At the Murithi Mpuri Cultural Centre, tales of the origins of the Ameru come alive through illustrations, rock writings and artifacts displayed on the banks of River Kathita Munyi.
The centre, located on the tributary of River Kathita, about six kilometres from Meru Town, details the journey of the Ameru from North Africa through the mythical island of Mbwaa, and up to their current settlement at the foot of Mt Kenya and Nyambene ranges.
The story of the migration of the Ameru is reminiscent of the dramatic exodus of the Israelites told in the Bible, since it includes a daring escape from slavery.
However, accounts differ on where the escape took place, with some saying it was Mbwaa island, while others say it was from the region of northern Sudan and Ethiopia.
Researchers however maintain that oral myth points to a location on Manda Island in Lamu County.
Mr Joshua Murithi, a former history teacher and the centre’s founder, takes visitors through the migration that began in the 16th century.
Mr Murithi says he established the centre in 2017 and modelled the journey (mwito) along the valley of the Kathita Munyi stream.
“The site is strategic since it sits near an ‘island’ created by River Kathita and Kathita Munyi tributary,” he says.
The well-illustrated setting starts somewhere in North Africa during the time of the Meroe Kingdom in Sudan and the Zagwe Dynasty in Ethiopia.
At one end is a hut with the inscription “Nguu Ntune” (red-clothed people), who enslaved the Ameru, and on the other side the names of those who masterminded the community’s escape.
Mr Murithi says that Koome Njoe, also known as Mwithe or Muthurui, was instrumental in the escape.
“Koome Njoe was named Mwithe (the hidden one) because his mother hid him so that he would not be killed by their masters. He was the spiritual leader while Kaura O Bechau was his chief adviser.
"Kaura O Bechau is credited with establishing the Ameru governance system, including the revered Njuri Ncheke council of elders,” Mr Murithi explains.
At the next stage, Mr Murithi illustrates the circumstances surrounding the community’s escape. It includes relics and drawings of sacrifices made to the gods.
Legend has it that the Ameru were given several tasks in exchange for freedom. These included retrieving a fruit from a deep pit without using their hands or a stick, providing a calf that excretes white dung, making a shoe with hair on both the inside and outside, and a spear that touches the heavens.
Imitations of the white dung, the shoe and the spear, known as Itumo ria Mwito (spear of the journey), are displayed at the centre.
“Koome Njoe devised ways of tackling these tasks. They filled the pit with water to remove the fruit, fed a calf with milk for it to produce white dung, and made a shoe from a bull’s dewlap.
"But they could not make a spear that touches the heavens, so they had to plot how to escape,” he recalls.
Also displayed is an imitation of a magic rod Koome Njoe used to create a passage for the people through the water that surrounded the island.
Mr Murithi claims that in 1932, the colonialists took the rod from Igembe, where Koome Njoe settled. He adds that it might have been taken to a British museum.
The centre also has information on how the Ameru clans were named, as well as on the “Kiruka” and “Ntiba” political parties, which provided rotational leadership at 10-year intervals.
Visitors can also learn about the eight governance pillars, namely the Mugwe (spiritual leader), Njuri Ncheke (legislative and judicial arm), Nyomba ya Gaita (priests), Muti-o-Rikithathi (mediators), 'Kiama' (advisers), 'Aariki' (women’s and toddlers’ council), Lamale (warriors) and Mbwiinjeru (Children’s council).
The centre also has a museum containing Ameru artifacts and traditional homesteads.
Also at the centre are coins and currency notes used during the colonial era, passbooks for Africans, and a list of about 100 Mau Mau generals.
Millennials can also see the old rotary dial telephone, Walkman, black-and-white TV sets, and the record player, which preceded DVD players.
Mr Murithi says the centre gives young people an opportunity to learn about their culture and traditions in a class setting before they experience the same through material culture.
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