Love, Waiyaki and ensuing massacre over dowry dispute

Muthamaki Waiyaki wa Hinga. This photo was most probably taken in October 1890 by Lugards team. [File, Standard]

What happens when toxic love is garnished with a dose of high-handedness? It unites allies against their enemies, transcending race and tribe to birth new heroes and villains to be forever remembered in the history of Kenya for one century and three decades.    

Sometimes in 1892, when Wanjiru, the wife of Kamaru Magata bolted from her husband’s home somewhere in Githiiha and waltzed into the embrace of a new husband from Ukambani, little did she know that her action would forever alter the political landscape of her people.

The jilted husband, Magata Kiarie, was not prepared to lose love and the 30 goats he had paid to Kiarie Gathura.

Now that his marriage had collapsed, he demanded the dowry back but his in-laws were hesitant. He enlisted the services of Maktubu, a hot-tempered freed slave from Malawi who had become the leader of a mercenary group employed by the Imperial British East Africa Company as head of its security to guard its caravans along the Mombasa-Uganda trade route. Maktubu gathered 15 armed men in August 1892 and went to Gathura’s home where they demanded goats but were repulsed.

In the ensuing scuffle, Kamaru, and his band of mercenaries were overpowered and killed. One Survivor, Abdula Omar survived after he was hidden by one sympathiser and according to historian Godfrey Muriuki, in his book, A History of the Kikuyu, 1500-1900, he reported back at Fort Smith that Maktubu had been killed while trying to buy food.

When  W.P. Purkis who had been left in charge of Fort Smith by Captain Fredrick Lugard sent reinforcement to Githiiga, he was disappointed because contrary to expectations, all the cows and goats had been hidden. They were only able to great 50 goats which in their estimation was not enough to compensate for the loss of so many company employees.

Signing of treaty Muthamaki Waiyaki wa Hinga and Lugard on 10th Oct 1890. [File, Standard]

The raiders had been led by Kinyanjui Gathirimu, who had been accommodated by Waiyaki when he arrived from Kandara in Murang’a after he was excommunicated from the area after he committed a crime.

In a fit of rage, the invaders shot every armed man in Githiiga, a development that greatly annoyed Waiyaki wa Hinga who was the indisputable leader. Waiyaki was accused of having tipped the people of Githiiga about the planned raid.

When an angry Waiyaki went to Fort Smith to confront Purkis over the massacre of his people in Githiiga, he was overpowered and chained to a pole. He later died on his way to Mombasa where he was supposed to face trial for the insurrection. Waiyaki’s death on August 14, 1892 marked the rise of Kinyanjui who became a paramount chief and was a force to reckon with up to the time of his death in 1926 at the age of 64 years.

Besides being among the first Africans to buy a car, which he proudly drove clad in his traditional regalia, Kinyanjui made a lasting impression on Karen Blixen, the pioneer settler when he gulped down a huge amount of whisky as one would a calabash of fermented porridge, only to pass out for a few hours.

This put Karen in a fix because she feared if Kinyanjui died in her home on account of taking alcohol, she would be in hot soup for administering a white man’s drink to a native, something which had been prohibited by the Berlin conference of 1884.