Chief Waiyaki wa Hinga of the Kikuyu
Updated Sept 2013
Waiyaki wa Hinga: was he a Kikuyu, Maasai or Ndorobo?
Little is known of this Kikuyu Chief 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. Wa Hinga means that his father was called Hinga. Muriuki in his book on the History of the kikuyu tells us that Waiyaki’s father was called Kumale ole lemotaka – a hinga, since he could masquerade as either Kikuyu or Maasai.
Hinga is a Kikuyu name for men that may have two different meanings, depending on the circumstances.
a. Hinga – a person of mixed Maasai and Kikuyu blood who is fluent in both languages, or any person is able to speak both Kikuyu and one other African language.
b. Hinga - A hypocrite; someone who does not show true feelings or intentions.
The hidden entrances to Kikuyu fortified villages in forest fringes were called ‘Ihingo,’ – gates. Chief Waiyaki’s home area was at the border with the Maasai and had several fortified villages. A famous ‘hinga’ – one able to speak Kikuyu and Maasai during the life of Chief Waiyaki is remembered as Nyakairu. She is reputed to have brokered peaceful missions between the Kikuyu and Maasai when either of the parties had taken hostages.
Some living members of the Waiyaki family claim Maasai ancestry, which begs the question – Was Waiyaki’s father called Hinga? Was he called Hinga because he had Maasai blood and was fluent in both languages?
The Maasai and Kikuyu are not the only ones willing to take ownership of the Kikuyu as this quote from the Internet shows:
Chief Waiyaki was a Kalenjin (Ogiek) whose real name was Arap Koiyoki. The Masaai called him Koiyaki ole Lemotaka while Kikuyu called him Waiyaki wa Hinga. He was a respected leader accepted by the three neighboring communities. The Maasais recognized his leadership abilities, and so did the Kikuyu. However he really was an Ogiek. (Kalenjin online; www.kalenjin.net)
Some accounts, as will be seen below, attest to Waiyaki having ‘Wanderobo’ relatives so the claim that he had kalenjin blood is not far-fetched.
Contact with Europeans
Thomson would probably have been the first European to go through Waiyaki’s village around 1883, but he gave in to Maasai and Arab accounts about the hostility exhibited by the Kikuyu. Thomson recounted how the Kikuyu would be alerted about the arrival of a trading party with a volley of bullets in the air. After the warriors had ascertained that the trading party was peaceful, the women would come from the confines of the villages with farm produce for barter trade. Bishop Hannington also came close to the edge of Waiyaki’s territory on his way to Uganda but unfortunately lost his life in Uganda. Count Teleki and Von Hohnel were the first known Europeans to make contact with Waiyaki wa Hinga and other Kikuyu Athamaki.
It is generally agreed that the Kikuyu form of government was by a ‘Ruling age set,’ with the opposition being the ‘Rulers in waiting’ age set. It appears that each ridge elevated one of the ‘Ruling age set’ members into the position of a Muthamaki wa kiama – leader or the council of elders. Some of these local leaders were influential to begin with on account of great prowess at fighting, wealth, or otherwise accumulated the wealth as a result of the position. According to L.S.B Leakey, Waiyaki wa Hinga was not a leader of the Council of Elders but a Muthamaki wa Njama – leader of the warriors in his location. The warriors, besides defending their community from enemy attacks (the Maasai were the perennial enemy) also served as a police force, maintaining law and order.
The first recorded mention of Waiyaki
The first mention of Waiyaki wa Hinga was by Von Hohnel, who stated the name as Utahaj Uajaki in 1887. How the European arrived at the name Utahaj is a mystery. Von Hohnel, accompanied by Count Teleki were the first Europeans to penetrate Kikuyuland from the South. They were in the company of a notorious Arab by the name Maktubu. Some accounts claim that Maktubu was a former slave from Malawi who had taken to work as porter upon his freedom.
Other leaders mentioned in the company of Waiyaki were Terere and ‘Kassa.’ This last one has been identified by Leaky as Gathu wa Waruiru. In Von Hohnnel’s own account, Waiyaki was instrumental in facilitating passage of the Teleki/Vohnel party through Kikuyu land by constantly quelling the uneasy warriors who had been keen on disrupting it.
After Teleki and Hohnnel, the next European to pass near Waiyaki’s territory was Jackson in 1889 on his way to Uganda. Lugard followed him in 1890. This year was remembered by the Kikuyu due to locust invasion and was commemorated with the ‘Ngigi’ initiation group.
