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The whisperings of park’s special tree

By - Titus Murithi | October 12th 2012

By Titus Murithi

If trees could tell stories, then a giant twin baobab tree found in Meru National park would have a lot to tell us.

Perhaps the tree would tell us about the wild animals that have grazed around its roots over the years or of those that have lived in its hollow trunk.

But the most exhilarating story the baobab tree might tell is that of an encounter between Mau Mau freedom fighters and colonial government forces that took place in mid the 1950s during the height of the fight for Kenya’s independence.

But not all hope is lost in the fact that trees can’t talk. There is the by-product of trees; paper on which this precious history is recorded and compiled as books. The said twin hollowed baobab tree is immortalised in a book,“The last Mau Mau field Marshals,” by the late journalist David Njagi, who recorded the story on behalf of the former freedom fighters as narrated to him by the late Meru freedom hero field Marshal Musa Mwariama.

The kitchen

On page 71, from the second paragraph, the late field Marshal Mwariama recounts the events that took place at the twin baobab tree.

“At Kina area in Meru National Park, we found a large baobab tree with a hollow trunk which we used as a kitchen. While we were there we were found by white colonial soldiers and a big battle ensued. The exchange of fire was intense and the whole area was covered with smoke and dust. I was pushed to the edge of Tana River which was not far from the hollowed baobab tree and I had no alternative but to jump into the river. Once in the river, I was lucky to find a drifting log which I held into and drifted to the other side of the river.”

“The white soldiers were amazed at how I could have jumped across a very wide river. At the bank of the river where they found my footprints, they built a cement monument to recognise my mystical jump of a wide river like Tana. These monuments to my amazing jump of Tana River and the twin baobab tree that we used as our kitchen are today visited by school children and other visitors to the park.”

A living legend aged 92 years, and who is a former freedom fighter, recalls with nostalgia about the hollowed baobab tree. M’anampiu Nkanata, also known as General Gachoori narrates to the The County Weekly how they used the hollowed baobab tree as their kitchen and as a place to hang meat.

“We would slaughter a buffalo or a bull and hang all the meat inside the hollowed baobab tree. I am the one who hammered the wooden pegs inside the walls of the hollowed trunk of that tree so they could serve as the pegs upon which we could hang the meat. We hung the meat inside that hollow to avoid vultures from following us. The vultures could have easily betrayed us to the colonial forces,” says Gachoori.

Only three steps

To date the wooden pegs are still inside the hollow of the twin baobab tree.

During the early 1980s, school children who visited Meru National Park and happened to visit the twin baobab tree and Tana River would come telling their friends who had been left behind how they had visited the “house of Gachoori inside a very big tree and how he had jumped Tana River with only three steps”. Still the tree is frequently visited as evidenced by car tire ruts at the place. This is one spot visitors to Meru National Park should not miss.

A careful analytical study of Meru National Park in a historical aspect reveals a rather colourful history of the park that will leave many yearning for more.

It is in Meru National Park that we have two well-tended wild animal graves with a sizable monument clearly marked as “Pippa’s grave” to show where the graves are.

When you reach the graves you find that they are uniquely cemented and on the top they bear the following inscription: PIPPA JAN 1964 — 7 OCT 1969

Pippa was the famous cheetah who was adopted by Joy Adamson in Meru National Park along side Elsa the lioness. It’s the lionesses’ story which is widely known the world over but Meru National Park has given more prominence to Pippa because they maintain her grave and that of her cub to date.

Pippa died while giving birth to her cub and Joy buried them next to each other in the above named graves.

Joy’s unique skill in handling and caring for wild animals often turned her home into an animal orphanage or veterinary hospital. She cared for everything from baby weaver birds to baby elephants. She nursed back to health all manner of creatures - an owl with a broken wing, a jackal with a broken foreleg and an injured monkey.

Most of Mrs Adamson’s work took place in Meru National Park. It’s very interesting to learn that Pippa once visited the elegant tea room of the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi in the company of Mrs Adamson.

First American

The first American to chew Miraa and who was also the first white person to see Nyambene Hills came to Meru through Meru National park. He was William Aster Chanler and it was in the year 1892.

Chanler was an honorary member of the Imperial and Royal Geographical Society of Vienna in Austria and he wanted to cut a niche for himself in the world of exploration.

His wanderings brought him to Meru through the park because he was so much interested in exploring that part of Eastern Africa which lies between the Tana River as from Lamu and Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf) because it was unexplored owing to adverse climatic conditions and the hostility of the local inhabitants.

While encamped within the precincts of the current Meru National Park, Chanler’s caravan encountered many wildlife including the famous Big Five, which provided them with readily available meat.

Chanler described that place as best suited for one of the best national parks in the world due to its ecosystem and the abundance of wildlife.

On the morning of December 9, 1892, while in the perceived park, he spotted blue range of hills stretching in a far Southerly-Westerly direction from where his caravan was located in the wilderness.

Nyambene Ranges for sure when spotted from a far distance appear to be blue in colour. Therefore it can be argued Meru National Park is the spot where the first white person to see Nyambene hills was encamped.

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