Published Saturday magazine, Nation media 8 April 2017
A hill and church with history in Kitui
Main pictures: Africa Inland Church established 1895-1914 in Ikutha overlooking Yatta plains -copyright Rupi Mangat
Kitui’s first step to fame is that it was somewhere in the now-mapped county that Johann Krapf became the first European to sight Mount Kenya’s snowy peaks from the village of the strongman – Chief Kivoi in 1849 – and the outside world came to know of the mountain on the Equator. It’s also from the Kikamba lingo that the country’s name is derived from – when Krapf asked the locals what the mountain was called, they replied Kinyaa – the mountain of the ostriches because of its snowy white peaks against the black granite.
The drive from Kitui town to Ikutha on the western flanks with a stop at a historical botanical garden is interesting.
“Have you ever been to UAE?” asks Charles Mwendwa of the county tourism department. “No – never,” I reply wondering where the sudden question for the United Arab Emirates arises from.
“Look, here we are.” He points to a road sign – UAE. It’s a village and pronounced Uwai.
At Mutomo village stands Mutomo hospital at the foothills of Mutomo. It was one of the best referral hospitals in the country, then became run down but is now on the upswing. The dusty road leads to Mutomo hill with fascinating rock faces. Back in the colonial days the hills served as a vantage point for the forester who set up home with plans to turn the hills into a hill sanctuary because of its fascinating diversity of flora and fauna. But things stalled.
Up on the rock face overlooking the village, we bump into Peter Mwanzia Nzioka commissioned to work on the half-a-million-litre water storage tank that will be completed by end of March. As we circle the 500 cubic meter reinforced concrete dam, the contractor tells us more. “From the tank the water will flow through gravity to the entire Kitui South to villages like Ikutha, Mutomo, Kanziku and others.” The source of the water is from Kangu Kangu Treatment works 40 kilometres away.
In the water-stressed, drought prone county where women spend hours in search of water this hopefully will ease their burden.
The former forester’s house – of what remains – is a set of picturesque rondavels in brick minus the roofs –something that has potential to morph into a beautiful holiday home.
A Brown snake eagle perched at a great vantage point on a towering tree looks out for snakes to snack on. With is thick skinned legs, it can kill really venomous snakes like cobras. “We’re working on a snake farm,” comments Ferdinand Mathenge of Kitui tourism.
At this point, Mwendwa spots an enormous centipede in a blue hue. “It’s really venomous,” states Mwendwa. As the venomous leggy creature moves on, it disturbs a line of safari ants and all hell breaks loose.
The ants attack it, crawling and biting on the now visibly antagonised creature. It moves with lighting speed to escape the wrath of the ants and vanishes into the tall grasses.
“Watch,” continues Mwendwa snipping a few pods from tall stalks of grass. He holds them in his palm and pouring a little water over them. The pods explode taking us by surprise.
We continue to Ikutha where one of the first Christian churches was established inland in 1895 by a German missionary Johann Hoffman and his wife Emilie. The church still stands by a gigantic baobab. It’s solid with thick walls and columns overlooking the Yatta plateau and the plains. But its use as a church is now as a store with a newer church built on the grounds. The century-old graves of the children born to the German missionaries lie under tombstones inscripted in German.
Ikutha is busy with new multi-storey official complexes mushrooming. Standing on the old church veranda, it would make a nice drive to Kibwezi through Yatta plateau, the world’s longest lava stretch and on to the great Tsavo. I leave it for another time.
Head to Kitui
Wildlife, history, culture – it’s a great county to explore. Check your map for the many roads leading into the county. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for sites to see, places to visit and stay.
Nairobi to Kitui town – 174 kms via Thika road enroute to Garissa
Or through Machakos – about the same distance.