The Imperial British East Africa Company at Kikuyu
Lugard of the Imperial Biritish East African Company (IBEA) camped at the spot which would later host Fort Smith. Lugard referred to Waiyaki as ‘Eiyeki’ who showed him around the country. Miruru was one of Waiyaki’s brothers with whom he met Lugard. Lugard called him Miroo. Lugard stated that the spot which he selected for his camp was at the time called Dagoretti and there is reason to believe it was near today’s Dagoretti. Like Teleki before him, Lugard recorded that Waiyaki “friendly and helpful.”
There is a myth that the name Dagoretti came about from the words – ndagurite; He had not bought it. This is said to be in reference to the European who grabbed that land without paying for it. From this account, it can be seen that the word has more ancient origins.
Lugard entered into a blood-brotherhood ceremony with Waiyaki and other ‘chiefs’ before his onward trip to Uganda. He left one Wilson in charge of his ‘Dagoreti’ camp. It appears that Wilson and his men were unable to maintain friendly relations with the Kikuyu after Lugard left. When Lugard returned, the relationship which had been bonded with a peace treaty had degenerated into hostility and bloodshed. The garrison had been unable to defend itself with 150 rifles with well trained men “where formerly Wilson, was safe with 30 ill-armed men.”
Lugard found his camop at Dagoreti abandoned in favour of one in the spot he had rejected. Apparently the camp had been unable to control the men in the caravans from the coast which had harassed the Kikuyu, stolen their crops and generally caused a nuisance to the women. It should be noted at this point that there were plans to build the Uganda Railway and that Lugard was overseeing the surveying. Moreover the road linking the coast with Uganda passed through the edge of Kikuyu country in Waiyaki’s location.
Trouble between the Company and the Kikuyu
When Wilson evacuated from the Dagoreti camp, it had been looted and a steel boat destined for Uganda had been stolen and everything razed to the ground. Wilson with the help of armed men from the Machakos fort had come to revenge against the Kikuyu for the distraction of the fort. Wilson took the Maasai as his allies and fined the Kikuyu 50 goats daily and 300 men on forced labour to rebuild the fort at the new location. Apparently in all this bad blood, some store goods had been in the hands of Waiyaki who duly returned them three months after the Wilson’s return. But Wilson soon lost his job which was taken over by Captain Eric Smith.
Smith and Purkiss with their large retinue of soldiers and porters spitefully pitched camp in Waiyaki’s own compound and stayed there throughout the construction of the Fort at Lugards first location. This was at “Kanyariri (Ndumbuini),
about twelve kilometres from what is now Nairobi’s city centre (Karume, Beyond Expectations)
Purkiss is also said to have made friends with a distant chief – Wangengi of a village near the Ruiru River. It would be interesting to find out if this Wangengi is related to the Kenyattas who have a similar name in the family.
Purkis frequently sent his Arab officer with Swahili armed men to Wangengi’s village for provisions. Apparently Maktubu and his men would acquire farm goods without paying for them. Further they would take advantage of the women, much to the annoyance of the Kikuyu.
Smith and Purkiss built a formidable fort for several months while still pitched in Waiyaki’s compound. The fort was completed in 1892. Furthermore, this man Smith did not respect the friendship that Wilson had had with the Maasai. His men finished off several of them, causing much disaffection among former allies which caused them to harass the caravans from the coast to Uganda. With the Kikuyu still smarting from the fines and forced labour, up to forty of the Imperial British East Africa Company’s men were eliminated. The Kikuyu openly voiced their wish to turn Fort smith into rubble, they way they had dealt with the old camp at Dagoreti. As expected, it got to the stage where Waiyaki was no longer friendly with the Europeans. It is said that whenever they attempted to contact him, he would conveniently be away on some mission.
