Not In My History Books

When the Maragoli Clashed With Neighbouring Bunyore Rainmakers Over ‘‘Selective’’ Hailstorm

The Maragoli Hills. PHOTO: National Education Network.

My ancestors emigrated from then Vihiga district (present day Vihiga County) in the 1940s to take up land in Kisii. This move from the area which was part of the North Kavirondo (with headquarters in Kakamega) during the colonial period was a consequential one.

For a long time, I agonized why on earth they decided to leave the peaceful Tsimbalo village, and took the long, ardous journey in search for happiness, over 130 kilometres miles away. But as the former UK Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow reminds us, ‘‘history is more than the path left by the past. It influences the present and can shape the future.’’

Anyway, from information I have gathered, in the ruins of what used to be their home, now stands a primary school. I intend to go there one day for a final salute to my cradle.

Since that great migration down south, in my family, we always call ourselves, Avanganyi which is a Maragoli (Logoli) word which denotes  ‘‘migrants.’’ The  moment we settle in a place, we are almost scouting for the next better place. Not sure why we aren’t pastoralists because the trend hasn’t stopped yet. We probably need some DNA test to establish our proper lineage, uh?

This is precisely because from the time they left their humble and peaceful Tsimbalo abode to Kisii, they set future generations on a path of perpetual movement. Their scions have made almost three or four other moves from then. And I greatly suspect, that my generation too is  the way in that great tradition. And we may never be the last.

One most striking pattern in the movement which I have personally discovered, is that we never live far from the road. At bare minimum, we always pitch tent near a main road, probably to make the next flight a convenient one.

It also explains why whenever I am asked where I come from, I have to  request the enquirer if they have time for a long story about where I come from. And most people have always fallen the simple test when they profile me.

I have always wondered what led my great-grandfather and his brother to leave their ancestral land in Maragoli and go away, for good. In digging for information and through interviews with my late grandmother, and other knowledgeable people on the subject, I have been able to tie some lose ends in this grand story of adventure.

The Trailblazers

People transporting granite in Vihiga County. Granite is in abundance in the area blessed with rocky environment. PHOTO: Maragoli Community Development Foundation (MACODEF).

We owe our story of that migration to one Enoka Obwoyere Muyonga, a veteran brick layer from Vihiga who shone the bright light which illuminated the path of migration for the others. I am informed that Mr. Muyonga was among the team that built the Kisii GK Prison and the then Government African School (now the Kisii School).

It was the venerable Muyonga who in the course of his work, would meet Senior Chief Musa Nyandusi (the father to the late veteran politician Simeon Nyachae). That fateful meeting would change the story of a whole generation of people, back in his Maragoli backyard.

During the time, so the story goes, Senior Chief Nyandusi told Mr. Muyonga that there were vast lands in Kisii with no one to cultivate and that he should consider getting people to go till the land.

Then there was another gentlemen, the wandering preacher man Shradrak Amugo too, who brought back the moving tales of the land of milk and honey in Kisii. Mr. Amugo, who occasionally went back to his home in Vihiga, came back with riveting stories that captivated his listeners. That’s how sections of the Maragoli community took up the challenge to set forth to the adventurous journey to Kisii.

Mt great grandparents, would not be left behind. So they too, followed this shining star to Kisii. On arrival, they were both given many acres of land, for free to till and live on. One of my great grandparents was a preacher so he easily fit in at a time when natives really yearned to hear the word of God, from their own people.

Other than this great story of adventure, Vihiga witnessed severe drought and famine for a long time. In 1942  there was rain failure which set the stage for a great famine and drought in the following year. But rain alone was not the genesis of the calamity that befell my people. According to Robert Maxon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who studied the phenomenon, there were also market dynamics, the environment, and state polices.

Information available shows that during the year, Asian traders bought up all the grain they could in Vihiga, creating shortages that in turn led to higher prices for foodstuff.

1943 was the thick of World War II and colonial Government mopped up food to support those on the front line. This, and the increased demand for foodstuffs which brought high prices in its wake, heightened the famine conditions as the market worked against those without the resources to purchase grain.

I now highly suspect my great  grandparents could not stand this ravaging famine for an extra day. Those who could not afford to buy food, faced starvation head on. This is how maize became a staple food in the area.

