A tour of West Pokot would be incomplete without a tour of the history that shaped the politics of this country.
The Kapenguria Museum, commemorating the imprisonment of the six Freedom heroes including Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who became known as the ‘Kapenguria Six’ has become an important site that tells the story of Kenya’s struggle for independence.
The museum is one of the landmarks of West Pokot County.
Curator Kizili Chole said the museum was an important site that blended Kenya’s history and the rich cultural heritage of the Pokot and Sengwer, the two predominant local communities.
It would not only be a source of education but also revenue from domestic and foreign tourists if it were marketed properly as part of the North Rift circuit.
The museum tour starts at the curator’s office, which originally served as a cell for women during the colonial era. Opposite it is what used to be the holding area for male prisoners.
But the most striking areas are the six small rooms which were the cells of the six founding fathers of the nation.
Each of the rooms has pictures and write-ups about the Kapenguria Six – Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Kung’u Karumba, Bildad Kagia, Paul Ngei and Achieng Oneko.
They were sentenced to seven years for being behind the Mau Mau’s fight for freedom.
They were arrested after the declaration of the State of Emergency in 1952 and Kapenguria was chosen as their prison because it was already cut off from the rest of the world.
“The main reason for transferring the six from Nairobi to Kapenguria was to delink them from any association with their relatives or supporters because Pokot was by then a no-go-zone and anyone who wished to get to the area had to have a special pass.
“Anyone who wanted to live in Pokot, whose boundary was near Kitale in Trans Nzoia, where the railway line ended, had to be cleared by the colonial administration,” said the curator.
The trial of the six lasted for six months and because there was insufficient room for them in a regular courthouse, the proceedings took place at Chewoyet, now Chewoyet Secondary school.
After judgment they were taken to different parts of the country but the six cells at Kapenguria became symbols in the war for Independence.
The museum building was put up in 1926 by a white farmer and the cells were built to hold errant workers.
“It is not just the six who were held in the colonial penitentiary, because members of the Elijah Masinde-led Dini ya Musambwa who vehemently opposed colonial rule were also arrested and confined there. The vast Kamatira forest, one of the biggest forests in West Pokot benefited from the labour of Dini ya Musambwa followers who planted some of the trees that you see today,” explained Mr Chole.
When Kenya attained Independence, the building became part of the District Commissioner’s HQ, with some rooms used to issue identity cards.
Mr Chole said the significance of the building encouraged the Government to hand it over to the National Museums of Kenya who renovated it and opened it to the public in 1993.
The building now includes a gallery that showcases the rich cultural heritage of the Pokot community.
“The Pokot gallery is the biggest structure built with support from the Netherlands displaying the material, literature, murals and other artifacts that enables one to understand the culture and traditions of the local community just by walking through it.
But Mr Chole feels still more should be done to make the place more attractive and vibrant.
One disappointing trend, he said was that the local community had not embraced the site and that there had been few visitors.
School children were the main visitors because Kenya’s history is part of the curriculum.