Birth: Approximately 1840; Death: May 16th, 1916
Chief Karũri wa Gakure was born around 1840 at Gathigiyo, in Murang’a county. He is the man who was very instrumental for the entry of the gospel in the central Kenya by receiving the first Consolata Missionaries in his small village at Tuthu. He not only allowed the missionaries to settle in his area but he also provided them with land. This action was the start of the presence and the spreading of the Catholic Church in the great part of Kenya. Karũri will be remembered for his boldness to venture into novelty without fear. This partnership with the missionaries was for the benefit of his people and for a common good. He may not have lived long to enjoy the fruits of his decision, but others have and many more will.
On January 14th, 1916 [there is still an on-going discussion if it was in 1915 or 1916, with the consequence of his death being in 1916 or 1917, respectively], Paramount Chief Karũri was baptized and solemnized his matrimony in the Church by then Fr. Perlo, in a great ceremony attended by Consolata Missionaries and even non-believers. Karũri took the name Joseph, while his wife Wanjiru took the name Consolata. On May 16th, 1916, the great Paramount Chief Karũri wa Gakure passed away and was buried in Tuthu.
Thus, it is an event organized to help us trace back our historical Christian roots. It is as well a moment that makes us renew our faith and recommit ourselves into the values that has brought us this far. In celebrating the life of Chief Karũri we are expressing our gratitude for those who were the pioneers of the Catholic Church in Kenya. We recall the struggle of the missionaries and the support of the laity who contributed enormously in various ways for the spread of the gospel values among the people of Kenya and in the Nyeri metropolitan in particular.
We proudly acknowledge that the partnership spearheaded by Chief Karũri and the Consolata Missionaries has born uncountable benefits. Today we can mention the revolution of education system, the infrastructure of health systems, introduction of modern housing systems. We cannot fall sight of the communication and transport systems.
Particular to the Church, the Immaculate Sisters were founded, the Nazareth Sisters came to be, the Brothers of St. Joseph and other various fruits that came up due to the several institutes that were founded as a result of this encounter. Indeed, the Missionaries’ connection with chief Karũri opened many possibilities whose fruits are evident today.
Chief Karũri wa Gakure of the Kikuyu *
* Acknowledgement: This title reports the article "Chief Karuri wa Gakure of the Kikuyu" by Emmanuel Kariuki in Hubpages
The early life fo Karũri
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.
His brothers (from his own mother) were Kiguma and Ngaru and his three sisters were Wambui, Muthoni and Gacoki. Karũri displayed leadership qualities early among his peers who named him ‘mutongoria’ (leader) which stack like a common name. He belonged to the age set Manguchya makuru (old stealers of clothes) which was initiated around 1869. Karũri displayed his bravery during the village wars between warriors of one ridge with another.
When he was ready to marry, Karũri raised the necessary dowry and married Nduta, daughter of Kihia wa Kibe of Kanyenya-ini. Karũri built a home for his wife Nduta at Kigumo. During this time, Karũri was actively involved in elephant hunting. He traded the ivory with Arabs who came inland up to Naivasha. To augment his income, Karũri decided to practice traditional medicine even though he had not been apprenticed. With thirty goats, he bought his first batch of herbs from Githaiga wa Muya, Gikerumi wa Karura and from the Ndorobo in the nearby forests. He was eventually inaugurated in a big ceremony into the trade as a traditional Doctor. This trade made him famous far and wide. Karũri ’s fame increased when he agreed to give war medicine to the Warriors of Karura (Kiambu) in their perennial wars with the Naivasha Maasai. He even led them in the battles after applying on them the medicine that was supposed to make them invincible.
It is not clear whether Karũri went with the Warriors in battle as the ‘Muthigani’ or leader of the war council ‘Njama’. The lead Chief Muthigani (lead spy/scout) carried the ‘githitu’ (war medicine preparations) without which the warriors would surely lose the raid. They easily worn due to the belief in Karũri ’s medicine and his presence. This earned him enormous riches from the animals that were taken as booty from the losers. This eventually led to his ascendancy to leadership, a role he had longed for, for a long time. It may be important to mention here that the Kikuyu Chief Muthigani and his assistants together with the war council (Njama) divided their warriors into three sections – 1.gitungati (reserve). These were the very best fighters who had proved themselves in previous raids. They also acted as guards to the Muthigani who carried the precious ‘ithitu’ (war charms); 2.ngerewani (advance guard). These were young warriors, some of whom would be in their first ever raid and eager to prove themselves; 3. Murima (rear guard). These were the older warriors would wait to receive the raided cattle and drive them to the safe forest edge as the ‘itungati’ and ‘ngerewani’ kept the enemies at bay.
