Many ethnic communities in ancient Kenya were led by Councils of Elders which made decisions regarding its people. However, during the colonization era, the position of Paramount Chief was created by the British administration in order to effectively govern the colonies between the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of them are exhibited herein.
Waiyaki wa Hinga; an Agikuyu nation leader and Kenyan anti-colonial leader who was chief of Dagoretti. Waiyaki signed a treaty with Frederick Lugard of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC). However, having been subject to considerable "harassment" by the British, Waiyaki burnt down Lugard's fort in 1890. Waiyaki was finally captured two years later and killed and buried upside down near Kibwezi. [Source: English Encyclopedia]
Karuri was born in Kanonero village in Iyego location in Murang’a: the time of his birth is estimated to be 1849 for he was circumcised in 1869 at the age of 20. Originally, his name was Thuo but after his escape from a burning house, he was nicknamed Karuru (bitter man) or Karua na Ngai (he who had been initiated together with a god). [Source: Standard Digital]
Chief Wambugu Mathagania and Chief Njiiri Karanja of the Agikuyu
Senior Chief Wambugu wa Mathangani (1865 - 1959) was established as a Paramount Chief on April 25th 1913. Although illiterate, he valued education and he donated land to learning institutions.
Chief Njiiri Karanja is remembered as chief who smashed his ‘lying’ radio “when it announced Kenyatta was free”. The anecdote is used to mock loyalist Kikuyu reactions to the 1961 release of a man they had denounced as part of the Mau Mau.
[Source: Standard Digital]
Paramount Chief Mumia of Wanga (seated) with his aides.
He is regarded as its last great ruler largely because of his interaction with and management of the British colonial transition.
He was appointed heir on the eve of his father’s death. Mumia occupied a prominent place in British colonial administration from 1908 to 1926 and was recognised as the Paramount Chief. He ruled the Kingdom for 67 years from 1882 to 1949 in one of the longest reigns in African history.
Research and curation:
1. Martin K. Maitha
2. Magunga Williams Oduor, who runs Kenya's leading digital creative writing space (www.magunga.com)
3. Belva Digital team.
Photography: Bobbypall Photography (http://bobbypallphotography.co.ke/)
Text & Images: Kenya National Archives