On Sunday night Wangari Maathai -- the greatly loved and world renown Kenyan carrier of the message of the hummingbird -- passed from among us after a struggle with cancer. She was a passionate advocate for justice, protection of nature and women's rights, which she saw as bundled together in a spiritual environmentalism. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts in Kenya which linked forests, justice and empowerment of women in the (now-global) Greenbelt Movement.
I've just spent some hours perusing the comments that are pouring onto her Facebook page which is offering endless recollections of the inspiration that she gave to so many. Have a look, some of the testimonies are truly precious.
I met Wangari Maathai once, in the mid 1990s in Santa Fe, NM. We were a small group eagerly awaiting hearing the words of the famous leader. When she entered, she sat among us and said nothing about herself or her work. Instead, she asked each person about their concerns and drew out of each person ideas for action. It was like she was being a midwife to future leaders, birthing them on the spot. She inspired by connecting people to themselves and their deepest hopes for a better world. I had never seen anything like it. I felt blessed by an exceptional soul. That memory lives on as does the message of the hummingbird. When I think of her, I feel grateful beyond words.
To get a feel for her spirit, listen to her sing the simple song from her faith that was sung as they planted trees:
The voice of the hummingbird will never pass from among us. It sings of love, justice and the forest from within.
Hail! Wangari Maathai.
Hail! the hummingbird.
Salve! o beija-flor.