NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 26 – Prof Wangari Muta Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate who died of cancer on Sunday night would want to be remembered as an environmental icon.
In a 2008 interview with Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan she hoped history would record her as a person who was very concerned about the environment, “very concerned about what we do with the species we cohabit this planet with and one person who really felt that the humans ought to have a greater respect for other species than we do at the moment because in respecting other species, in respecting members of the human species we are more likely to survive on this planet earth.”
The Kenyan heroine who became the first in East and Central Africa to get a doctorate degree also spoke candidly about how she was compelled to alter her husband’s name Mathai to Maathai soon after the couple divorced.
The 71-year-old environmentalist was once married to Mwangi Mathai in 1969 who divorced her 10 years later, leaving her to raise their three children.
“It is part of what we women go through, you marry a man, you love him you adopt his name and then if he decides he doesn’t like you he asks you to drop his name. That really is very dehumanising because it is like you don’t have an identity that you are given an identity by the man. But at this time and age women want to be themselves,” she said during the Al Jazeera interview.
Traditionally, she said, Kikuyu women did not assume their husband’s names.
“They (women) retained their first names. But I was persuaded to change my name to my husband’s. At that time he wanted me to be called after him, so when he told me to change my name (after the divorce), I was not amused so I decided to reclaim the name by changing it, I added another (letter) a.”
The Kenyan environmentalist died on Sunday night while undergoing treatment at the Nairobi Hospital where she had been admitted for a couple of weeks.
Her Personal Assistant Lucy Wanjohi said Maathai succumbed to ovarian cancer, for which she was being treated. She was diagnosed with the cancer last year.
“She passed on at 11pm last night after a long battle with cancer. She has been in and out of hospital several times now. It is very sad that she has left us,” Wanjohi told Capital News on telephone on Monday morning.
Maathai leaves behind three children Waweru, Wanjira, Muta and a granddaughter, Ruth Wangari.