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Why Njuri Ncheke elders installed women

 When Njuri Ncheke elders protested along the Maua-Meru highway after they literally "cursed" former land Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi on May 13, 2017, at Nchiru shrine. [Courtesy]

For ages, Njuri Ncheke Supreme Council of Ameru elders’ shrines, where they conduct deliberations, traditional court sessions and other activities, were out of bounds for women.

It was unheard of for a woman to step into the shrine headquarters at Nchiru in Tigania West sub-county and other shrines scattered in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties.

Only the male elders were allowed in these places, but that is changing now.

Even as a section of residents expressed concern that there was a risk of erosion of traditional culture that had existed for hundreds of years, the Njuri Ncheke council maintained that they are upholding the Constitution by allowing women to become members of the traditional court.

Council Secretary General Josphat Murangiri said women are members of the community who take petitions to their traditional courts, which are part of the alternative dispute resolution, a mechanism recognised by the Constitution.

Murangiri argued that the council had created room for women because some of the issues brought to them concern women, hence, it is only appropriate that their own are included in the traditional courts.

He said it was part of the process to embrace modernity and promote inclusion.

Just as in their council, members of the Njuri courts are carefully selected, with only those whose integrity is beyond reproach deemed qualified.

“Of course, when we are adjudicating, we have women adjudicators. We should modernise our culture to match the present,” Murangiri said.

He clarified that there are sections of the shrine headquarters, which also serve as their Parliament, that women are still not allowed to access.

Murangiri said they only created room for women to become members of the Njuri Ncheke courts and not members of the Njuri council.

“There is a difference between membership of Njuri Ncheke courts and membership of Njuri Ncheke council. The people we serve in courts are either gender. Therefore, we cannot leave out women from our courts because of gender equality,” he said.

He was categorical that women will only remain as adjudicators in their traditional courts and are still barred from the council.

“Even now, tomorrow, next month, next year, women won't enter the Njuri Ncheke Supreme Council of Ameru elders shrine, nor be initiated to membership,” he said.

The elders’ headquarters located opposite Meru University of Science and Technology is where they meet to deliberate on important issues affecting the community, which occupies the area between Thuci River at the border of Tharaka Nithi county, and Ntonyiri, the farthest end in Meru county.

Murangiri said the land where the shrine is built is divided into four units: 1.5 acres is the shrine area, which is a restricted area, and reserved for Njuri Ncheke elders, who are strictly men.

He said 3.5 acres are reserved for the National Museums of Kenya, which is accessible for men and women, and another five acres is reserved for the construction of the Njuri Ncheke Five Star Hotel.

Scholar-cum political analyst Prof Gitile Naituli who is also a Njuri elder said the facility at Nchiru has always been a meeting place for the Ameru.

The Njuri elders have courts in locations in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties.

The elders in the locations hear and determine cases, but if the parties to the cases are not able to agree, or one is dissatisfied with a ruling, they escalate it to the sub-county level.

If they don’t settle, the matter it is escalated to the ‘Supreme Court' which sits at Nchii shrine headquarters.

The six-bench apex court is composed of the council chairman (Linus Kathera), Washington Muthamia (Secretary of General Programmes), Josphat Murangiri (Secretary General Operations), their deputies and the Treasurer.

The elders said they can arbitrate cases that ordinarily take longer in normal courts.

Though the apex court is at Nchiru, the court goes to the ground to ascertain the facts of the case.

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