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NGUGI WA THIONG’O / KENYA: THE AFRICAN ARCHITECTURAL SPACE, 2015 The architecture that came with colonialism – square houses with stone walls and red-tiled roofs, or corrugated iron roofs – tended to assume that a life was lived within the house, the internal space. The external space, the well-trimmed hedges enclosing green lawns, was more decoration than lived space. Of course there was beer-drinking on the verandah, or occasional tea parties in the yard, but in the main the front and back yards were to be seen, admired but not to be trodden upon. This is what they called ‘the modern house’, supposedly more hygienic, because it had glass windows, and many of them, in contrast to the pre-colonial huts that were often mud-walled, grass-thatched, with tiny windows if any. Colonial spokesmen often talked as if they came to deliver Africa from the hut: grass-thatched, windowless, and full of smoke. As I have described in my memoir, Dreams in a Time of War, I grew up in a large family. There were four huts, four granaries, in a semi-circle enclosing a big yard. The huts were adequately spaced. Cattle enclosures were outside the area occupied by the huts, the granaries and the big yard. What I remember of my childhood is a life hardly ever lived inside the huts. Of course, in the evenings we would gather in one of the huts of any of our mothers, for evenings of storytelling. But otherwise, except for bedtime, real life was lived in the communal big yard. Every morning, we children would stream out from our different huts to play in the common yard. Of course the men and women and the older kids would already have left to till the land or graze cattle and goats. But when they returned, we would all gather in the yard in different groups and activities. At weekends girls from the neighborhood would visit, and the courtyard would became a vast hair salon with pairs or trios of girls doing each other’s hair, often competing to see what different hair sculptures they could make. The yard was also often used as a gathering place for elders, either just drinking and deliberating, or else settling family and inter-family disputes. African architecture, in other words, involved space. Plenty of space. Space defined it in every way. The houses had breathing space between them. Trees and other plants would often surround the entire household, thus ensuring continuous fresh air. The polluted air of the modern city with the tight back-to-back or side-to-side houses of the crowded modern city was the architecture that came with colonial modernity. Some years ago when I designed my house at G˜ıtogothi Limuru, Kenya, I tried to recreate or at least imitate that sense of space. I wanted the yard to be an integral part of the entire structure, part of the entire living space. I used stone and imitation tiles, not mud and grass, but the shapes were inspired by the roundevals of the traditional G˜ık˜uy˜u architecture. I could not do more with it because I had to leave the country, forced into exile by the political climate thirty-five years ago; but I hope to return and continue experimenting with African architecture, to create a modernity inspired by and rooted in African traditions. BELONGING 157


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