To many of those who regularly use Nairobi’s Waiyaki Way today, the name of that road, which connects the city to western Kenya and the Great Lakes region, might not mean anything much.
In fact, a good number of Kenyans using it do not have an inkling as to what the name Waiyaki means or stands for.
It would, however, surprise them to know that 122 years ago the bearer of that name passed through the same route, then merely a foot track used more by herdsmen and their livestock than by motorists.
He was bound in chains, bleeding from a head wound and guarded by a number of armed British soldiers.
DRAGGED TO COURT
Waiyaki wa Hinga, having been apprehended by the soldiers, was being herded to the Kenyan coast, far away from his family and people, for being stupid enough to tell off a British administrator named W.P. Purkiss.
He had quarrelled with Purkiss — a crime for which he was beaten senseless — before being arrested on Tuesday, August 16, 1892.
The British colonialists were slowly gaining a foothold in the territory and were not in the mood to take challenges, and so, because they had the benefit of being the braggart possessors of gunpowder, they made it clear that they were here to stay... take it or leave it.
To teach him, and others like him, a lesson, Waiyaki had been brutalised by the arresting soldiers, tied to a flag post overnight in his wounded state, then dragged to a small courthouse the next day, where he was found guilty and sentenced to “deportation”.
CONCRETE JUNGLE CALLED NAIROBI
The muthamaki (Kikuyu for “territorial leader” and not “local chief” as the colonialists have always referred to him) was then led down the cow track that would later become one of Kenya’s busiest thoroughfares, past the swamp that would soon become a concrete jungle called Nairobi, and onwards towards the coast.
He did not make it to Mombasa, though, as 21 days after he was led out of the small courthouse in Kabete (on September 6, 1892), he died at Kibwezi, some 378 kilometres away from home. The colonialists buried him inside a Scottish mission station there.
Saturday marks 122 years since Waiyaki breathed his last, and as members of his large family and the Hinga ancestry commemorate their patriarch’s death, they are making a passionate appeal to have his remains exhumed and given a proper hero’s burial.
After that, they also want the government to build a monument on the road bearing his name as a way of honouring the fallen hero.
CLAIM HE WAS SHOT
Those wishes, coming 122 years later, may seem a tad far-fetched to some people.
To others, however, they are not as ridiculous as they may sound, for giving honour to a fallen patriot, the family says, is “part of the celebration of our colourful history”.
More questions regarding Waiyaki, however, remain unanswered. How, for instance, did he meet his death?
Some people have claimed that he was shot by the White administrators, while others, who find support from oral historians, claim he was buried alive.
Records, however, show that he fell sick somewhere near Kibwezi, where his soul departed his frail body. There, however, has never been any dispute that Waiyaki wa Hinga died at Kibwezi.
The freedom fighter’s death came two years after he and Captain Frederick Lugard of the Imperial British East Africa (IBEA) entered a treaty for a garrison to be built at Kiawariua, today’s Dagoretti.
PROCEED TO UGANDA
Both men were representatives of their people and were, during the ceremony, accompanied by their followers, with Captain Lugard representing the British government and Waiyaki the Kikuyu community.
According to family records, as a token of good faith Waiyaki and his people accepted Captain Lugard and his entourage. The expedition team put up their tents at an appointed ground at Kiawariua, where, days earlier, the IBEA team had started building a stockade surrounded by a high fence of thorn bushes.
It was while construction work was going on that Captain Lugard received word through a message runner on October 19, 1890, that he should proceed to Uganda at once.
However, he spent the rest of the month collecting provisions for his team and it was not until November 1 that he left the stockade. His assistant, George Wilson, was left in charge of the half-complete fort.
DEFEND THEIR DIGNITY
The agreement between Waiyaki and Lugard was that the locals would supply the IBEA officials with food on payment and not on demand, and that none would harm or molest the other.
But no sooner had Captain Lugard departed for Uganda than Wilson and his men started demanding food, goats, sheep, firewood, water and even women at Kiawariua.
Miffed, Waiyaki told his followers to take up arms and defend their dignity. In the early days of 1891 they set upon the garrison and burnt it to the ground. Wilson had by then taken off for Machakos.
Later, an inquiry was held into the loss of the fort. George Wilson was found culpable, demoted and sent to Mombasa, while George Leigh, who had ignored Wilson’s appeal for aid, was replaced by John Ainsworth the following year.
In April the same year, yet another strong expedition team, under Major Eric Smith, was sent to Kabete, where they built another fort a few miles from the original.
FALLING INTO PIECES
Fort Smith, as it was called, is believed to have greatly charted the history of the Agikuyu, and from it emerged the political martyr whose death a few men and women will be commemorating on Saturday.
Waiyaki, however, was not the only martyr in the strictest sense. Bad blood between the locals and colonialists had brewed a tense situation around the highlands and the surrounding areas occupied by the Maasai and the Akamba.
This greatly worried Sir Gerald Herbert Portal, then the administrator of the IBEA, who, on August 12, 1892, wrote to his superiors warning that “the British policy of bringing peace and prosperity to Africa instead of war seems to be falling into pieces, with the company (IBEA) fighting the Agikuyu and now the peaceful and friendly Akamba”.
Sir Portal also lamented the actions of his men on the ground, singling out Purkiss for “firing and killing the Maasai”, and Captain Nelson for harming “the peaceful Wataita” by killing many and hanging others on trees.
The following year, on February 3, 1893, Sir Portal lamented that “raiding and shooting natives” had “turned the whole country against the White man”.
His warning came too late, though, because by then matters had turned sour at Fort Smith, eventually culminating in the arrest of Waiyaki.
The administration had not forgotten its humiliation when the natives razed their garrison at Kiawariua, and matters came to a head when, in the early days of August 1892, the administration claimed Waiyaki had averted their plot to raid a village called Riuki in Githunguri.
Waiyaki had secretly sent emissaries to warn the people of Riuki of the impending attack by the administration, and so the villagers had bolted off with their livestock.
This had greatly agitated the British administration officials, who ended up burning 30 villages in the area and spoiling all the crops in the villages before returning to Fort Smith on August 14, 1892.
Two days later, Waiyaki went to the fort to complain. He was refused entry but fought his way in. A row flared between him and Purkiss. Waiyaki was wounded in the head and overpowered by soldiers manning the fort.
WOUND IN HIS HEAD
He was then chained on the neck and hand and handcuffed overnight to a flag post outside the fort. The next day he was tried in an adjoining makeshift courthouse and a decision made that he should be deported to Mombasa.
In his report, John Ainsworth, whose administration career in East Africa extended from 1889 to 1920, said: “Waiyaki was now a prisoner, and a few days later on the arrival of Captain MacDonald and his party he was tried and eventually sentenced to deportation from the District.
He was handed over as a prisoner to a coast-bound caravan. On the arrival of this caravan at Kibwezi the prisoner was unable to proceed further owing to the wound in his head. He was, therefore, left in the mission hospital. Some days later he died and was buried in the mission cemetery.”
Col Ainsworth further reported that by a strange turn of events, Purkiss, who had earlier had a confrontation with Waiyaki, had also died at the very same place not long after.
“Purkiss by this time was suffering from ill-health and on being relieved by Frank Hall, who had recently been appointed by the company, he left for the coast with the idea of going for a sea voyage. Unfortunately, he too became very ill on arrival at Kibwezi and died.”
Today members of the Waiyaki family want his burial place at Kibwezi located, the body exhumed and identified and given a proper burial “befitting his status and contribution to the rights and freedom of his people”.
The family is also making an appeal for Waiyaki to be recognised as a hero of the cause of Kenya’s freedom from the colonialists.