Elimination of Maktubu - the last straw that broke the Company's back
The Kikuyu too were up to their tether. Unable to take it any longer, they finished off Maktubu during one of his forays into the interior. At the time of Maktubu’s death, a certain man in the troop by the name Abdulla Omar escaped only to lie that that Maktubu and others had been eliminated while buying food. The company administration in retaliation organised and
Apparently “Waiyaki who had transferred his livestock to the Githunguri area, learned of the impending
expedition in advance and fearing that his livestock would be seized together with those of the
people involved in the battle of Ting'ang'a gave a timely warning to his riika (age mate) Gikonyo. This Gikonyo was at the time harbouring Waiyaki’s livestock. He also informed other people in
with the result that the punitive force captured only about sixty sheep and goats combined. Apparently messengers had been sent on foot to warn Waiyaki’s “ Wadorobo relatives.” (http://kenyacommunities.org/articles&downloads/Chapter%20Three.pdf)
Purkiss was infuriated by the loss of his trusted servant. Besides the trade goods, the arms in Maktubu’s party were also taken by the Kikuyu. Purkiss’ reprisals against the Kikuyu with the help of one Macdonald, were unrivalled until perhaps the advent of the Mau Mau war for independence, over fifty years later. Purkiss and Macdonald razed villages and fired at warriors like wild game. The warriors had attempted to resist guns with their traditional spears and learned terrible lessons in the process. Scores were eliminated and Maimed while Purkiss ignored peace parties as he demanded the stolen goods and guns.
A brawl between Purkiss and Waiyaki
Having rendered many women and children homeless by burning their villages, the Purkiss party returned to Fort Smith. Upon their return, Leakey reports that Waiyaki showed up, drunk and entered Purkiss room. He proceeded to taunt him for having done poorly in securing cattle from the ‘Waruguru’ Kikuyu. These Waruguru, whom Lugards called the ‘guruguru’ were apparently Waiyaki’s kin.
Purkis attempted to push Waiyaki out of the room. But Waiyaki was a ‘Muthamaki wa Njama’ - leader of the Warriors, and would not take a push from a mere mortal kindly. Apparently he attempted to unsheathe his sword, whereby Purkiss disarmed him and hit him hard on the head, some say with the same sword. He then had him bound and locked him in a room overnight. According to Karume in Beyond expectations, “that room is still standing today, and can
be found at Ndumbu-ini just off Waiyaki Way. However, others have a different account. A PDF on the Net reports that “he was overpowered and handcuffed to the Fort flagstaff with a chain around his neck as an additional safeguard and in that state spent the night in the fort square.” (http://kenyacommunities.org/articles&downloads/Chapter%20Three.pdf)
The following day a court was convened with Waiyaki’s brothers in attendance. According to Macdonald, Waiyaki’s only defense was that he was drunk. The Company’s verdict was “to deport him permanently from the country, where he had proved such a treacherous enemy, and the cause of so much bloodshed.” The Colonel called in Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu a porter who had been in Waiyaki’s employ to take over leadership.
Leakey who had interviewed Waiyaki’s surving agemates learned that the warriors had planned a rescue mission but apparently Waiyaki had threatened them with curses if they dared. He had always been peace loving and had wanted peace to prevail in spite of his tribulations.
The end of the road at Kibwezi for Waiyaki
Naturaly the journey to the coast was on foot, long and tortuous. When the party reached Kibwezi, the blow to Waiyaki’s head caused complications and he died. Karume on the other hand claims that Purkiss who was in the caravan eliminated Waiyaki. According to a legend that is known to the Kikuyu, Waiyaki was buried upside down in Kibwezi as further sacrilege to the great leader. In Macdonalds words, Purkiss died a few years later and was buried at Kibwezi where “the graves of the two combatants lie close together.” The inference here is that the body was transported back to Kikuyu. However, the family (which has people called Waiyaki among other names) maintains that the body was never returned to Kikuyu. In fact, some years ago, when Wambui Otieno (Sister to Dr. Munyua Waiyaki) was still alive, there was a claim that a skeleton had been found at Kibwezi, presumably with the kind of evidence that would suggest a blow to the head. There was some press coverage about DNA tests to establish the truth, but what became of the tests is not public knowledge. Perhaps a reader with some insight can let us into the picture.
Following Waiyaki’s death, Purkiss was demoted to second in command and Nelson took over the running of the fort. Relations with the Kikuyu however deteriorated into daily scenes of bloodshed occasioned by both parties. When Sir Gerald Portal arrived at the fort, he found that:
“At Kikuyu, the European-in-charge dare not venture 200 yards from his stockade without an
armed escort of at least 30 to 50 men with rifles. He is particularly a prisoner with all his people:
(and) maintains the company's influence (and) prestige by sending almost daily looting and
raiding parties to burn the surrounding villages (and) to seize the crops and cattle for use of the
company's caravans (and) troops.”
After Waiyaki’s death, Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu was appointed chief of the Kikuyu. Kinyanjui was to become one of the many ‘collaborators’ of the British Colonial Government.
A Kikuyu song accompanied by an Accordion
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 Wangombe waihura
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.