By AMOS KAREITHI
The small mould of red earth with miniature pipes sticking out like sore fingers could be one of Kenya’s most sought graves.
The tomb could be holding secrets of one of the first Africans to rebel against colonialism, even before the British established themselves in Kenya.
John Kyalo, 81, tells of a secret he heard from his uncle 66 years ago.
He visualises a moustached Indian railway inspector, popularly known as Simba Mbili, walking around agitatedly as he offloaded a near naked semi-conscious man out of the railcar.
The story of how Waiyaki Wa Hinga was captured by Imperial British East African Company agents in Dagoretti and buried alive in Kibwezi, has been retold as a folklore for ages.
Independent accounts trace the happenings to August 17, 1891, when Waiyaki’s journey to Mombasa was cut short at Kibwezi after he lost consciousness.
Mr Kyalo claims a gang of natives were then ordered to dig a grave a few metres off the rail line, near Kakangani in Kibwezi where the seemingly sick man was dumped and buried alive, according to Kyalo.
Nzau Musinga, who claims to be 100 although his national ID card shows he was born in 1920, agrees with Kyalo’s version but with some amendments. He recalls that between 1920s and early 1930s, he was a pupil at a local primary school opposite Kibwezi Police Station.
"At school, we were forbidden from playing near this spot. Some boys were severely beaten for stomping the place our teachers claimed was Waiyaki’s grave," Musinga adds.
The place Musinga refers to overlooks Kibwezi Police Station, just after the railway crossing. He marks the area using some trees.
Kyalo’s site is a distance from Kibwezi, deep into a sisal estate near Kakangani, where two huge outcrops act as permanent markers.
Waiyaki’s resting place is as controversial as his life and his association with the white man. It baffles historians, with some writing him off as a collaborator while others believe he was a freedom martyr.
His origin is equally controversial. Although some of his descendants swear he was a Kikuyu, some historians and lineage believe he was a Maasai banished to Dagoretti from Ngong’ by natural calamities.
Dr Waweru Wagura, a historian at Egerton University, Laikipia Campus, explains that Waiyaki’s original name was Ole Nayaki, which changed after his family migrated from Ngong’, fleeing from natural disasters.
John Lonsdale in A history of Kenya, 1895-1980, writes that first, Maasai land had been ravaged by droughts, locusts, rinderpest and small pox, which struck from 1880s, and wiped out thousands of residents in 1890,1891 and 1898.
Though it is not possible to say when Waiyaki was born, one of his great grand daughters, Wambui Otieno in her book, Mau Mau Daughter, A Life History, gives credence to Waiyaiki’s Maasai lineage.
According to Wambui, Waiyaki’s parents had migrated from Maasai in the mid 19th century and were adopted by the Gathecha family, where Jomo Kenyatta later got his fourth wife, Mama Ngina.
Wambui explains that Waiyaki forged closer ties with the original owners of the land in Dagoretti, the Dorobo, also known as Olgiek, from where he was to marry.
When we visited Kihumo village in Magana near Kikuyu, Waiyaki’s original home, we traced descendants of the Hinga family, who were, however, not enthusiastic about their Maasai ancestry.
Hinga Githieya, 79, explains that his father’s namesake, Githieya, was a brother to Waiyaki and that they co-owned 3,000 acres of land where Kikuyu Mission was built.
"It is untrue Waiyaki and his brother Githieya were Maasais. His father was Hinga wa Ngekenya and the mother was Ngina, also known as Nyambutu. I know Waiyaki and his brother bought the land from a Maasai, Loyiede, who my grandfather and Githieya often told us about them," Hinga says.
It is on Waiyaki’s land that Captain Fredrick Lugard landed when he arrived in Dagoretti on October 10, 1890, on his way to Uganda. He found Waiyaki was an influential landlord with more than ten wives.
On arrival, Lugard acting on behalf of Imperial British East African Company (IBEA), made a treaty with Waiyaki, and was given land at Kihumo and constructed a fort where Kihumo PCEA church stands today.
