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Nyeri man begins 150km trip to return Jomo's helmet to Uhuru

Friday August 2 2019

James Ndei

Mr James Ndei before leaving his Gitunduti home, Nyeri County, for State House, Nairobi, on July 31, 2019. PHOTO | STEPHEN MUNYIRI | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

STEPHEN MUNYIRI
By STEPHEN MUNYIRI
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A man from Nyeri has embarked on a 150-kilometre journey to deliver what he calls a “relic of misery” to State House Nairobi.

Mr James Ndei, who began his 150km trek on Wednesday evening from Gitunduti village in Mathira, hopes to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and hand over a pith helmet given to his grandparents by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta 75 years ago.

PITH HELMET

A pith helmet, still used by some administrators in Kenya was a symbol of colonial rule across Africa. It was so called because they are made of the material sholapith and were worn by European explorers and imperial administrators in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East in the 19th century before being adopted by military officers, rapidly becoming a symbol of status – and oppression.

President Jomo Kenyatta gave the helmet to Mr Ndei’s grandparents, Mr Shadrack Gathuni and his wife Deborah Mumbi in 1944 when he visited their home to drum up support for the struggle for Kenya’s independence. 

Mzee Zakaria Mbogo Ributhi (right) who

Mzee Zakaria Mbogo Ributhi (right) who witnessed the presentation of the helmet to Shadrack Gathuni by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta 75 years ago. PHOTO | STEPHEN MUNYIRI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Both have since passed on and their grandson says it was their wish that the helmet be returned to the Kenyatta family because the aspirations of those who struggled to gain Kenya’s independence were never fulfilled.

“My grandparents used to tell me Kenyatta was a regular visitor to their home and even spent several nights with them as he established the African Independent Church, my grandfather, a   church leader, was very close to Mzee (Kenyatta).

BETRAYED

“However despite the fact that Kenyatta later became the president, there is nothing to show for it. My grandparents died poor and I feel they were betrayed hence my decision to return the helmet,” he told the Nation.

Shadrack Gathuni (left) and his wife Deborah Mumbi

Mr James Ndei's grandparents Shadrack Gathuni (left) and his wife Deborah Mumbi who were given a helmet by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1944. PHOTO | STEPHEN MUNYIRI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

His story about the Kenyatta interaction was corroborated by a centenarian Mzee Zakaria Mbogo Ributhi who turned 100 this year. Mr Ributhi said that those who fought for independence felt betrayed.

Mzee Ributhi, who was born in 1919, said he first met the late Mzee Kenyatta in 1942 when he visited the couple at their Gitunduti home. He later became a frequent visitor in the village.

He says he witnessed Mzee Kenyatta give out helmets to some six church elders as a symbol of authority.

GOOD MAN

“He was a good man, he interacted with people very well. He used to sensitise us on the need to join the struggle for independence. But we are disappointed because most of us never benefited from the struggle, I support the return of the helmet because it is of little meaning for those who fought for independence” he said.

As Mr Ndei hits the road on his journey, it remains to be seen whether he will meet President Kenyatta. Recently, State House security shot and injured a young man as he tried to access the premises to ‘deliver a message’ to the President.