How does it feel to live life at 117-year-old?
Kenya – Elizabeth Gathoni Koinange, a woman who lives a short drive outside Nairobi – and who celebrated her 117th birthday this year. Her specific birthday date is thought to be sometime in April. Her story, and that of her family, is told by Elizabeth’s own great granddaughter Priscilla Ng’ethe.
Elizabeth is very excited as her birthday comes around once again as it signifies the day that she was born.
Lots of people come to celebrate her on her special day including aunts and uncles and her grand childrens as well as her great grand children.
From time to time, Elizabeth would get sick and would call certain family members to come help her and just incase it is her time to go, she would tell them her last words. Her family members laugh as this has a happened so many times.
How does it feel to live life at 117-year-old?
“My name is Elizabeth Gathoni Koinange, i remember when i was a young girl all the chores we use to do: looking after goats and farming, we did nothing else, i did not go to school and learn at all.”
Her house is a small building set in beautiful gardens and green fields just outside Nairobi. Sitting in her front room lined with photographs on all four walls, we talk about one family photo in particular taken at least five decades ago.
“I was thinking that i would die in this photo, i had a swallen(..) in my throat and i had just had an operation on it. So i called all those who were named after me because of how much i had loved them, and had this picture taken of us together so that they could always see me. I was fearful of death at that moment, i was afraid that i would have to leave my children before they had grown up. But now, because my children are standing on their own feet, i certainly do not fear death. Yet i do not want to go as there are still many things to do. I want to tell young people about life, about how to love, and find strength from God and live in peace. So i have not finished yet.”
Elizabeth married into polygamy and was the fifth wife of Chief Koinange, she was well into her twenties when this happened. When the British were rounding up suspected Mau Mau independence rebels and putting them in detention, where some faced torture and death. Elizabeth’s husband was one of those detained and she led the family through a period of extreme austerity. The family survived and flourished in a new independent Kenya.
Elizabeth reflects on those hard times: ” It hurt because we had nothing, we did not have enough food, with so many mouths to feed.” Her husbands other wives had also left Elizabeth with their children.
“I had to work in the fields and sell vegetables in the market. And then we were also forced by the police to go and dig trenches, they brought soldiers to beat our people, they also raped women. We suffered. But i took the children in so that they would not suffer, i fed them, bathed them, loved them as if they were my own.”
“For the things which have passed, one can only pray, if we remember too much of what the Europeans did to us then, we would hate them a great deal. I dont think on the past too much because i feel it ways me down and stains my heart again and i dont like to do that.”
Elizabeth tries to live in the moment and see the past from a different perspective, not to think about what held her back but rather of how we have all moved forward over time.
100’s of relatives and friends have come to celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday:
Elizabeth takes the microphone to adress her guests:
“My name is Elizabeth Gathoni Koinange, am happy today because it is a very big day for me, that is why i praise the Lord. I would like to tell you that my great granddaughter Priscilla has done a great job, she cares about what the elderly think and she has come out into the world to hear it. These days, elderly women like me have no voice in this country, their praises taken by our children, i just want to say something very simple to them, if you had seen me when i was young, when i use to dance trditional songs and i had beautiful cheeks, you should know that even if you wear short dresses, you still get old one day.”
As Elizabeth cuts her cake, she takes centre stage, smiling a big smile, wrapped in her new shaul, and a round furry hat on her head, everyone is gathered around her taking photos as she’s kissing and hugging them. She looks like she is just in her element.
December-12-1963 is Kenya’s Independence day, which assured in a new era for the country and Elizabeth’s family. Elizabeth family continues to be involved in Kenyan politics to this day.
Elizabeth’s long genvetivity is down to her genetics and how her food is cooked, she eats mainly carbs and boiled arrowroot. Her faith also plays a big part in keeping her spirit high, giving her friendship, hope and love.
“I have learnt something very valuable, to know God’s word, i have understood and my heart loves. when i see you it makes me glad. and when i see my other children too, it makes me glad. This love keeps me strong.”
When it comes to modern life, there are somethings Elizabeth likes and some she does not approove off.
“People who abuse alcohol, it use to make me feel terrible to see them, in the past i did not even like to go near them. But now i have come to love them, but i tell them that what they are doing is worng. Immorality is increasing, we would not see people hating as they seem to nowadays. Like the time we had thieves who had come into our house, and out of jealousy took our belongings which we earned through hard work, and they go and sell it at a throw away price.”
Elizabeth on being young again
“I cannot fight God, but if i were to be young again i would only wish to go back to school and learn to read and write. But that period has now passed.”
One of Elizabeth’s step son’s was the first Kenyan to study abroad and gain a masters degree. There is a school set up in her family name, called the Seniour Chief Koinange highschool.
The Gospel song “Amazing Grace” is Elizabeth’s favorite song because it describes how the Lord has kept her all this time, it is just by the grace of God she believes has kept her living this long.
“All the years that i have lived, i ask for nothing more for myself. I ask insteaad that my children are able to live a long life. I have taught them in such a way that they are able to bring up their own children, and they have done so. Because of that, there is nothing else, accept for God to call me so that i go and rest.”
source: BBC documentary: Celebrating life at 117