Nairobi, Kenya. September 10, 1960. pp., consisting of a manuscript narrative interspersed with seventy-four vernacular photographs (twelve 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches, the remaining sixty-two approximately 3 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches) all with extensive captions, and four mounted telegrams. Oblong quarto. Contemporary blue leatherette photograph album, string- tied. Minor wear and rubbing to covers. Near fine. Item #WRCAM55212
A unique and heart-wrenching manuscript and photographic memorial documenting the last illness, death, and funeral of a Christian preacher in Kenya, Petro Andayi Mbirika in the spring of 1960. The author of the narrative and captions, and compiler of the album is Petro Andayi Mbirika's son, Vincent Elyidardy Abukuse Mbirika. Vincent signs his name on the third page of the album, at the conclusion of the introductory manuscript text. Also, three images in the album capture the younger Mbirika, including one showing him at the side of his father's coffin, dressed in coat and tie. According to the manuscript narrative at the beginning, Vincent composed the present album on his last night in Nairobi before returning to the United States "for higher studies." Mbirika would indeed go on to higher education in the United States, earning a doctorate from New York University in 1970. His dissertation is titled, AN EXAMINATION OF THE FUNCTIONS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF EAST AFRICA IN RELATION TO THE NEEDS OF THE PEOPLE. He then returned to a professorship in Kenya, where he apparently still lives. Ever the devoted son, Vincent writes that his father "was a great person, not by body, even not by fame, but he was great in the way he dealt with different people and in the manner in which he handled everyone....My father preached the Gospel of Christ from 1913 to his death, and in so doing established 10 churches in Kisa Location." Vincent also recounts the circumstances leading to his father's death, which involved his father falling more than twelve feet from the roof of his own house. Petro seemed to recover for awhile, but was ultimately struck down with brain damage as a result of the fall. The subsequent photographs and captions record the life, death, and funeral of Petro Andayi Mbirika in vivid detail. Vincent includes several photographs of his father and other family members in happier times, and also his father's house from as early as 1956. These are followed by a handful of photographs of Petro in the hospitals at Maseno and Mwihila. After the four telegrams Vincent received from various friends informing him of his father's accident and death, the remainder of the album is concerned with Petro's wake and funeral, with numerous photographs of Petro's body. Various images show Petro's wife (and Vincent's mother) "seated near my dead father's body;" Vincent's uncle "Ernest seated beside the dead body of his elder brother Petro Andayi;" various relatives in group shots and seated at Petro's coffin; the funeral itself which "more than 5,000 people attended;" preachers such as Rev. Andreya Muyela and Mr. Jotham Koli sermonizing at the funeral; the procession of the funeral to the gravesite; the fencing in of Petro's grave "to stop it from getting spoiled by animals;" Sunday church service held near Petro's grave; and finally the elaborate cementing of Petro's gravesite in late August. Before 1963, Kenya was a British colony; as such, the Mbirika family were British citizens at the time the present album was composed, but seemed to have preserved many African traditions. One of these traditions is evident from the present album, in which the ritual of esilemba is observed and captured in six photographs. Esilemba is a funereal dance staged for respected members of the Abanyole people in Kenya, designed to elevate the spirit of and ward off evil influences surrounding the deceased. The ritual was performed for Petro Andayi Mbirika, a testament to his stature among his community. A sad but precious record of a devoted son's final memorial to his departed father in Africa.