Thika, like all other emerging small towns, is experiencing a real estate boom that has seen ultra-modern gated communities mushroom nearly overnight. It is feted to be the next suburb of the well-to-do in Nairobi – perhaps the next Runda or Karen. Who knows? But that is not all that makes this 19th century town well known.
Let us begin with its name. Do you know the origin of the name Thika? One theory talks of its origin being the Kikuyu word Guthika, which means to bury. This theory tells of a great drought that forced the infallible Maasai to venture outside Maasai land in search of water for their cattle herds.
When they arrived in Thika, they found the 2 rivers, Thika and Chania, sustaining agricultural practices and fertile farmlands among the Kikuyu. The need to exclusively own these waters and the life they supported degenerated into a fierce bloody battle that left few survivors.
When the battle was over, it is said that the warriors were buried in a common site, creating a mound that can still be seen today near the Blue Posts Hotel. This meaning is given more weight by the fact that the fallen soldiers of the Second World War were also buried in this same town.
A second, not so spectacular, theory claims that the name may have been derived from the Maasai word Sika, which means rubbing something off an edge.
It is in Thika that you will find the famous Mugumo Gardens, named after a giant fig tree that was the centre of a great prophecy by an equally great seer – Mugo wa Kibiro. Mugo wa Kibiro, also known as Cege wa Kibiru, foretold of a day the fig tree would fall and its fall would symbolise the end of British rule in Kenya.
Despite the British frantically attempting to reinforce the tree by building an iron ring around to prevent it from falling, the giant 15-foot diameter fig tree still came down.
Legend has it that the tree split in 2 and then fell in 2 stages with the first half falling in 1963, the year Kenya gained independence. But Mugo’s prophecies did not stop there. It was he who foretold of the coming of colonialists ‘carrying fire in their pockets’. It is largely believed he meant matchboxes.
He talked of their colour as that of kiengere, a small light coloured frog that lives in water, and their dressing as that of cihuruta (butterflies). He said they would carry magical sticks which would produce fire (guns).
He even saw the coming of the railway line and the arrival of the locomotive which he described as a ‘fire-spitting serpent of iron that would gobble people up at one point and vomit them at another’. It is said that most of Mugo Kibiru’s prophecies have come to pass.
Thika is home to the Fourteen Falls. It houses the Christina Wangari Gardens, named after a famous freedom fighter and Kikuyu heroine. At the heart of the vibrant town is an old clock tower built by British settlers in the early 1900s. It has since been renovated by the town council and replaced with a modern one – which is a bit sad.
Thika serves as a gateway to various tourist sites like the Yatta Plateau, the Ndaka-ini Dam, where the Ndaka-ini Half Marathon is held every year. Kilimambogo National Park and Mount Kenya can also be accessed from here.
If you love history, then you will certainly see lots of it at Thika. Plan to visit one of these fine days and experience it for yourself.