The memorial to fallen Kenyan writer and activist Binyavanga Wainaina was hosted at the Nairobi National Museum on Thursday, May 30, 2019.
Binyavanga Wainaina was a colossus in 21st Century African literature. He shot to continental fame in 2002 when his short story Discovering Home won The Caine Prize for African Writing. He went on to become its most famous winner in the years that followed influencing a generation of African writers. The Binj, as many of his friends called him, passed away on the evening of May 21, 2019.
There were a few public events to honour one of the country’s leading sons. One of these was the Kwani Open Mic hosted at the Kenya National Theatre on Tuesday, May 28 where the poetry and spoken word community celebrated him in poetry form. On Wednesday, May 29, a small group of people got to view his body at the funeral home where our brother’s body lay in state. From here, it was taken to a crematorium for his cremation honouring his wishes.
On Thursday, May 30, his family and friends gathered at the botanical gardens of the Nairobi National Museum to officially say goodbye to their son, friend, uncle, cousin and nephew. It was a beautiful ceremony that we were to observe with décor tastefully set up and a little area set aside for guests to write whatever they wanted to talk about their Binyavanga.
It would start when all the family arrived and the speechifying would commence starting with siblings James, June and Melissa as well as representatives from both his Kenyan and Ugandan family. They painted a picture of a young boy who grew up to be a man they were all very proud of.
James Wainaina his Kenyan uncle declared that they were very proud of their son and he couldn’t understand why people weren’t happy with The Binj being the way he was. He spoke about how most people are born right-handed and we didn’t need to hate left handed people for who they were. Binyavanga, who was his uncle from Uganda, thanked The Binj for taking the Binyavanga name around the world recalling how surprised he was when he heard it for the first time on the BBC.
The event emceed by Ambassador Martin Kimani and Judy Kibinge continued with readings from what he had written or loved reading, as well as tributes from friends who were there and afar. On the stage that day we heard from Parsalelo Kantai, Wangeci Mutu, Sitawa Namwalie, Sheba Hirst, Neo Musangi, Jim Chuchu, Zukiswa Wanner, Billy Kahora, Angela Wacuka, Muthoni whom The Binj was the uncle, and Njeri Gateru. Many of the tributes spoke about how he made them feel like they and whatever they were doing had value and mattered. The tributes were interspersed with music from Owuor Arunga, Eddie Grey and Eric Wainaina.
Below are images from that day which were taken by Steenie Njoroge which we share here with his permission.