They Call Me Wanjikũ

Original Work

“They Call Me Wanjikũ” started out as a play about hierarchy and citizenship and the place of women in Kenya. It seemed necessary to deal with names.

After having to get my husband’s written permission to have our children included in my passport, I began to question what it means to be a female citizen of Kenya. Because it was bad enough that I wasn’t allowed to use my own words to prove I’m the mother of my children. It was that my husband wasn’t Kenyan and yet he had more legal authority than me. It alarmed me.

It’s around this same time that the country’s president made a speech where he used the name Wanjikũ to describe some kind of “everyman”. To me, he made her sound rural. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But again I didn’t feel I fit in the then current construct of this nation.

In some long distant time there probably was a “Wanjikũ”: a place for a female figure that embodies who we are as Kenyans. Like they have in the Arab World, and France, and South America, and Asia, and to some extent, North America with their Lady Liberty. But this Wanjikũ didn’t sound like a person the president respected. And he seemed to go against our tricky habit of claiming nationhood by suppressing our tribal identities. The name wasn’t some everyname; it was a name from one of the largest of Kenya’s tribes.

So, through a number of interviews I set out to find Wanjikũ. 

“During the performance and post-show discussion at the [2008] summer’s shows in Dartmouth College and City University of New York (CUNY), I was struck by the number of non-Africans who expressed their intrinsic and visceral reaction to They Call Me Wanjikũ.

The piece spoke to a universal need and longing to be identified.

“One of the gifts of this writer/performer is her ability to share that, which is deeply personal while at the same time imparting it in a way that is universal. This gift can be attributed to the way she performs her stories, seducing the audience with one hand while playing the old wise sage with the other.”

  Nataki Garrett-Myers, Associate Professor, California Institute for the Arts (CalArts)

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