In the Shadow of the Rock

Storytelling By
John Titi Namai

Artist Statement

In this story we take you to the western part of Kenya, to Namlolwe––the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Also known as Lake Victoria, the lake is one of the tributaries of the Nile River and is shared by three countries. Near the lake in Muhorini, Kenya––homeland of the Luo people––there stands a rock believed to be the transfigured form of the mighty warrior Lwanda Magere. Lwanda Magere possessed unearthly powers and his flesh was said to be made of stone, making him invincible during war. We learn through this story, though, that Lwanda Magere––like so many other heroes throughout time––was still vulnerable to defeat.

As people and communities in the global village, we need to preserve this vernacular art of Storytelling. Even now we listen for what the old stories have to teach us. In the trials and tribulations of Lwanda Magere, I can see the same trials and triumph in my own life. I sometimes feel like a rock in some issues that I take forth and often frail in some other issues–– just like Lwanda.

I think of this as a story about standing up for one’s community against injustice. It also inspires me to keep our legends alive. The rock of Lwanda Magere symbolizes an object we adore––a sacred space where we come to seek direction. The rock still stands, but it lacks what it needs to preserve the land. This story lives in this land. It is up to us to remember the story and care for the place from which it comes.

For more information about the rock of Lwanda Magere click here



John Titi Namai


Babu Achieng

Audio producer


The story was recorded in Nairobi, Kenya, and comes from the folklore of the Luo community in western Kenya.

Additional Context

This story was adapted by ZamaleoACT, a cultural organization in Nairobi, Kenya, that synthesizes various Kenyan traditions of storytelling for original performances and educational programs. The word Zamaleo is a Kiswahili coinage drawn from two words: Zamani (Old times) and Leo (Today). Zamaleo therefore captures the essence of contemporary artistic practice strongly informed by a rich African creative heritage. Check out ZamaleoACT’s Website.

Artist Bios

John Titi Namai works as a storyteller, festival producer, arts educator and community organizer in Nairobi, Kenya. With ZamaleoACT, he helps to organize the annual Sigana International Storytelling Festival to promote the art of storytelling. John offers workshops in Sigana Storytelling for artists, students, and communities around the world. Together with the organization TICAH (Traditional indigenous culture and heritage), John Titi has been using storytelling to disseminate knowledge at the National Museums of Kenya. For more information about John Titi’s current work, check out his facebook page:

The Thief and the Chain

The thief found a lake. And in the middle of the lake was a rock. The thief fell asleep on this rock, but kept waking up to whispers. After being woken up four times, the thief eventually decided to go sleep on the beach where he was again awoken by a few people talking about the rock and how it, long ago, was a great hero who caused strife for some, great pain for others, and deep gratitude for another group. How the rock was very powerful, a real V.I.P.

So… of course, you know what happens: he tried to take it. But the rock was far too heavy for the thief to lift. So: he tried to split it in two… but it was far too strong to break. So, the thief asked somebody stronger than him to pick it up for him – but the thief had no friends who were willing to help .

So. The thief threw a fit. “Fuck you, rock! You think you’re so great and I’m weak? I’ll show you who’s weak!” And the thief kicked the rock, broke his toe, and shouted and screamed when, from beneath the stone, he heard metal on metal clanging against stone. The thief looked over the side of the stone and in his eagerness to sleep and eagerness to steal, he had failed to notice something very obvious to everyone else.

Attached all around the stone beneath the water was a beautiful, long-threaded chain – each of the links and threads attached to many other links and threads, creating a grand multi-colored quilt in some places, and in other places a dim swamp of tiny estuaries, mangroves – wailing, rattling, giggling away with all sorts of tiny songs and jokes and other little delights, cascading across each other and the chain spread out past the lake and out into the world and each little connection told a story to another, in smaller and bigger ways until eventually the thief realized that the chain was everything and that everybody was connected to it.

And the thief decided that if he couldn’t have the rock, nobody would. He climbed down to the side of the rock and listened close to the conversations that were being spread across plains and how they shifted and morphed. And after listening for a few moments, the thief removed his gloves, shaped his fingers and placed them in key junctures of the chain’s weft. And his fingers began to lie.

They told appalling lies, spread tiny rumors, allowed for ambiguity, which then because of the other lies, let fear creep into the links’ material and rust began to form and the water turned poison and fish rose dead to the surface, and the noxious fumes killed birds in the sky and they fell into the water, desiccating it even more. Parts of the chain began to burn and creep, or short or sever themselves from the other links. And, though much of the chain knows about the truth of the rock and the many other truths of other things, the thief smiled at a job well done, for nobody could ever purify the water. Nobody would ever touch the rock again.


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