She sent me an Instagram post of a newspaper story featuring Kwame. It was about the healing power of birdsong. In the caption, Kwame had offered a call to action to visit Tûrî A Mûmbi Arts Centre in Tigoni. We should go! She said.
And so we did, two weeks later. To nourish our souls with messages from our ancestors.
It was going to be our first date. Our first interaction was when she sent me a message on Instagram thanking me for the Vipassana meditation article I had written in 2018. And we hit it off immediately.
*Cue It goes down in the DM*.
Countless voice notes and an accidental video call later, we moved to Whatsapp. And then she sent me this post.
On a warm Saturday in August, she picks me up in Roysambu at exactly noon. We use Thika Road and later join Limuru Road because the Northern Bypass is messy. And we talk throughout like old friends. Google Maps becomes our guide. Or rather, the third wheel.
After Banana town, we stop chatting to catch our breath at the sights unravelling before us. So this is why people (including her) love Limuru. It is absolutely picturesque. Rolling hills of green tea farms colour our vision and white tiny clustered houses dot the vast land.
Limuru rolling hills – try saying that three times, fast.
Further ahead, we drive past private properties and houses that are shrouded in greenery. You’d almost think you’re in Muthaiga. If it was not for the biting cold, you would probably live there someday.
One hour later, Google Maps tells us we’re almost there. Then we miss it. Apparently, we were using the wrong Google Maps’ location. This was the old venue for Kwame’s Tûrî A Mûmbi concerts since 2017.
Even though we are in a new place, this is not the time to panic. Daily meditation has taught us this. We call the number she had used to book our reservation. The man on the other side directs us to the right Tûrî A Mûmbi. He stands near the main road so that we can see him in his brown cashmere coat.
Tûrî A Mûmbi
Once parked under a tree away from the main road, we say a prayer of thanks to Mwene Nyaga. Waiting for us outside is a wooden gate made of twigs, flanked by red earthen walls. A wooden sign hangs above telling us we are in the right place. I’m actually relieved it’s not a standard iron gate like in most event venues.
Its sheer simplicity betrays what is hiding inside.
As soon as we walk in, I quickly switch to my Kikuyu language settings. The place demands it. I stumble throughout with my elementary knowledge but nobody laughs. Not even Kwame.
Kihara, our first contact, points out that there are only two signs written in Swahili – “Chunga siafu” and “Vyoo”. Even the price list sign at the entrance is in Kikuyu. My first lesson is learning the difference between atûûri and ooki – other than the entrance fee. Nî waigua!
Once we pay our dues via MPESA, we step into Tûrî A Mûmbi. It opens up to a lush green garden with tall trees standing on the fringes. There’s a playground – Ha Ciana – on the right. I’m immediately tempted to go on the swing. Can I be a child again?
The Karûma restaurant is the main building in the compound. Instead of sitting down, we head towards the washroom. The Aka and Arûme signs almost confuse us for a second.
As I wash my hands on the sink outside, I realize Karûma has an outdoor kitchen reminiscent of an African home. A bubbling sufuria balances on three stones on top of firewood. And the welcoming waitress takes our food order as we go exploring.
We start with the waterfall. One wooden sign advises us to take it slow. I close my eyes, take a deep breath in and allow the fresh crisp air to flow into my nostrils.
As I descend the steps leading to the waterfall, I start smiling. There’s a mighty Mugumo tree ahead of us. It spreads above us, enveloping us while showing off its grandeur from the leaves to the roots. Hairy tendrils hanging from its branches feel like fingers reaching down to bless us.
At the bottom of the stairs, we get a full view of the waterfall. I spend a few minutes in silence observing the bubbly water spill over the glistening rocks. Its swishing sound fills the space between us and our thoughts.
How romantic would it be to exchange your wedding vows on that wooden deck? We muse. Love brewed between the waterfall and the mugumo.
Our next adventure awaits. But we were not ready. The innocently mentioned forest trail turns out to be a rough bumpy ride.
After a call for help, Kihara comes to help us navigate the beginning of the muddy trail (it had rained the past two days). I see it as a metaphor for life: sometimes we need someone to unstuck us.
After ascending down the first slope (read sliding), he leaves us to do the rest. Luckily we both have black pants on and closed shoes worthy of hiking. Our daily yoga and rope-jumping practices had unconsciously prepared our bodies for this unexpected adventure in the thick untamed forest.
It’s teamwork, leave no woman behind. We squeeze under bent branches and jump over lifted roots. We hold each other’s hands and show each other which branch to balance with. We laugh at each other, scream when we slide and encourage each other you can do it.
“When is the last time someone said I need you?” she asks.
Once in a while, we stop at scenic spots to catch a breath and return to the present. Close our eyes and inhale the fresh forest air. Aah.
We watch strange insects crawling on a twig – they always know how to make you be in the now. We also see vehicles swishing past on the main Banana Raini Road. Its passengers unaware of this hidden paradise.
In the middle of this forest, I reflect on how we sometimes need to stop and relax during our journey – another metaphor for life.
We also hear children laughing in the distance. They must be so wild and free, walking barefoot and unafraid of little bugs. The way we are supposed to be.
After struggling through the ups and downs of the slippery path, we finally get to the bridge Kihara had mentioned. I had assumed crossing the river would be on a regular wooden bridge. Easy peasy, I tell my friend. I had forgotten the third agreement: Don’t make any assumptions.
What we find instead is a rope running across the two sides, a few rocks and a hollow log to step on. This is the final test. But I mean, it’s only a few metres wide.
I dare to start, holding the rope with one hand and balancing my collected trash on the other. As I balance on the log, I see a cluster of mushrooms growing on it. This must be a sign. If only I knew the toxic from the healing mushrooms, I would have picked them as well.
