In The Presence of A Mountain, One Must Bow: Meeting Muthoni Likimani- African Writer, Long Time Woman Fighter, Social Activitst, Women’s Role Model……What A Blessing!

Muthoni Likimani, the author of many books was approachable even after 80, and inspires humility in anyone who would take a moment to talk to her.

Meeting Muthoni

Frank Chipasula, another African poet and Editor of African Literature captures in this photo Muthoni attempting to stop me in my tracks, and then I discovered who she is.

When I met Muthoni Likimani last week, it was like coming up to a mountain just to realize how huge and how great the mountain is. I met the great Kenyan writer, activist and one of the most influential figures of Kenyan literary and political history, Muthoni Likimani at the African Literature Association (ALA) conference in MaComb, Illinois a week ago. The ALA conference was held at Western Illinois University from April 22-27. There were many African literary greats all over the place, but if you are like me, new to attending ALA conferences, you were lost to these great people unless you had a good friend like some of my good poetry and literary friends who took me by the hand to introduce me to everyone. My friend Gabeba Baderoon from South Africa was good at introducing me to so many great people. But when I met Muthoni, no one had to tell me who she was. I knew it by her walk, her smile, her eyes that seemed to say, “come here, little girl, let me meet you and bless you.” I simply walked up to her, and introduced myself. She was a magnet, a giant to be reckoned with, a true writer, someone who has already done what many of us aspire to. I do not know if others around us in the Union at WIU discovered the woman I was discovering for the first time.

Muthoni Likimani is more than 80 years old, but walked with strength and the power that she carries in her walk. She greeted me and discovered that I am Liberian. Then she struck a conversation with me about the famous Liberian musician and artist, Miata Fahnbullah, whom she referred to as her “daughter.” At that point, I was curious about this Kenyan author, and wanted to know more about her. I wanted at the moment to get all of the books she’s written and read them, to sit with her and ask her all the questions a younger woman can ask of an elder- the how to write for a generation of younger women, how to write in the Diaspora, how to stay alive, how to “fight without ceasing,” how to find out “what a man wants,” and all of the things this great woman writer and role model has written about.

Conferences are so interesting. One has just a small bit of time for sessions, for presenting, for meeting great people, for meeting not-so great people, for searching for food, looking for rides, for avoiding those who need to be avoided, and so forth. Once in a while, one meets someone who is a rare treasure. The ALA was such a conference, but there was nothing better than meeting Muthoni. I wanted to introduce her to my readers. There was that smile, that freedom of spirit, that love of the younger more inexperienced woman writer from Africa, for the new Diaspora woman from Africa. One never ever lives to learn enough. Each day brings new blessings. I felt really blessed. Meeting Muthoni was one of those moments when one felt like bowing down in reverence to the grace of an elder. There was much bowing and kneeling in reverence to elders at ALA, but meeting Muthoni Likimani was one deserving of knee bending.

Later on, after we had posed for photos, Frank took me to the book table where The Feminist Press had her one book, “What Does a Man Want” on display.

Here, again Frank Chipasula faithfully captures Muthoni here with me and Kassahun Checole of African World Press. Kasahun has faithfully published African writers from around the world for decades.

There were many other great moments and great things that happened at the conference. My friend, Maureen Ngozi Eke of Central Michigan University became President of the African Literature Association, and gave the most wonderful speech. I am still basking in that great speech. She made me proud of her. I was not elected as an Executive Committee member of ALA, a decision which I felt was a great one. I was a great loser, and loved losing. A great person nominated me, but I believe that I am not ready to take on any more responsibility anyway, especially, since I am still an Executive Committee member of MLA’s African Literature Division.

I met another very wonderful author and writer, translator and sister, Wangui Wa Goro. On Sunday, Wangui and I were among few who were still stuck in that little town of MaComb, and spent some time with young student members of the African Student Association at Western Illinois, chatting, mentoring, and advising them over lunch. We later on visited Safouri’s house to eat Jollof rice and talk before retiring at the Union where we were staying.

My appreciation for all of the photos above and below goes to Frank Chipasula who took everyone by surprise and captured many great moments at the conference. Enjoy the photos below:

Papa Suso of Gambia was again at ALA, performing, entertaining everyone and being his usual happy-go-lucky self. Here he is waiting with all of us for the ever-not-coming shuttle bus to arrive. His instrument, the Kora. I first met Papa Suso at ALA 2007 and then again in Medelin, Colombia, where he performed to thousands as we read poetry. Standing over us is Kevin, one of the great people I met at the conference.

This other shot is a good one since this shows us preparing to eat Chinese food. In a town like MaComb, we had few choices in the way of meals, and being African, we went for any thing with rice in it. Below is Mark de Brito of South Africa about to have lunch. I turn around just to hide my own meal from the camera- Ha. Mark was introduced to me by my South African friend, Gabeba.

Below are some of Muthoni Likimani’s titles. I have just ordered two of them.

They Shall Be Chastised (April 1991)

Passbook # F. .47927 Women and Mau Mau in Kenya (1986)

What Does a Man Want? 91974)

Fighting Without Ceasing (December, 2005)

Women of Kenya in the Decade of Development (1985)

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13 Responses to “In The Presence of A Mountain, One Must Bow: Meeting Muthoni Likimani- African Writer, Long Time Woman Fighter, Social Activitst, Women’s Role Model……What A Blessing!”

  1. laudu Says:

    Patricia, this post was so enjoyable to read. Meeting Ms. Likimani must have been such an extraordinary experience. It’s the sort of wealth of experience that one rarely sees anywhere…like the mountain, the depths of an individual like this nourishes the soul for a long time afterwards. You are lucky.

