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How chief ‘cast a spell’ on missionaries in Kibwezi

By Amos Kareithi | May 19th 2021 | 2 min read
This picture of Kibwezi, taken in 1900 with security guards by a ‘government office’ perhaps illustrates the fear the colonialists had of the place. [File, Standard]

Kibwezi may not be a bastion of the opposition but at a time when it mattered, this town kept at bay a far more superior adversary who was armed to the teeth with guns and the Bible.

There was a time in the history of this country when the mere mention of Kibwezi sent chills down the spines of missionaries who were trying to establish their dominion over Kenya’s hinterland.  

When a group of whites arrived in Kibwezi on October 16, 1891, led by evangelist Thomas Watson, they were lured by the beauty of the land.

The instructions by their bosses in Scotland were clear: proceed to Dagoretti and pitch tent. But church records show they chose Kibwezi and incurred the wrath of Chief Kilundo Meli, who was believed to have supernatural powers, and would pay the ultimate price with their lives.

The first tragedy to hit the mission occurred on December 18 when John Greig, the engineer, died from dysentery. Then David Charters, the medical doctor, sent on March 15, 1893, to replace a colleague who had died of a tropical disease, strayed to Mbui Nzau hill, without the chief’s permission. He and his assistant never returned. Petrified by these happenings, Victor Hill and his wife, who were both teachers, resigned due to poor health.

The remaining missionaries were eager to relocate to Dagoretti but they had to seek permission from their bosses in Edinburgh. This forced Scott Watson to travel to Britain to seek permission for relocating the mission, a trip that took him 15 months. He returned to Kibwezi on October 24,1897 and wound up the church’s operations on August 27, 1898. Ironically, he had to negotiate with the family of Waiyaki Wa Hinga, who had been killed in 1892 and reportedly buried in Kibwezi, for a piece of land to locate the mission. He, too, suffered from small pox but was killed by pneumonia a year later.

Watson was the last of the pioneer missionaries who had first camped at Kibwezi to succumb. Before his death, he instructed his newly married wife Minnie to destroy all records about Kibwezi.

The string of misfortunes robbed Kibwezi of the opportunity to be the cradle for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. The church was so scared of Kibwezi that it took 81 years to muster enough courage to re-establish a church there as Thogoto in Kikuyu flourished.

A picture of Kibwezi, taken in 1900 with security guards by a ‘government office’ perhaps illustrates the fear the colonialists had of the place.


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