A Glimpse of Kenyan History Through Pictures

The foundation of the modern day Kenyatta Avenue was laid down by one James Kerr Watson an architect and the owner of the huge Donholm Farm, which was where the estate with the same name stands today in Nairobi. The road was then known as 6th Avenue before it’s name changed to Delamere Avenue. After independence, the road was named after the President Mzee Kenyatta to the current name of Kenyatta Avenue.

Photo of Kenyatta Avenue in 1911. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Kere)

Photo of Kenyatta Avenue in 1911. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Kere)

The McMillan Memorial Library was established as a private library in 1931 in memory of philanthropists Lord William Northrop Macmillan and wife Lucie. Lprd MacMillan was the owner of the vast Juja Farm near Thika. The McMillan Memorial Library became public in 1962.

The Macmillan Library with the Jamia Mosque 40's (Photo by Harjinder Kanwal )

The Macmillan Library with the Jamia Mosque 40’s (Photo by Harjinder Kanwal )

In 1909, Kamau wa Ngegi joined Church of Scotland Mission, Thogoto, where he did his basic education and carpentry training. In 1912 he finished elementary school and became an apprentice carpenter.

Kamau wa Ngengi (Jomo Kenyatta) in 1912

Kamau wa Ngengi (Jomo Kenyatta) in 1912

The Kenyan flag was raised at UN Head Quarters in New York on the afternoon of 16th December 1963 when the country was admitted to the United Nations. Representing Kenya was its’ Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Kenya became the 113th Members of the Organization at the General Assembly plenary meeting that morning.

The first Kenyan Delegation at the UN General Assembly in 1963

The first Kenyan Delegation at the UN General Assembly in 1963

 Julius Gikonyo Kiano was the first Kenya to get a PhD, which he obtained in 1956 from the University of California at Berkeley. When he returned to Kenya he started teaching at the Royal Technical College, now the University of Nairobi.

Julius Gikonyo Kiano (1926-2003)

Julius Gikonyo Kiano (1926-2003)

The Nairobi Town Jamatkhana commonly referred to by the public as “Khoja Mosque” is a house of worship of the Ismaili Muslims who are led by the Aga Khan. The name Jamatkhana, means “prayer house or mosque”. The foundation stone for the mosque was laid by the The foundation stone was laid by the Ag Governor Sir Charles .C. Bowring on January 4, 1920  and it was officially opened in January 14, 1922 (see photo)

This photograph of the Nairobi Town Jamatkhana, and shows the large crowd outside the Jamatkhana on its opening day in 1922. Photo Credit: Al-Karim Walli, Calgary

This is an early photograph of the Nairobi Town Jamatkhana, and shows the large crowd outside the Jamatkhana on its opening day in 1922. Photo Credit: Al-Karim Walli, Calgary

Completed in 1909, the Thomas-Watson Memorial Church  was built in the memory of Rev Thomas Watson who arrived in Thogoto as a Scottish missionary in 1898 and set up camp. He died on December 4, 1900 due to Pneumonia. Watson was married to Minnie Cumming Watson who started the first schools in Kikuyu land.

Thomas-Watson Memorial Church in Thogoto, Kikuyu

Thomas-Watson Memorial Church in Thogoto, Kikuyu

Kimathi Avenue is Nairobi was known as Hardinge Street until the 1960s and was later named after the Kenyan freedom fighter, Dedan Kimathi. Sir Arthur Henry Hardinge was the Colonial Head at the British East Africa Protectorate from 1895 to 1900 overseeing the construction of the Uganda Railway.

Premises of Alibhai Shariff & Sons on Hardinge Street around 20's (Photo credit: Robin Grayson, Website: http://tinyurl.com/k63ytwp)

Premises of Alibhai Shariff & Sons on Hardinge Street around 20’s (Photo credit: Robin Grayson, Website: http://tinyurl.com/k63ytwp)

Koitalel Arap Samoei was born in 1860 and died in October 19, 1905 after he was shot by British Col. Richard Meinertzhagen under the guise of negotiating a truce, and was instead murdered along with his companions at Get Barak village in Nandi. He was an Orkoiyot (the supreme chief) of the Nandi people of Kenya, who led the Nandi rebellion against the British colonial rule.

Koitalel Arap Samoei (Photo credit:  Emo Media)

Koitalel Arap Samoei (Photo credit: Emo Media)

Lady Gladys Delamere became the first female mayor of Nairobi in 1938 to 1940. She was the wife to Lord Hugh Cholmondeley Delamere.

