THE KASIGAU AFFAIR
Who are the Kasigaus?
The Kasigau are the smallest of the three sub-divisions of the Taita tribe, a North East Bantu Group. The Taita share a Shungwaya tradition of tribe origin with several of the east coast tribes.
The Kasigau Community borders the southernmost reaches of Tsavo West National Park. Its famous hill, Mt. Kasighau where part of World War 1 was fought, is part of the Eastern Arc Mountains which runs down to Tanzania. The hill is located between the Taita Hills and the Indian Ocean and it rises 1600 meters above the Taru Desert, with Savannah plains below giving way to its high mountain forest. Kasigau Community consists of 5 local communities around the mountain, namely: Jora, Kiteghe, Rukanga, Bungule and Makwasinyi with about 3000 people in each village. Being between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, Kasighau area is an important elephant dispersal area. Kasighau is rich in Tourism resources though most of them are not in consumable state. For example, while in Kasighau, one can enjoy Bird watching, Hill climbing, Trekking, Cycling, outside catering and Sun downer dinner, Cultural tourism and Battlefield tourism.
The Kasighau Mountain is unique in that it is a home of the endemic bird called Taita White-Eye. One can agree that, this is a region with a full potential of giving our County lots of revenue income only if thorough development is done on tourism resources in the region.
KASIGHAU AND WORLD WAR 1
After the Germans threatened to destroy the Railway line to break the communication, the British sent a troop of 5000 to various stations. Kasigau Mountain was one of the identified stations because it was over half way between the German border of Tanganyika and the Ugandan Railway.
Accordingly, in September, 1914, Kasigau Mountain was occupied by 130 Baluchis. Their camp was built in the heights above the village of Jora (Ndomokonyi) facing the German border to the South. During the first year of the war, there was no military activity in Kasigau. In early 1915, a captain Sealy and his Deputy Lt. Perks took 87 men. Dissatisfied with the state of defenses and wanting to keep the men occupied, he set them to work tearing down and rebuilding the boma, the key features of which were a series of thick walls of piled stones, and a stone watch tower. As a result of the reconstruction, the defenses were literally down when a German attack came on the 12th August, 1915.
Commanding a German patrol of 42 men Leutenant Freiherr Von Grotte matched to Kasigau Mountain and climbed it during the night of 11th and 12th August, the British failed to detect the patrol. From position above the boma, the Germans raked the encampment with rifle fire for two hours, several Baluchi soldiers and the Camp’s Luo goat herd was killed and 38 men including captain Sealy and his Deputy Lt. Perks were captured. Less than half the garrison was able to escape thorough the woods in the darkness.
According to the oral story as recalled by several people, one evening of August 1915, two men Mwashutu and Kinona, were out looking for honey when they met some German soldiers, unfortunately for these men, like every one else in the region, could not tell the difference between someone from Germany and someone from Britain. Before they reached their destination, Mwashutu and Kinona were met by some armed German soldiers who forced them to surrender the bows and arrows they were carrying. Now unarmed and frightened, Mwashutu and Kinona gave in to the Germans’ demand that they show them the location of the British Camp. The soldiers were taken further up the mountain to te camp so they could attack it from above.
The Germans then wrote a letter to the British administration in Wundanyi telling them that the two locals willingly showed them where the British could be found. The attack on Kasigha British Military base surprised and at the same time shocked both British and civil administration authotities. As a result, General M.J Tinges, an overseas commander of the British forces in Ast Africa, then, sought to cover up his weaknesses and defended his forces by conspiratorially impressing upon the War Office in London, that, his forces at Kasighau had been betrayed by the local Kasighau inhabitants.
The Governor then, Sir Henry Conway Belfield concurred with the military story and submitted a report to the colonial office accusing the local Kasighau people of betraying his Majesty’s forces to the enemy.
Sensitized by the corresponding reports from Kenya, supported by the German propaganda that the British Military base, the War Office in London was authorized to sanction severe and exemplary action against the locals in Kasiggau hills. Orders were made to evacuate them in the event of resistance. Unknown to the realities the innocent and equally shocked and surprised locals, at Kasighau were made scape-goats in the complex war. Fifteen days after the German attack, contingents of the Kings African Regiment, descended upon the innocent community and arrested about 800 innocent women, children and the elderly in the early morning and rounded them from their traditional homeland on the Kasighau slopes and assemble them at the ill-fated military camp at Jora.
The District Commissioner stationed at Voi Mr. WAF Plats had sympathy and strongly defended the locals against military victimization. When he addressed the mystified and confused crowd of locals he told them they would be removed from their area to another safer place for the duration of the war, and they would be allowed to return there after.