With my sure-footedness I balance easily. My friend stands on the other side watching my calculated moves. I am almost home.
In the final leg, I insert one foot on what looks like a rock inside the water. Suddenly I feel my left foot tumbukiza into the chilly water like boiled meat. Another metaphor: don’t trust what you cannot see.
My friend crosses over afterwards, scared but unscathed.
The final stretch is an uphill battle. We spot another wooden sign on a tree; it means we’re almost there.
A few feet away from the trail, we spot a mini bench that can fit one or two people. I ask my friend if we should check it out, it seems like a perfect picnic site overlooking the river. She says no, emphatically.
Disappointed, we trudge on.
The moment we had been waiting for. We finally land on flat land. The scenery changes. Instead of a flight of stairs, a string of planted trees leads us to heaven. Beyond this spacious forest, we can see the familiar green lawn. And the source of the river which we had crossed minutes ago.
Instead of using the easy path, I convince my friend to jump over the narrow river. The final hurdle. One more adventure wouldn’t hurt, would it?
It’s unclear how long we’ve been gone. But there are more people in the compound. We are not the only woke Kenyans in town.
Three uptown ladies are seated on one bench, with glass water bottles on their rustic table. We sit on two wooden chairs on a round table near the playground. We are more than ready to eat (after washing our muddy hands that is).
After exchanging looks with the waitress, our food finally arrives in wooden bowls and spoons. Now this is the cutlery I want, I tell myself. Who wants to buy fragile plates and cups over and over again?
My mûkimo tastes even better than it looks, with a piece of yellow pepper decorating it at the top. Probably because the mashed meal was made with groundnuts and fried with onions which are still visible. I also munch on my friend’s fried arrowroots (with her permission of course). Why didn’t anyone tell me how crunchy fried arrowroots tasted?
For a moment, I cannot believe all the ndûma I missed growing up just because I didn’t like it. My mother says I used to question why ndûmas should be purplish in colour instead of an appealing colour such as cream or white.
I have another theory: all the sweets and biscuits and sodas I was exposed to as a child prevented me from appreciating its rich earthy taste. But now I’m grown.
Accompanying our starches are traditional green vegetables in smaller bowls. One can still see the stalks and seeds contrasted by the white onions and red tomatoes. Surprisingly, these bitter herbs are just as savoury.
Our dessert comes just when the cold is seeping into our bones. Warm porridge served in a calabash as per Kikuyu tradition. It tastes so sweet – even without sugar. I always say drinking sugarless porridge is an acquired taste – which I acquired when I was in Murang’a for 3 months.
After insisting, the waitress tells us that it’s made from maize and sorghum flour.
Before we leave, I have to honour the founders of our community: Gĩkûyû and Mûmbi. Mûmbi is seated not too far away on a log, holding her own kîihuri. I wonder whether she’s also drinking ûcûrû.
Her legs are crossed at the ankles as Agîkûyû women should sit – we are told.
Adjacent, Gîkûyû the father of the nation, sits on his three-legged iron throne. He looks like absolute royalty in his kingly hat; his staff and whisk show leadership. He has an intense gaze towards something we cannot see.
He’s facing Mt Kenya. Kîrînyaga.
We leave at 6 pm as it’s getting dark and even colder. When in doubt, always carry a sweater – especially in Limuru. I wave goodbye at Kwame who is seated on a bench next to the river. He’s talking with a lady who looks like his wife based on the Ni Ngwendete music video.
As we walk out, I ask Kihara what the tiny grass-thatched hut next to the children’s playground is all about. He explains that in the past, Kikuyu elders and wise men would sit there. And today, Kwame teaches his children from there.
Did you see a bench like that in the forest? That is also their classroom, he casually mentions. We sigh in awe after hearing this new concept: Forest schools.
It’s only in the car that we express our true reactions. We spend the next 10 minutes on the highway in hysteria. I mean, who does that?
I knew Kwame homeschooled his children and that they call him Awa instead of baba. But what level of homeschooling do you call that? In the freaking forest! Kwame did not come here to play! He’s going the whole way!
In Kikuyu we call it kûmaka!
My friend was probably right. Kwame Rigii is a reincarnated ancestor. He’s not just a Kikuyu musician but a cultural icon. He transformed Tûrî A Mûmbi from a phrase to place, a slogan to society.
We would have loved to spend more time with him, soaking ancient wisdom from this living elder. To sit by his feet and learn how Gĩkûyû and Mûmbi lived. This was simply our first sip in the well of Kikuyu wisdom.
Kihara was a great host from the beginning to the end. Who looked like Kwame’s brother. After all, Tûrî A Mûmbi.
We went there for Kwame Rigii, the Kikuyu culture, the new environment and to know each other. We left there with muddy pants (Nyambura’s at the bottom) and a stained trench coat (mine). Satisfied stomachs filled with wholesome food that tasted just like cûcû’s – no extra spices, simply made with love.
Our bodies were surprisingly energized from the intense hike. It did not tramp on us, only made us stronger. Our spirits were renewed by the sound of flowing water and the breath of the life-giving trees. And more connected to our ancestral roots.
After that first experience, I cannot wait to go back and get some more with my nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters. The arts and cultural centre is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 6 pm. But you have to reserve beforehand via call or Whatsapp: 0758 212 581.
If you’re not driving like we were, you can board a matatu at Khoja in Nairobi CBD to Limuru town. The fare is roughly 150 Kenyan shillings. Once in Limuru, board a matatu to Gatina (number 116).
The entrance fee to this Tigoni paradise is Ksh 350 for adults and Ksh 200 for children under 12. There’s lots to do once you’re inside: let the children play, do a photoshoot, have a book reading session, enjoy traditional food and nyama choma, check out African arts and crafts.
And now, Forest School by Kwame. Accompanied by
three little birds and their timeless music.