Karũri 's chief enemy, Wangombe
Chief Wangombe who was allied to the Maasai of Nanyuki and Rumuruti was not happy with Karũri ’s power and fame. With his Maasai allies he attacked Karũri at a time when Karũri ’s land was experiencing a famine. Karũri decided not to fight and moved his weak warriors to safe areas. Wangombe attacked the defenceless villagers, burning and looting and went away with a lot of booty. He planned to come back and this time get rid of Karũri forever. But Chief Karũri was well prepared the next time round. He caused the death of close to half of Chief Wangombe’s fleeing warriors. The defeat was so resounding that Chief Wangombe sent emissaries to sue for peace. The two chiefs performed f ‘blood ritual’ for peace and friendship. The swore to never fight each other again. Karũri also defeated Chief Ndiuini wa Murathimi and his brother Ngambi. After that all other lesser chiefs feared him and caused him no more trouble.
First contacts with Europeans
Chief Karũri supplied labour to the IBEA company at Fort Smith (today’s Kikuyu Town) during the construction of the Uganda Railway. The Kikuyu around Fort Smith had already been enlisted by Francis Hall as porters between Machakos and Ravine. Hall had for sometime wished to open up the interior of Kikuyu land by starting an administrative station. It is at this time, during Karũri 's travels to Naivasha and Karura (Kiambu) that he met Francis Hall. Hall had already made a treaty with Chief Kinyanjui, and it is unlikely that Karũri would pass through Kinyanjui's teritory, or even make aquintance with Hall without the knowledge of Kinyanjui. A. t. Matson in his Autobiography of Hall writes that the Muranga chiefs had been requesting Hall to build a station in their area for a long time without mentioning Karũri by name.
Bowes, the Impersonator of Government
At a time when there was no British administration in Central Kikuyu, Karũri got entangled with John Bowes, a white trader of questionable character. Bowes was the first white man that most Kikuyu in central had seen, a fact that he exploited to the maximum. He inspired much awe for the guts to venture where many dreaded. During a famine that plagued the land around that time he was the only trader who could supply the mombasa caravan with grain from the interior which had fared better. Finally, After the Mbiri station was well established, Francis Hall ordered his capture. Karianjahi (eater of lablab beans) as the locals had named him, made thieving excursions disguised as punitive expeditions to amass wealth while staying close to Karũri in a symbiotic relationship. Bowes was charged with impersonating government. By the time of his arrest, Bowes was a rich man with three Kikuyu wives.
The Consolata Mission
Sometime in 1902, the coronation of King Edward VII was celebrated by his subjects in the new East African Protectorate, specifically in Nairobi. The Consolata Fathers had just landed in town from Turin in Italy, having come from the Mombasa port by the new railway. They had already made up their minds to evangelize the Kikuyu [NB: while waiting to go to Ethiopia, the original destination]. They were wondering how to proceed into the interior in safety due to the numerous bad stories they had heard about the savagery of the Kikuyu. It so happened that Chief Karũri was in town. When he heard of their intention to evangelize the Kikuyu, he not only offered them safe passage but also the land on which to build their mission station. The Fathers describe Karũri as "a sagacious man man of keen insight who had already argued that with the arrival of the Europeans his country would undergo great change." After a three-day journey, the party celebrated their first Holy Mass on 29th June 1902.
The Consolata Mission also credits Karũri with the kind donation of land on which Hall built a fort at Mbiri. Matson on the other hand gives the name of a Chief Riunthiwa Rangu, an unlikely name for a Kikuyu, as the chief who 'suggested the ridge above the Mathioya River as the most suitable site for the Murang'a station. The station was named Mbiri but later changed to Fort Hall in memory of Francis Hall.