Lady Gladys Delamere the first woman mayor of Nairobi

Lady Gladys Delamere the first woman mayor of Nairobi



Kikuyu Clans and their Attributes



Kikuyu elders at a Beer Festival (Tuthu Village,Muranga in 1908)

According to Kikuyu tales, God, Ngai, created the first man Gikuyu and placed him at a place near Mount Kenya at a place called Mukurwe wa Gathaga in present day Muranga County. He was lonely and he asked Ngai for a partner. Ngai gave him a woman called Mumbi and together they got 9 daughters. The clans of the Kikuyu are named after these daughters:

  1. Wanjirũ is the mother to the Anjiru clan
  2. Wanjiku is the mother to the Anjiku clan
  3. Wambũi  is the mother to the Ambui clan
  4. Wangũi or Waithiegeni is the mother of the Angui or Aithiegeni clan
  5.  Waithĩra or Wangeci is the mother to the Aithĩrandũ or Angeci clans
  6. Waceera or Wanjeri is the mother of the Aceera clan
  7. Nyambura or Akĩũrũ or Ethaga is the mother of the Ethaga clan
  8. Wairimũ or Gathiigia is the mother to the Airimu or Agathigia clan
  9. Wangarĩ or mũithekahuno is the mother of the Angari clan also known as Aithekahuno
  10. Wamũyũ or Warigia was the last born to Gikuyu and Mumbi and is the mother to the Aicakamuyu,Warigia,Wanjugu clan

As you notice the clans are ten and not nine as per the number of daughters. This has been one controversial discussion among historians. Many historians attest to a 10th daughter (Wamuyu). Wamuyu, remained unmarried but nevertheless as a single mother became the mother of the Aicakamuyu clan. The common reason given for this omission is because the Kikuyu believe saying plainly there are 10 clans/daughters would bring bad omen to the community. According to Father Cagnolo of the Consolata Fathers in his 1933 book,”Akikuyu” he says the term used to refer to Mihiriga/clans was,”Mihiriga ni Kenda eihoire” meaning, “the clans are nine in full”. Stanley Kiama Gathigira in his “Gikuyu” book

Ni wega kumenyuo ati ruriri rwa Gikuyu ruri mihiriga kenda uiyuire – kenda uiyuire ni ikumi uhoroini wa kugera andu tondu Agikuyu matigeraga muigana wa andu, matigathire”– “It is good to note that the Gikuyu tribe has nine full clans – nine full is ten in the manner of counting people as the Agikuyu do not number people in case they perish

Gakaara wa Wanjau writes in his book Mihiriga ya Agikuyu, (1967)

Ona gutuika Agikuyu moigaga ati mihiriga yao ni kenda, ni kuri hitho yuikaine wega ati mihiriga yothe ni ikumi. Agikuyu ni matuuraga mari na mugiro wa kugera andu kana mahiu imwe nginya ikumi, na tondu ucio matigitikagira gutengura ati mihiriga yao ni ikumi tondu ni mehokete ati gwika uguo ni gutuma andu ao mathire. Handu ha kugweta ikumi magwetaga “kenda muiyuru.” – Even if the Kikuyu say that their clans are nine, there is a well-known secret that the clans are ten. The Kikuyu have lived with the taboo of counting people or domestic animals one to ten, and because of this they do not agree to state that their clans are ten because they believe that doing this will bring their demise. Instead of stating ten they say “nine full

Fred K Kago (1954) also states,

“Mihiriga ya Gikuyu ni kenda, kenda muiyuru” “The Gikuyu clans are nine, nine in full”

Another common feature is some clans have multiple names which is majorly due to geographical locations. There are two main groups; the Northern Gikuyu which is made up of Nyeri and Kirinyaga while the Southern Gikuyu include the Muranga and Kiambu.

A superficial look, one may think that the clans add up to 50-60 but that is wrong because each clan could have up to 5 different names. Below is a good example from a book written by Routledge in the early 1900s.

Routledge’s List of clans

1. Anjirũ

2. Ambũi

3. Achera

4. Agachiku

5. Ethaga

6. Airimu

7. Aizerandu

8. Angari – Aithe Kahuno

9. Angui

10. Akiuru – Mwesaga – Mburu

11. Aichakamuyu

12. Agathigia

13. Aiziegeni

It is clear that Routledge mixed up the clans by not taking into consideration that some had more than one name. For example, Aitheigeni and Angoi are one clan.

The clans of the Kikuyu had different attributes and performed different roles to the collective harmony of the whole tribe,Nyumba ya Mumbi

Anjiru: Wira wao ni wa kuhingira thu cia ruriri, magongona ma 
kurathima mbutu cia mbara 

They are the defenders and offer sacrifices for warriors before war

Ambui: Kuiyira na guthiganira ruriri hitho cia thu na Kwenda 
unene kana utongoria

They are the spies in the land and always seek leadership

Agaciku: Atahiri a ruriri, Nimendete muno gukiana 

They are very good brokers and negotiators

Aceera: Aciririri a ruriri, gutugania na kanua na ciugo njega no 
kuheana kindu ni hinya

They are good lawyers and have a very sweet tongue. However, they are very mean

Airimu kana Agathigia: Kuhingira thu na ihooto rurini-ini

They are defenders of the land

Ambura kana Ethaga/Akiuru: Kurumanira thu cia ruriri aingi ni arigitani na mari 
mithaiga na urogi

They are doctors but are also thought to be witchdoctors

Angari kana Aithekahuno: Ni agwimi a ruriri , ni hinga.

