By TITUS MURITHI
ON 13TH -MAY-2011, Meru town marked 100 years anniversary since it was founded.
It is on 13th-May-1911, when the area where Meru town stands was proclaimed a township by the first colonial District Commissioner, Edward Butler Horne (Kangangi).
The area was defined as having a radius of one square mile from the British flag post where the Union Jack was first hoisted. The Union jack was at the former Pig & Whistle hotel, then called “Fort Meru”.
Pig & Whisle has since been demolished to pave way for the first shopping mall in Meru.
The origin of Meru town can be traced to the entry of colonialists in 1908. Earlier on in 1902, the whole of Meru region had been designed as a native reserve and closed district by the colonial masters (Britain) who had already established British colonial rule in Kenya in 1895.
The place where the town stands today was originally known as “Mutindwa”.
Mutindwa in the local dialect means a place where people go to while away time.
Meru traditional warriors could spend much of their time there in readiness to wage war against traditional enemies like the Maasai, Dorobo/nturubu and the Turkana, who used to invade Meru in those days during their normal cattle rustling.
Today one of the most remarkable place in Mutindwa where the traditional warriors could spend time while playing a game of bao (kiuthii) in readiness for any eventuality is “Miringa-e-Kiguo”, which is next to the vehicle inspection unit.
The town was supposed to be built at a place called “Kieni-kia-Mwitari” in Thuura about 9km from Meru town past Thimangiri market.
Kieni-kia-Mwitari was a very big field which was used for many communal traditional activities like wrestling, dancing, holding meetings and it also served as the traditional court field.
Mwitari, whose original name was Mwitari-wa-M’Karandu, was one of the best and the greatest spokesman (Mugambi) that the Meru community had during those days and also he was a greatly revered Njuri-ncheke elder.
By virtue of being a spokesman and a Njuri-ncheke elder, Mwitari used to conduct his court sessions and other community services in that field which was next to his homestead.
As a result of expansion of British rule in Kenya, by May 1908, Edward Butler Horne who was the first district commissioner of Meru and his entourage were firmly encamped at Mwitari’s homestead.
Mr Horne had been instructed by his government to proceed northwards past Chuka, Muthambi and Igoji establishing the colonial administration and rule in each area.
Horne came looking for Mwitari’s home as a result of an earlier encounter with Mwitari in Nyeri where he had informed Mwitari that he would come to Meru to establish the King’s authority.
Mwitari was at times a long distance adventurer and that is how he had met with Horne in Nyeri. He was presented with a black blanket as a sign of British authority over his people.
Horne who was later nicknamed by the locals as “Kangangi” (wanderer), arrived accompanied the King’s African Riffles soldiers supported by Maasai spear-men who had been specifically chosen for their height, accuracy in spearing, strength and fierceness.
Kikuyu and Embu warriors had also accompanied him as his porters.
To mark his triumphant entry and create an impact of his arrival, he came riding a white horse which was the first ever to be seen in this part of the world.
Due to its gallop movement, the locals referred to it (the white horse) as “ntuii” which means an animal that gallops.
After staying for sometime at Mwitari’s place and having put in place all the formalities of the colonial administration, Horne decided to venture around landed at Mutindwa.
He found the place more appealing than Kieni-kia-Mwitari decided to construct a more defensible and permanent camp there.
He communicated this to Mwitari who convened other local Njuri-ncheke elders who at once agreed unanimously to Horne’s proposal, which to them had some advantages.
To them, the place had always been potentially open to attacks from their aforementioned enemies who came for cattle raiding.
Therefore, Horne’s camp would serve as great barrier to those cattle raiders due to his fire spitting sticks (guns).
To Horne the place had several benefits as it is situated near a permanent water source, river Kathita.
Secondly, the place was high enough for him to have a panoramic view of the lower zones where the community members lived.
Thirdly, the place was open to cooling winds which were soothing to the white people.
More importantly, the place was next to a forest fringe which would supply building materials more easily and further room for expansion.
Pig & Whistle
Horne began to construct his camp first by instructing the already subdued local warriors to clear the forested place where the camp would be built.
The place was infested with a lot of wild pigs and Horne had to buy his camp guards’ whistles to scare away the pigs hence the name Pig & whistle hotel.
The next step was to construct two Canadian-style log cabins that served as his residence and office.
Thereafter a line of grass thatched huts were constructed set in a permanent square in traditional British military style.
The huts were for his soldiers who had accompanied him, his other staff and the local Meru warriors who had been enlisted in his services.
The local warriors were then instructed to dig a six-foot trench around the camp and water from river Kathita was diverted into the trench and the headquarters was complete and defensible.
Behind Pig & whistle hotel today that trench is somehow visible.
On 13th May,1911, Horne declared all the area within a radius of one mile from his headquarters a township under the East Africa township ordinance act of 1903 and that is how Meru town began.
Were it not for change of mind by Horne, today we could have Meru town in Thuura at Kieni-kia-Mwitari.
This is so because during the onset of colonialism in Kenya, most of urban centers grew around where the traditional community leaders were found by the first colonial administrators.
Some of the remnants of the colonial legacy in Meru town is the Meru Museum, and the colonial court buildings within the Meru police station compound besides the demolished Pig $ Whistle.
Murithi is a freelance writer based in Meru town.