The Consolata Fathers started their evangelization programme with an unrivalled zeal. After only eighteen months among the Kikuyu, they had seven mission stations in Kikuyuland.
Due to his cooperation with the emerging colonial government, Karũri was crowned as Paramount Chief. His peers were Wangombe wa Ihura in Mathira, and Kinyanjui who had taken over from Chief Waiyaki wa Hinga after the arrest and disappearance of the latter. Karũri attended church services and catechism once in a while.
Fort Hall was the pre-colonial name for today’s Murang’a town. This became a colonial administration centre for the subjugation of the inland Kikuyu. The Kikuyu nicknamed Francis, Nyahoro, (Bwana Hora, according to Matson) probably a corruption of ‘Hall’. Muriuki states that the name is derived from the Kikuyu word for cooling due to the role he played to bring peace to warring. Hall died from ilness on 18th March 1901.
The end of Kikuyu traditional government
Paramount chiefs presided over the downfall of Kikuyu traditional governments. Previously the muthamaki was accountable to the council of elders to which he belonged, not to mention his riika (age set), his Mbari (large family unit), and his muhiriga (Clan). These Paramount Chiefs could not be questioned by anybody other than the colonial administration which they served overzealously. They took anything they fancied from their 'subjects' including land and animals as they collectet hut tax for the government. Even by European standards, they were rich - very rich.
Chief Karũri is said to have made every effort to ensure that anybody who wanted favour from the white man went through him. Those who aspired to be chiefs would bring gifts to Chief Karũri so that he could put in a good word to Francis Hall. In the end Chief Karũri became a 'tin God' as Muriuki calls him in his history of the Kikuyu. It would seem that the Paramount Chiefs had the power to appoint head men. Karũri is credited with appointing Wangu wa Makeri as the first female Kikuyu headman (some call her a chief). Wangu has become a legendary figure in Kikuyu oral history. Read more on Wangu in hubpages.DA
Dust to dust
On January 14th 1916, the Reverend Perlo, in a great ceremony attended by all Consolata Missionaries and non-believers baptised the Paramount Chief. He was at least 70 years old when he was baptised. Karũri took the name Joseph, while his wife Wanjiru took the name Consolata. The ceremony included a christian wedding. We are not told what had happened to his first wife Nduta. Karũri is known to have had as many as sixty wives who looked after his Interests in various parts of the country. Since the Catholics preached monogamy, it is likely that Nduta had died, and all his other wives were regarded as illegitimate.
On 16th May 1916, the great Paramount Chief Karũri wa Gakure passed away and was buried in Tuthu.
1. Mutaarani, A Kikuyu Reader for Std. IV, Catholic Mission Press, Nyeri, 1953
2,. Muriuki G., A history of the Kikuyu 1500 - 1900,
3. Cagnolo, the Akikuyu, 1933
From Tuthu to the World with a Mission
Over 110 years have passed since Joseph Allamano, the founder of the Consolata Missionaries sent out his first missionaries from Italy to evangelize Kenya.
The pioneer Missionaries Fr Thomas Gays, Fr Phillipo Perlo, and Brothers Celeste Lusso and Luigi Falda arrived in Kenya from Turin on May 8, 1902 and conducted their first official Mass in Tuthu Muranga on June 29, 1902.
“The Missionaries came by ship and were received by the Bishop of the Spiritans, Holy Ghosts in Zanzibar from where they travelled to Nairobi then to Naivasha where they crossed the Aberdare on foot and arrived in Tuthu Muranga,” narrates Fr Hieronymus Joya, Regional Superior of Consolata missionaries in Kenya and Uganda.
The story of the Consolata missionaries in Kenya cannot be told without mention of Kikuyu paramount chief Karuri wa Gakure who received the first missionaries in Tuthu and assigned them a compound to stay in and to conduct their first Mass; under a Mugumo tree. “…we sang the Magnificat (My soul glorifies the Lord…) it was the inauguration of the Consolata Mission established in the Kikuyu region, about two days walk from the foot of Mt Kenya at 2,050 metres above sea-level…” wrote Fr Filippo Perlo in his diary published in the September issue of La Conslolata magazine. Today a beautiful memorial shrine stands at the point where this first mass was celebrated.
