precious her life. And in the heart of Githunguri town, two forgotten treasures continue to breathe new life.
And every time I have the pleasure of being in the presence of these two treasures, I am reminded of the true beauty of life. That not even mortal measure can way the rejuvenation offered by such treasures.
A fraction of livestock in her compound
Even in her old age, she doesn’t consider herself weak. Her love for farming has been passed down to her family. Yes, Hannah is the woman who used that which God granted her to create a beautiful life for herself and her kids. Her homestead is drenched in life all round. From the sacred tree, to her kid, to the vegetation, to the livestock.
Oh! Her son’s dog, I just love this photo 🙂
And when light is brought into darkness, color to that which has faded, it’s in the eyes of those who have lived longer that we see the essence of life. Hannah may not know my story, but when I had no reason to keep living, she breathed new life into that which was gloom inside. And in the quiet whispers of the wind, the moon, the stars, the sun, and nature, Hannah Wanjiru Kibunja is no ordinary woman.