But the 1943 famine was not the only famine. Since the turn of the 20th Century, the area had faced significant challenges of depressed rainfall and drought in 1906, 1907, 1910, 1914 and 1918. With 1918 being the final year of the World War I, the were greater demands  for manpower, with able bodied men conscripted to support the global war. This effectively compromised the labour available for food crop production. This is the generation which referring to how they fought in Tanganyika and Burma, among others.

Clash Over Hailstorms

Crops damaged by a hailstorm: PHOTO:Manoj Shembde

But it is the 1907 famine that remains etched in the memories of the people in this region. In that year, rains did not show up until March. And when they did, they were accompanied by heavy and destructive hailstorms that decimated the sorghum and banana trees. This destruction was more pronounced in the are occupied by the Maragoli people.

However, this wasn’t the case with the neighbouring Bunyore, which seemed to have been spared this natural calamity. With the Buyore having the distinction of being the home of the feared rainmakers, their Maragoli neighbours suspected that the rain makers may have had  a hand in the ‘‘selective’’ falling of the hailstorm which seemed to have spared the Bunyore area.

I can visualize the Bunyore rain makers struggling to explain the ‘‘science’’ of rain making, to an impatient group, and how it possible for hailstorm to only hit a particular area and not the other. The Maragoli, hearing none of the abracadabra of the rain makers, attacked their Bunyore neighbours, what the colonial District Commissioner (DC) called a “riot.”

The hailstorms of 1907 worsened the food shortage in the in Maragoli, as it was the tradition for people to cultivate food crops such as bananas for consumption and sorghum for sale in exchange for money to pay taxes to the colonial Government.

There are significant  populations of the Maragoli in Kisii County, and other areas of Nyanza, particularly in Migori County, but predominantly in Uriri Constituency. Their  stories may be different, but their inspiration for migration was the same.

And by the way, have you ever wondered why the place is called Vihiga (but pronounced Vi-shi-ga?

Well, much of the Vihiga county is punctuated by rocky hills, that dot the general landscape  of Bunyore and the southern portion of Maragoli. The name Vihiga comes from the local name for ‘‘rock outcrops.’’

Beyond Kenya, the World Dictionary of Ethnic Minorities also documents the existence of the Maragoli as a minority community in Uganda. It is estimated that between 25,000 to 30,000. Maragoli people live in  Kiryandongo District, in Bunyoro sub-region, Midwestern Uganda.

Star Witness at the ‘‘Kapenguria Six’’ Trial Pocketed KSh. 317K ‘‘Protection Benefits,’’ Later Charged with Perjury

he Kapenguria Six in a group photo with Daniel Arap Moi (third right). They are, L-R: Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba, Achieng’ Oneko, Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, and Fred Kubai. PHOTO: African Heritage House.

Mr. Rawson Mbugua Macharia, the star witness during the Kapenguria Six trial was paid  £2,070 (about KSh. 317,952 at current exchange rates) as ‘‘protection benefits.’’

Details from the proceedings of the UK House of Commons of 30th June 1959 show that Mr.Macharia, for accepting to be a prosecution witness, first asked whether the Government would give him protection on 6th November 1952.

And for his testimony, it is now understood that the colonial Kenya government rewarded him with a return trip to England, and a scholarship to undertake a 2-year public administration course.

‘‘The Kenya Government paid to Macharia and his dependants a total sum of £426 (KSh.64, 433) in Kenya and £1,644 (KSh.252, 518) in the United Kingdom,’’ said Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Secretary of State for Colonies during a question-and-answer session in the House of Commons.

Mr. Lennox Boyd was responding to a question by a British legislator Mr.Charles Hale, who had sought an explanation from the Secretary of State for the Colonies the total cost to Government of payments in money and grants of educational benefit, travelling and other allowances made to one Rawson Mbogwa Macharia since July 1952.

Lennox Boyd, the British Colonial Secretary. PHOTO: National Potrait Gallery, UK.

Mr. Hale had also sought to establish whether the payments were promised before or after the trial at which Macharia gave evidence. Mr. Lennox-Boyd was categorical that that Mr.Macharia gave the evidence without any manipulation.

