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

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Comments 13 comments

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 15 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Nothing on Wamugumo either. I have always thought he was a mythical figure, since I have come across a children story. I will soon be writing about Kariuki wa Njiiri, as a I have met an old lady who knew him well. Watch this space.

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi profile image

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi 15 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Ok Kariuki. Perhaps l have to get info regarding Muhoya from older people who reside in Ihururu, Nyeri. There is this other person called Wamugumo who has been mystified. Wamugumo used to live in Njoguini village Tetu in the 1950's. There are old people from Njoguini village (Now demolished) who l contacted and they said they knew him very well. He was very stout and carried a very heavy spear. His built was within normal except for his strength since he could hold a bull a and wrestle it for slaughtering. He also used to drink a full calabash (apprx 3 ltrs of uji mukio) Do you happen to have any of his pictures. I really would love to share it with my colleagues and young ones so as to demystify him..

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 15 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi,

Thanks for your interest in Wangombe. I haven't got anything on Muhoya.

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi profile image

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi 15 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Thank you Kariuki and well explained. There is also a prominent man called Muhoya. I thought he must have been a great friend of Wangombe. Do you have any history on him since he is said to have owned Nyeri Hill.

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 15 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi,

Good question. It is generally believed that the Kikuyu did not have powerful leaders and that they were ruled by village commitees of elders. This is true to some extent. Leadership was not inherited and anybody could rise to be a 'Muthamaki' through all the ranks of eldership and have the title bestowed upon him by his peers. These peers (elders) ruled by proxy but they respected the leader they had chosen in the same way that a president is respected by his party's members today. This Muthamaki was expected to lead his people to prosperity by not only ensuring that peace prevailed for normal economic activities, but by also raiding neighbours for booty.

My understanding is that Wangombe rose through the ranks in that manner. When the British extended their sphere of influence, they worked with existing friendly leaders, and if a leader was not friendly at first, his people were subdued through punitive expeditions. Bowes was the first white man to live for extended periods among the Kikuyu and when he did so, Wangombe was already a famous Muthamaki in Kikuyuland and beyond. The term 'Chief' was introduced by the British.

In conclusion, Wangombe and Karuri were already Kikuyu leaders. The British merely rewarded Karuri with the 'Crown' (Kirauni) as a symbol of authority on their behalf as they did not have enough white administrators to cover every inch of Kikuyu territory.

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi profile image

Wanyeki Wa Mwangi 16 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

The information is very good. What l would like to know is who ordained Wangombe as Chief or did Chief Karuri have a hand on these friend who later turned foe.

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks Gichuru, the research is ongoing. I will update as soon as I have the info. Tell me what you know about her in these comment box.

Gichuru 4 years ago

Wow great information contained here. Great work. An update on the input of Wang'ombe's youngest wife would be an invaluable read.

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author


The issue of fighting a leopard may be the kind of myths that are common about great people.


the fact that Wangombe went to live with the people who killed his father indicates that they were relatives on his mothers side. Intermarriages between the Maasai and Kikuyu were very common. THe Kikuyu had entire sub-clans of 'Gikuyu gia Okabi' - Maasai Kikuyu.

You probably can still find elderly people who can give you more information.

KingOri 4 years ago

Wang'ombe Waihura was the father of my grandmother (wamuyu). I would like to know more about him. As for being a halfcast between a maasai and a kikuyu, that is new information to me.

Joseph Wangombe profile image

Joseph Wangombe 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

is this the great Wangombe Wa Ihura of the legend ,the Wangombe who killed a leopard bare fisted? As my namesake i was brought up to believe that he is our family ancestor.It is a great pleasure to read an authentic history

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Hello Patrick,

I have not been lucky to interview a relative of Chief Wangombe. All my notes are from secondary sources, such as the Bowes book you have quoted. I will be glad to read the interview you did and add it here for posterity if you do not mind.

John Patrick Kamau 5 years ago

we appreciate your sharing of this information on the internet.I had an opportunity in 1977 to interview the last of Chief wangombe waihura's younger wife Wanjiku wa Kagume at Kangemi Nyeri Kenya where she was interred after she passed away in 1979 ,77 years after Wangombe Waihura transitioned and would be glad to compare notes with you for posterity.She talked at length on the relationship between Chief Karuri Gakure, Wangu wa Makeri, Karianjahi a.k.a John Boyes, missionaries etc etc.She is the lady mentioned in John Boyes book KING OF THE WAKIKUYU referenced in your me on Email[ Patrickw57 at Gmail dot com ] I will be glad to facilitate our phone contact and provide you with more information on the subject.Thankyou. John Kamau December 18th 2011 3:41AM USA

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