  2. Gbawu Flomo Woiwor Says:

    You made me live your experience at the ALA on this side of the globe. Rubbing shoulders with great people paves the road to one’s own greatness. You are surely on your own way to greatness. But somehow, you seem to compare your literary achievements with the likes of Muthoni. This is creative or positive jealousy that you are manifesting. I appreciate your exceptionally composed and deserving tribute to a woman of abiliity and I am especially yearning to read the contents of that book of her authorship: “What Does A Man Want”.
    It is now my practice to once a while check on old members of LAW to see their progress on the road that some of you had already sufficiently travelled by. I am especially glad that you have made literary contributions to the country -copies of which I can touch at the We Care Library.
    Thanks for that great coverage of the ALA conference and for illuminating Muthoni. More grease to your elbow!
    Gbawu
    Monrovia, Liberia

  3. poetryforpeace Says:

    Thanks, Gbawu, for your kind comments. I’m glad I did that post for a woman who achieved much, was criticized much in her day, and today, has been forgotten by many. I do not wish to compare myself to her, but I know that I have my own place, my fan base of great and small scholars around the world, people who keep my head leveled when I need it and also give me courage when I feel down. Muthoni in her day wrote from a Feminist perspective when it was taboo to do so, and for that, paved the way for every woman and for the literary world of Africa. Maybe I’m doing something worthwhile many decades later; maybe I’m not, but the kind of support and love I’ve seen from folks around the world, including yourself, tells me that I’m making a wonderful contribution even though I still have more than thirty years to get to where she now is. She is one of my heroes.

  4. paatt Says:

    Great post, nice blog. I am book marking your blog so that I can follow the debates that you carry on this blog.
    Great contribution to the literary world.
    Patrick-Kenya (London)

  5. poetryforpeace Says:

    Thanks, Patrick. I appreciate your note, and please do come back.
    Patricia

  6. Gbawu F. Woiwor Says:

    Good day PoetryforPeace:
    Like an oasis in the desert, I come to your blog once a while and refresh myself. I am again energized for sometime. But I must confess that ever since I read this article on Muthoni, I have been on the look out for some of her works though not on a very serious note. Now, I was chanced to get a Phd dissertation via the net in which the octogenerian’s life is highly illuminated. In Faith Wambura Ngunjiri’s voluminous work (TEMPERED RADICALS AND SERVANT LEADERS: PORTRAITS OF SPIRITED
    LEADERSHIP AMONGST AFRICAN WOMEN LEADERS) Muthoni is the first female leader that is highly illuminated in an entire chapter-length coverage (Chapter 5). I have now savored the type of character she is at least from the portraitures provided by both you and Faith.
    We do have our heroes and heroines of the continent but unless given such exposures, they remain obscure and their contributions under-appreciated. You are all doing well and I also equally appreciate Faith’s effort in this light as she used a PhD work to enlighten the world about the work of Muthoni and sixteen other Nairobi based African female leaders. Thanks for all the good work, your reward shall one day come.
    Gbawu
    Monrovia, Liberia -WEST AFRICA

    • poetryforpeace Says:

      Gbawu,

      You always make the sunlight come through even on a day without sunshine. Blessings to you. Glad you could get your hands on Muthoni’s info. I am sure many others will write about her in a bigger way someday. She was battered by the literary critics of men, and was almost shoved away, but she continued to write. There is a lot on the web, I mean real magazine notes on many authors you may be interested in. If you know of anyone coming to Liberia, please let me know, and I can send you stuff not only on Muthoni’s work, but also some of the reviews critics are writing about my own work. A book chapter on my work is coming out soon, a chapter by Dr. Carol Blessing who is chair of the Dept. of English at Point Loma Nazarene University. Google her and you will see. I think it is entitled: “Maternal Loss in the Poetry of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley.” I heard her present the paper at the African Literature Association Conference in VT. last spring, and was embarrassed by how much she’d done in defining my poetry. There are tons of other reviews in the Bloomsbury Review, The Women’s Review of Books, The Journal of African Lit. (Jala), The Liberian Studies Journal and so many other magazines and newspapers on my work. Some the reviews are easily assessable on the web, but others not so. In our time, if you do a good job, critics will pick up your work and write on you. What we need now to highlight our new Liberian writers is more persistence, mentoring, and more African writers who can write about us in a way Africa appreciates the criticism. Americans and British are trying, but they sometimes miss the deep African culture in our works. Maybe you too, can write something about any one of the Liberian writers and have someone publish it or have me publish it under your name, any author, not me necessarily, since I hate to publish other people’s reviews of my work on my blog. It is not professional to do that. Again, thanks for keeping up and making each day great by your own expertise. You are a treasure.

      Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

  7. Gbawu F. Woiwor Says:

    Good day PoetryforPeace,
    “You are a treasure” is the laudable conclusion of your description of me. Thank you so very much. I am only praying that Providence will grant me the chance to put that in flesh and blood by producing a classic or one that may be nearer to that. I do believe that much needs to be written about writers from our continent but even before that we need to write our stuffs lest such biographical praises get to our heads. I am especially moved when I see writers who did more than a hundred novels and other creative piecels. If we could at least publish more than a dozen books before getting unto the limelight, that would be credible marks set for years to come. Let us give more raw materials for the critics and reviewers – that is their job and we as writers have to be at our oars lest they are deprived of resources on which to contemplate.
    Thanks so very much and continue the great work.
    Gbawu

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I am a filmmaker inspired by your book.

  9. wanjiru Kinyanjui wa Njurang'a Says:

    Wanjiru Kinyanjjui would like to make a movie or two inspired by your book. Can we?

  10. wanjiru wa Njurang'a Says:

    I RE-READ MUTHONI LIKIMANI AND I WANT TO DO MOVIES ON THE FACTS. OF MAU MAU.


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