Wangari Maathia: "Unbowed"

-A +A

If we honor and emulate the exemplary life or our mother and sister, we stand a better chance of reversing a global warming which could permanently damage our Earth.

[Maathai: A Tribute]

How many millions of trees did Wangari Maathai plant? More than 40 million. What pride surges through our hearts when we see footage of the gracious Wangari Maathi in the bright colors of  culture, so regal as she receives the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. 

Our hearts, this day are grieved at news of her untimely death, 25 September, 2011, at age 71.

But "Unbowed," her memoir rich in history and culture and a story of great trials and greater courage, allows us to experience the continuing life of this daughter of Kenya who worked so hard urging us to see our planet as a living entity and  to know this: that our most precious Earth breathes.

She changed her name, at the time of divorce, adding a second "a" and bringing the surname closer to the ancient word for truth, maat. The truth of this magnificent memoir is in this year's hurricanes, tornadoes, mud slides,  heavy snows, heavy rains, tremors, earthquakes, fires and extreme temperatures.

I cannot be the only one who  thought of Wangari Maathai constantly in the last several months. Everywhere, it seemed that
trees and other foliage had heavily overgrown because of global warming. Other trees ripped up by hurricane strength winds, blocked roads and portions of national parks had to be closed.

Even as one part of our country experienced devastating record rainfall, other states experienced drought. During some of our most horrific years when African Americans sang, "Just like a tree, planted by the waters, I shall not be moved " we knew the
mutual connection between the tree and the water and it was a connection we used to define our determination not to "be moved." That knowledge and other critical information is scientifically documented when this author connects the disappearance  of a body of water with the cutting of the trees.

Among the photographs at the center of the book, is the sign at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park which reads The/Green Belt Movement/(Freedom Corner)/Memorial Trees of Peace/LEST WE FORGET!  If she had lived with less imagination, Wangari Maathai would have forgotten. Her culture. Her roots. Her history.  

The author had to recover a larger truth about the Mau Mau rebellion, and to extricate herself from the indoctrination of the group as terrorist. She states, "The British propaganda kept us naive about the political and economic roots of the conflict." (Page 64). The author further states, "The British took harsh measures, eventually interring nearly a million Africans in detention camps, effectively, concentration camps...." (Page 66).  Many pages of this memoir are devoted to a correct history of these freedom

Among the indelible images in this book is the pain endured by Wangari Maathi, the day she was unable to walk after an unjust incarceration and had to be carried from prison into court by four strong women. This moment was foreshadowed in her early school years when young female students took turns carrying each other to bed so that their feet, freshly washed, would
remain clean.

There is another more joyful occasion when Kenyan police blocked paths in order to prevent Wangari Maathi from watering her newly planted  trees, only to discover that she had slipped into  the area from the rear, thoroughly watered the seedlings and emerged to their dumbfounded surprise with watering can in hand.

Wangari Maathi who received her doctoral degree in 1971, enjoyed formal education, despite the "weevils that regularly attacked the maize and beans." She also notes a number of cultural abuses and misunderstandings. She had questions. Why weren't they allowed to dance? How is it that the missionaries who banned the local instruments kept those same instruments for
themselves? There is the joke about the student at St. Cecilia who was given no supper, but a plate of charcoal for stating in a letter that they were "continuing to eat fire" a Kenyan phrase which meant that we are enjoying life, but which offended the Nun who was from South Africa who mistook the phrase to literally mean that the students were being fed fire.

Kenya is not far from Egypt and has much in common, including the ancient symbols for royalty, which are the plant and the bee, symbols of cultivation (not weapons or other symbols of destruction). In "Unbowed," Wangari Maathai gives our lives direction. Her experiences are large. Her words ring true. Let her physical death reconnect us to her life's work.

If we honor and emulate the exemplary life or our mother and sister,  we stand a better chance of reversing a global warming which could permanently damage our Earth.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

Also Check Out...

Interfaith Leaders Confront World