Saturday 9 December 2023


Chief Kamiri Wa Itherero "signs" a treaty in the presence of Sir William Mackinnon on August 11, 1889.

In the treaty, Kamiri relinquished his traditional rule  over Riuki and was appointed a chief by the the IBEAC.

Kamiri was a feared  witch doctor, something  that gave him great influence over his people.

According  to one of the earliest  British administrators in Kenya Mr Charles William Hobley,  even though Paramount Chief Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu was above Chief Kamiri, he always stood up as a sign of respect whenever Kamiri entered  a meeting.

" It is believed that no Kikuyu, however strongly supported by the Government, would really dare to go against Kamiri, " Hobley  wrote.

To show how powerful he was, one day Chief Kamiri intentionally left a bag full of rupees by the roadside . Even though the bag stayed there for months, nobody interfered with it.

Whenever Kamiri said you were a thief, everyone  believed you were a thief. And whenever he cast a spell on someone, everyone believed the spell was justified.

" It is not very surprising that this cunning medicine man, with his uncomfortable supernatural powers and his science of detection, should not enjoy great popularity," Hobley wrote.

On one occasion, Kamiri volunteered to reveal the culprit from two people who had been arrested by the  police for stealing cows.

Kamiri lined up the two and rubbed some powder on their noses and palms. He then shaked a gourd over   a lizard and around the two men. Thereafter, he asked the first man whether he was the thief. The man said no, and Kamiri placed a lizard on his nose, but nothing happened. Kamiri pronounced this man innocent.

He repeated the same question on the second man, but immediately the man denied it, the lizard bit his nose repeatedly. 

When Kamiri was asked whether  the man was the culprit he said no because if he had been so the lizard would have held onto his nose and not let go.

In his conclusion biting repeatedly meant that the man was not the thief but was also not innocent. According to him it was highly likely that the man had abetted the theft. This was indeed confirmed by the court which found out that the man knew about the theft but never reported it.

According to Hobley Kamiri was just a trickster. He argued that the breathing of the two men influenced  the lizard's action. So long as the man breathed freely, the lizard would not bite, but when he held his breath or breathed strongly, after holding it, the lizard hung  to his nose.

But there were also some Europeans who believed in Kamiri's magic. One told  Hobley how Kamiri had made one of his sheep  to swell to an enormous size within minutes. There was a profound belief that Kamiri's medicine, unlike most others, did not lose its potency with Europeans.

Narrating another incident involving a European Hobley wrote: "Kamiri once gave some medicine to a European in order that he should win a race, and the story goes that the medicine worked satisfactorily."

Around 1912, the church and the missionaries especially from the Gospel Missionary Society began complaining about Kamiri's activities. They petitioned the District Commissioner to fire Kamiri  as chief .  The DC apart from refusing  to fire Kamiri also sided with him, praising him as a good administrator. 

After some months the missionaries  sent a second  petition  to the DC, insisting that Kamiri was a witchdoctor  and a medicine man  who instilled  great fright in the locals. Once again the DC refused  to fire Kamiri and  for the second  time, sided with him.

It was not until  1920 after the arrival  of a new DC when the missionaries  succeeded  in their quest to have Kamiri  fired. The new DC did not only fire Kamiri  but also sent  him to jail.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...