Advertisement
Advertisement

Otenyo Nyamaterere, the slain 1908 Kenyan anti-colonial hero whose head is still in a British museum

July 26, 2018 at 04:30 pm | History

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

July 26, 2018 at 04:30 pm | History

The legendary story of the brave and strong headed warrior Otenyo Nyamaterere has been passed from generation to generation by the Kisi (AbaGusii) people in Kenya. The people hold this legend close to their heart and tell of his role as a pioneer fighter for freedom from the colonizers.

During the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the British had begun a rampant conquest under their territory in East Africa. By 1902, they had successfully grasped Nairobi and its environs under their rule and were thus looking to capture more.

The capturing of lands and its people by the British in East Africa was done very violently. Small towns or settlements, food and livestock were forcefully raided; men were killed or sent off as slaves and women were made to entertain and serve the young servicemen sent under the British colony to work in Africa.

Otenyo Nyamaterere belonged to the Gusii land and was a Gusii warrior. The Gusii warriors were feared among the natives because they won all their battles and were fearless hunters. To date, they are respected for their resilience against colonization and the protection of their people, land and possessions.

In 1905, the British officers arrived in Gusiiland. The British officers were from the Kings African Rifle (K.A.R), a group of officers that served as a military and security function within the British colonial territory. The K.A.R were met with resistance from the Gusii warriors, and this sparked an attack by the K.A.R who killed several of the warriors, stole livestock, women and other valuable possessions and officially marked the territory under the British colonial rule. Today, this particular attack is described as a massacre with various stories describing in detail how women and children who resisted the British were brutally shot, houses burnt down and several farms destroyed.

Three years later,  G.A.S Northcote, a young British official who had risen in the ranks was thus sent to Kisii to administrate the K.A.R.  Immediately he took his position, he planned attacks against the Gusii warriors to capture the land finally.

Another brutal massacre occurred in the village of Omogusii. The British military killed several of the locals and warriors and made away with close to 8,000 livestock. Otenyo was one of the lucky few who made it out alive with his daughter and his Aunt Moraa, a medicine woman and prophetess.

Otenyo, deeply angered by the attack of the British led the Gusii warriors on a counter attack. The warriors and Otenyo received blessings from his aunt and went forth to fight for what was rightfully theirs. The warriors were victorious and were able to claim back a lot of what they had lost but Otenyo wanted Northcote dead.

In the many stories and songs that give an account of this legend, it is said that he hid between bushes waiting patiently for Northcote to pass by with his men. Otenyo ambushed Northcote when he was in good view sending the spear down his right shoulder. It is said that Northcote fell to the ground in utter pain bleeding and cursing Otenyo while the warrior laughed in his face and ran off into hiding. Northcote was severely injured and was thought dead.

That night, the locals sang and danced in praises of the brave warrior who had been bold enough to attack a white man.

In some versions of the story, Northcote dies but in reality, the British official was kept form the public to be attended to for several months. Northcote requested for reinforcement from Britain, and the King demanded Otenyo’s head. The British army retaliated and this caused a war within the territory

Otenyo did not go down without a fight. During one of the many brutal battles, Otenyo was speared down by a British official and captured, tried in public and executed by a firing squad at the Kisii stadium. His head was later cut off and sent off to Britain while his body was found beside a bridge with many gunshot wounds. His capture was during the fight between the British and the warriors in what is now present-day Manga in which many brave warriors sacrificed their lives to protect their people, property and land.

Today, many years later, the warrior Otenyo Nyamaterere is not forgotten and lives on with the people. In 2015, Gusii elders demanded the repatriation of his skull which is believed to be held by a British museum.

Most viewed

Conversations

Must Read