When the history of Meru town is written, some events and places will be missing, thanks to obliteration of the objects that define it. A series of events have conspired to deny Meru its place in Kenya’s history after some monuments were deleted from the town’s collective memory.
In 2014, one of the oldest hotels in the country, which served as the home of the first colonial district commissioner, was demolished to pave the way for construction of a Sh2 billion shopping mall — the Meru Greenwood Park.
Pig and Whistle, which was located at the town’s entrance overlooking the bridge on River Kathita, dated back to the early 1900s when Sir Edward Butler Horne — locally known as Kangangi — settled in the area.
It was at the hotel that Meru was declared a township and the Union Jack hoisted. When Mr Horne established a camp there, the area was densely forested, but he ordered local young men to cut down some of the trees.
There were also hundreds of pigs roaming the area, and to frighten them off, Mr Horne’s guards used whistles, from which the hotel eventually derived its name.
He then built two Canadian-style log cabins, one of which served as his residence and the other as an office. A six-foot trench was dug around the camp and water from River Kathita diverted to fill it, securing the headquarters. Traces of the trench are still visible.
On May 13, 1911, Mr Horne declared the area within a radius of one mile from his residence, a town — under the East Africa Township Ordinance Act of 1903 — setting the stage for establishment of Meru town.
Today, there is nothing at the site to commemorate this. The developers of Meru Greenwood Park had proposed that a tree be planted and a restaurant named Pig and Whistle established in memory of the iconic hotel but the project has since stalled.
Another site that is crying out for recognition is Kaaga, near Kaaga Girls and Meru schools in the Meru Teachers College compound. This is where the British Army is said to have set up an armoury as they prepared to face Italian and German armies during the First World War (1914-1918). Traces of this history remain in a number of objects. At Meru Teachers College is a small pillar that was built to commemorate the colonial military base. Records indicate that the site was used for practice by soldiers in the 1920s. The King’s African Rifles were stationed there between 1921 and 1939.
An inscription on the pillar reads: “This memorial commemorates the 3rd and 5th King’s African Rifles, which were stationed here alternately from 24 May 1921 to 1 April 1939”. Two metal bayonets are screwed on the top, with an “x” sign.
But since the area is not a National Museums of Kenya gazetted monument, there is no curator to tell visitors of the important role it played in Kenya’s history.
There is also a war monument in the compound of Kaaga Primary School, a structure that looks like a bunker. It is partitioned into two “rooms” and is believed to have been built during the Second World War. But because of neglect, it is overgrown with vegetation. One story has it that King George VI of England hid here during the Second World War (1939-1945)
Another structure that deserves to be preserved is the colonial court at the centre of the town, at the Meru Central Police Station. It now serves as the police canteen. But it is in deplorable state, with part of the roof torn and the walls crumbling.