That one of the earliest beauty contests in Kenya was held in 1952 in Fort Hall now Murang’a and Senior Chief Njiri was the official judge. He was the last surviving Senior Chief of the Kikuyu.
Njiiri was a small man of about five feet three. Although illiterate he had a way with figures particularly if money was involved.
This led him to promote education especially for girls. He also attracted the wrath of the Mau Mau by believing in negotiation rather than war. His life was actually once threatened by General Kago, one of the Mau Mau leaders in the area.
A colonial community service officer Dennis Cox was posted to Kigumo and he quickly became Njiiri’s friend. Cox became popular because he introduced the mobile cinema to the natives of Murang’a. Charlie Chaplin shows were their most favourite.
Since people flocked to the shows Cox thought of another surprise. He had a conversation with Njiiri and they agreed to hold a beauty competition. This was readily accepted because in any case there were many tribal dance competitions for various occasions.
For the beauty contest, Chief Njiiri offered to be the judge to the chagrin of the white administrators. The venue was Kangema and Njiiri arrived wearing his colobus skin cloak and his medals including the MBE presented to him by the Queen of England.
The young ladies danced in traditional way waving branches and twigs. Surprisingly there was no music only chanting. It is believed that around two thousand people attended this event. Njiiri had promised the winner a cow and Dennis Cox had said the winner would also get a prize of Sh500.
As the dancing continued the crowd started chanting “Nyambura…..Nyambura…. Nyambura” the name of one of the dancers. It appeared they had unanimously picked her as the winner.
Speeches followed and the colonial officer spoke before Chief Njiiri who people thought would probably seek the opinion of fellow officials before announcing he winner. He started by announcing the name of the lady who took position three then followed by announcing number two. Lastly he said…”And the winner….is…” The crowd chanted Nyambura’s name. “The winner is………. Wanjiru” Chief Njiiri announced.
Wanjiru giggled and came up to pick her prize of five hundred shillings and a cow. The crowd went dead silent. Cox was dumbfounded since he had been warned that to kiss the winner would be un-African.
As a man from Blackpool in England the home of beauty competitions it normal to do so. He was also surprised why Njiiri did not go with the crowd’s favourite.
When asked, Njiiri agreed that Nyambura should have actually won but she was his potential wife. Declaring her the winner would have raised her bride price and even her parents were aware of the deal.
Nyambura became the last of Njiiri’s 32 wives. It is only later that people realized Njiiri had also picked Nyambura because she could as well read and write.
This gave him a new authority because they could be found sitting together reading minutes and other documents that were sent to him. Nyambura was also a good dresser.