Tribute to literary legend Micere Mugo from nephew

She was Prof Micere Githae-Mugo to the world but always Njuri to me

In Summary

• She was a workaholic to the end but always made time for her extended family

Prof Micere Mugo was feted with the lifetime achievement award in 2022 but received her award on January 6
Prof Micere Mugo was feted with the lifetime achievement award in 2022 but received her award on January 6

A lot has been written about the late writer, activist and teacher Prof Micere Githae-Mugo, who died on June 30 after a long, valiant battle with that monster known as multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. 

I am sure a lot more will be written and said about her in the days and weeks to come before her mortal remains are finally laid to rest.

In fact, from all the outpouring of love and respect in the messages and tributes I’ve been seeing on a few WhatsApp groups dedicated to her memory, as well as in newspaper articles and emails, it will not end there.

And that is right and fitting as she obviously meant a lot to many different people.

However, while to the whole wide world Prof Micere Githae-Mugo was a famous champion of human rights, an author, poet, playwright and academic, to me, she was first and foremost my aunt, Tata Njuri (Aunt Njuri), or Nyina wa Mumbi na Njeri (my cousins Mumbi and Njeri’s Mother).

I suppose I should explain the name Njuri. Njuri is the name my grandparents called her. It is an affectionate family name, which is also one of the names of one of my grandfather Githae’s sisters, for whom my Auntie was named.

It was the name Njuri’s six sisters and three brothers, Muringo, my mother Judi, Joyce, Mutugi (Dun), Wambui, Wanjiru, Ndauti (Dave), Patrick Njeru and Nancy Mugure all used when they spoke to, or of, her.

It may sound mean, even though it is not meant to, but the two names, one used exclusively by close family and the other by the world or everyone else, has been a great help to me, especially in the midst of all the public celebration of her life and achievements.

Being able to think of Tata Njuri and not of Prof Micere Githae-Mugo has been a useful aid as I trawl through very personal and some intensely private memories for something to share with the world of what she meant to me.

Tata Njuri impacted my life from a very early age. I must have been about five years old when Tata read Chinua Achebe’s 'How the Leopard Got His Claws' to me.

She also had an amazing collection of music records, ranging from Mahalia Jackson, Artetha Franklin and Dionne Warwick to the Jackson Five through to the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Franco, Chief Ebenezer Obey, Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade.

She also inspired me to love the theatre. I recall being around a few times as Tata Njuri and Ngugi wa Thiong'o, her co-author of 'The Trial of Dedan Kimathi', and their actor friends workshopped the play before it eventually headed for the stage.

She always had an enormous amount of energy and positivity and was always busy on some project or another and, in fact, often more than one thing at a time.

I remember when I visited her and Mumbi in Syracuse in 2015, when she was retiring from full-time teaching at the university and still battling cancer. She insisted on walking for exercise and I can tell you it was all I could do just to keep up.

Even in her last weeks as the cancer began winning the battle, one of her last emails to me was about how my cousin Mumbi had managed to get her a little car-like seat to use when gardening because, in her words: “I am insisting on keeping the vegetable and herbal gardens going this summer.” 

Tata was always working but always made time for her children, and her many nieces and nephews such as myself, always with a kind word of advice or encouragement when it was needed.

Later in life, when I came out as gay and then went a few steps further and married my husband, I managed to  upset many in the family who were worried about what “people” would say, and that my sexuality would somehow be a reflection of them.

However, Tata Njuri was my greatest champion in the immediate family, chiding those who were upset and very publicly showering me with her support. 

I will miss her terribly, but I am glad she is resting. May she rest well.

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