My father would have picked him as brother, if we could choose relatives. He settled for Best Friend: and their souls married into the spiritual and intellectual strivings of their day. One fed the other in endless conversations driven by an intense urge to survive stagnating aspects of neo-colonial Kenya. They were concerned about culture and life in Africa, about reviving indigenous forms of East African art.
My father Elimo Njau, an educator-artist, Uncle James Kangwana, a communications guru who began his career with the British Broadcasting Corporation in the 1960s. The two were co-founders of Paa Ya Paa in 1965, along with Sarah Kangwana, Rebeka Njau, Terry Hirst, Jonathan Kariara, Pheroze Nowjoree, Primila Lewis and Hilary Ngweno.
When all of them congregated in our sitting room there was certain buoyancy in the Present they were unfolding.
I was a careful eavesdropper back then: children were not allowed to remain with the adults in the sitting room. When guests arrived, you showed up to curtsy and say Shikamoh, and then dutifully retreated to a bedroom, to the gallery area, or to the garden. I am so thankful, that as an adult, I can tap into the bits and pieces I monitored in my youth.
I felt intelligent around Uncle James Kangwana. The force of his gaze was like a torch, shining out the darker recesses of my heart. I felt like an evolving young one, already vital enough to carry the baton. The way he’d say, “Vizuri sana, Hana,” [good job, Hana], commending my efforts as tour guide of the gallery, as sweeper of the crushed jacaranda leaves…
His voice is etched into my consciousness; like coconut water, clear and fluid, it quenches in baritone eloquent, melodious utterances intonated in Kiswahili.
I retrieve those memories with gratitude, to have been so closely linked to him, his family and with sadness because:
"Veteran broadcaster and former Kenya Broadcasting Corporation's (KBC) Board of Directors Chairman James Kangwana, died Tuesday night, May 18, 2010, at the age of 75…" The Daily Nation.And I am here, living in America, not having had the opportunity to sit and talk to Uncle James and Auntie Sarah in the past two decades; my visits home controlled by stringent Paid Time Off (PTO) hours in corporate America; I selfishly guarded the time for my parents.
But with his passing, the promise of tomorrow emerges. I telephoned Auntie Sarah in Nairobi this week and offered my condolences. I reconnected with my 'cousins' Flora and Candy. We will reinforce our reconnection in the by and by, close the gaps, flesh out the truths in our history.
May His Soul Rest In Peace.
aka Mama Shujaa.