I keep revisiting a photo album containing pictures of the Paa Ya Paa ruins after the fire in 1998. Maybe it's because I was thousands of miles away, on the receiving end of an international call alerting me of El Nina and her wrath, when it happened.

The phone call that put my fears to rest; the news that Baba na Mama were okay, that Baba had been hospitalized for smoke inhalation because he kept running back to retrieve some of the gallery's permanent collection of over 500 works of art, produced in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The record of contemporary East African art from pre-independence to the present.

Do I wander through remembrances path perhaps because I need (here's the tired word) closure? Or is it simply because I have been slow to recognize the unquestionable life-force embedded in the photographs?

Look at the strong facial features that survived. They intrude upon the darkest places of the heart.

Baba's lifesong still emblazoned on the front: DO NOT COPY. COPYING PUTS GO...

...And in the many years that have softly gone by, I grope instinctively to a higher purpose, to remain whole in my search for invisible stories, the truth that will set me free.

DO NOT COPY. COPYING PUTS GOD TO SLEEP.(Copyright © Elimo P. Njau 1961-2009)

How profoundly alive is the century old farmhouse? A capacity for originality still resonates to this day, even with a new main gallery reconstructed; while much of the original stone structure remains on site, a pile of rubble that continues to speak to the value of tradition, of honour, and integrity.

Pole pole nitafika.

Mama Shujaa.

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


  1. I can see why these pictures would conjure up these feelings when you see them. I can imagine what your family when through both during and after this natural disaster. The blessing is that the gallery stands again today...

    What once was, is no more... what once was, has now been reborn.

  2. Dear Ms. Bar B: Indeed that is the truth. So many lessons...please go over and read this beautiful post "A Different Flame" here:; an amazing message of hope and love, "...stronger than any destruction, any sickness, any fear."

    Mama Shujaa.

  3. Art is the food that feeds the mind. Even if we have nothing, we have structure and form, colour and clarity. It is from the rubble that we rebuild, yes? Blessings, Mama Shujaa, thank you for helping us to see and understand.

  4. Yes, life's terms come to life thru' art. Thanks Tessa.

  5. " DO Not Copy , Copying puts God to Sleep "is now emblazoned in my creative heart, seared in by the echoes of these flames. I recall Morille telling me about this Place but mostly about the Art and power of the collection....we shared stories as we shared studio space. Morille's painting that I have ...flames, skeleton, with arms round two women...seems a Phoenix to me now.

  6. Ma Chere,

    So many questions come to mind while reading these captivating memories: Where is the remaining artwork now? What was built in the farm house's absence?

    So much of you is explained in this beautifully tragic story of a gallery that was burned down, pieces of it salvaged by love and bravery.

    I'm left wanting to know so much more.

    Bitte, erzahele noch weiter. . .


  7. Christine,

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for reminding me of my brother's piece and his terrifying awareness...maybe I'll drive up there one day and see it again.

    Much Love,

    Mama Shujaa.

  8. Such Beauty you share here Mama,

    "A capacity for originality still resonates"

    Yes... Amen!!

    Even in the ruins and the rubble.... the story, the spirit, the art lives on...

    Original to the end... Reminding us always
    God is awake,

    Much love, Maithri

  9. Ma Chere Rose-Anne,

    I just LOVE how it sounds in Deutsch.

    Bitte, erzahele noch weiter....

    Makes me want to so bad... just have to believe that je suis Mutter Courage.

    Liebe Grusse,

    Mama Shujaa.

  10. Thank you Maithri. God is awake.

    Much Love,

    Mama Shujaa.

  11. How scary it must have been to get that call! Your Baba is a hero. I’m sure he’d be a hero to you even without that art rescue. These images of fire destruction make me think of poor Australia.

    I saw the clip below on the Daily Show too – hilarious! We watch every night.

  12. Sarah, It is so incredibly sad, so far 181 people killed and the death toll is rising. Arsonists are blamed for setting new fires, just yesterday. We continue to pray.

    Mama Shujaa.

  13. Hello dear Mama Shujaa, Thank you for coming over to Oasis. Your comment touched my heart and I certainly want to stay blogland. Could you explain the meaning of the Art Gallery a bit more...or direct me to one of your earlier postings that talks about its significance to the preservation of the cultures? Also, who wrote the phrase on the Gallery? What is it refering to specifically? I think it works for all types of stealing/cheating. It even fits with the copyright we all have on our blogs. Thank you for sharing your abundant heart with the blog are a treasure. <3

  14. Cynthia,

    Thank you for your questions. You are going to make me a better communicator in blogland - hyperlinking related articles, not assuming... ;).

    You can read a bit about Paa Ya Paa Art Gallery here:

    and here

    Baba, my father wrote that phrase: to challenge and inspire artists, to discourage repetitive "tourist art" or "folk art", to encourage the expression of indigenous forms of African art; specifically to not limit artistic appreciation or interpretation to only those African art forms that bore close affinity to Western forms or influence.

    DO NOT COPY, COPYING PUTS GOD TO SLEEP. A wonderful phrase indeed, applicable universally.

    Mama Shujaa.

  15. HI MOM, your a great writer.
    you will publish a book in No TIME


  16. Thank you Chidi,

    For the confidence you have in me!


  17. Each time I visit your blog I learn a valuable lesson...Thank You!

  18. Thank you, Mama Shujja, for the information. I appreciate your reply! learn from me? I'm thinking that your phrase probably should have your father's name on it or it will become public property. It's catchy. And it's powerful. My mother also has an art gallery that is named after her and her partner. I appreciate that kind of tribute. I have to go find the postings you refer to...but I promise I will follow up on the information. <3


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