The Antelope Rising

Salaams of the New Year!

As we bear witness to the creative hopes, challenges and joys of the New Year, I am thankful for the generosity of spirit I have encountered here, a dynamic meeting point of diverse minds and collective voices. A place where we find inspiration, we string together ideas and comments as we dedicate ourselves to a wholesome new way of tackling maisha [life].

Suffice it to say that this apprentice blogger is hooked. And as the year begins, I am consciously aware of the source of my inspiration, my Utu, an intangible source of strength.

I grew up in an art gallery in Nairobi, Kenya. My trailblazing parents founded Paa Ya Paa Art Gallery in 1965, just two years after Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule. The rest of their graduating class became doctors, veterinarians, politicians, you know, the usual safe occupations. Today, Paa Ya Paa is Kenya’s oldest African-owned art gallery and holds a unique place in the preservation and promotion of art and culture in East Africa. (BTW this is an old photo of the gallery front before the fire - I'll tell you about it in a future post).

Paa Ya Paa is a compound Kiswahili name which literally means "The Antelope Rising." In Kiswahili "paa" means "rise" and also means "antelope." When my parents founded the gallery in the early 1960s the antelope had become a regular subject for wood carvers who worked tirelessly to attract some of the many tourists traveling to East Africa.

Symbolically, then, my parents envisioned Paa Ya Paa as a spiritual calling, in the hope that simple artistic expressions would rise into a new realm of open-minded, creative adventures, giving new scope for free creative self-expression.

As I pursue that realm, I am very much aware that time is a non-renewable resource. So, nitafanya bidii [I’ll work hard] on my stick-to-itness, and discipline the beating of my drum to ultimately flesh out the hints of many melodies beneath the surface: yours and that we can "paa" together!

Baadaye [till later],

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.


  1. What a lasting legacy your parents made to your community. I'm looking forward to reading more about this (although I was saddened to read that there was a fire.) Thanks for sharing this with your blogging friends!

  2. I love your musical selection, the Mansa of Mali and the barefoot diva.
    It does not get any better than that.
    Mama Shujaa you do have a knack for illustrating some of the finer embodiments of Africa.

    I will make a note to visit Paa Ya Paa while in Kenya.

    Thank you.

  3. Hey, I found you via Janelle. You really sound interesting to me! I like multi-language people. Actually I am german, and we could converse in German if you like (auch über Schäferhunde, obwohl wir einen Labrador haben). But I`ll try to learn some Kiswaheli from you. Have you "met" Miranda (The Times of Miranda) who is really dedicated to learn it fluently? Baadaye!

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  5. Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks. I'm so glad we share an appreciation for these two gems of Africa!!!

    It is Awesome that you are going to Kenya...and you will absolutely enjoy your visit to Paa Ya Paa!

    Mama Shujaa

  6. Angie,

    You are very welcome. It's been a few years since the fire, and though it is said time heals wounds, the scars remain sometimes for a while...

    But Paa Ya Paa still rose out of the ashes...

    Thank you my good friend.

    Mama Shujaa

  7. Angela

    Wie geht es? Vielen Dank für den Hinweis! I'm thrilled, now I have someone to check on my written German too. So we can converse in Deustch und in Kiswahili... :-)

    No, I have not met Miranda yet..I'm going to check her out shortly though.

    Bis spater,
    Mama Shujaa

  8. I want to go to Kenya!

  9. mambo vipi dada? za leo? wow! next time i am in nairobi i am going to find this gallery! fascinating! loving your blog. loving it! na shukuru xxx love always x j

  10. Janelli,

    Mambo bambam kabisa!

    Nimeanza kublog juzi juzi nimekutana na watu kama wewe!

    Yaani - mambo ni FIT kabisa.

    I'll come over to you for a lovely, picturesque visit on the hill later on today... :-) Sawa?

    Mama Shujaa

  11. I just feel good when i come here...

    Your story resonates deeply with me...

    A family of non conformists... who move to the beat of the rhythm they hear...

    The antelope rising...

    That should be the name of your book (or at least one of them...dear Mother Courage)

    Much love, M

  12. Daktari Maithri,

    It is a good doctor such as you that offers irreverent prescriptions combined with huge doses of healing peace and love!!!

    Mama Shujaa.

  13. Now I know that I must get that trip in because I MUST experience your family's gallery. I have a love for African art and would love to see what Paa ya Paa holds.

    Ninakutakia kufurahia maisha yako kabisa.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. Oh yeah, I forgot to answer your question from my post.

    Ndiyo, ninakata nywele yangu katika Machi 08. The stylist added hair for that photoshoot =)

  15. As usual...beautiful. It sounds like such a rich setting for exploring life as a child. I am looking forward to more stories about Paa Ya Paa.

  16. Ms. Bar B

    Shukrani. Najua ulisema kwenye blog yako kuwa lazima usafiri Africa.

    Twende basi....

    Mama S.

  17. Hi Mama Shujaa,

    How blessed you were to grow up in an art gallery. My parents were of the "safe" professions and how I longed to be around artists for most of my life!

    We can work on German, but I need to first learn some Kiswaheli. Whenever you blend it into your texts, I always feel like I need to learn some, it's so inviting.


  18. what lovely parents you have:)
    I love this post and with I
    could learn Kiswaheli too..
    just reading it is beautiful..
    Thanks for sharing this

  19. Rose-Ann,

    Merci beaucoup pour tous! Tu parle le francais aussi n'est pas? Mais, bien sur?! :-)

    Ok. I'll teach you some KiswahIli if you'll assist with my German written grammar, 'coz I sound betta orally than writtenly! LOL. It's been too long since I've applied myself there, that's all. And the nearest Goethe Institut is too far - this is Atlanta, where there is the City of Atlanta, then there is the Greater Atlanta Area, which encompasses some 50 plus counties sprawled from here to everlasting.


    Just so glad we are friends.

    Mama Shujaa.

  20. Puanani503,

    Thanks for your kind words dear friend. I cherish my mama na baba and the sacrifices they've made for the greater good.

    Mama Shujaa.

  21. VCSMama

    Kama kawaida (as usual) feed me, enable me to feed you dear friend.

    Mama Shujaa

  22. Oh, Hana! I can just see you running around the art gallery, soaking up all that creativity and talking to the different artists. I bet everyday was an adventure for you! No wonder you are such an astounding woman.
    I luuuuv me some Hana!

  23. I love your writing, Hana. I'm so glad your parents blazed the trail by choosing a non safe occupation. I have done the same, although the hazards are different now and maybe not as threatening as they were then. I'm incredibly proud of their work, which has led to yours and mine, in some unfathomable way.

  24. Thank you Minda, glad we have connected.


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