‘‘In an interview on that day—6th November—with the then public prosecutor, Mr. Somerhough, after going over the statement of 6th October, Macharia asked whether the Kenya Government could give him protection should he give evidence against Kenyatta, and the deputy prosecutor said he would raise the question with the authorities concerned,’’ noted Mr. Lennox-Boyd.

The Kapenguria six: Jomo Kenyatta, Achieng’ Oneko, Bildad Kagia, Kungu Karumba, Paul Ngei and Fred Kubai were arrested in 1952 after the declaration of the state of emergency by the then Governor Sir. Evelyn Barring.

After standing on trial for six months, the six were found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment with hard labour. They were detained at Kapenguria, with some of them doing stints in Lokitaung, Lodwar, Maralal, Manyani and the Tarkwa Special Detention Camp.

Rawson Macharia was later charged for perjury.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies however categorically denied that even though Macharia was found to have given false testimony, it wasn’t as a result of any undue influence, as noted by the magistrate in the findings.

‘‘The magistrate found that although Rawson Macharia gave false evidence at the Kapenguria trial he was not suborned to do so. He also found that the six other prosecution witnesses whom Macharia alleged had been suborned had not been suborned and had in fact given truthful evidence at Kenyatta’s trial. These included the three men whose evidence was considered by the Kenyatta trial judge as ” the most important piece of evidence ” against Kenyatta,’’ said Mr. Lennox-Boyd.

The other witnesses were identified Ephram, Johanna, and Stephen.

Following the case, British legislator Mr. John Stonehouse called for a judicial inquiry into the Kapenguria Six mistrial.

‘‘As the magistrate in the recent case called him a perjurer, and as that case has thrown a very grave doubt on the conduct of the original trial at Kapenguria, is it not in the interests of justice in Kenya that there should be a judicial inquiry?’’ posed Mr.Stonehouse.

However, Mr. Lennox-Boyd dispelled any aspersions as to the integrity of the judgment.

‘‘It is quite untrue that anything has emerged to cast any doubt whatever on the validity of the sentence passed on Kenyatta,’’ said Mr. Lenox-Boyd.

The Kapenguria Six trial was a high stakes case.

It was submitted by the Kenya National Archives and Documentation Service (KNADS) for inclusion in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, which is a list of documentary heritage of world significance and outstanding universal value.

The entry is titled, The Arrest and Mistrial of Jomo Kenyatta and Five Other Nationalists.

Jomo Kenyatta and his co-accused were framed from their prominent role in the affairs of the Kenya African Union (KAU), the pre-eminent colonial era party championing the rights of Africans. In the period leading to the arrest of the six, KAU had waged a sustained agitation for various issues affecting Africans during the colonial period, particularly the desire for self-government and the return of land “allegedly” taken away from Africans.

The prosecution argued that even though the top honchos of KAU were appeared to be appealing to the outside world of their resolve to pursue self-government through constitutional methods, they were, on the contrary, secretly planning, organizing and developing the Mau Mau society, which was later designated a terrorist organization.

So On 17th November 1952, Supt. K.R.T. Goodale who was at the time an acting Superintendent of the Kenya CID, Special Branch, applied before a District Commissioner, who was also a Magistrate, for warrants to arrest Jomo Kenyatta and five others on charges of membership and management of Mau.

‘‘The place chosen was Kapenguria, a station so little known even to the officials in Nairobi that when they came to appoint a Resident Magistrate to hear the case they appointed him to the wrong province by mistake. Outside the houses of the District Commissioner and District Officer there was not much to see in Kapenguria,’’ reads the entry by KNADS.

The house where the trial of the trial of the Kapenguria Six took place. It is now a museum.PHOTO: National Museums of Kenya

The judge ruled that they used their positions and legal status in KAU as a cover-up for the underlying illegal purpose, which in reality was to drive the Europeans from the colony through armed violence and armed struggle.

At the centre of the trial was a key witness, whose evidence was greatly relied upon by the prosecution to nail the six accused persons; Rawson Mbugua Macharia.

He was the only witness who had claimed to have actually seen Kenyatta administering a “Mau Mau oath.”

Rawson Mbugua Macharia, who testified against the Kapenguria Six and whose testimony was relied upon to jail the leaders of Kenya’s push for independence. PHOTO:David Blumenkrantz.

