Wangu Wa Makeri: The Story of The Fiery Kikuyu Chieftess

By National Museums of Kenya

Wangu Wa Makeri: The Fiery Chieftess (Kikuyu community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
Wangu wa Makeri was was born around 1856 in Murang’a. She had no formal education and ended up working on her parent’s farm as a labourer. It was there that she met her husband, Makeri wa Mbogo. Together, they raised six children.

Karuri Wa Gakure: The Great Chief (Kikuyu community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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It is said that she entered into a relationship with Karuri wa Gakure, paramount Chief of Fort Hall in today’s Murang’a and a man with 60 wives, who stayed in her family’s home whenever he stopped by in the village where she lived.

Wangu Wa Makeri: The Fiery Chieftess (Kikuyu community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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When Makeri wa Mbogo learnt about the relationship, Paramount Chief Gakure, in an attempt to appease and silence him, offered him the position of Headman. Makeri declined. The paramount chief then offered the position to Wangu and she accepted.

This was in 1902; a time when the position of Headman as the name suggests was a male-only preserve. Wangu wa Makeri became the first and only female leader of the Kikuyu during the whole of the British colonial period.

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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By this time the British colonial authorities had begun a taxation system, whose enforcement they passed on to the locals. Wangu became a figure of controversy among her people as the go-between them and the colonial authorities.

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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She was considered to be a harsh and authoritarian tax collector, who would intimidate tax evaders and subject them to solitary confinement. Wangu would often sit on the backs of offenders as they knelt before her in submission.

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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Her downfall, when it came, was spectacular and sent shockwaves throughout the entire region. The exact date is unclear but Wangu fell from power at a meeting held between 2nd and 4th June, 1909.

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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Before the meeting, Wangu had allegedly joined a group of adult men in dancing the Kibata, naked. This was the ultimate transgression because the Kibata was never to be danced by women. The story goes that Paramount Chief Gakure had also been part of the dance.

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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On seeing her lover dancing with abandon Wangu chose to throw caution to the wind, and discarded her clothing to dance provocatively with him.

Another explanation for her nakedness is that some conniving male dancers deliberately adjusted her ceremonial sword causing it to cut the strings of her muthuru or traditional skirt which fell to the ground as Wangu danced ecstatically, thus exposing her body.

Wangu Wa Makeri, the fiery chieftess of the Kikuyu
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Such was the insult to tradition that Wangu wa Makeri was forced to resign her position. But she retains respect and admiration as a pioneering feminist.

Wangu Wa Makeri's legacy lives on
Murang’a is a picturesque and fast growing town with rich natural and cultural history. The place was formerly known as Mbiri. Later with the settlement of the British colonial administrators, a certain Francis Hall built a fort in the town, and the place was effectively known as Fort Hall.

Today it called Murang’a. One of the most significant cultural sites in Murang’a is the Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga. The site requires regular rehabilitation to preserve it. It is important to safeguard our cultural sites for the posterity of future generations.

Credits: Story

Credits: Story
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)

Editing
Daisy Okoti - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shani Mutarura - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Jeff Muchina- Shujaa Stories Ltd
Brian Kiraga - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Illustrations
Masidza Sande Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Photography
Eddy Ochieng - National Museums of Kenya
Linda Tambo - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Juelz Laval - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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