Sitawa Namwalie is a Kenyan poet, writer and performer who holds a Bachelor of Science in Botany and Zoology from the University of Nairobi and a MA in Environment, Society and Technology from Clark University in Massachusetts, USA. She worked in the development sector, with the United Nations and as an international consultant. She is a lyrical storyteller who deals e.g. with the complex issue of Kenyan identity, a topic became crucial for her after the political unrest in Kenya 2007/2008 as a result of the presidential election. From her reflections on ethnicity, identity, land ownership, dominion and love she created Cut Off My Tongue – a poetry collection published by Storymoja that was invited to Hay Festival (UK 2009). In Homecoming (2011) she experiments with the interpretability of the lyrical works by other art forms such as dance. Sitawa is working on her second poetry anthology and has a new performance called “Silence is a Woman”.

Say my Name!

What’s in a name?
A famous bard once asked,
Is the name in the rose or the rose in the name?
Where does the sweetness lie?

I don’t know the answer to those questions my friend,
No philosopher am I.
What I do know is my own name.
What is my name?
Sitawa, the Third Namwalie!

Shhh listen for the magic unleashed when I call it,
Catch the glimpse of the dancer stirring,
Feel the sway of sinuous gyrating,
Hear drum beats from distant past evoking,
Joy! When I call my name!

What’s in a name?
I ask you again?
Is it nothing but hubris or is hubris? nothing?
Does dignity lie in a name?
Those questions are deep, they are concealing.
Me, I know my name,
What is my name?
Sitawa the Third Namwalie!

Watch my step now firming!
My shoulders squaring,
My hips start rolling,
to the rhythm of feet dancing,
from the distant mists of time,
I hear music,
When I call my name.

What’s in a name?
Will you answer me at last?
Does belonging lie in a name?
or does the name belong?
Does freedom come with a name?

Let’s ponder that question long and hard my friend,
My name is me and I am my name,
Call me my name!
Sitawa the Third Namwalie!
I feel the struggle ceasing,
The constant warring ebbing,
Calm returning,
I feel Love! When I call my name!

What’s in a name?
Let’s look at this question afresh,
Is the name creation or is creation the name?
Does enchantment lie in a name?

I know the answer to that question my friend!
Listen close and I will tell you,
I am Sitawa the Third Namwalie!
My name is a silent secret unfurling,

A well of wild effervescence foaming,
A drink to refresh,
On a hot, dusty morning,
My name will quench your longing,
Say my name!
Sitawa the Third Namwalie,
Say my name!

Names of the Dead

I collect names of the dead.
Names of the 1300, dead.
Let other people amass land, cars, shoes,
Let them boast about those things!
It is me who will save the names of the dead,
The names of the lives we destroyed.

In the aftermath of primitive pride,
Toxic adults,
Reverted to childish games,
Blatant, discoloured with rage,
They refused to follow rules,
Stole the people’s election,
And then, stood firm, blameless, clean.

When the buildings stopped burning,
When machetes were blunted,
When packs of hunting gangs dispersed,
When fear receded, when tempers abated,
And the smoke finally drifted away,
1300 lay dead.

And we looked,
On the work of our hands, unrepentant,
Not an ounce of regret furrowed our brow,
We shouted.

Forget, forget,
Their names we must forget!

I collect the names of the dead,
Names of the 1300, dead.
Let other people amass land, cars, shoes.
Let them preen about those things!
It is me who will save the names of the dead,
The names of the ones we destroyed.

Names come to me from unexpected places,
Slowly, slowly one by one,
They slip past offended silence, ___________

Glide knife-like through indifferent kindness,
Soundless, they must avoid detection _______Shshshsh,

Some others arrive banging, loudly wailing,
They won’t be buried,

No matter how they appear,
I place them in jars,
With infinite tenderness,
Line them along shelves,
Lids shut tight,
They cannot escape,
Or worse, get stolen, by those who hide the names of the dead.
By those who vanish names like trails of smoke!