In their defence, the accused categorically denied the charges. Jomo Kenyatta, the most prominent of the six, put forth a spirited defence, arguing that his personal character and values, abhorred violence in all its forms.

“I have no room in my heart for violence or the use of force; even in my school I reprimanded any teacher who used it on children. I don’t believe in violence. We look forward to the day when peace shall come to this land and that the truth shall be known that we, as African leaders, have stood for peace,” he argued.

According to Prof. David Blumenkrantz, of the California State University Northridge and who interviewed Mr. Mbugua in the later years, he characterizes the star witness’s demenour as a ‘‘diminutive, bookish former government clerk and local KAU branch secretary.’’

He has published his interaction with Macharia in a book, Edges of Africa that also features recollections on various issues from across Africa.A synopsis of the same is available here.

Mr.Macharia in his testimony before the trial magistrate asserted that he was personally present at the home of one Joram Waweru on March 16, 1950, where he had been administered the oath at the hand of Kenyatta himself, in a ceremony that allegedly included drinking of human blood, and nudity.

That was it.

It was the only evidence presented that sought to demonstrate to the court a direct link between Kenyatta and Mau Mau.

The primary charges leveled against the six were; managing an unlawful society and being members of an unlawful society, namely, Mau Mau.

Kenyatta and the co-accused were imprisoned for seven years with hard labour in 1952.

But there was a new twist to this high profile case.

Six years later, on 22nd November 1958 Mr. Macharia swore an affidavit recanting his earlier evidence, claiming he was arm-twisted by operatives of the Colonial government to give false testimony to fix the six accused persons.

Two months later, the state swiftly instituted criminal proceedings against Macharia for perjury.

The trial of Rawson Mbugua Macharia started in March 1959 in Kitale, western Kenya. The trial magistrate I. Rosen found him guilty, and sentenced him to two imprisonment, the maximum sentence provided for by the law at the time..

‘‘The whole subject of justice was thus raised anew. Suspicion of miscarriage of justice had hung over the of Jomo Kenyatta for six years and therefore the unexpected confession of the chief witness of the prosecution further fueled the suspicious circumstances surrounding the Kapenguria Trial,’’ notes Prof. Blumenkrantz.

awson Macharia leaving the courtroom in Kitale upon sentencing for perjury in 1959. PHOTO:David Blumenkrantz

In sentencing Macharia, the trial magistrate said of the accused: “his love of the limelight would lead him, and has led him, to be prepared to pay whatever price, except money, to be considered important.”

The accused, noted the magistrate, was reckless and carefree, especially in his wanton indictment of senior Government officials of complicity in the alleged bribery of the witnesses.

“I can’t really conceive a more serious offense. The accused indicted the Government and Senior Officers and didn’t care about it, didn’t care who he hurt. He didn’t mind what happened to the country, which he claims to belong to. Is that not a case for giving him as much as the court can award?” Quipped the magistrate.

In his engagement with Macharia, Prof. Blumenkrantz asked him whether he was the only one approached to testify in the high profile case or if the were others too who got the alleged overtures.

‘‘I don’t know, I knew they were particularly interested in me, because the DC knew I was in the political party. In fact, I was not a stranger to the government, because I had been in politics since 1937. And then, there were very few educated people in this part of the country. So I don’t know if he was asking many people. But one thing I’m sure of, they were looking for any information that would connect Kenyatta and KAU with Mau Mau, the link…. you follow me?’’ said Macharia

Prof. Blumenkrantz believed that Macharia’s penchance for fame may have driven him more than his sense of patriotic loyalty or remorse, as ‘‘disgrace and disaster are compartmentalized in his rationale.’’

‘‘Despite the judgment Rawson Macharia steadfastly insisted that while he had admitted perjuring himself at Kapenguria, he and other witnesses at Kapenguria had indeed been coached, and compensation had been offered and delivered. The British government itself later conceded that this was in fact true,’’ noted Prof. Blumenkrantz.

At a personal level, Mr.Macharia however felt a sense of great relief for having gone public with what he thought was the truth and not even the sentence that waited him could dim his resolve.

 ‘‘I did not expect to be acquitted—it would have been unthinkable. That the truth was now revealed, I felt much reliefed (sic) and looked forward to my imprisonment not as a punishment but as a reward that I deserved for my great sins,” he told Prof. Blumenkrantz.

