Khat (miraa) has in recent years attracted so much attention from researchers, critics and consumers., probably more than Marijuana, which has long been considered the most misunderstood plant in the world.
In Meru, and mainly in Igembe, this shrub is popularly referred to as ‘the green gold’, owing to it’s history as the major source of livelihood to residents and non-resident traders.
Veve, Gomba, Shamba, Igembe grass and Mbachu are all street terms used to refer to miraa, with it’s consumption being global, mainly by the Somali people, Ethiopians and Yemeni diaspora.
But who discovered Miraa?
It is said that when Kamankura returned to Meru land, the soil had been so badly scorched by the drought that nothing sprouted from it, even with the onset of the rains.
If you have some knowledge in Agriculture, you will recall that drought conditions can have a profound impact on soil heath, mainly due to the effects on soil chemical, physical, and biological activities that are essential for soil health.
Even worse for the Ameru people, the severe famine had pushed them to consume nearly every grain available, including the little grammes normally reserved for planting during the rainy season.
At the onset of the rains, the land was unusually consumed with grief and despair.
Miraa Starts Sprouting
It was during this period of despair and murmurs that a strange occurrence was reported to the elders. Strange herbs started sprouting over the barren earth.
Upon close examination, a few village traders had an idea. The strange herbs resembled those seen among their Arab and Cushitic trading counterparts from the North during their trade activities.
To the rest of the Ameru community, these were just alien plants that sprouted out of nowhere overnight.
A few people coined a word to describe the herbs – ‘Miraa’ a term derived from the Kimeru word ‘raa’ which means to blossom. In a matter of days, the new term was on the tongues of hundreds of residents.
At first, the people did not know what to do with this strange herb. With time, they realized that the goats were enjoying the reddish shoots, and would always sneak back to the fields for several bites.
On their part, the Njuri Ncheke elders were cautioned the people against consuming the new plant, and would always refer to it as ‘evil’, ‘poisonous’, ‘enemy black magic’ and a ‘cursed herb’.
The warnings were heeded by all. However, a few poor and starving villagers were forced to try the new herb in efforts to stay alive.
Motivated by the goats’ love for the herbs, these residents at the bottom of the social-economic pyramid were force to rebel.
Kamankura’s Take – Eat Miraa or not?
Within no time, this controversy landed at Kamankura’s doorstep. Considered an unofficial ‘chief’, by a majority of the poor people, Kamankura had to listen and offer guidance concerning the new herb (miraa).
Kamankura: Murungu has no intention of destroying his people provided they obey his laws, do good and live in harmony with each other.
The People: Should we then consume this new shrub?
Kamakura: Are you getting food donations from those warning you against the herb (miraa)?
The People: No.
Kamankura: Then what authority do they have over what you consume in the land Murungu gave us? Will you watch your children and cattle die for fear of upsetting the people you entrusted with your well-being as a society?
The people needed no further speeches. And just like that, Kamankura earned himself the title of “enemy number one” of the rich class. In modern times, you would term it a class war between the haves (dynasties) and the have-nots (hustlers).
First to try miraa were the herders. They were keen to realize that when chewed, the herbs not only relieved thirst but increased alertness, elevated dispositions and alleviated hunger pangs.
A few people decided to cultivate the shrub for later use. These rebels would later go on to become the present day entrepreneurs in the extremely lucrative miraa trade synonymous with the County of Meru, particularly the Igembe and Tigania areas.
Adapted from Peter Mwenda
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