Njambi is the guest of this week’s very special podcast on culture and identity (embedded below). Blogger, broadcaster, TV comedienne, she started off far away from any studio light. She is from a central province of Kenya that is ripe with tropical plants and deep red soil. As Njambi describes it:
The Gikuyu were industrious and accomplished agriculturalists in the rolling hills of the central province of Kenya. Their life and culture revolved around the farming calendar, with all the festivals, ceremonies and marriages taking place after the harvests. They were also clever strategists who successfully fought off slave traders and even fined them for using the land for passage. The Gikuyu had a complex governing system and the rulers – Athamaki – changed every 25 years.
They were an egalitarian tribe who believed that the rich had a duty to the poor – something that was enshrined in the constitution. Because there were fewer men – and as they were likely to die in battle – it made sense for a man to take several wives (although some women also chose to marry other women), and polygamy was widely accepted as the the norm.
Their fate was determined when the Europeans divided up Africa into colonies at the end of the nineteenth century. The Gikuyu were deported from their land and forced into Native reserves without any means for finding food or money, relying on handouts from the Red Cross. The dispossessed Gikuyu were reduced to beggars selling their bodies for food. They fought the colonial government ferociously until it was decided they would be locked up in concentration camps. Many people died of starvation and many others were murdered.
Njambi grew up seeing strong women around her who supported each other.
Her material is based on her experiences in Africa and her experiences as an immigrant (recently satirised in her brilliant piece for HuffPost, What Have Immigrants Ever Done For Us).
She is critical of the portrayal of Africans as helpless recipients of aid; as victims. “They don’t show you the women with the pot at the side of the road. Cooking so she can sell the food. She has a life, she can go and work… she is not a victim.”
Having done five Edinburgh festivals (“crazy, hard, beautiful”), these days Njambi takes her daughters, and takes great pride in showing them that she does what she loves. “If you don’t have a message, people won’t come and see you but I do have a message; a story to tell”.
“I have the ability, the education. For me it’s never I can’t do it. My mentality is my grandmother made things happen, how come I can’t?”
Listen to her full story here:
African in New York – Almost Famous by Njambi McGrath runs at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 3rd ’til the 24th of August.