Manga Hills: Fortress, shrine and culture trove

Thursday June 20 2019

Kitutu Baraza Hall

Kitutu Baraza Hall which was built in 1957 by colonialists. It has been listed by the National Museums of Kenya as a monument. It stands between Manga Hills in Nyamira County. PHOTO | RUTH MBULA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

RUTH MBULA
By RUTH MBULA
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Among the Abagusii, the Manga Hills in Nyamira County are sacred. The majestic elevations are located in beautiful scenery that offers picturesque picnic sites.

Down the hills is the Manga Escarpment, which offers a rich, refreshing and breathtaking view. A steep, rocky, ragged five-kilometre cliff line rises above the escarpment to the hills, creating a spectacular view of nature.

COLONIAL RULERS

Atop the hills is the Emanga Ridge. It covers about 100 acres and divides Kisii and Nyamira counties, marking their boundary, with Nyamira taking the top of the cliff and Kisii hosting the lower part. In the ridge is also a seemingly bottomless pit called Engoro ya Manga, which locals believed to have been connected to Lake Victoria. Residents fear the hole, which they believe “swallows” all living creatures. In between the hills lies a historic site, listed by the National Museums of Kenya as a national monument. It is of great significance for the Abagusii community as it provides a history of their way of life.

Kitutu Baraza Hall was built in 1957 by colonialists. The site’s curator, Hanigraph Otieno Oyugi, says the building was used by colonialists for meetings and would bring together members of the Abagusii community for monthly meetings.

“Members of the Gusii community from the Luo to Kipsigis border gathered in this hall each month for meetings with the colonial rulers. It was ideal because it was big enough to accommodate many representatives,” says Mr Otieno.

He says that, after the colonialists left, the hall was left in the hands of paramount chiefs, who would use it to hold barazas. The National Museums took over the hall in 2002 and plans are underway to preserve Abagusii artefacts in it, he says.

“It has since undergone renovations and in it lies a rich history of the Abagusii community,” says the curator, adding that the four grass-thatched mud huts beside it are a true manifestation of the way of life of the local community. The huts are a simple homestead of a Gusii man and depicts how he lived with his several wives and children.

LUANCH ATTACK

Here, huts for the wives were clustered on one side while the man’s hut was situated in a strategic place in the homestead that would easily allow him to monitor his wives and children. On the spectacular cliff, Mr Otieno says, history has it that it emanated from a volcanic eruption, which buried many people.

“A number of people have lost their lives on this cliff. They simply roll down the cliff — I know of three cases, two involving police officers,” claims the curator.

But the beauty of this site is being eroded by a population explosion. Kisii and Nyamira have limited land and increasing numbers mean people are being squeezed into smaller and smaller plots due to land subdivisions. Ms Jeniffer Kemunto, a 74-year-old granny, says the Abagusii first settled on the Manga Hills before they spread to other parts of Gusii region. “Our ancestors first settled here purposely to hide under the huge rocks, and also because at the top of the ridge they were able to see the enemy before they attacked them,” she says.

The area is full of caves and massive rocks that provide perfect hiding places and vantage points to launch an attack. She recounts that members of the Abagusii would often visit the hill during moments of distress to pray to Engoro (God) for intervention.

“We used to visit the caves to pray for rain during long droughts in the area and God would answer our prayers,” she says. She adds: “Even today, people come here to offer sacrifices to appease the ancestors.”

Local musicians have sang songs in praise of the hills.