Long before Kenya as a country was established and its people lived in a land without borders, a lone white, John Boyes, tried to set himself up as king but he was rejected by the colonial government and fought by the Africans he was trying to subjugate.
Boyes’ interactions with a people who had never seen a European in the 1890s are retold in his book, A white King in East Africa, which opens insights of a world that is long gone as seen from a European’s lens.
His encounter with Karuri Wa Gakure of Tuthu, Murang’a, in 1898 at a time when natural born leaders reigned, at times invoking their supernatural powers in healing people and foretelling the future, is quite captivating.
Boyes was a trader, manipulator and a warlord whose stock in trade was ivory, guns and a dose of violence to discourage pirates from stealing his merchandise. He had a tendency of forging and breaking alliances with local communities.
In one of his forays in Mt Kenya he was tricked into an ambush by a revered rainmaker who reigned somewhere between Nyeri and Murang’a but was saved by Gakure who offered some troops for reinforcements.
When Boyes’ escort shot the rainmaker, the white man went to establish his status.
“I found that nothing could be done for him, as the heavy Snider bullet had gone through his sword and entered his body just above the hip …he begged that five blankets which I had given him at various times might be brought, and that he might be wrapped up in them and buried, instead of being thrown into the bush for the hyenas.”
The man who had shot the rainmaker immediately ran away to save his life.
According to Boyes, “the man who shot the chief rainmaker was so overwhelmed with what he had done, and the possible consequences if he remained anywhere in the district, or even where his people could easily get to him..no one knew where he had gone. I met him some years afterwards on the road in the neighbourhood of Naivasha.” During the same battle, Boyes writes how he saved Gacukia, Karuri’s son, who had been injured during the fighting after he was speared twice in the chest.
He explained, “I could not leave him there to bleed to death, so getting the men to make a stretcher with a blanket and a couple of saplings, I had him carried back to his father’s place, where he gradually recovered, and today he is as strong and healthy ... he should be the chief upon his father’s death.”
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