Maseno School where sons of African chiefs schooled

The old Rt Rev JJ Willis dormitory before 1930 at Maseno school in Kisumu County. [File, Standard]

During his exploration in Kavirondo for a favourable place to set up a mission, Reverend James Jamieson Willis settled under a hickory tree. Among the Luo, the tree is known as Oseno, while the Luhya call it Omseno.

JJ Willis, as he was fondly referred to, liked the place probably due to the cold weather. A year later in 1906, he put up a church, and the same year, the place became known as Maseno.

Subsequently, Maseno School was established. The first six students were sons of African chiefs, among them chief Ogola wuod Ayieke who was the first to settle in the area.

It is Ogola, who while warding off hostility between warring Luhya sub-tribes of Maragoli and Banyore, discovered the place.

Ogola had moved from his ancestral home in Ong’iyo and settled in the area. A revered medicine man, Ogola charmed the Maragoli and Banyore who finally fell under his leadership after he brokered a truce between the feuding neighbours.

Ogola was a peacemaker. And when Reverend Willis arrived, the son of Ayieke had no trouble hosting the white missionary in his territory.

During the construction of the church and school, chief Ogola was instrumental in mobilising locals to assemble materials for construction. With his wide networks, he reached out to chiefs of Bunyore and Seme to create a conducive environment for ferrying of materials like stones, timber, poles and grass for thatching.

When construction of the church and school was completed, Ogola fast embraced Christianity. He immersed himself in spreading the word of God as he encouraged locals to go to school.

He once prophesied: “Today, people are being forced and persuaded to go to school but in future, people will weep in regret as education will be paid for.”

Owuor, Ogola’s son who was among the first to enroll for education, dropped out due to bad behaviour. Owuor was considered a rogue; his position in school was taken by Orao, a nephew of chief Ogola.

Apart from reading the bible, students were taught tailoring, printing, carpentry, clerical work and building. One of the school’s famous students was Adonija Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who always had run-ins with Principal Carey Francis.

When he first set foot there in 1929, Jaramogi thought teachers treated pupils shabbily. The food too was terrible and so when he was instructed to go home to fetch the Sh60 needed for school fees, he vanished.