Kirigiti, venue for Kikuyu music, dance and sports, to get a facelift

The ongoing construction at the Kirigiti stadium.[Standard]

Kirigiti Stadium, one of the oldest social and sports facilities in Kiambu County, is being constructed to international standards after almost a century of neglect.

Utilisation of Kirigiti grounds for social activities goes back to pre-colonial, colonial and the nascent independent times. Before the British colonised Kenya, locals used Kirigiti as an arena for traditional music, dances and sports, especially wrestling and sparring with short swords (simis) and other indigenous weapons.

This account puts to rest the narrative that Kirigiti was ‘discovered by the white man when he started playing cricket at the venue.

According to Gitu Kahengeri, a Kikuyu elder and Mau Mau war veteran, locals held social activities at Kirigiti and other public grounds even before the colonialists arrived. Some of these included the traditional dance ‘kibata’ that was performed by young men. This was a high-energy dance that included mock fights with the simis that sometimes led to injuries similar to those inflicted in war.

At Kirigiti and other such grounds, including Kiamwangi in Gatundu where Kahengeri was born, people danced to the unity jig known as ‘gicukia’ and ‘ndumo’, a performance by women during happy times.

These grounds were dedicated to traditional performances and although not officially demarcated, individuals would not encroach on them. So, Kirigiti, Kiamwangi, Kamirithu and Mai a Nguo in Limuru, among others, were part of Kikuyu culture long before the white man's arrival.

The ‘modern’ stadium at Kirigiti was constructed by the colonial government in the 1940s as a cricket ground. Kirigiti is supposedly the bastardised pronunciation of cricket. While Kahengeri does not dispute this, he maintains that the white man found the stadium, and not that the stadium did not exist before.

At the onset of the struggle for independence, Kirigiti became the venue for ‘muthirigu’, a dance/ritual pregnant with information on the Mau Mau movement and its mission. Muthirigu was used to spread the resistance gospel across the region.

“I vividly remember the muthirigu activists once coming to Gatundu and using the Kiamwangi grounds to spread their message," says Kahengeri.

One of the muthirigu songs went, ‘githaka, githaka giki, giki githaka twatigiirwo ni iregi’ (this land was left to us by our forefathers).

The colonialists later turned Kirigiti into a venue where the colonial administrators and collaborating chiefs would call meetings to issue policies and make unrealistic demands on the locals.

The chief native commissioner (CNC), who came from the Nyeri provincial headquarters, would be given the best table to stand on when making his address. Strong young men would hoist him up and bring him down when his lecture was over.

"They did not call people there to discuss development, but mainly to emphasise the master-servant principle. They demanded taxes and insulted us,” said Kahengeri.

The CNC would, for example, go on about how the black man was stupid and his children had nothing but water for brains. It was, in fact, at Kirigiti that the colonial government met in mid-1952 to condemn the Mau Mau movement.

That meeting was attended by leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta, Senior Chief Koinange, Eliud Mathu, Senior Chief Waruhiu and Chief Josiah Njonjo. It concluded that Independence would only achieved through peaceful means.

One of the chiefs urged the British to use their might to crush those causing fear in the country while another leader denounced the Mau Mau movement and said it should be 'uprooted'. A group of African collaborators was formed after the meeting to identify and deal with the freedom fighters.

Before the declaration of the State of Emergency in the early 1950s, Kirigiti made history again when it hosted Jomo Kenyatta for his last struggle-for-independence meeting.

Years later when prisoners were released from detention camps and prisons across the country, those from Kiambu were herded in Kirigiti from where they were processed before being handed over to their local chiefs.

Later, some of the freed detainees formed the Kiambu Youth Association (KYA) in the early 1960s to bring together former detainees, prisoners and those who had been restricted to the emergency villages. The association was also meant to counter the propaganda of district political parties formed by collaborators across the central region with the assistance of the colonial administration.

Before and following the attainment of internal self-rule in 1963, the KYA held several meetings across Kiambu, but a major one slated for Kirigiti was cancelled at the last minute. “Many people had come from across the country but the self-rule government made up of home guards and collaborators would not allow the meeting to go ahead. They feared that the amassing of freedom fighters would endanger its conservative agenda," said Kahengeri.

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