By Muli wa Kyendo
Recently I visited Nzaui in Makueni—a place I had not visited before although it is the setting of several of my books. Just to show you have important this place has been in my life I have based more than two books in it. One is a play named The Woman of Nzaui. That play talks about the life of a woman – some would say – the most significant woman among the Akamba community. It was performed at the Kenya National Theatre in 1994.
Another book that is set at the place is a children’s book, The Legend of the Plains.
Akamba Myth of Creation
So what is interesting about the place? Why have I made it the setting of my books? Well, I like the name. It is – at least to me – an ancient, quaint name that evokes in me images of a beautiful Africa that is no more. The idea was put into my mind by the names of places where my parents grew and which they frequent mentioned.
The Akamba – those who lived long ago – were also apparently impressed by the Nzaui because they based the Akamba creation myth at the same place.
Rev. Peter Cameron Scott
And that’s not all. In 1883, a young White man – Scottish American Peter Cameron Scott – wandered into Nzaui – about 500 kilometres into the interior- and was overwhelmed by an idea of “establishing a network of mission stations that would stretch from the southeast coast of Africa to Lake Chad.” The result was the pioneering AIM (Africa Inland Mission) whose impact in African cannot be underplayed.
Africa Inland Mission
With the support of American churches, on August 17, 1895, AIM’s first mission party set off, consisting of Scott, his sister Margaret, and six others to start the church in Nzaui. His church – a small building that can hold only about 50 people – still stands strong and neat – thanks to the fact that it is built on a rock – the Akamba wouldn’t allow him anything better – where ants and termites cannot reach.
Scott died only a year later and was buried at the church compound. When I visited the place, the faithful– descendants of his early converts were busy building up a strong enclosure to the grave –which also holds the remains of his wife and child.
Prof. Kivuto Ndeti
How then does it feel to stand in a place which has for years held your imagination? The first thing is that you are surprised how close to the imagination the real place is. I was surprised by Nzaui – the tall, long mountain that dominates the place and which gives the place its name. Prof. Kivuto Ndeti described it as a mound (described by dictionaries as a hill, a dune, a pile, a heap, a hillock). How wrong he was! He had apparently never been to Nzaui!. The truth is that it is a long big mountain with the side facing Mombasa road rising up higher and sticking out as if to warn invaders.
God’s First Creation – Mundu
Here on this mountain, God, Mulungu dropped the first man (Mundu) and his wife (Kiveti) and all their wealth and the Kikamba language. The story is long and interesting but I will pick it up another time.
So what else did I find in Nzaui? Well, it wasn’t wooded or surrounded by grassy plains, as is the Nzaui of my imagination. I now realized that after having grown up in the steep and heavily wooded Iveti hills above Machakos town, I imbued the Nzaui of my imagination with the character of Iveti Hills. I was amazed how different the real place was from that of my imagination!
Otherwise I found simple folk, living simple life between what i imagine was traditional and modern. At a small town called Kalamba that stands at the foot of the mountain and nearest to Peter Scott’s church, I was told people come from Nairobi to eat roast goat meat. “It tastes like nothing else,” my companions told me.
And for sure, it tastes like nothing else. To me, it was a taste of mixed roasted, fried and boiled meat. But what does that describe? Nothing! That is why Kalamba meat is surely among the foods you must taste to appreciate. It is the same for your first time experience in Nzaui. You must experience it to appreciate what has for ages entranced Man.
My companions were Mary Syombua of Universal Traders Sacco, Wote branch and Leonard Wambua of Mespt, Makueni