The legendary Wangu wa Makeri defied the Agikuyu tradition when she became the first woman to serve as an administrator during the colonial period.
Her office, living quarters and a solitary confinement cell where lawbreakers would be locked in after disobeying the law and her orders still stand at Koimbi Shopping Centre in Murang’a County.
The compound was converted into an orphanage — Koimbi Children’s Home in 1978 — by the defunct Murang’a County Council.
Wangu’s office, which had a strong safe for storing guns, now serves as the orphanage’s administration office.
Other than the administration ‘block’, the quarters where Ms Makeri’s team stayed is now the living quarters of the casual labourers working at the orphanage.
A cell where people who failed to pay taxes and the drunkards were locked in is still imposing.
Koimbi Children’s Home administrator Jacinta Njuguna said the living quarters and the cells revive the memories of the reign of the indefatigable woman.
She says Wangu wa Makeri’s family has played a vital role in supporting the orphanage.
“They have been very supportive by complementing the efforts of the Murang’a County government by buying foodstuff and clothes for the 37 orphans and destitute children who live here,” Ms Njuguna said.
Wangu’s grave is barely two kilometres from the children’s home. The National Museums of Kenya is in the process of gazetting it as a cultural heritage.
Mr Antony Maina, a curator, said the graveyard and the office will be gazetted before the end of this year.
“The family members and local residents are expected to meet before the end of this month and give us feedback so that we can proceed with the gazettement process,” Mr Maina told the Nation.
Wangu was appointed as a colonial administrator in 1901 at a time when it was against the established patriarchal principles that didn’t allow women to hold leadership positions, a move that sent tongues wagging in the then Fort Hall District (now Murang’a).
Although Wangu was believed to be a tyrant and very brutal, especially to men, Koimbi residents and her kin maintain that she was decisive, firm and morally sound and did not entertain tax evaders, idlers and drunkards.
The feared administrator resigned from the position in 1909 after men conspired and set her up to the point of dancing kibata, an exclusive dance for men, while naked.
Wangu’s great grandchild Irungu wa Mbaria said the position had been offered to Mr Makeri, a wealthy and ambitious man, who turned down it down and instead proposed his wife who she adored and used to consult on family affairs.
He owned huge tracks of land and livestock which he inherited from his father Mugo since he was the only son.
His friend Karuri wa Gakure had proposed him for the position of colonial chief due to his wealth and the fact that they were agemates and descendants of Ndorobo.
Their friendship was evident in that whenever Mr Gakure made visits to and from Fort Hall District from Tuthu, he used to make stopovers at Koimbi to greet his friend.
LAW AND ORDER
“My great grandmother eventually landed the plum job after her husband declined the proposal by Mr Karuri Gakure. We were told by our grandfather, Mr Jacob Muchiri, that she did her job meticulously and ensured the rule of law,” Mr Mbaria told the Nation.
Mr Makeri had seven other wives but Wangu, who was the first wife, played the role of mother-in-law to her c0-wives in their first days of marriage.
The others were Nyambura wa Maina, Nyambura wa Githatu, Wandoibi wa Gakuni, Njoki wa Gichanga, Kabura wa Kuria, Nyanjiru wa Mugechi and Wangechi wa Koimbi.
The other co-wives alleviate the labour shortage in the household and enhanced Mr Makeri’s stature in the communitye.
Wangu wa Makeri’s role as a colonial administrator was to maintain law and order, collection of taxes, recruitment of labour, controlling drinking of beer, terracing agricultural and veterinary services, among others.
She appointed an administrative team led by Ikai wa Gathimba, which helped her to achieve her mandate.
Wangu wa Makeri died in 1936.