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175 years later, Kenya's oldest school still stands tall

By Amos Kareithi | July 28th 2021
Isaac Nyondo Primary School in Rabai [File]

In a country where buildings collapse even before the contractor has left the site, there are some simple blocks that have withstood the sands of time.

The two rooms constructed with blocks that were originally thatched with dried coconut leaves have defied the elements and shine the light on how long buildings should last.

It is in these two rooms that the first dreams of education were originally executed by a man who was thought to be a slave raider and had to be subjected to a series of tests before he could be trusted to interact with the locals.

The theatre of the strange encounter was at a hamlet in Rabai, Kilifi County. The principals were Ludwig Kraft, who was on a 'godly' mission to deliver people from the bondage and powers of darkness and the chief, Jindwa Mwambawa, who had the powers to neutralise evil spirits. Ironically, he was mistaken to be a devil.  

Some ground rules were established before the two sides met. The chief drew a line and directed his son to cross it three times. He survived and thus the white man’s witchcraft was neutralised. Kraft, too, was tested and passed.

After an elaborate ceremony to mark the meeting of these two new-found friends, Kraft was gifted 99 acres some respectable distance from the chief and his people. It is on this land that the first school was started in 1846.

This was later named after a local man, Nyondo. It so happens that Nyondo’s father, Jana Abegunga, converted to Christianity on his deathbed and was swiftly baptised Abraham. His young son also became a Christian and was predictably baptised Isaac.

Isaac and Kraft became so close that when the missionary became sick and blind, the young convert escorted him to Germany. And when Nyondo died in 1872, the school was named after him. It became Isaac Nyondo Primary School.

The school, which still stands today, played a major role in educating slaves who were freed from merchant ships before they were taken to America, Middle East and Europe to work without pay.

Rabai has entrenched itself as the cradle of Anglican Church in Kenya and the school still continues to impart vital lesson in building and construction, 175 years after the foundation stone was laid. Its pupil population has fallen from 1,100 in 2012 to the current 1,090.

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