Part 1 of 2
Published: 1 June 2019
Above: Outside the Communist Cave on Charles Miekenyi Mwakio’s farm that houses Kenyatta Caves – in Taita Hills. Copyright Rupi Mangat
I’ve hired a piki-piki for the day in the Taita Hills, the ancient crystalline massifs that date before the age of the dinosaur – between 290 and 180 million years ago. The dinosaurs came in 252 million years ago and lasted until 60 million years ago.
Starting out from Ngangao forest that is the largest patch of the indigenous forest on the Taita Hills measuring 1.9 square kilometres, the plan is to visit a cave l’ve been very curious about: Kenyatta’s.
So when l’m told that the nation’s founding father spent time in the hills l’m quite surprised because none of my history books at school ever had anything about the freedom fighters up in the Taita Hills.
Perched on the back of the piki-piki with Nathaniel Mkombola of Dabico (Dawida Biodiversity Conservation Organization) who doubles up as my erstwhile guide, we course along the rugged murram roads from the high peaks to the farmers’ fields and homesteads until we get near Wundanyi the main town and then branch off again over more dips and vales to a homestead surrounded by the farmer’s produce – local species of bananas, avocados, napier grass and a sign that reads Kenyatta Caves.
Charles Miekenyi Mwakio has been waiting for us and leads us on a tour where Mzee Kenyatta operated from for the fight for freedom from colonial rule. l’m still quite taken aback that my history lessons at school missed this historical chapter.
Mwakio’s parents were very much part of that fight. A few feet from the house is the first cave. “This is the ‘communist cave’,” pointed Mwakio. Inside the wide mouth the dim interior is where the stalwarts of freedom planned their strategies to topple colonial powers.
Mwakio begins his narration with us seated inside the communist cave.
“My father, Zephania Nyambu Mwakio was born a politician. He was the founder of Taita Hills Association alongside other lobby groups like Kavirondo Gulf Association, Gikuyu Central Association and Kamba Hills Association between 1948 and 1952. They merged to form KANU and KADU in 1960.
“My father was the coordinator of the Mau Mau activities at the coast and he brought Kenyatta here.”
The late Kenyatta lived at this homestead between 1948 and 1952 and was visited by Bildad Kaggia, Kung’u Karumba, and other nationalists including Uganda’s Milton Obote, Tanzania’s Mwalimu Nyerere and Pio Gama Pinto the firebrand freedom fighter and journalist who became independent Kenya’s first political martyr in 1965.
“Pinto was here and l want many Indians to visit this cave,” states Mwakio. Pinto was born in Nairobi and would have considered himself first a Kenyan rather than Indian, l’m sure.
Anyway, Communist Cave was where Pinto, Nyerere and Obote met with Kenyatta to discuss left hand politics while a few metres away on higher ground we are led into the Capitalist Cave.
“The two groups had secrets that could not be shared,” says Mwakio. According to our guide, it was in this cave that the terms of ‘no negotiations’ were determined by the veterans of WW2 who had fought in India, Burma (present day Myanmar), Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) and Libya – and that led to the Mau Mau uprising coined from Mzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru.
In 1952, Mwakio’s father was sentenced to death by the colonial regime, tortured brutally at Shimo la Tewa prison, pardoned by the British queen and given 20 cents to buy a train ticket to Voi.
“Kenyatta met my father in 1978 and promised him land and livestock,” tells Mwakio. But Kenyatta died shortly after. The present president – Uhuru Kenyatta – we are told did build a house for his mother Slivia who had cooked for his father.
Out in the bright sunlight, Mwakio points to skulls in an enclave by the cave which belonged to the respected elders – a tradition that the Taita upheld until Christianity came in.
Standing by the roof of the cave with water trickling down, Mwakio lets in another bit of info. “This is where Kenyatta began to write Facing Mount Kenya.
And then we’re shown the hide-covered bed that the founding father slept on and the grinding stones that the women used to grind maize and a few other memorabilia from the time.
“But now look at me,” continues Mwakio. He laments that the family was given little recognition for its fight in freedom.
Call Charles Mwakio on 0710 118358 for a guided tour. He has a simple home stay.
Or camp or hire a room/tented accommodation at Dabico. It’s very basic but ideal spot by Ngangao forest facing the two other fascinating peaks of Vuria (highest point at the coast) and Iyale – and Mt Kilimanjaro. Hire Dabico guides for fascinating walks into the forests listed as global hotspots for biodiversity.