Karuri Wa Gakure: The Great Chief (Kikuyu community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya
Karuri wa Gakure the Medicine Man and Warrior of the Gikuyu
Karuri wa Gakure was a Kikuyu chef. He was born around 1840 in Gathigiyo, in Iyigo to a father of the Angari clan and a mother, whose name was Wangari. His two blood brothers were Kiguma and Ngaru, while his sisters were Wambui, Muthoni and Gacoki.
Young Karuri displayed leadership qualities among his peers, consequently, they named him mutongoria which meant leader, and the name stuck.
Growing up, Karuri hunted elephants for ivory to trade with the Arabs. To supplement his income, he decided to become a traditional medicine man even though he had never apprenticed to be one. For thirty goats, he bought his first herbs from Githaiga wa Muya, Gikemi wa Karura and from the Ndorobo in the nearby forests.
He was initiated into the trade as a traditional healer in a big ceremony soon after and with that, he became famous. His fame increased further when he gave war medicine to the Kikuyu warriors of Karura in Kiambu to help them triumph over the Maasai warriors of Naivasha. He led the Kikuyu warriors to battle after giving them the medicine that was rumoured to make them invincible.
Karuri went to battle with the warriors as the Muthigani Wa Njama, leader of the war council. As the Muthigani, he carried githitu, the war medicine, without which the warriors would surely lose. The Kikuyu warriors easily won due to their belief in Karuri’s medicine and his presence. With the victor’s loot, Karuri also grew wealthy and influential, and rose to become a leader among the Kikuyu.
As a leader, more so as a chief, Karuri fought and conquered Chief Wang’ombe who had allied himself to the Maasai’s. Chief Wang’ombe had been unhappy with Karuri’s fame and power, and thought he could defeat him by taking advantage of the famine in Karuri’s land. Kariri also defeated Chief Ndiuni and his brother. Thereafter Karuri was feared by all the lesser chiefs.
During the invasion by the Europeans, Karuri supplied labour to the imperial British East Africa company at foresmith. The labour was for the construction of the Uganda Kenya Railway. Karuri also welcomed the Consolata’s fathers from Italy, offering them a place to build their missionary station as well as safe passage through his land.
His cooperation with the colonial government, notably through Francis Hall would later have him named paramount chief.
Karuri served as a go-between for people who wanted favours with the colonialists. In return, people would bring him gifts, making him even wealthier.
On January 14th 1916, Karuri aged seventy was baptized Joseph, while his wife, Wanjiru became Consolata. The ceremony also included a Christian wedding to his wife. And he then renounced all the other sixty wives as illegitimate. Karuri passed away on 16th May 1916 and was buried in Tuthu.
Karuri's legacy lives on
In the old days, medicine men and women could collect medicinal herbs from the forests. Today, these plants are becoming rare because of over-collecting. Conserving our environment is not just protecting wildlife – it’s also protecting our plants and traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 30 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team.
National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer
Nature Kenya - Other Contributors
The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)
Daisy Okoti - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shani Mutarura - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Jeff Muchina- Shujaa Stories Ltd
Brian Kiraga - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Masidza Sande Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Eddy Ochieng - National Museums of Kenya
Linda Tambo - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Juelz Laval - Shujaa Stories Ltd