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African cult that believed bullets would turn to water

Religious groupings that defied colonial rule were branded as primitive sects. [File, Standard]

Minority religious groupings that defied colonial rule in Kenya were branded as primitive sects.

For instance, one day in 1932 when police officers came across followers of Watu wa Mungu faction inside Ndaragu forest, the Whites in the security team concluded the gathering was a sect.

The policemen were on the trail of a notorious criminal known as Njoroge Mkono when they encountered Watu wa Mungu members who believed that European bullets could turn into water when fired at them.

This belief was put to test when followers of the sect, armed with poisoned arrows, dared the officers for a fight. At the end of the fierce battle, three members of Watu wa Mungu sect lay dead while two White police officers were injured.

The bloody encounter ended the hunt for Njoroge whose gang had raided a shop belonging to two Indians at Kegio in Thika. The two traders were murdered and their shop ransacked.

A ranger tipped the Criminal Investigations Department officers that Njoroge was in the forest, prompting a search in the woodland that culminated in the clash with Watu wa Mungu adherents instead.

The 35 men were under the command of A. Finch assisted by W M G Sandwith, Bob Christian, J C Coleman and F C Brookes who accompanied the security team because they knew Njoroge and had photographs of him, according to W Robert Foran, the author of The Kenya Police, 1887-1960.

It was while combing the forest when the teams led by Coleman and Brookes come across two huts. Brookes entered into one of the huts where he found a large number of poisoned arrows.

Coleman who had remained outside, was shot at with the arrows. He fired back before retreating after exhausting his ammunition. A simi-wielding man who was hot on the Coleman’s heels was shot and killed.

At the other end, Brookes was under intense attack but survived by shooting dead one of the aggressors.

“Afterwards, it was discovered that these men were in no way connected with Njoroge Mkono’s gang but were all members of the fanatical Watu wa Mungu sect. They believed that European bullets would turn into water when fired at them, and so had displayed no fear when attacking the police party,” wrote Foran.

Coleman survived, although he was in hospital for some time. The incident created quite a buzz at the time, making headlines in some of the major British papers.