Town where settlers banned female donkeys


KENYA: Stephen Nderitu, a donkey cart operator in Nanyuki town, has been in the business for the last ten years. He has never dared bring a female donkey to town.

 You see, in 1949, the town’s colonial Urban Council imposed a by-law banning female donkeys. It was then a major hub for European colonial settlers. The Council was provoked by the “disgusting” mating habits of the beast of burden outside the Settler’s Store  in heart of town.

“Some rogue operators from farms and ranches on the outskirts of the town have been sneaking their female donkeys to do business in the town,” Nderitu said last week. “It is still illegal.”

Nderitu continued: “When the female donkeys bray they alert the males that they are readily available and they go mad, paralysing business as the entire male working force turns wild, aggressive and hostile. Work stops and all the males respond heading to where the females are with a chaotic aftermath. You just count your losses for the day.”

There are about 10 donkey carts operating within town harnessed to about 25 donkeys. A few other donkey carts come from the farms and ranches on the outskirts of the town, bringing the entire donkey population to about 35.

However, another operator Peter Karigwi who has been in the business since 1997, said he has learnt to operate females without courting trouble.  He argued that the solution to the problem is to “castrate all the male donkeys and the females will operate in peace without interference.” 

 He emphasised that donkeys are never supposed to be on the loose but either on harness or tethered while left to graze. At no time are they supposed to roam freely else they have the opportunity to cause trouble.   

Although things appear to have cooled down for now, it has not always been the case.      In March 2002, I paid a courtesy call on the Deputy Mayor James Wamai Murathimi who was with the Town Clerk STN Kuria and Councillors JW Kanyugo and Paul Macharia Kamwaro. Kamwaro was the chairman of the Public Health and Environment Committee.

 My reason of calling on the Town Hall was to confirm whether the 1949 by-law, which had been adopted by the Nanyuki Municipal Council of independent Kenya, was still in force.

 When I inquired from the Councillors whether they had repealed the colonial by-law of 1949, they were ready with an answer: no way!

Wamai, who settled in Nanyuki in 1965, recalled he had never seen female donkeys in the town. The origin of the by-law is hilarious, if not sad.

Drama at market

 In the colonial days, Nanyuki, Rumuruti and Thomson’s Falls (Nyandarua) were the supply points for hundreds of white settlers scattered all over the white highlands extending  from Nyeri to Nanyuki, Timau, the Eastern slopes of the Aberdares, Thomson’s Falls District, Rumuruti and Mukogodo (Samburu).

 It was from these towns that were served by railway termini (except Rumuruti), with well stocked provision stores and petrol depots supplying diesel for their tractors, that they operated.

They engaged thousands of “natives” as labourers to till their farms and look after thousands of dairy and beef animals.

So, the story goes that in 1949, a white lady came out of the Settler’s Store at Nanyuki with her purchase in a basket. She saw a male and a female donkey engaging in a mating exercise and as she watched the animals she collapsed.  It was quite embarrassing as “natives” passing by witnessed this drama. The disgusting matter reached the ears of the authorities and action came within no time.

An urgent Council Meeting was held and accusations against the donkeys were so overwhelming that a by-law was drafted and passed unanimously banning female donkeys from the town.