It is with a heavy heart that I received news from the daughter Wambui early Easter Monday morning, 2021 of the transition of Catherine Kariuki, a founding Member of ProPerArt Creations.
A great actress and theatre manager, a loving friend and mother, an activist for social change, and an inspirational leader.
Late Cathy and late Charles Bukeko starred in our 1999 Kenya National Theatre (KNT) production of JPR’s`Falling to Place’. But my association with her began much earlier after my return to the country from New Zealand. I began frequenting the Kenya National Theatre around 1992 where I met Cathy then working for Alico. Cathy, late Whispers, Oby, and I soon formed a common front to discuss matters theatre as we had our drink. Later Cathy, Chairman Kigara, Oby, and I began discussing the formation of the Council for Promotion of Performing Arts in Kenya later named ProPerArt. It was ProPerArt that worked with Arts Ablaze (Barbushe and Conrad) to produce my play Falling into Place in December 1999. Cathy brilliantly played Mama Jemimah, the loud, ambitious, and boisterous wife of Chairman Malian Kya Malian.
At this time Cathy, Kigara, and I had begun frequenting a lovely outdoor bar at County Hotel next to Phoenix Theatre to listen to mugiithi songs by Kafel Maina. In the early evening of Tuesday, 28 November 2000, we sat at this favorite watering hole, Hotel County, with my friends Kigara Kamweru, Christine Nduati, Kilonzi Kimanzi, Samuel Karimi, Muthiora wa Thiong’o, and Catherine Kariuki, listening to the `one guitar musician, Kafel Maina, strumming his wires as he relived renditions of the rich past of Kikuyu pop hits.
Earlier in the day, the Swedish radio, Sveriges Radio, had just indicated their interest to re-broadcast my 1997 play The Night-Long Conversion of Shehu Abdin on 4 February and later 10 February 2001, thereby giving those of us who participated in developing the script some finance for the Christmas goat.
It was abundantly clear to us that we had not done anything useful (dramatically speaking) the whole of 2000, especially after our successful run of Falling into Place that was performed for charity as a celebration of the end of the last millennium. BBC had just announced their seventh international Radio Playwriting Competition for 2001, and we were already discussing what we needed to submit as an entry. The muse was awake and demanding. Catherine was prodding. What would we do? Kafel gave us the answer in his enthusiastic rendition of late Joseph Kamaru’s late 1960s hit that propelled him to national status and on his way to stardom: Ndari ya Mwarimu (The Teacher’s Darling).I think we quickly built consensus that this was it, more so since the media had been screaming over the last three months about the rising incidences of teacher-student relationships. Cathy was very much the spirit behind this thinking and quickly voiced her concern of the interface of gender-based violence, abuse, sexual molestations of children and the AIDS factor.
Mwalimu Kanyi of Eldoret later coined the phrase Utazunguka…! as we decided to introduce the Ivia a Nzambani located some 170 Kilometres Northern East of Nairobi, about 7 Kms from the Akamba town of Kitui, in Kitui County. An expedition was undertaken to Nzambani on 10th and 11th March 2001. The mission was highly exhilarating with a purposeful agenda, especially on script issues. The following were part of the mission and who later gathered for an overnight session at Hotel Barcelona: Jason Kap-kirwok, Samuel Kariuki, Margaret Ndwiga, David Kamau Thiongo, Mulandi wa Mwimbi, Njeri Wabiri, Henry Njachi, Trizah Ndambuki, Ronnie Achoki, Peter Malusi, Doreen Rukaria, Agatha Wangui, Fred Makhulo , Miriam Kungu, Wanja Mwaura, Faith Mwangi, Titus Kimanzi , Kigara Kamweru, Mwenda Ntaragwi, Margaret Mwenda, Late Muthiora wa Thiongo, Late Ager Apanja, Patrick Matheri, Katunge Nzau, Lee Matingi, Ndambo Mwangi, Abel Kinyamasio, David Ochaka, John Aruja, Kanyi Mwangi, Andrea Rossbach, Jane Nyambura, Patrick Mwanza, Late Kilonzi Kimanzi, Willie Muthuku, Late Rose Ndunge and Catherine. Cathy was our team leader as well as spirit behind the expedition.
Catherine was an activist for good management of the theatre enterprise. She was instrumental in the formation of IPAL and led the organization for a number of years. I recall she would lead teams to Bagamoyo and Addis Ababa on many occasion.
Catherine and her daughter Wambui were very much part of the early upbringing of my daughter Philomena and son Philip. On a visit to Mombasa both Wambui and Philip would wake us up very early in the morning asking to be taken for a swim. Catherine visited our home in Eldoret severally, especially after my mother passed on in 1999. She was always mindful of the welfare of my dad.
Some three weeks ago I spoke with Cathy where we expressed the need for a catchup chat. She ordered for a kilo of Nang’Nang eco-honey from me. That was the last we spoke.
Fare thee well my friend.
Dear Lord, I thank you for giving her the strength and the conviction to complete the task you entrusted to her.
Thank you for guiding her straight and true through the many obstacles in her path. And for keeping her resolute when all around seemed lost.
Thank you for your protection and your many signs along the way. Thank you for any good that she may have done, She is so sorry about the bad.
Thank you for the friend she made. Please watch over her as you watched over me.
Thank you for finally allowing her to rest. She is so very tired, but she goes now to her rest at peace. Knowing that she has done right with her time on this earth.
She fought the good fight, She finished the race, She kept the faith.
(from `Book of Eli’ the movie