Unsung Taita hero with will of steel
Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu
Vuria, the highest peak of Taita Hills, plays host to a series of gapping caves and it is here where the story of Senior Chief Mwangeka wa Malowa begins.
Mwangeka was a heroic Taita warrior who led the community’s resistance against the British rule.
Although his exact date of birth was never documented, Mwangeka is believed to have been born around the 1840s at a place called Kwa weni Ngasu.
He is hailed for commandeering the troops in the Taita Hills to resist the British soldiers during the independence struggle until the colonial authorities finally killed him in 1892 when he was 50 years old.
According to documentation by former Mwanda chief, Ephraim Mwaruta who is a descendant of the late Mwangeka, during the independence struggle, the war veteran took charge of all the combat zones from Mackinnon Road in Taru area, Maungu, Voi, Taveta to Kilimanjaro.
“While in control of the business route from Mackinnon Road to Kilimanjaro in Taveta, the Coastal business community including the Sultan family were required to pay taxes to get access to Taita either from Mombasa to Kilimanjaro or the other way round,” says records compiled by Chief Mwaruta, who documented facts about Mwangeka’s leadership based on historical records and oral accounts gathered from residents of Taita hills.
He recalls that some of the businessmen agreed to sign treaties known as Mtero- with the freedom fighter, to ensure their safety while crossing Taita Taveta.
“The Taita military command under Mwangeka annoyed the coastal businessmen so much as the arrangement was seen as insolence to the leadership of the Sultan,” states the records by Chief Mwaruta.
During Mwangeka’s reign, the British colony was planning an invasion of Kenya under the imperial British East Africa Company.
In 1892 Captain Nelson teamed up with the sultan to destabilise Mwangeka’s leadership.
According to chief Mwaruta, the British colonial army came into combat with Mwangeka’s soldiers at Mwashoti, Mlughi village near Mrughua, sparking a heavy military fight that lasted a month.
It is said in the fight, the hero would be assisted by Taita traditional medicine men and a team of fortune tellers known as Walaghui, who worked tirelessly with charms to ensure that Mwangeka and his troops were protected against any threat.
“This strong resistance by the Mwangeka troops forced Captain Nelson to order a tactical retreat,” states Mwaruta.
The British military then sent their military intelligence scouts to villages to spy on the freedom fighter’s fighting tactics.
They met Mbogholi wa Samaghembe from Bura location who they reportedly bribed to spy on the war veteran.
“Samaghembe being a Taita and a resident of Bura, one of the worst insecurity prone areas of Taita, was seen as a trustworthy person.
So when he approached Mwangeka for advice on how to combat the invading enemies, Mwangeka revealed all his war tactics,” Chief Mwaruta says.
With the full intelligence report at hand, Captain Nelson commanded his troops and advanced through Mlughi village
While the massacre was underway, a man identified as Isanga Iwishi from Mrughua send out a message to Mwangeka.
He ignored warnings from fortunetellers, armed himself and took command of the fighting at Mwashoti where he encountered stiff resistance from British soldiers.
“Mwangeka advanced to the front line and got in combat with a strong British force at Mrughua.
His troops advanced down the hill unleashing arrows to counter attack the British force, but unfortunately a bullet fired by a British soldier took out Mwangeka,” he writes.