The town of Juja, about 33 KM from Nairobi, is usually associated more with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology than anything else.
So imagine my surprise, the other day, when I paid the town a visit and discovered that the larger-than-life personality of one Mcmillan – yes, the very architect of the happy valley legend, the Mcmillan Library and the now neglected Mcmillan castle in Machakos, has a thing or two to do with the town and its name.
Apparently, Juja is not a local name and this is where Mcmillan comes in. Mcmillan had a 19,000-acre farm here that stretched from near Ruiru including Mount Ol Donyo Sabuk to the east. Actually, it is near the summit of this mountain that Mcmillan, his wife, Lady Lucie, Louis Decker their house help and the family dog (who knows its name?) are buried.
It is said that when William Mcmillan arrived in Nairobi in 1900, he had with him 2 statues he had bought in West Africa. The instructions from West Africa were never to part with the statues and to preserve them or else he himself would perish at sea. The story gets even more interesting – the statues had names – one was called Ju and the other, Ja.
McMillan later bought the 19,000 acres of land near Thika during a time no one was allowed to own more than 5,000 acres. He strongly believed the power of his two idol gods, Ju and Ja, had a role to play in the abnormal land acquisition. In honour of Ju and Ja, he named this land Juja and the farm was therefore called Juja farm.
Soon locals were talking about the real and imagined superstitions surrounding the farm and Juja farm became a feared place. I heard that Lady Lucie, in an effort to save the situation took the 2 idols and buried them in Ndarugu valley, near Thika town.
This damage control strategy was ineffective – the name Juja could not just go away. It was as if the place’s original name, ‘Weru wa Ndarugu’, which means the plains of Ndarugu, had been lost and forgotten to time.
When Mcmillan discovered his 2 treasured gods were missing, of course as you can imagine, he was not amused. He felt alone and lost. Perhaps this loneliness can explain his strange and lost life while in Kenya.
But many think Mcmillan was never alone. Even with the disappearance of Ju and Ja, something lurked in the dark corners of this man’s life. A presence, perhaps his idols, just seemed to jinx the life of this huge man with a huge heart for humanity.
The short of it all is that Ju and Ja were never seen again – they still lie hidden somewhere in the bosom of Juja to date. But would you believe it? William Mcmillan finally died at sea in 1925 – just as he had been warned back in West Africa when he acquired the idols! How strange is that? He was 53.
Next time you are in Juja or its environs, I bet your perspective of the place will be totally different and if you arrive at the conclusion that the place needs a serious exorcism, you may be right. There is something peculiar about the town I cannot quite wrap my head around.