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Celebrating three Ukambani heroes

Celebrating three Ukambani heroes

The Syokimau sculpture at Green Park, Wote.

Photo credit: John Fox | Nation Media Group

Kioko, the artist, gave my wife and I a good excuse for a weekend trip. He had just installed three metal sculptures in the Green Park at Wote.

The weather forecast for last weekend promised sunshine, so we booked a Saturday night stay at the A&L Hotel in Machakos, and after an early breakfast on Saturday morning we took off.

I won’t dwell on the drive along Mombasa Road, except to say that it took us three times as long to reach Machakos as it does when there are no road works. We also hadn’t done our homework properly. The hotel’s website says it is along the Kitui Road. For us, the Kitui Road starts after the traffic lights in the centre of Machakos Town. So we drove right past the hotel and got lost, because we hadn’t realised that the Machakos Kitui Road starts at the Kyumvi Junction of the Mombasa Road, and what should be an unmissable big white hotel is only eight minutes from there.

We liked Governor Alfred Mutua’s hotel. Its style is very contemporary. Even without the sunshine, it must be always bright – with its light-coloured wooden furnishings and gleaming white walls. But those walls could do with more art works – and less generic ones than the few already there.

The bedrooms are well fitted; all the staff we encountered were welcoming and attentive. There were a number of family groups enjoying the heated swimming pool. And during the working week it must be an efficient place for conferences and workshops.

But our main focus was the Green Park in Wote. We did without lunch so that we could do the 70 kilometres, view the sculptures, and be back for an early dinner at the hotel. The drive was a pleasant contrast to what we had experienced in the morning. There was an open road with smooth tarmac that wound its way up, down and round the Mbooni Hills.

Gallant soldier

The Kioko sculptures are superbly set in a very refreshing Wote recreational park, with its tree-lined pathways, eateries, an amphitheatre, and even an ICT innovation hub. The sculptures are much bigger than we had expected. They celebrate the big lives of the prophetess, Syokimau, the Mau Mau General, Munoa Mana, and the pastor and academic, John Samuel Mbiti.

Syokimau lived in the Iveti Hills near Machakos Town in the 1800s. The two best known of her prophesies are about the coming of the railway and the white men along with it. She is said to have foreseen ‘a long snake spitting fire and smoke as it moved from waters to waters’ – the railway that was to run from Mombasa to Kisumu. The second prophecy was about the white people arriving with fire in their pockets and with nonsensical speech like the chirping of the birds. Presumably, the fire in their pockets was either matchboxes or guns!

General Munoa Mana was born in Nziu in Makueni County, and he lived from 1924 to 2007. The notes I have from Kioko say that he was ‘a gallant soldier who specialised in reconnaissance, intelligence and counter-intelligence operations. He coined ‘Munoa Mana’ (one who tires for nothing) for himself out of his being an uncelebrated General of the war for independence’.

John Mbiti, the notes say, was ‘a pastor, a philosopher, a teacher and mentor, a linguist, a poet, a folklorist, and an immensely gifted writer’. He studied in Uganda and the United States, and he took a doctorate at the UK’s Cambridge University. He became Director of the World Council of Churches' Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland.

There were lots of families in the park, and it was good to see that the sculptures were getting much more attention than historical statues normally get. And, by the way, Kioko has his own art gallery in Lavington Green. It is well worth a visit.

John Fox is Chairman of iDC His email address is