Rebeka Njau (born 1932) is a Kenyan educator, writer and textile artist. She also writes under the name Marina Gashe. Alex Wanjala has said: “Like Grace Ogot, Rebeka Njau is a very important writer in Kenya… She addresses issues that affect women directly and then demonstrates how women’s issues are symptomatic of a malaise in the larger Kenyan society.” According to John Mugubi of Kenyatta University, “The uniqueness and power of Rebeka’s style cannot be understated. She has a penchant for subversion of literary conventions in order to drive points home.”
She was born in Kanyariri in the Kiambu district, attended high school in Nairobi and studied education at Makerere University College in Uganda. She was a founder of Nairobi Girls Secondary School and served as headmistress from 1965 to 1966.
Her one-act play The Scar (1965), which condemns female genital mutilation, was first published in the journal Transition in 1963 and is considered to be the first play written by a Kenyan woman. Her play In the Round was performed in 1964 and was banned by the Ugandan government.
Her debut novel Alone with the Fig Tree East African Writing Committee Prize in 1964, and was subsequently rewritten as Ripples in the Pool (1975). It tells the story of Selina, an urban woman who falls in love with her boyfriend’s sister, and is been notable, according to Gay Wilentz, “as the first sustained portrait of a lesbian within the context of post-colonial African literature”
Njau’s second novel, The Sacred Seed, was published in 2003. In the words of The Daily Nation, the author “delves into the minds of her characters to reveal the psychological wounds they have suffered under patriarchy and dictatorship and their determination to heal the society. … The narrator presents the destruction of the resourcefulness of women in the traditional African societies by modern regimes and points to ways women’s power can be restored through the demolition of class hierarchies.”
She is also the author of The Hypocrite and other Stories (1977), a reworking of traditional oral narratives, and of Kenyan Women Heroes and their Mystical Power (1984), which records the overlooked historical contribution of women. Njau is included in the anthology Daughters of Africa (ed. Margaret Busby, 1992).
She married the Tanzanian artist Elimo Njau but the couple later separated. Her son, Morille Njau, is an artist and a consultant based in the UK and her daughter Hana works in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Alone with the Fig Tree (1964); rewritten as Ripples in the Pool (1975)
- The Hypocrite and other stories, short stories (1977)
- Kenyan Women Heroes and their Mystical Power, historical (1984)
- The Sacred Seed, novel (2003)