‘Kenyatta caves’ where freedom heroes cowered

Thursday, October 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Mrs Mlekenyi’s displaying the bed which is believed to have been used by the founding father. Mlekenyi at the Kenyatta caves. Photo/COURTESY

In the tiny Mwanguwi village in scenic Taita Hills is a warren of caves which local residents hold in reverence.

Situated about three kilometers downhill north of Wundanyi town in Taita-Taveta county, Kino caves are believed to have played an important role during the independence struggle.

The caves now dubbed “Kenyatta caves” are believed to have been the hideout for the Founding Father of the nation and his allies to evade arrest by the colonial administration at the height of struggle for independence.

Although it may not ring a bell to many Kenyans, it is believed that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and the other Kapenguria Six visited the caves to seek refuge in a bid to escape the colonial dragnet.

President Kenyatta together with other celebrated heroes such as Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, Ronald Ngala, Paul Ngei and Tom Mboya, had sought refuge in the caves before their arrest in the 1950s.

It is in these caves that the heroes of the nation plotted schemes on how to topple the British power way back in the 1950s.

It was the late Mzee Zephaniah Nyambu Mwakio, a political activist and founder of a political lobby group, Taita Hills Association, who hosted Mzee Kenyatta and his group at the caves situated within his farm.

Oral accounts from the late Mwakio’s family members have it that Tanzania’s first President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere also used to frequent these caves where he swapped ideas with Kenyatta, predominantly on how to bring down the Western powers.

One of Mwakio’s sons, Charles Mlekenyi, who inherited the land on which the historic caves stand, recalls how visitors among them the freedom heroes used to flock to their home during his childhood days.

 “I remember in most cases we used to spend virtually sleepless nights as police used to rummage every corner of our homestead searching for Kenyatta and his group,” says Mlekenyi.

Traditional medicine man 

 He says inside the caves, there used to be a famous Taita traditional medicine man called Mwakishaluwa Mkamba who worked tirelessly with charms to ensure that the group was protected against any threat.

It is said the sorcerer’s rituals involved feeding a goat with a special kind of herbs after which he whispered the demands of his clients to the goat before suffocating it to death by blocking its nostrils.

 According to Mlekenyi, the medicineman would then split the animal’s belly open and then keenly examine its entrails for the outcome which he then released to the heroes.

 “If the ritual predicted anything foreboding, the medicine man would warn his clients about it and advise them accordingly on what to do,” says Mlekenyi.

 He says the heroes would later eat the goat’s meat mixed with protective charms and later irrigate their throats with a local brew called Mbangara to appease the ancestors.

It is in these caves where Mwakishaluwa allegedly predicted the arrest and detention of Kenyatta and his rise to power later.

It is said one of Mzee Nyambu’s wives the late Silvia Manga, would welcome scores of guests  who would accompany the former president and prepare meals for them beside other domestic chores back at her Mwanguwi home, oblivious of what significance her visitors had to the entire nation.

However women were not allowed anywhere close to the caves and whatever transpired beyond those undercover caves remained a top secret among the freedom-fighters.

 Women were only tasked with the duty of preparing the meals for the guests and trusted one of the late Nyambu’s sons – Gintone Mwanyumba  to serve them with food in the caves.

Staunch conservatives

According to Mwanyumba Mzee Kenyatta and his friends were staunch conservatives. They would use spoons while taking meals.

 “Whenever I served them with food they used their hands to eat and claimed that using spoons was an indirect way of promoting the Whiteman’s culture,” he said.

“In the caves, the heroes led by Kenyatta used to sleep on dry banana leaves and cover themselves with stinking goat hides.”

Having served Kenyatta with breakfast, lunch and dinner, Mwanyumba who is in his late 60s, reveals that when Kenyatta arrived in the area he had several goats which he used to look after as they browsed just next to the caves.

 “Kenyatta used to wear his long leather overcoat and occasionally looked after his goats during his stay here. I liked him because he was a jovial man and a very good friend of mine.” says Mwanyumba.

In 1948 Mzee Nyambu established Zephania Nyambu Intermediate School, which was the first private school in the region.

The school was built just next to Kenyatta caves and offered free education to the local children.

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