A while ago I was in Kisumu with my wife visiting her mother. On a whim we decided to take a road trip to Nandi Hills which is sort of Central Kenya. There is a stark difference in the countryside from Lake Victoria to the highlands which is full of lush green rolling hills and sat on the very edge of the Great Rift Valley. This area is often referred to as the ‘cradle of Kenyan running’ as so many marathon runners have come from this area.
But on this occasion, I was looking for something different. I wanted to visit the Mausoleum of Koitalel arap Samoei. We found the building near the Nandi Bears Club quite close to town. On either side of the building are tall baobab trees. These are said to have sprouted when he was killed on the exact spot.
The story of Koitalel is a strange one. He was the tribal and spiritual leader of the Nandi tribe. Which back then ruled the area through advanced political scheming and bloody warfare. During the latter half of the 1800s the Nandi tribe managed to kick out the Maasai, which is no mean feat, they also took on the Arab traders destroying several settlements on the outskirts of their land. This meant the Nandi’s were highly revered in the area and almost untouchable.
That was until the good old British arrived. In the late 1800s the British decided to build the “Uganda Railway” which would join Kenya and Uganda to the port of Mombasa. The construction of the line would mean going through Nandi country. The Nandis didn’t take too kindly to the Brits wandering around their kingdom, as they saw it, and so started a war with the British. Koitalel lead the uprising against the colonial powers and kept them running around for a good twelve years.
Finally, it was decided that peace talks were to be held at what is now the Nandi Bear’s club. A meeting was set for the 19th October 1905 at 11.00am. Koitalel sensed the meeting might go awry and instructed the British colonel a Richard Meinertzhagen to come with only five people. Koitalel would also attend with five of his spiritual leaders.
Unfortunately, for Koitalel the colonel decided to march from fort Kaptumo with over eighty soldiers who were dispersed in the bush around the site.
When they actually met it is said that Koitalel presented himself to Colonel Meinertzhagen with his open hand out to shake. However, the colonel had other ideas and promptly shot Koitalel dead on the spot along with the other elders. The strangest part of this is that Koitalel was then decapitated and his head and some of his belongings sent to the UK. This was affectively the end of the uprising by the Nandi tribe as they lost all will to carry on without their beloved leader.
Later in his book My Kenyan Diary (1902-1906), Meinertzhagen appears to regret the killing of Koitalel “… I Richard Meinertzhagen, murdered Koitalel Samoei, the Nandi Orkoiyot (leader) on October the 19 1905” he wrote.
The most curious thing I find about this story is the beheading and sending of the head to the UK where it was displayed in a museum. To this day the Nandi have asked many times for the return of the head of Koitalel but the British refuse. I wonder why?
When I was researching this, I could not find the museum or if there are any discussions about returning Koitalel’s head. If anyone has any further information I would love to know.
Well, that’s all folks. I hope you enjoy reading about the heroes of Africa. When you get to know the place, you come to realize there is so much history here. When the British came, they did not find a bunch of unruly savages fighting each other. Africa had great nations and great leaders who had led their people for centuries.