Some early history on the life of Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta

(Jomo Kenyatta)

Some early history on the life of Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta as extracted verbatim below from the 1973 photobiography “Mzee Jomo Kenyatta” by Mohamed Amin and Peter Moll that is,

“Jomo Kenyatta struggled for more than half a century to free his country from Colonial rule, a cause for which he was vilified and imprisoned. Yet the Kikuyu herdboys who had stared with open-eyed wonder at the first European to arrive in Kenya was to become President of one of Africa’s most progressive States.

Kenyatta was born at Ngenda in the Gatundu Division of Kiambu, where the ‘mbari’ (clan) of his father Muigai stood on a spur of land between a fork of the Thiririka River. His mother’s name was Wambui.”

“The religious missions, which had been mainly confined to the Coast, also joined in the scramble to open up new areas of influence. Among the first to reach Kikuyuland was the Rev. Thomas Watson from Kibwezi who in 1898 established a mission at Thogoto. Two years later it was taken over by the Church of Scotland.

Even before the time of Kenyatta’s birth there had been considerable movement between Ngenda and the newly-opened up forest lands of Dagoretti. Muigai’s grand-father Magana had founded the family lands at Ngenda while two of his brothers, Kungú and Kuria, joined (Chief) Waiyaki to settle land at Muthiga near Dagoretti.

Kenyatta’s father Muigai died shortly after the birth of a second son, Kungú. His mother, Wambui, passed according to Kikuyu tradition to Muigai’s younger brother Ngengi. In the years ahead, Kamau wa Ngengi was the name to which Kenyatta answered.

It is recorded that the harsh conditions at the Ngengi homestead became unbearable for Kenyatta’s mother, and soon after the birth of a son, Muigai, she left to return to her own people – taking with her the infant boy. On her death, it was the young Kenyatta who trekked across the ridges to the north to collect the motherless Muigai and bring him home to be placed in the care of Wambui’s former co-wives and sisters while he herded his step-father’s sheep and goats.

But Kenyatta’s whole life was shortly to be re-orientated. Estranged by the bleakness of the Ngengi homestead and intrigued by the tales of of the world along the railway, he ran away to join his grandfather Kungú at Muthiga. He aided the ageing “Mundu Mugo” (“Medicine Man)”, now an old man with his sore legs wrapped in skin bandages, by carrying his equipment – Kungu’s services were in great demand and Kenyatta must have learned much of the Medicine-Man’s craft.”

“For in early 1913, those eligible for initiation were circumcised at the Nyongera river in accordance with Kikuyu custom; Musa Gitau, whose family came from Ngenda, acted as Kenyatta’s sponsor.

The following year Kenyatta was baptised. Traditionally, the boys chose a name from the bible… and Kenyatta expressed the wish to be called John Peter – after Jesus’s leading disciples.

This did not find favour with the missionaries, so Kenyatta changed Peter into ‘stone’ – the ‘rock’ on which Christ’s church was founded – and added it to John. Johnstone became his baptismal name.”

“‘The First World War played it’s part, too, in forcing the pace of change among the African peoples of Kenya. It kindled the growing consciousness that the world was larger than tribe and clan, and that Africans were now part of a social system no longer under their own control,’ note Carl Rosberg and John Nottingham in their book ‘The Myth of Mau Mau’.

Skilled mission-educated Africans were mostly exempt from service in the Carrier Corps – life-line of the British campaign against the Germans in East Africa. Disease took a frightful toll, 41,952 of the unarmed porters being officially listed as having lost their lives.

Kenyatta himself escaped the Carrier Corps, but his younger brother Kungú vanished at this time, perhaps press-ganged in one of the increasingly harsh sweeps made as the need for porters became more desperate.”

“Increased European settlement followed the (1st world) war. The new Governor, Sir Edward Northey, offered 260 farms of 160 acres each on open ballot to servicemen and 800 larger farms for purchase on very easy terms. Hand-in-hand went the registration of every African male leaving his reserve – the pernicious ‘kipande’ (ID) system that along with the alienation of Kikuyu land were to become and remain major grievances of a growing African national consciousness.

Kenyatta at this time renewed his contacts with his step-father Ngengi, to whom he looked to obtain the necessary bride-price to marry Grace Wahu, then attending the Church Mission of Scotland (CMS) girls’ school at Kabete, near Dagoretti. Her family came from near Kenyatta’s home at Ngenda, and there Kenyatta built a home for her. On November 20, 1920, his first child, a son, was born. Kenyatta, in keeping with Kikuyu tradition, named him after his own father, Muigai.”

“Meanwhile in Murang’a under the articulate leadership of James Beauttah, Fort Hall leaders formed the Kikuyu Central Association (or Central Kikuyu Association in contradistinction to the Kikuyu Association of Southern Kiambu).

Beauttah, well read and widely travelled throughout East Africa, knew Kenyatta. When in the mid-1920s he was moved by the Post Office from Nairobi to Uganda it was Kenyatta who assisted in translating and drafting letters for Kikuyu Central Association (KCA).

In 1925, the newly-appointed Governor, Sir Edward Grigg, set out to federate the three East African territories – against renewed Indian protests – for he pandered, too, to the abusive ‘paramountcy’ doctrine of the Settlers, among whom Ewart Grogan and Lord Delamere dominated the social scene.

The setting up of the Hilton Young Commission in 1927 at the behest of Colonial Secretary Leo Amery to look more closely at federation alarmed the KCA. Beauttah was asked to represent them in London.

He refused citing his responsibilities to his family. Instead he recommended Kenyatta, particularly because of his better English. Kenyatta was slow to decide. Wahu was expecting her second child and he was paying for his brother Muigai at the Alliance High School and for his small son at Thogoto.”

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