Queen Elizabeth died of “old age” at 3:10 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2022 at Balmoral Castle. At the heart of Maragoliland, Sabeti lives on… This is a story of how a quirk of Maragoli culture secures the legacy of The Queen.
We knew that this was going to happen at some point, but that does not mean that the death of the queen didn’t strike. This is in spite of your view on monarchies, and in particular the British empire that she led for 70 years. As we dissect the different realities of her reign, it is not in doubt that the 2nd Elizabethan age touched every part, every village of the world. It is the end of an era; but in Maragoliland, thanks to a idiosyncrasy of Maragoli naming culture, the Queen lives on.
One of the most told stories of Queen Elizabeth II is her ascension to become regnant Queen and Head Of The Commonwealth. When the King died, his first born daughter Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary and her husband Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edenborough were on safari in the Abadares at the foot of Mt. Kenya. Often this romanticized story of the events of the sixth day of February 1952 when the Queen’s (then princess) father, King George VI died of lung cancer is told as follows:
“For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and, after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree next day a queen.”Jim Corbett, naturalist and hunter who accompanied the royal couple to Treetops, wrote in the visitor book this famous description of Queen Elizabeth II ascension to power
The events of that day at Treetops Hotel set off a chain of events that today ensures the Queens legacy in western Kenya. At just 25 years old, she became Queen of England. In Nairobi, the seat of the colonial government, plans were made to commemorate this momentous day that placed Kenya at the heart of the history of the British Royal Family. A road race through untamed Kenyan wilderness, known as the “Coronation Rally” was organized. This race became an annual event (with breaks in between) and is now known as WRC Safari Rally Kenya, an official event of the FIA World Rally Championship.
For the people of mulembe, in particular the Maragoli Luhya, such a momentous occasion couldn’t just pass us by. We have ways by which we remember seasons and pass on what we learned/observed in those times to next generations. One way we record significant periods and moments in our history is through our naming traditions and culture.
And so, just like that, with the ascension of Queen Elizabeth ascension to power, parents of baby girls born to the Maragoli had a choice of a new name for baby girls: Sabeti. This name came about in the same way that names of Hebrew and other western culture origin got Maragolinized e.g. Oscar -> Gusika, Epainitus -> Bainito.
To remember this moment when a Princess became Queen of England in our land, Elizabeth became Sabeti or Azibeta depending. If you think I am lying, take a walk through Luhya land and note the ages of the fine ladies named Sabeti or Azibeta. You will likely find them to be, give or take, septuagenarian and younger but not so young as the name fades with time. Still, Sabeti lives on. Trace your Maragoli ancestry, and is likely that you’ll find a senge, maternal aunt, sister, mum or grandma by the name Sabeti or Azibeta.
Subscribe to Mulembe Weekly
Get culture, language, stories and discussions in your inbox every Friday 5 PM East Africa Time