Monday, 26 February 2018

DREAM KONA: A DAY FOR INDIGENOUS CULTURE, ART & ELKANA

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 26 February 2018)

Dream Kona provided a ‘dream come true’ this past weekend when scores of elders, artists and youth joined hands and hearts to celebrate the arrival of Elkana Ong’esa’s multi-ton granite stone sculpture, ‘Elephant Family’ to Uhuru Garden.
The sculpture had been delivered, courtesy of TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health), from the Nairobi National Museum where it had lain on NNM’s front lawn for the last four years.
Originally, the work had been scheduled to go to Washington, DC as part of the Kenyan cultural showcase during the Smithsonian Institution’s biannual summer festival. But that was never to be.
Despite promises having been made to one of Kenya’s most esteemed and venerable artists and teachers, Elkana’s sculpture had been left behind literally on the runway as the plane took off for the States.
The museum was kind enough to give it a temporary home. But now, thanks to TICAH the ‘Elephant Family’ stands proudly in the heart of Dream Cona, like the monumental national icon it was meant to be.
But that dream wasn’t the only one that came true last week. The whole idea of Dream Kona, according to TICAH’s founder-director Mary Ann Burris, is for Kenyan creatives (whatever their genre or age) to have a venue where they can work, play, perform and share ideas in an open, arts-affirming space.
And that’s what was happening last Saturday all around Dream Kona where artists and elders from no less than 15 Kenyan communities came early to prepare for the open day. They’d been invited from all across the country, from the Sabuat, Ogiek, Kuria and Pokomo to the Maasai, Luo, Kikuyu and Kisii among others.
The elders (many of whom were artists in their own right) had been together the whole week prior to Saturday, courtesy of TICAH. In fact, many had been participants in the four-month exhibition, Hekema and Urembo at the Nairobi Museum which TICAH had organized and which closed the day before in a grand ceremonial style.
‘Hekima’ had been all about elders from a wide range of Kenyan communities giving programs where they shared their wisdom related to everything from traditional medicines to cultural practices and philosophies.
‘Urembo’ on the other hand, exhibited aspects of indigenous beauty, both contemporary and traditional.
So while the twin exhibitions closed the previous day, Saturday was when aspects of both shows came out and illustrated what indigenous Kenyan culture looks like on the wider ‘Dream kona’ platform.
There were demonstrations (and teaching) on everything from beading by Maasai mamas and weaving by Pokomo men to pottery-making by Luo ladies and carving by Kisii stone carvers.
There were even elders on hand who specialize in preparing natural plant products to heal assorted maladies. They were sharing some of those skills on Saturday.
And as Health (as well as culture) is one of the key concerns of TICAH, these ‘medicine men’ have inspired the Trust to document their indigenous knowledge (including their ‘dawa’ recipes) so that their wisdom won’t be lost. (One of the ways elders’ wisdom is also shared is through TICAH’s annual calendar which contains one indigenous herbal recipe every month in a year.)
But as important as the elders were on Saturday (especially as they prepared bottles of dawa said to heal), it was the painters who seemed to dominate the day since they had one gigantic wall on which to paint colorful images highlighting the theme of wildlife and humans’ relations and responsibility to endangered species like Elkana’s elephants. The painters arrived from assorted art centres in Nairobi, including Dust Depo, GoDown, Kuona Artists Alliance and Brush tu Art Studio.
Meanwhile, art classes went on for children from several Nairobi ‘informal settlements’ where TICAH also works.
But the day would not have been complete if there hadn’t been plenty of music and dancing.
Some of it was especially designed for the youth while there were also music and dance performances by groups like Kenge Kenge and the Pokomo Vuggula Cultural Dancers who wore leg rattles that they’d woven themselves out of dried palm leaves filled with noisy granite stones.
TICAH’s engineering of the whole event at Dream kona, especially their giving the ‘Elephant Family’ a permanent resting place, is all part of the Trust’s larger vision. Appreciating indigenous culture and the arts and their role in healing people’s bodies and minds is something we hope the government will strive to emulate.




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