Waiyaki wa Hinga

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Waiyaki wa Hinga was a leading personality in people’s resistance against the British invasion and occupation of Southern Gikuyuland – Kabete. He was one of the several chiefs who had acquired feudal lordship in Gikuyuland in the nineteenth century. It is on Waiyaki’s land that Captain Fredrick Lugard landed when he arrived in Dagoretti on October 10, 1890, on his way to Uganda. He found Waiyaki was an influential chief and landlord with more than ten wives. When Waiyaki wa Hinga met Lugard near Dagoretti Children’s Centre on Kikuyu Road and warned him not to dare to settle anywhere in that vicinity. Lugard acting on behalf of Imperial British East African Company (IBEA), then made a treaty with Waiyaki and was given land at Kihumo and constructed a fort where Kihumo PCEA church stands today.

Lugard wrote in his diaries of Waiyaki’s people: “I had no hesitation in trusting myself almost alone among them, even when at considerable distances from the camp. I found them honest and straightforward.”

But the newfound friendship between the Agikuyu and the white settlers was tested to the limit immediately after Lugard departed on November 1, 1890, for Mengo, Uganda. Porters and askaris residing at the port started invading local farms and looted food and sexually molested women, heightening hostilities. Waiyaki was incensed and sent his forces who raided the IBEAC garrison and razed it to the ground. During the attack in 1891, five people in the garrison were killed.

George Wilson survived the attack, regrouped and organized retaliation against the locals. The British invaders now wanted to extend to Githunguri. Combining political shrewdness and military brilliance, Waiyaki and his army successfully thwarted colonial invasion and settlement in Dagoretti and Githunguri and destroyed their fortifications at Kiawariua. George Wilson, fearing more reprisals, evacuated the fort at night after running out of ammunition, assisted by Kinyanjui Gathirimu, later rewarded for his betrayal of the people by being made a paramount chief.

When Wilson was transferred to Mombasa, an expedition led by Major Eric Smith, returned to Dagoretti in April 1891 and forcefully erected another fort named Fort Smith at Kanyariri. Waiyaki’s army immediately attacked and besieged the fort. On 14th August 1892, Purkiss, the commanding officer of Fort Smith invited Waiyaki for “peace talks”. Waiyaki accepted and went there with his personal guards. There was a disagreement between the parties and a scuffle ensued in which Waiyaki himself bloodied Purkiss with his sword. Many on both sides were injured. Waiyaki was overwhelmed, disarmed and a simi used to inflict a wound on his scalp. He was then shackled at the company’s flagpost with a chain around his neck where he spent two nights. Waiyaki was arrested near today’s Kabete Police Station in Westlands.

The British could have killed Waiyaki immediately after his arrest but they figured out he was more valuable to them as a political hostage. The British plan worked. Waiyaki’s army lifted the siege of Fort Smith. And now the British decided to keep him as a political hostage. On 17th August 1892, the company officials sent him to detention at the coast, presumably to be tried by a company official, Major HH Austin. This too worked. Waiyaki army held back, still wary of any action that might bring injury to their beloved leader. It was then that the British realized the value of Waiyaki as a permanent political hostage.

They frog-marched him towards the coast under heavy guard, and still in chains. The caravan stopped at Kibwezi. Waiyaki’s wounded scalp was worsening. Thinking that no native from the interior would ever know the truth, the captors shot Waiyaki and ordered a gang of natives to dig a grave a few metres off the rail line where he was dumped and buried alive. This was near Kakangani in Kibwezi, across Kibwezi Police Station, just after the current railway crossing. What the British captors did not know was that some hingas (scouts or spies) had followed the convoy and were sending back intelligence reports.

Waiyaki’s detention and subsequent murder rekindled the fire of militant nationalism and resistance all over Agikuyu land. His army regrouped and laid another siege of Fort Smith. For several days, tension reigned. On February 22, 1893, Gerald Portal, a visitor, reported that at Fort Smith, the situation was bad and whites feared they could be attacked.

Waiyaki wa Hinga, whose last name Hinga, literally means somebody who does not yield secrets, is currently immortalized with the modern highway known as Waiyaki Way in Nairobi.

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