Meanwhile 20 Kasighau elders were taken to Voi for interrogation. In September, three of these were Court-martialed. They were pronounced guilty in October of direct complicity with the Germans before and during the attack. These were Chief Mwangojilo and elders Mwakuja and Mwadime. They were forced to dig their own graves and then stand at the foot of each grave. They were then shot, and as they died, fell in their graves. All the executioners had to do was fill in their graves.
Captain Alec L. Purvis who led the military operation at Kasighau ordered all the huts in all the villages to be set on fire. The Kasighau people were sent out of the area and further orders as to their fate would be communicated to them at Maungu Railway Station. Plat’s Reverends Verby and Maynard were disturbed by the attitude shown by the military officers against the local inhabitants. They persuaded the military and agreed to lead them on foot away from Kasighau. They walked in a single file towards Rukanga and towards Maungu. When some of the people sought to be allowed to take their domestic animals, Purvis announced that the animals would also be confiscated by the military. The region had been classified and reserved exclusively for military intelligence operation. The Kasighau people spent the night at Bughuta (Igho Ja Ng’ombe) and arrived at the Maungu Railway Station the next day on August 28th.
The same afternoon, a train hired by the military arrived and they were asked to board it. It moved towards the Coast against their expectations. The Kasighau people had believed that the District Commissioner and the two church men had made arrangements for them to be settled somewhere up-country where they had tribal relations among the fellow Taita or neighboring Taveta or Akamba
They arrived at the port town of Mombasa and instead of disembarking at the railway Station they were sent and held at a military camp at Kilindini Port under the Navy Commandant in charge of the harbor at Kilindini. A freighter S.S Weiss Mann on military hire was out on call in Zanzibar and Tanga Ports region at the time. The Kasighau people had to remain at Kilindini for 3 weeks, until a vessel S.S Pegasus was available. The general officer commanding the British forces in the colony Gen. M.J. Tinge addressed a military command order to Provincial Commissioner Seyyidie who was based and resident in Mombasa for him to provide for the prisoners, until arrangements at the camps were ready. The military was in the process of securing a suitable camp in the remote parts of North-Coast. After abut a week the exiles were taken into a military man-o-war and taken to Malindi, and on arrival to a Government concentration and labor Camp at a remote place known as Pangani near Magarini, about 50 kilometers north of Malindi in September 1915.
Meanwhile, the Malindi locals were told that the Kasigaus were the Makonde from Mozambique-a tribe of cannibals and were being brought to settle in Malindi. The locals, trying to pretect and defend themselves, poisoned all the water holes that were to be used by these foreigners. Those who survived developed chronic sores caused by this poisoned water.
They spent two years in Malindi with torture, many of them suffering and dying.
Finally in 1917 the Kasigaus were granted permission to leave Malindi, but were only allowed to go to Mwatate and not Kasigau for fear that they would once more betray the British. This was the genesis of another painful period since Mwatate had been occupied by the Greeks for sisal farming. The arriving Kasigaus were given land and were told that they could settle there if they cleared the vegetation. They worked hard clearing land, bulding homes for themselves and planting crops. Immediately they finished clearing, they were moved to another un-cultivated piece of land and told to do the same. This process went on until most of the farm was cleared. Eventually some Kasigaus learned how to operate machinery and secured jobs in the farm.
All this time however they were unhappy with Mwatate. They insisted that they be allowed to return home. To demonstrate this, all the women camped outside the DC’s Office in Wundanyi for two nights.
Finally, the officials gave in, and summoned Philip Mbalambala Mwadime, a strong and influential leader who would eventually become Chief of Kasigau. He was told that he and the other Kasigaus were allowed to go home on condition that they walk to Kasigau and climb the mountain. To show that he had reached the top, he was to light a fire that could be seen from Wundanyi, only then would the people e released. Eventually, in late 1936, they were all allowed home and the Kasigaus undertook the two day journey back to Kasigau via Maungu. Apparently an old man from Mbale had a BMC Austin which aided in the transport of food and other luggage from Mwatate.
Unfortunately many Kasigaus were left behind, in Malindi and Mwatate. Kasigau people spent 22 years outside their region and all this time, missionaries, the pioneers of education in the region had been visiting other places, setting up education institutions and churches.
Kasigau as a result missed out this development which may explain why Kasigau may be less developed than other parts of Taita-Taveta County in areas of education, infrastructure, and the most biting problem being water shortage. Natural resources like gemstones are under-exploited for the benefit of the locals. One man said, “We are victims of our own fate, our scars still hurt”
Kasigau became a victim of both the Germans and British Military atrocities. To the present generation, the stories that describe the incident have been a constant reminder to bitter memories and humiliation of the generation of ancestors for over a long period of time.
Yet when British and Germans settled their score, they left the Kasigaus out of the process of reparation, neither did they consider reconciliation to heal the feelings of the Kasigau people.
Compiled by Jonathan Mwangeje Mshiri, Retired Teacher