Kapenguria Museum reflects Kenya’s political development and the attainment of Kenya’s independence in 1963. It was the site of detention for the nation’s founding fathers during the struggle for independence. Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Kungu Karumba, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia and Achieng Oneko, famously known as the Kapenguria Six, spent seven years of their lives here.
The museum opened in 1993 and comprises the cells, the ethnographic galleries, which house artefacts and photographic collections, and the Pokot homestead. The credit for establishing this gallery goes to Mrs Anny Mulder, an anthropologist. She carried out work in this area among the Pokot people.
During the trial of the Kapenguria Six, the courtroom in Kapenguria proved too small to accommodate a hearing. That is why Ransley Thacker, the presiding judge, moved the courtroom to a class at the current Chewoyet High School. The school had previously been a government agricultural training institute.
The six were tried and charged for jointly managing an illegal society, the Mau Mau. Anthony Somerhough, the Deputy Public Prosecutor, described how the organisation had conspired to murder Kenya’s white residents. The trial’s star witness was Rawson Macharia who testified how in March 1950, he had taken one of the Mau Mau oaths at Kenyatta’s hands. He also claimed that the oath had required him to strip naked and drink human blood. It later emerged that Rawson’s attractive incentive lured him into giving false witnesses at the trial. A place at Exeter University College to study public administration, family protection and a government job on returning from the UK proved too tempting to pass.
At the end of the trial, the six received a seven-year sentence with hard labour. All have all since passed on, and the Kapenguria Museum is mostly in their honour. When you visit, make sure you do these three things.
1. See the Mau Mau Gallery
See exhibits of the Mau Mau movement including newspaper articles, photographs and artefacts from the freedom struggle period which give an insight into the sufferings of the many who died during Kenya’s struggle for independence.
2. Visit the Uhuru Memorial Library and the Heroes’ Cells
The Uhuru Memorial Library houses historical literature collections on Kenyan politics since the colonial era honouring the independence struggle heroes. The Heroes’ Cells, now restored, were used to hold the six. On each door of the marked cells is a hole used by colonial prison wardens to check on the inmates. Read this fascinating story explaining why one of the cells bears no name.
3. Visit the Cultural Galleries
Kapenguria Museum houses well preserved and conserved cultural materials, mostly from the Pokot and the Cherangany peoples. You can, for instance, see a traditional homestead of both communities here.
Most of the Kapenguria Six went on to occupy positions of influence in the new Kenya. Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president while Kaggia and Ngei served as ministers. Oneko served as MP for Rarieda in Kenya’s 7th Parliament. Interestingly, this was after Kenyatta had detained him between 1969 and 1974! Fred Kubai became MP for Nakuru East twice from 1963 to 1974, and from 1983 to 1988.
Kung’u Karumba was the odd one out. He steered clear of politics, opting to venture into business while remaining a close friend and advisor to Kenyatta. He made significant investments in Uganda. Some say he even loaned a substantial amount to the wife of Ugandan military commander Isaac Maliyamungu. When she refused to pay, Karumba travelled to Uganda in June 1974 but never returned. Intelligence reports later implicated Maliyamungu in murdering Karumba during a disagreement over his wife’s debts.