Most people who visit Nanyuki say it still suffers from the settler hangover. They may be right. I discovered recently that the town still maintains some strange bylaws from that flamboyant period. There is this particular one enacted in 1949 banning female donkeys from ever setting foot in the town that tickled my fancy.
Nanyuki and its not-far-off neighbours of Rumuruti and Nyahururu were important administrative centres in the White Highlands that also embraced the semi-arid plains extending from the Nyeri Valley to the then Dorobo reserves of Samburu District.
The settlers had a railway line with a terminus at Nanyuki to ferry their produce to Nairobi and Mombasa for export. ‘Natives’ tilled the land and looked after the thousands of livestock on the ranches.
The town had a strict administration which did not condone untoward behaviour in the otherwise harmonious existence of this little frontier town. In fact, any behaviour that was ‘indecent’, particularly to the memsahibs (white ladies) was known to provoke reactions that would lead to extreme consequences.
With this kind of puritanism, it was hardly surprising that the settlers decided to discipline the town’s donkeys for putting one memsahib in an embarrassing situation as the ‘natives’ watched.
The whole saga began with one memsahib who, having finished her shopping at a nearby store, was walking back to her car when she was confronted by a rather unsettling scene. In the vicinity and oblivious of her presence, two male donkeys, were busy answering to the conjugal rights of their female counterpart who had come on heat.
The memsahib’s attention was by now drawn to the commotion. Those who saw the incident said she stood there petrified, watching the action until she collapsed. It has never been clear whether from shock or excitement, or both.
The matter reached the ears of the authorities and within days, a bylaw was tabled before the civic council for deliberation. The accusation against the donkeys was so overwhelming that the famous bylaw of 1949, banning female donkeys from the town was passed unanimously. It is a bylaw the current civic leaders strongly believe should continue to be in force. The local residents agree.
That was not the last Nanyuki residents had seen the donkeys. James Wamai, a resident for over 40 years, vividly recalls yet another incident that took place in 1971. A trader had just bought a female donkey and was on his way home but decided to pass through the town for lunch. He tethered the donkey to a tree as he ate his lunch. “The poor fellow was unaware of the 1949 bylaw,” says Wamai.
His donkey happened to bray and since these beasts of burden have a strange way of talking to each other, the town’s 20 males heeded the loud and clear call. They galloped wildly across the town, scaring people as they dragged their carts along. Some took shortcuts, pulling their carts over open drains and trenches.
The carts overturned as the donkeys hurried on, freeing themselves as the harnesses tore off. “The donkeys broke free and were chasing the female donkey through the town streets into business premises. They caused so much chaos in the town that residents would not like to see a repeat of what happened. As long as there are no female donkeys in town, the males will keep the peace,” he adds.
The long and the short of it is that 3 days later, the female donkey died. For the owner, the worst was yet to come. The authorities invoked the 1949 bylaw and he was charged, found guilty and fined KES 500.00. As if that was not enough, he was ordered to bury the animal!
The site where this donkey was buried is not known today. It could make a good tourist spot if it was identified. Are there more strange Kenyan bylaws you know of?