African Native court marks 99 years since inception

By Amos Kiarie | Jun 09, 2023
Inside the Africa Native Court in Nyeri Museum. [Amos Kiarie, Standard]

The African Native Court Museum in Nyeri County stands in stark contrast to other modern buildings in the area. 

Set up 99 years ago, the court which is carefully preserved as a museum also hosts the offices of the Nyeri Museum curator and the National Museum of Kenya. 

The house that hosted the African Native Court was used by British colonial government officials to punish errant members of the community.

It also dealt with customary and criminal cases. 

According to Nyeri Museum Curator, Wambui Mwangi people living around Ruring'u were not consulted during the construction of the court.

However, with time it gained popularity as a court dealing with civil and criminal cases moreover pregnancy disputes. 

"The matters presented here were handled by a group of clan elders who were picked from the community. These elders were considered to be the elite," she noted.

Elders could hold hearings in the court that accommodated up to 30 people.

"Judges could sit on the front row on the concrete seats that are elevated according to the hierarchy, others could stand behind the judges," she said.

The court was commonly referred to as the “igoti ria mahuu” since it mostly solved pregnancy disputes. 

She added that some of the cases heard and determined by the native court involved marital issues, land border disputes, pregnancy cases, and other criminal cases.

Those found guilty were fined by the court or detained if they failed to pay fines as ordered by the elders. 

"The court brought to ended some customary practices and punishments such as put thieves in beehives and rolling down the hill or setting on fire," she said. 

The court was the only judicial facility for the Nyeri community before current law courts were opened in 1961.

It was later converted into a museum, and it attracts scholars from different parts of the country, who flock to learn more about the Maumau.

She added that the most outstanding case involved the late David Kariuki Gikonyo who was a prison officer and was found guilty of impregnating nine girls. 

"The case that will remain in history to many was between Kariuki Gikonyo and nine girls whom he had impregnated but he pleaded guilty and was told to take care of all the girls and their children," she said. 

She said that the penalties for those found guilty ranged from a handshake, wealth fines, curses and serving some detention.  

Share this story