Mr. Rawson Mbugua Macharia, the star witness at the Kapenguria Six trial and at the time considered the greatest traitor to the African cause in pre-independence Kenya, published his long awaited book “The Truth About the Trial of Jomo Kenyatta’’ in 1991.

He died in 2008 after being hit by a motorcycle along Thika Road.

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Story of Retired British Soldier who Sought Deportation from Kenya in 1958 for Being Broke Only to be Detained for 5 Months at Kamiti Prison

On 17th January 1958 at 5p.m, Captain Ernest Law, a retired British military man and former chief officer of the Kenya Prison Department (now Kenya Prisons Service), went to the Kingsway Police Station (present day Central Police Station in Nairobi) seeking for assistance.

Captain Law was apparently broke and jobless. During the colonial times, being declared a vagrant was a criminal offence.

The retired Captain was requesting police if they could assist him to be repatriated to his homeland in the United Kingdom. He was instead arrested and put into custody. The following day he was taken before the Nairobi Magistrate where on his own admission of guilt, he was charged accordingly.

It is a matter that caused serious interest in the UK House of Commons, with members of Parliament pressing the Government to come clear on the circumstances leading to Captain Law’s controversial arrest and detention. He was later deported to the UK on 16th June 1958.

A year later, the circumstances surrounding this incident were still festering in Britain with politicians seeking answers on what exactly transpired.

One legislator who was quite passionate about this matter was Mr. John Stonehouse, a firebrand Member of Parliament for Wednesbury and later Walsal North between 1957 to 1974.

John Stonehouse, British MP who vigorously followed up Captain Law’s case.

On 5th February 1959, Mr.Stonehouse asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Julian Amery to explain the details surrounding Captain Law’s incarceration at the Kamiti Prison for five months and whether the Kenya Government considered compensation for what he considered unlawful detention.

‘‘The magistrate found as a fact that Captain Law was a vagrant and ordered him to be detained in Kamiti Prison under Section 10 of the Vagrancy Ordinance,’’ answered Mr. Amery.

Mr.Stonehouse, not relenting, still pursued this matter on 12th February 1959, asking why Captain Law had to stay in prison for five months before he was deported.

‘‘A captain who served with distinction in the Army for twenty-five years asks the police for assistance. No charge is made against him, but he is detained in prison as a convict for a period of five months. Is the Minister satisfied that that is the way to treat a man who goes to the police for assistance?’’ He dug in.

It was the same line of thought advanced another legislator interested on Captain Law’s predicament, Mr.Aneurin Bevan, who was the MP for Ebbw Vale from 1929 to 1960.

‘‘Even though this man is imprisoned as a vagrant, how long must he be in prison in order to purge the offence of vagrancy? Is he to be there indefinitely, and how can he cease to be a vagrant, unless he has a chance of getting out of prison?’’ He posed.

Even upon the repatriation of Captain Law on 16th June 1958, Mr.Stonehouse would later follow up on other procedural issues, including why the exercise did not follow due process. He was concerned that Captain Law’s repatriation by air took place only three days after he had received his vaccination against smallpox and yellow fever, in contravention of the rules of the International Certificates of Vaccination, which require between 8 and 10 days, respectively, before validity.

Mr. Amery, while responding, explained to the legislators the futile efforts made to secure Captain Law sea passage. At the time, explained Mr. Amery, all vessels sailing for the United Kingdom were fully booked and as such, the air became the only available means, the concerns by Mr.Stonehouse notwithstanding.

 ‘‘An air passage was provisionally arranged for the 14th June or thereafter. A repatriation order was signed on 7th June. On being informed on 9th June that Captain Law’s air passage was definitely booked for 16th June, the officer in charge of Kamiti Prison arranged for him to be revaccinated against smallpox and re-inoculated against yellow fever immediately. So far as I know, the air company concerned did not contest the validity of the relevant certificates,’’ added Secretary Amery.

As to whether the Kenyan Government considered compensating Captain Law, Mr. Amery’s response was curt.

‘’Whether or not Captain Law could have any claim for compensation on the grounds of his detention is a matter for his legal advisers,’’ he quipped.

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