Taita Author Mark Mshila’s Widow Joyce Kulola Laid To Rest

Mama Joyce Kulola Mshila, widow of the late Taita author Mark Mshila who died on march 27 after a short illness, was finally laid to rest at the 87 year-old ACK Mwakinyungu Church Cemetery last Easter Monday.

The remains of the late Mama Joyce, also popularly known as Velentina, were interred next to her late iconic husband Mark Mshila who died in Nairobi nearly 31 years ago in July 1984, after succumbing to the debilitating effects of a stroke suffered in 1973.

Eulogised by various mourners including out-going ACK Taita Taveta Diocesan Bishop Samson Mwaluda and Lady Justice Abigael Shiganga-Mshila as a happy, kind, deeply religious woman possessed of a philanthropic heart, Mama Joyce Kulola Mshila is credited with having been the best friend and companion to the late Mark Mshila who authored three Taita Short Story books titled ‘Mashomo gha Imbiri’, ‘Mashomo gha Kawi’ and, ‘Mashomo gha Kadadu’, which were printed by Highway Publishers. Incidentally, copies of the books which are currently out of print, may be found in the American Library of Congress.

Mama Joyce Kulola is survived by her seven children, Professor Mkamburi Lyabaya, David Mshila, Benjamin Mwaizai, Elizabeth Wakio Mshila-Methu, Dorothy Wawuda, Edith Manga and Salome Mshai Mwatati

Professor Mkamburi Lyabaya is a lecturer of Kiswahili at Howard University.

In her tender years and, before meeting her future husband, Mama Joyce Kulola briefly took up residence and social apprenticeship at the home of her uncle, the late Anthony Wamati Mwasighwa, a former Colonial Prison warder, to whom she was entrusted for induction into the Christian faith and other scholarly ways, learning to read and write despite her own father’s illiteracy.

In their early married life in the late 40s, the couple opted to shift their matrimonial base from Marumbenyi in Rong’e Kati to the lush Rong’e Juu Hills, Ndembonyi in search of ancestral lands and bouts of fresh air. However, Mama Joyce Kulola’s enthusiasm and, initial taste for the Rong’e Juu Alpine climate changed, due to her children’s frequent disease and ailments whenever they returned to School in Nairobi after their holidays, resulting to their near-permanent absence from their Rong’e Juu home.

In those days, the up-down human migratory cycles between Marumbenyi and Rong’e Juu Hill along old trodden paths and cattle trails were dictated by factors including famine, disease and grazing activities, resulting in well established clan networks and other notable community of interests bringing together the two upper and lower zones comprising Rong’e Ward. The Primary School now known as Rong’e Primary School where the late Mark Mshila briefly taught, was then grass-thatched. It was well before the pioneering works started by Peter Clay in 1955 that blazed and curved out the Fighinyi-Rong’e Juu Class D540 Road via Vigheghu rock, leading to the fledgling Mwambirwa Forest tree nursery and beyond.

Throughout her late husband’s early teaching career in Taita and partly in Murang’a in the 40s and 50s, she was always supportive of, and stood as a strong pillar, by her late husband’s side and, later in his pioneering Trans-Atlantic assignment as a broadcaster in Voice of America, Kiswahili Service in the early 60s while on secondment from the Voice of Kenya. She is credited, also, with bringing up her disciplined, seven children under strict religious observance, the eldest of whom, Mkamburi Lyabaya, David Mshila and Ben Mshila, went through American Schools.

Interestingly, when the family returned from the US in July 1964 after the initial 2 1/2 year broadcasting stint, David Mshila, who had just completed Grade 7 back in the US, was caught up in a complicated academic time warp since the former Kenya Primary class 8 System was only months away from abolition. However, the family found an opening for David at the Rift Valley Academy, Kijabe from where he would later enroll at the Barrington College, US. Benjamin Mwaizai was to follow suit.

After their initial urban migration to Nairobi, the family first took up residence at house no. 3, Starehe, where the late freedom fighter Tom Mboya and his younger brother Alphonce Okuku became neighbors. It was in Pumwani that David Mshila started Nursery and Primary classes, which was later converted to Nairobi’s current Dr. Aggrey Primary School.

