How slavery rumours ruined Kitui's premier school

Solomon Kasina wa Ndoo, a Colonial Chief who shaped development of Kitui.

A person who has been bitten by snake trembles and recoils whenever they come into contact with skin which could indicate the presence of the reptile. This wisdom was alien to the colonial administrators when they started establishing the first school in Kitui in 1917.

However, reality sank in as soon they completed the school and convinced the chiefs from the locality to nominate their sons to start learning.

The plot was very simple, by educating these sons the colonial government hoped to break the communication barrier between the colonial administrators who could not speak Kikamba and the chiefs who could not read or write in English.

All was going according to the government's script until a rumour started. Rumour mills had it that the school was a holding area for the unwitting scholars before they were sold off as slaves.

A few decades earlier, the local community had suffered at the hands of cruel chiefs and trade caravans who raided villagers and captured able-bodied men who were marched off to Mombasa and shipped to Europe and America to slave away in plantations.

It was in the same locale that Chief Kivoi Mwendwa had in the 1880s made his name by leading trade caravans from the coast into the hinterland in search of ivory and slaves.

The schoolboys abandoned their arithmetic and literacy lessons and fled. No amount of pleading would convince them back to school. The numbers dwindled from the initial 35 to 14 by the end of 1917 and in April of the following year, it had to be closed indefinitely.

The situation somehow changed three years later and the Kitui DC, Stuart Wilfred Jocelyn Scholefield, indicated in his annual report: "There is undoubtedly a desire for schools among the Kitui Akamba, and at least six more schools could have been opened had the necessary teachers and equipment been forthcoming."

One of the sons of the chief who had dropped out of school, Kasina Ndoo, who had been nominated by his foster father, Nzambu wa Ndundu, would later inherit the lucrative post although he was illiterate.

The colonial chief would later reign over Migwani location for 38 years after earning his place, not because of academic credentials but after he was invited by the colonial authorities to Thika military camp to calm some recruits from his area who were unhappy with the training.

When Kasina, who had a reputation for his dancing and hunting prowess talked to his peers, they agreed to train as Kenya African Rifles soldiers.

He too enlisted and his stint in the military brought him close to colonial authorities, having distinguished himself during the First World War, making him a natural choice when the position became vacant.

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