According to Fr Luigi Brambila, in charge of the Tuthu Shrine, the unique design of the Memorial Shrine was done by Italian architects during the 2002 Centenary Celebrations of evangelization by the Consolata Missionaries in Kenya.
“The design of the Shrine is like the trunk of a tree which has been cut and which is going to grow into a tree of faith, it symbolises faith.”
“Mugumo tree was a sacred tree among the Kikuyus; a place to offer sacrifices …so by providence the missionaries did their first mass under a sacred tree where other sacrifices had been offered,” said Fr. Brambila.
Fr Joya adds that the round shape of the shrine is traditionally African and signifies communion and togetherness.
“This place is significant to us the Consolata Missionaries for two reasons: this is the first place where the missionaries celebrated mass and shared with the local people in Kenya their faith through the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and it is where the seed of faith was planted and two it was from this place after being taken care of by Chief Karuri that the missionaries started doing their work,” explained Fr Joya. From their humble beginnings under a Mugumo tree in Tuthu, Consolata missionaries have grown and worked in 29 parishes across Kenya and in Tanzania and Uganda. Tuthu however was not conducive for proper evangelization, “the topography of the place, very poor road network and lack of means of transport made the missionaries move to Mathare in Nyeri which was flat land,” says Fr Brambila. “Here they were able to build institutions and form a base that was like the headquarters of evangelization from where congregations departed to various parts of the country.”
From Nyeri the colonial powers then gave the Consolata missionaries permission to evangelize the Northern frontier (which covers most of North Eastern Kenya). “The Holy Ghost took from Zanzibar, the Coast up to Nairobi while the Consolata were given the Northern frontier by the colonial powers which means Nyeri became the headquarters of all the Consolata Missionaries evangelization in the Northern frontier while Western Kenya was evangelized by the Mill Hill,” says Fr Brambila. Today, the congregation has members from diverse cultures and continents around the world.
“The Congregation is intercultural and at the same time international as well as it is cohesive. It brings people from all over the world, “said Fr Joya the regional superior.
Over the years the leadership of the congregation has been changing hands from the expatriate missionaries to locals.
According to Fr Joya, “The number of expatriate missionaries from Europe and the Americas who have worked as missionaries is reducing due to diminishing vocations.”
“The Kenyan region which includes Uganda is producing more vocations more than any other region or country in the world, when the congregation was started the majority were Italians now they are Kenyans, “he revealed.
The Congregation has over the years attracted the admiration of Bishops who have been requesting their deployment in their various dioceses.
“I have been getting positive requests from dozen bishops requesting and appealing we go and deploy missionaries in their dioceses,” said Fr. Hieronymus Joya. He attributed the positive requests to the significant impact they have had as missionaries.
The biggest challenge facing the Consolata missionaries just like many church institutions in Africa is the need to become self-reliant considering that traditional funding which used to come from the Europe and the Americas has reduced due to hard economic times.
“Our Missionaries working in Isiolo, Maralal, Marsabit and lower Meru among the Tharaka demand a lot of financial resources as these are hardship areas,” said Fr Joya.
He however commended local Christians who are already chipping in to help the work of evangelization go on. “We are trying to animate the Christians who can reciprocate to support the work of the missionaries and there is a positive response. We hope they will come to our aid and really support missionary work,” he said.
There is also a shortage of personnel due to aging of some of the congregation’s members.
“A good number are aged and a sizeable number having health challenges while the few young ones are not able to meet all the demands of missionary activities,” said Fr Joya.
The superior also expressed concern that although they enjoy having seminarians from all over Kenya, the congregation has never had a Masai seminarian.
Despite these challenges the Consolata Missionaries have achieved a lot in the over 100 years they have been in Kenya. They have evangelized in urban areas, city slums, rural Kenya, semi-arid areas and even among the nomadic communities in northern Kenya.
That seed of faith first planted in Tuthu has born fruits and today the Kenya has produced 2 bishops, 130 priests, 9 brothers and 76 seminarians within the Consolata missionaries from other parts of the world in the work of evangelization.
As the superior said in homily to pilgrims to Tuthu shrine on May 11, “Many have been educated through the help of the missionaries, the poor have been assisted to fend for themselves, the sick have found health in hospitals; schools, hospitals and Churches have been built by the missionaries. That is our testimony today.”