'We couldn't wash. We were harassed. We had no sleep... it was unbearable': The father of '12 Years a Slave' Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o speaks for the first time about his own treatment in Kenya

 

Her performance as the brutalised Patsey in the British film 12 Years a Slave led Lupita Nyong'o to scoop the best supporting actress Oscar, but in real life the Kenyan actress is no stranger to torture and murder.

The body of Lupita's uncle Charles Nyong'o was never recovered after he was attacked on a ferry in Kenya and thrown overboard by regime thugs, and her father was repeatedly tortured because of his opposition to a notoriously brutal former Kenyan regime.

The full horror of her family's treatment at the hands of the then Kenyan President, Daniel arap Moi, only emerged last night when her father, Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, spoke for the first time.

Now a senior Kenyan politician and academic, Peter Nyong'o said: "My brother disappeared in 1980. It was a very difficult time politically. We never recovered his body and it was never resolved who was behind the murder.

"Even now, no information has come to light. I know he was on a ferry in Mombasa and witnesses who I managed to talk to told me clearly that it was not an accident and he had been attacked and pushed off the ferry. But the witnesses were too terrified to testify to the police.... I spoke to members of the Kenyan Special Branch and someone informed me that they knew what happened. They were not willing to help in any way whatsoever because of that."

Peter believes his brother was targeted because of his own student activism, which opposed the Moi regime. He himself was eventually forced to flee to Mexico with his wife Dorothy, where Lupita was born in 1983. It is the reason she bears a Spanish name.

Lupita Nyong'o celebrates her Oscar's win Lupita Nyong'o celebrates her Oscar's win When the family returned to Kenya in 1987, Peter, who was organising an underground democratic party, was once again the subject of harassment and arrest, with the family forced to hide out at a series of safe houses. "It was a very insecure time. We were moving from one place to another, which was not good for Lupita and Peter Jr." He was regularly detained by the police, and his wife and her family subjected to anonymous threatening calls.

"I was being picked up monthly and weekly. It would depend on the period. It was as often as they wanted. It was mainly psychological for me, although it was physical for others. You could not wash for days, you were harassed, threatened, you couldn't sleep and it becomes unbearable," he said.

He said he found it difficult to watch 12 Years a Slave, but insists his treatment was "like a dinner party" compared to that endured by Solomon Northup. He said: "We were put into prison and the torture chambers by the regime, but it was like a dinner party when you compare it to what the slaves went through."

Nevertheless Peter believes Lupita and his family paid a heavy price. He said: "We were traumatised. The children were too young to understand, and it would not have been advisable to explain because you could be causing them unnecessary trauma."

He believes the constant insecurity and adaptation thrust on Lupita from a young age may have played its part in her being able to take on the chameleon-like qualities needed to be an actor, "although I am wary about generalisations".

As to the film itself, Peter said: "Lupita was very, very captivating. I don't know how she did it. It was a tremendous performance."

Both Peter and his wife were at the Oscars ceremony. "Lupita called me to tell me [when she was] nominated. She was really touched that she had done well enough to be nominated. It was a great achievement in its own right."

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker