Chief Wangombe wa Ihura
updated Sept 2013
Chief Wangombe was the son of a Kikuyu man and a Maasai woman. He was born in Tetu, at Kamakwa near present day Nyeri Town. His father and therefore the whole family belonged to the Ambui clan, of Thiukui Mbari. Mbari is a cluster of homesteads whose members of several generations can trace their origins to a single clan member.
His father was a trader by the name Ihura Karugu. He went frequently into Maasai country to trade with foodstuffs especially during famines and cattle epidemics when the Maasai needed grain most.
In one of Ihura’s business trips, in the company of the young Wangombe, he was dispatched by the Laikipiak Maasai. The young boy escaped and went to live with his relatives among the same people who had caused the demise of his father. After a period that is not clear, he returned to his paternal relatives in Tetu. But his kinsmen were suspicious of his relations with their perennial enemies and some people planned to dispatch him as well. But Wangombe got wind of those plans and escaped. This time he traced other relatives in an area called Ruthagati in Mathira Division, not too far away.
As a Hinga – a person who could speak both Kikuyu and Maasai, and therefore a perfect spy for either group, Wangombe betrayed the Maasai by leading Kikuyu warriors in successful raids. His ability to lead a double life and therefore fool his enemies endeared him to the Tetu people who accepted him as a leader. With this increasing influence, he was able to lead combined forces of the Mathira and Tetu warriors against the Maasai. Unfortunately for his Kikuyu People, he sometimes combined forces with contigents of the Maasai in raids against some sections of the Kikuyu and their close cousings the Ndia. According to Muriuki, In 1898, he made his largest ever incursion against the Ndia with an estimated “five hundred Maasai and Kikuyu warriors…”
For reasons that are debatable, Wangombe was not loyal to any of the two communities – Maasai and Kikuyu. Perhaps he bore a grudge against the Maasai for eliminating his father and the Kikuyu for not fully accepting him when he returned from Maasailand. When it suited him, he raided the Maasai at one time or a section of the Kikuyu at another time. The thirst for war and booty meant that he never lacked eager warriors for any expedition. Eventually, tired of his vacillating, the Mathira people chased him out to Tetu from where he continued to raid against them. While there is no record of the use of fire arms in these raids, John Bowes, a white trader was to write that he found Wangombe with rifles that were in working order.
The probability exists that among his mercenaries were Swahili or Kamba men who could use the arms. It seems unlikely that a man who pillaged as he did would let go an opportunity to terrorise his adversaries with gunfire. In a rare glimpse of tribal ritual, John Bowes describes a ceremony where an animal was sacrificed to god Ngai.
“...went out into one of the “sacred groves” in the bush, taking with them a sheep ...the blood caught in a calabash and put on one side. A sort of wooden gridiron was then made, by planting four upright sticks in the ground and laying others across them, under which a fire was lighted and the sheep having by this time been cut up, was roasted on this side... blood was put into the stomach to make a sort of black-pudding, which was then roasted and eaten after the meat. The meat was eaten in the Abyssinian fashion, each man taking up the joint and biting hold of as much as he could get into his mouth the mouthful then being severed from the joint with his sword and the joint passed on to his neighbour, who did the same.”
By now Chief Wangombe was emboldened to attack Chief Karuri of Muranga. It is during this insatiable thirst for greatness that he crossed Uthaya from Tetu, through Cinga on his way to the Kagundu river to raid Chief Karuri. He was accompanied as was the practice, by Maasai from Nanyuki. During that first incursion, there was a famine in Karuri’s country. Chief Karuri decided to fight another day and moved his people and property to Tuthu. Wangombe had a field day, pillaging the homes of the villagers who had not fled. Finding no resistance, Wangombe continued on a trail to Rwathia and proceeded unhindered up to the Maragwa river where he turned to Mugoiri, Mukangu, and Kahuhia ransacking and taking war booty. He eventually arrived in Mathira with many looted animals.
Since Chief Wangombe had not engaged Chief Karuri, he planned another raid, with hopes of vanguishing Karuri and extending his influence. But this time Karuri was well prepared as explained in the story of Chief Karuri wa Gakure of the Kikuyu
Needless to say, Wangombe lost at least half of his warriors and returned home a vanquished man. Later he sent emissaries to sue for peace. Chief Karuri readily accepted. After a big ceremony, the two antagonists did not fight again. In any case British Rule had already encroached and internecine wars were discouraged. Any group that raided a peaceful community could expect a punitive expedition with negative economic consequences.
Wngombe heard song similar to this one in his time
To be continued
1. Muriuki G. A history of the Kikuyu 1500 - 1900
2. Mutaarani, A Kikuyu Reader for Std. IV, Catholic Mission Press, Nyeri, 1953
3. Boyes, J., King of the Wa-Kikuyu, A true story of travel and adventure in Africa, Methuen & co Ltd. London – 1924, Ist published 1911
Other Kikuyu chiefs
- Chief Karuri wa Gakure of the Kikuyu
Chief Karũri wa Gakure was born in Gathigiyo, in the district of Iyigo. His father was from the Angare clan while his mother was actually called Wangare. In 1915, Chief Karuri fell gravely ill and requested to be baptisedby the Reverend Perlo and On
- Chief Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu of the Kikuyu
Kinyanjui belonged to the initiation age set called ‘Njenga.’ Kinyanjui had been banished from his home area in Githunguri for some transgression which caused him to relocate to Southern Kikuyu. Muriuki gives his origin as Kandara. It is not clear at
- Chief Waiyaki wa Hinga of the Kikuyu
Little is known about Chief Waiyaki wa Hinga who saw the transition from self government of the Kikuyu to colonial domination first by the Imperial British East African Company followed by the crown of the British Empire.
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