Hundreds of mourners gathered on Saturday for the funeral of Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai at a park in central Nairobi she fought to save from destruction.

The staunch conservationist's body was driven to the park in a coffin made of hyacinth fibres and bamboo frames because she opposed being buried in a wooden casket requiring the chopping down of trees.

Mourners also lined Nairobi streets to view the cortege of Maathai, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 71 on September 25, and traffic was halted for the funeral procession and other dignitaries.

Her remains were cremated in accordance with her will.

At the Uhuru Park (Freedom in Swahili), Kenyan leaders lauded the work of Ms. Maathai, renowned at home for having stood against plans by the authoritarian regime of the former President, Daniel arap Moi, to build a skyscraper in the park.

Ms. Maathai in 2004 became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel peace prize for taking “a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular”.

Kenya bade farewell to one of its icons a day after two other African women were among the three recipients of this year's Nobel peace prize — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and fellow countrywoman Leymah Gbowee.

“Besides being a woman of great courage and tenacity, the late professor Maathai demonstrated, by example, the virtues of selfless service to the nation,” said President Mwai Kibaki. (She endured being whipped, tear-gassed and threatened with death for her devotion to Africa's forests, reports Reuters).

Her coffin, draped in the Kenyan flag, was driven in a black hearse to the park where her three children and a granddaughter planted a tree.

“The best way to honour her is to carry on the great work she started, especially in the fields of environmental conservation, social justice, human rights and democracy,” Mr. Kibaki added.

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