No names________ no sin!
No sin________ no crime!

Oprah Endorses the Toi Market Support Group

Oprah says I must unclutter my wardrobe once every six months,
It’s a great way to detoxify!
It will surely clear my head,
Leave me totally refreshed,
To live my best life yet!

Want a complete makeover for a G,
Only one thousand bob?
Welcome to Toi Market!
Toi Market is instant remedy!
Toi Market is the look of success!
Buy everything here,
Shoes, clothes, sweaters, bed sheets, table cloths, frying pans.
All imported of course.
There’s nothing local!

Ati gava has banned second hand underwear,
Don’t worry, just follow me.
Here, a whole bale of Victoria Secret, panties, bras, corset’s, other unmentionables!
Almost brand new!
They’ve only been worn a little bit!

But, there is a catch.
You can’t go to Toi Market just anyhowly,
You must blend in, look ordinary.
Wear jeans, an old T-shirt,
And for heaven’s sake,
When it rains, don’t wear gumboots,
You will expose yourself, prove you’re new to mud,
You will be fleeced without mercy,
You will be charged double, triple!
Hakuna cha kubonga!

Oprah says a wardrobe needs plain essentials,
That’s basic sound advice.
Black trousers, crisp white cotton shirts, a timeless little black dress.
And shoes,
A woman can never have enough shoes!
With Toi Market, I have them all!

Me, I don’t know what I’m going to do about shoes!?
Remember Mwangi? Stall 328.
Right in the middle of Toi Market?
He had the best shoes ever,
Only dealt designer deals,
Jimmy Choo, Prada, Vera Wang, Ferragamo,
Five hundred bob a pair!
I still remember the time I found Manolo Blahnik Zebra-printed, pointed toe, booties!
For real!

Ya Nganya! Almost new, heee!
Ok so they were one size too small,
I didn’t care!
Those boots were going to fit!
I stretched them, stretched them,
Pulled them this way, pulled them that way!
Folded my toes, until waaaah they fit!
I stepped out looking hot!
Even Akinyi from sales was impressed,
She said, “Hey babie, nyako,
You look straight out of Sex and the City,
Are you Carrie Bradshaw’s sister!

Oprah says you must be groomed, at all times,
Classic cuts will last a lifetime,
A French Manicure is a must,
But don’t become a fashion victim!
In this raging recession,
We need to save some cash,
You want the reason why?
To keep shopping of course!

Let me give you advice for free.
Avoid clothes from poor mzungus,
They will break your heart,
Bring trouble to your soul,
Leave you deeply disturbed.
Picture me on this day. Toi Market!
I open my eyes, I find truth!
A real live floating Valentino Ball Gown, cream and purple with gold design,
And imagine, it’s even my size, for real!

Say never!

Just on time!
I have been invited to the hottest bash at Carni!
Now I know I’ll look my best,
I will leave them thunderstruck, with my international appeal,
Ka-Janie from purchasing will eat razorblades,
When I swish in with this dress!

Oh yes!

I pull that dress out of the huge pile, bit by bit,
My heart sings,
My head pounds,
I pull out more and more,
Ngai! The cream, purple cloud is whole,
I hold my breath, turn it slowly around,
What’s this I see?

My dream is shattered,
My almost new dress is splattered,
Is that red wine I see?!
It quickly gets worse.
The neck is scuffed, one sleeve clearly burnt!
Did she use a Valentino to wipe the floor?
Disgusting these rich sisters of mine,
Too much money, not enough common sense,

Let’s send them a message.
Don’t wear that dress to death!
Kiasi jo, Kiasi, it’s our dress,
Wear it a week or two in Spring,
That’s our dress you are wearing quite thin,
There’s a chain of owners here,
Coolly waiting their turn,
Look, think of it like the stock market,
We all have shares in that dress.
So for heaven’s sake don’t drink red wine near our dress!