Honest and straightforward
Lugard wrote in his diaries of Waiyaki’s people: "I had no hesitation in trusting myself almost alone among them, even when at considerable distances from the camp. I found them honest and straight forward."
But the newfound friendship between the Kikuyu and the whites was tested to the limit immediately after Lugard departed on November 1, 1890, for Mengo, Uganda.
Porters and askaris residing at the port started invading local farms and looted food and sexually molested women, heightening hostilities.
During one attack in 1891, five people in the garrison were killed. The Kikuyu, too, suffered some casualties. George Wilson, who had been left in charge, fearing more reprisals, evacuated the fort at night after running out of ammunition, assisted by Kinyanjui Gathirimu, who was later appointed a paramount chief.
His plea for reinforcement from Machakos had been ignored.
When Wilson arrived at Machakos, he was relieved of his duties and transferred to Mombasa.
When Waiyaki and his men raided the place a few hours later, they found it empty and in anger, they overran the fort and destroyed the supplies. With this act, Waiyaki unwittingly signed his own death warrant.
In the meantime, an expedition led by Major Eric Smith, returned to Dagoretti in April 1891, and forcefully erected another fort named Fort Smith.
Robert Macpherson in his book The Presbyterian Church in Kenya sums up the incidents which led to the capture of Waiyaki, vividly recounting how a group of 15 railway surveyors were misled by Kamau Wangamata to go and assist him collect a debt owed to him by Kiarii Gathura.
The railway workers, among them a headman, were killed as they tried to take goats by force.
In a show of might, a railway survey caravan armed with 200 rifles, raided Waiyaki’s village during which 30 villagers were killed. Crops were destroyed and 50 goats impounded. An infuriated Waiyaki stormed Fort Smith, which had been constructed on his land. In a strange twist of event, Waiyaki was overwhelmed, disarmed and a simi used to inflict a wound on his scalp.
And on August 17, 1891, as Waiyaki was being taken to Mombasa for trial by Major HH Austin, the scalp wound worsened at Kibwezi where died and was allegedly buried in the mission graveyard.
For several days, tension reigned. On February 22, 1893, Gerald Portal reported that at Fort Smith, the situation was bad and whites feared they could be attacked.
Austin disclosed these details in, The Passing of Waiyaki, an article he wrote for The Times in November 1922.
The mission church cemetery at Kibwezi has no marked grave of Waiyaki. The fenced off area, more than a kilometre away from the railway line, has 10 unmarked graves.
Waiyaki’s grave must have been fresh because the missionaries had arrived in Kibwezi a month ago, on September 19, 1891. It is unlikely the missionaries went to any details in marking Waiyaki’s grave since their first death occurred in January 1893.
Kihumo, the land where Captain Lugard was given a plot by Waiyaki to erect the first fort is still distinguishable and although Thomas Watson was denied a chance to erect a mission there, a church was later established and thrives to date.
Waiyaki’s last wish was not to fight the British as explained in Wambui Otieno’s book.
This could explain why one of Waiyaki’s close relatives Benjamin Githieya, a son of his brother, Githieya wa Hinga, donated his land, including the portion where the flattened fort once stood. Githieya’s name and that of his wife, Loise Wambui, have been immortalised at Kihumo Church where their graves are a stone throwaway from the church.
In yet another strange twist of fate, Purkis, the man who caused the death of Waiyaki, was taken ill a month later as he was going to Mombasa, he died at Kibwezi and was buried in the same ground with his nemesis.
Decades later, the land which originally belonged to the Hinga family, was shared out. Mbarai ya Waiyaki got 500 acres and Mbari ya Githeiya also got an equal share.
Perhaps this also explains why Fort Smith, where Waiyaki was captured, is not owned by the Government but by an individual, despite its rich history.
Like the name Hinga, which literally means somebody who does not yield secrets, his final resting place has remained a mystery, 116 years later.