Indeed, in what reads like a Nairobi Children’s Hall of Fame, one of Mama Joyce Kulola’s daughters, Dorothy Wawuda once shared a class with Ken Rubia, a scion of former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia at Westlands Primary School while her elder brother and ex-General Motors Human Resources Director Ben Mwaizai Mshila was a desk-mate of Mike Rubia earlier in the same School. The family was then living in the up market Westlands, behind ACK St Marks Church prior to its re-location to Nairobi’s Pangani Estate where the family eternally nested and made their humble contributions to the modern-day Nairobi Cosmopolis.

Mama Joyce Kulola Mshila was born in 1928 in Mkiyayo Village, Rong’e Kati Location situated at the foot of Rong’e Hill, Taita Taveta County. It was in the same year that ACK Mwakinyungu Church was established. She was the third child to her parents-the late Mzee Mwaizai and the late Mama Wakio Mwaizai. Besides her elder sisters Luciana Wakesho wife of Mwawasi and Diana Walegwa wife of the late Peter Kikonu, her other siblings were Rebecca Sau wife of Mwamadi, Hannington Mnjala and Denice Wali wife of the late Alison Mkuju.

No doubt, Mama Joyce Kulola, who was twelve years younger than her spouse who was born in 1916, acquired immense power and influence over the late author’s pioneering Taita literary works and, princely disposition. Besides both being conversant with Taita traditions and culture, they were inspired also by the Anglican congregation to which they initially belonged, before being later swayed by liberal American evangelical themes and African spirituals.

It is not clear however, what role Mama Joyce Kulola may have played in her husband’s decisions, not only to vie unsuccessfully for the hotly contested Wundanyi seat in 1969 against incumbent Minister Dawson Mwanyumba but, also, to venture into the fledgling mining and, transport fields.

Meanwhile, Mama Joyce Kulola’s late parents-in-law, Silas Lundi and Nellie Mkamburi, together with her late brother-in-law Josai Maruma and his siblings Joshua, Lydia and Salome were interred at the Mwakinyungu Church Cemetery in their final resting place of choice. But, her indefatigable son David Mshila, a physical planner associated with German NGO GTZ’s Voi City planning of the 1990’s, is bent on preserving his late father, Mark Mshila’s dream of establishing a rural home in Rong’e Juu, which is a fifteen-kilometer thrilling and, picturesque climb from Mwakinyungu.

Apparently, the only other public cemetery in the area, situated at Kusanyiko in Marumbenyi Village where Ramadhan Mwamburi- the father of the late international music icon Fadhili William is believed to be buried, is already filled up.

As Mwakinyungu Church Cemetery also fills up, the Mshila family and the general County public will shift their focus to the onerous challenges of enunciating a burial policy incorporating proper and spacious allocations of modern public cemeteries with the attendant rigors of record keeping, akin to the Voi, Mwakitau and Taveta Commonwealth Graves.

May Almighty God rest her Soul in eternal Peace.

Duncan Mwanyumba,
Voi City, Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Duncan Mwanyumba is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya currently based in Voi City, Coast Privince of Kenya, a cultural enthusiast and a member of the Rotary Club of Voi@DuncanMwanyumba


  1. Elizabeth Mshila-Methu

    Thank you for taking time to write the article about my mom. Be blessed

    Elizabeth Mshila-Methu

  2. Derek Githiga-Mshila Methu

    I can only say with a great smile thank you for the history, poetry in each paragraph and the warm recollection of my family.

  3. Anonymous

    Indeed it’s a beautiful send off for a great lady who I called grandma, she will b surely missed… R. I. Please grandma

  4. Lucy Mngolia Lundi

    Very interesting and captivating History…Amazing piece

  5. Anonymous

    Wakili, Mwanyumba, hongera kwa kazi yako hakika huu ni uandishi mzuri, hongera and keep it up.
    We appreciate your poetry..

  6. Arnold Kasololo

    Really interesting good job Mr Mwanyumba. You deserve more credits and may God grant you more…

  7. Anonymous

    Great stuff….

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