My old-fashioned watermill has served me for 90 years, says miller



Shadrack Ombima has been operating this mill for over 90 years. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

Shadrack Ombima, 107, has not visited a shop to buy maize flour for over nine decades.

The man from Karandini village in Hamisi Constituency, Vihiga County has relied on a traditional old-fashioned watermill to make his own flour.

The mill made of two stones runs on water gravity from a nearby river.

"This watermill was invented in 1930 and remains a rare technology even in the era of enhanced technological advancement," said Ombima.

I have milled maize flour using this traditional machine for many years, a white man taught me how to operate and maintain it in 1930," said Ombima.

Ombima says he came across the mill when he was 17 years old.

"I was among the youth who embraced the watermill back in 1930.  Villagers would bring their grains for milling at a fee," he said.

Ombima says he diverted water from River Karandini into his farm. "I was able to make good use of old propellers left behind by the white settlers to make a motor that helps rotate the two huge stones."

The two-round rocks act as the surface where the grinding of the grains occur.

 The mill has an opening on the top rotating rock where grains are placed in small quantities each grinding cycle.

"It's an old technology that I have learned to perfect over the years. I am able to know if the rocks are worn out and when to replace them by just looking at the quality of the flour," said Ombima.

Ombima says apart from making his own flour, earnings from the business enabled him to fend for his family.

A traditional mill made out of two round rocks that uses river water power to propel it to grind grains. [Courtesy]

However, it was not all roses for Ombima who was required to pay punitive taxes during colonial time.

His maize mill is still a favourite among many villagers.

"They still believe my mill produces the best flour here," he said.

Most of his customers are the elderly folk who have lived on traditional dishes for many years and have little faith in modern technology.

"The modern posho mills have eaten into my clientele despite the fact that I offer cheap services," he says.

Ombima regrets that not many people are keen to learn how to operate the mill so he hasn't been able to pass over the skill.

 "No one has been keen to learn the skill, I could be the last person doing it in the 21st century," he says.

Ombima believes his mill and the technology can be preserved as a historical occurrence that stood the test of time.

"Young people have not shown interest in this art. I am not saying they learn and use it but they can also accept it as an artifact that keeps our history," he adds.

Ombima says he was forced to venture into milling animal and poultry feeds for the villagers due to competition from modern mills.

"I mill the feeds from locally available materials in small quantities and hawk products in villages and nearby markets," he says.

Bilha Kavere, one of Ombima's trusted customers claims the flour made using the watermill has a better flavour compared to the one made using the normal posho mill.

"I would be charged Sh10 in a modern posho mill for every one kilogramme of maize milled but mzee Ombima charges Sh4 and sometimes he does it free of charge," said Kavere.

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