They are investigators in the community (CID)

Angui kana Aithiegeni: Aigwithania agutwara uhoro kiama-ini.

They are messengers in the land

Angeci kana Aithera andu: Thigari cia ruriri. 
They are the warriors who protect the land

Aica Kamuyu: Athii na gutega na aingi ao makoragwo mari 

They are witches


The clans are all equal and none is greater or more privileged that the other. The Mihiriga seem to have played different roles all towards one social network.  Gakaara wa Wanjau in his book in 1967, he gives different attributes that were given to each clan and it seems more of the role each played in the Agikuyu nation.

Inter-marriage between the different clans was allowed although in exception cases head of a family did prohibit intermarriage especially in cases where they had been mistreated under the said clan.

Hospitality was very high between and within the clans. Father Cagnolo says “no Kikuyu starting a journey would think of what they have to eat on the way. If a member of the clan suffered a grave abuse the whole clan would solidly join to get justice.




Hilarious Origin of Names of Towns and Locations in Kenya

Kenya is home to many trading centers and towns some with very interesting names, but have you ever thought of how the name of your town or village came about? Some of the names came about by what we can term as sheer coincidence and twists which are funny.

Dagoretti Corner: The place was originally known as “The Great Corner” and the Africans could not pronounce it correctly and the corrupted version became Dagoretti Corner which was directly from The Great Corner which has stuck to this day. The Great Corner was the site of the first airfield in Kenya; a patchy grass runway around the present Meteorological Department.


Rumuruti: Rumuruti is a town in Laikipia County about 40km north of Nyahururu. How did it get its’ name? The town was on the route from Nyahururu to Mararal which was commonly used by white settlers. They referred to the trail between the two settlements as a “Remote route”. The corrupted version of this then became Rumuruti, the town name as we know it today. Rumuruti was the site of a huge meteor shower in 1934 and some of them are on sale on e-bay http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.Xrumuruti&_nkw=rumuruti&_sacat=0&_from=R40

Thogoto: The Church of Scotland Mission was the first mission to settle in the now little town near Kikuyu in Kiambu County. The local Kikuyu Community could not pronounce the name Scotland easily and they would pronounce it as “Thigoto” and thus the name Thogoto was born. Today the town has maintained the name Thogoto and that PCEA Church of the Torch one of the oldest mission churches still stands.

Kapropita: This is a town in the former Rift Valley in Baringo County. A settler known as Corporal Peter lived in the area during the pre-independence period. His name was a tough one for the locals to pronounce and the area soon was referred as Kapropita which is a corrupted version of Corporal Peter.

Kabarnet:  It’s believed that the town is named after a French man known as Barnet who settled in the area and made it his home. The local Tugen people then started to refer to the place as Ka- Barnet. The word “Ka” means “the homestead of” and therefore the name Ka-Barnet means the place/home of Barnet.

Rod-Kopany: Is a busy town  in Homa-Bay County. During the construction of a road in the area the Mehta Singh Road Company the residents would refer to it as Rodi Kopany. This name quickly stuck and the town was known as Rod-Kopany which is a corruption of the name Road Company.

Kirigiti: There was a popular cricket field in Kiambu and it was popular with settlers who would frequent the place from surrounding farms. The local Kikuyu community could not pronounce the name Cricket and they pronounced it as Kirigiti. Today the stadium is referred to as Kirigiti which is just a version of Cricket but with a Kikuyu corruption to it. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta held his last rally at Kirigiti stadium before the declaration of emergency in 1952.

Roysambu: Roysambu is a suburb along the Thika superhighway in Nairobi City County. The place was known as “Royal Suburbs” during the colonial times. However the Africans in Nairobi pronounced it as Roy-Sabu and thus it got the name “Roysambu”.

Kariakor: During the First World War a contingent of Africans were in the British army as carrying luggage. The Carrier Corps, as they were known, carried everything the soldiers needed to survive during the East African Campaign of the First World War. Their base in Nairobi was around the present day Kariakor area. The locals simply called the place Carrier corps which with a local dialect influence sounded like “Kariako” and it’s today still called by that name.

Tenwek: Is a shopping centre located in Bomet County and location of one of the oldest hospitals in the region which was built in 1936. The name Tenwek is believed to have come about because it took ten weeks to travel from the Mombasa to the area by foot.

Matayos: In the county of Busia there is a trading called Matayos. According to the residents of Busia a European by the name Mathew moved to the area during the colonial times. The residents referred to him as “Mathayo” which is the Kiswahili version of Mathew. However, in Luhya dialect the name was pronounced as “Matayo”. Today Matayos is one of the new constituencies in Busia.

While many of these were English names corrupted into local dialects, there are a number of places in Kenya where local names were Anglicized by the European settlers.

Msongari: The name was Muthangari and an area in Lavington still maintains that name. The name was a bit tuff for the settlers and they pronounced it as “Msongari”.

Now that is Kenyan history in a bit.