How Meru's 'holy place' lost its glory

The Njuri Ncheke Shrine at Nchiru in Tigania West, Meru County. [Courtesy]

The Njuri Ncheke Supreme Council of Elders jealously guards its shrines scattered in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties.

The community’s main shrine at Nchiru in Tigania West Sub County is considered hallowed grounds. The place is out of bounds for residents and even some junior elders. They can only go there for a special reason.

But with politicians seeking blessings from the elders in order to vie in elections, the move is slowly eroding the powers the elders wielded. Consequently, the younger generation has lost touch with the shrines and the elders who preside over them.

Kirimi Kanyatta, 37, said he does not believe in the Njuri Ncheke anymore, claiming shrines have been turned into political grounds.

Pointing to the fact that the shrines have been used to install various politicians, Mr Kanyatta said the shrines no longer serve their traditional purpose- to act as community dispute resolution houses.

He said one would shiver when summoned by the elders in the early days, but today there is an option of the courts if one is aggrieved. 

“There was a time we looked upon the Njuri shrines as holy grounds where community issues were resolved amicably but it is no longer the case. They were revered because they acted as places where elders prayed for the community and helped solve issues. Now we see the shrines as political grounds, going by the number of politicians who are installed there, against our wishes,” Kanyatta added.

Kanyatta, who is running for the Nkuene MCA seat in Imenti South, stated: “The shrines are now of no use to us. They are of no benefit to us.”

Linda Ruteere said while the Njuri had the right in practising their traditional ways, as a Christian, she only believes in prayers through Jesus Christ.

Njuri Ncheke elders at Nchiru, August 15, 2017. [Peter Muthomi, Standard]

“Njuri have their traditional ways, the culture of our forefathers. But we are in a different dispensation now,” said Ms Ruteere. 

Though the elders have various shrines scattered in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties, the Nchiru shrine, less than 10 kilometres from Meru town, serves as their headquarters.

In addition to conducting national prayers and hosting important visitors for deliberations, it also serves as a parliament where important deliberations are conducted and crucial decrees are arrived at.

It is at the 20-acre shrine where elders from the six sub-tribes (Igembe, Tigania, Imenti, Mwimbi, Chuka, Tharaka) converge for important discussions that touch on the larger community.

One of the most recent events to be held at the elders’ seat of power was the unveiling of the Njuri Ncheke current constitution, formulated to usher in a new leadership of the council.

“The Nchiru shrine (build in 1961) is our parliament, we make and pass laws, and make decrees affecting the Meru community. But we have other shrines in each of the wards in Meru and Tharaka Nithi,” said Njuri Ncheke Secretary-General Josphat Murangiri.

Murangiri said the shrines across the region are for elders to meet and discuss community issues, and residents are barred from setting foot in them.

“We have an alternate shrine at Igaeroni and another smaller one at Kijege in Tharaka,” Murangiri said.

The Nchiru shrine seldom hosts meetings and Murangiri said it is because it is only reserved for very crucial events.

“We do not just go there. We meet there twice or three times a year,” he said.