During the pre-colonial period roles between men and women were clear-cut. Men were protectors of their homes and owned the lands. Women bore children, tended the farm and took care of the children. Women were not supposed to speak before men. But there was one woman who did not subscribe to this narrative when it came to opposing the colonial rule in Abagusii/Kisii land. Her name was Moraa wa Ng’iti of the Kitutu clan.
Moraa wa Ng’iti was born around the mid-1800s and was a revered prophetess and warrior. She was married to Ng’iti a local medical expert of repute. Moraa was an activist, out-spoken, and a very brave woman among the Kisii community. She prophesied that the Abarumbasi (Europeans) would settle in Kisii land and take the people’s cattle and land. Moraa foretold that a local man by the name Ombati would betray the Kisii. That is why there’s a proverb among the Kisii, “Chaga osirebuna Ombati asirete’ (Die the same way Ombati did). This prophecy came true in 1907.
The Kisii were invincible in war. For many years they terrorised the British colonialists as well as the surrounding communities with frequent and successful raids. The British would hit back by shooting and killing men, women and children who showed resistance. A few Kisii chiefs gave in to pressure and collaborated with the British but Moraa wa Ng'iti relentlessly incited her people to revolt.
In 1905, the colonial army, raged vengeance to the Abagusii rebellion, killed many people, burned homesteads, seized livestock and destroyed crops. Geoffrey Northcote was one of the Britons most hated by the Kisii people for his ruthless killings of locals. He is quoted to have once said this of Moraa when asked what he thought about the Kisii "Oh ! They’re peaceful enough but it is their high priestess that causes me anxious moments. She has been aloof and broods, with anger in her heart and suspicion,"
Moraa did not like the influence Northcote wielded on her people. She came up with a plan. She incited the entire community, telling them that Northcote was a sick man because only very sick people were yellow or white in colour. She then urged her nephew Otenyo Nyamantere, one of the best warriors on the land to lead an attack on Northcote.
Otenyo gathered the finest of Kisii warriors and went after the British. Armed with only poisoned arrows and spears, he and his warriors lay an ambush in the path of the British who had seized another herd of livestock and were driving them away. Northcote was leading that expedition. Otenyo speared him on the right shoulder and he collapsed. On seeing this Northcote’s men went undercover. The Kisii warriors were so motivated by Otenyo’s bravery that they started carrying out reckless, frequent raids on the British. The British called for reinforcements and went on a man-hunt for Otenyo. They finally caught up with him and executed him
A new operation was mounted; this time to capture Moraa wa Ng’iti . Moraa was betrayed by some locals who collaborated with the British and revealed her whereabouts. She was arrested and tortured but she never denounced her will to resist British slavery.
Brave warriors of the past defended their land against the invaders. Today, we need to protect our lands against other forces: logging, charcoal making, soil erosion, drought and flood. If we don’t stop these threats they will control us. Where forests have been cleared, soil is washed away. Where wetlands have been drained, floods fill our homesteads. Let’s protect our forests, wetlands, hilltops and riverbanks!