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Mjini: Where porters built a mosque in Murang’a town

Thursday August 22 2019

Murang'a Mjini Mosque

Imam Mohammed Abdi at Mjini Mosque in the outskirts of Muranga Town. It was built in 1900 by porters who escorted the first African district commissioner Francis Hall who first camped at the present-day Mbiri Primary School. The mosque is in the process of being gazetted. PHOTO | NDUNG'U GACHANE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NDUNG'U GACHANE
By NDUNG'U GACHANE
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Murang’a County is predominantly Christian, but on the outskirts of Murang’a town is a slum known as Mjini, mostly inhabited by Muslims.

On a visit to Murang’a town, you are likely to hear a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer at the mosque, which lies in the heart of the slum, and which was built more than 100 years ago, thanks to Francis Hall, the first colonial administrator of Mbiri, now Murang’a County.

The administrator came to the area on September 17, 1900, escorted by at least 600 porters from the Coast, most of whom were Muslims.

MOSQUE

They built the mosque so that they could have a place of worship.

They had carried food and office equipment for Hall from Mombasa, then the headquarters of the British East Africa Protectorate, where the commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, was based.

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The Muslims, who included the district commissioner’s cooks and the security agents, settled in the area and later renamed it Mjini.

Their descendants still live there.

Upon reaching Murang’a, Mr Hall camped where currently Mbiri Primary School is so that he could survey the area and find the best place to build an office and his residence.

After three weeks, he settled on a hilly place, where he built an office and his residence just metres apart.

Mjini mosque

Workers repair Mjini mosque which is 119 years old. PHOTO | NDUNG'U GACHANE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

OFFICE BLOCK

His office block, which still stands, has three rooms: The district commissioner’s office, his secretary’s office, and a room that served as a cell for lawbreakers. The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) currently uses it as an office.

History has it that Hall liked Mbiri when he first visited it in 1896 through the Kambiti plains during an exploratory trip to Naivasha.

When he arrived in Kenya in 1892, he was posted to Fort Smith (now Thindigua, Kabete) then the administrative centre for the Mt Kenya region.

He later moved to Nairobi after the railway line reached there and was then transferred to Machakos to be in charge of the Ukambani region.

He did not like the area and pleaded with his superiors to allow him to move, and that’s how he ended up in Mbiri where he established an administrative centre.

LOVED MBIRI

He loved Mbiri so much that, on May 29, 1900, he wrote a letter to his father, a British military officer, praising the place.

The contents of the letter, which is in the records of the NMK office in Murang’a, show Hall found the region fertile and the residents friendly.

“On May 29 he wrote a letter to his father in England and acknowledged to have found a site for a station on a ridge about 30 miles south of the summit of Kenia (Kenya),” the record says.

“There is a small hollow on one side with a stream for drinking water and on the other, a deep ravine with a big river teeming with fish. The country is very much like that around Fort Smith, very fertile, densely populated…” it continues.

RESIDENCE

He mentioned his residence and office on a hill between the Mathioya River on one side and the Murari River on the other, both with clean water.

His residence and office were surrounded by a large solid stone wall and a moat to keep out intruders.

On December 10, 2012, it was gazetted as a national monument under the name ‘Old Provincial Commissioner’s office’ for the purposes of linking the gradual colonial administrative advancement into the interior of Kenya from Mombasa, Machakos, Fort Smith and Fort Hall.

It is from here that present-day Murang’a town sprouted, and was later called Fort Hall after the death of the commissioner on March 18, 1901, from Blackwater fever.

He was 40.

FORT HALL

He was buried at the present-day St James All Martyrs’ Memorial Cathedral Church in Murang’a town.

The name Fort Hall was used until shortly after independence in 1963, when its use was stopped.

Hall’s grave, the mosque, and his former residence have been earmarked for gazettement.

Mr Antony Maina, the NMK officer in charge of culture and heritage in Murang’a County, said the building, which has long been neglected, will be used to display artefacts and also exhibit photos.

He said the house was reclaimed after some individuals grabbed it.

A gate and the enduring stone wall at the county government offices are the relics of the colonial administrator’s home.

They are opposite the Murang’a Police Station, which also dates back to the colonial era.

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