Mutang’ang’a was one proud Baite warrior. Born of a war veteran, the man was never one to accept second class or take nonsense from anyone.
My dad (bless his soul) to whom Mutang’ang’a was a ‘wachia’ (knife mate) and with whom he worked in the expansive White settlers’ farms in Timau in their youthful days, told me of the incident that earned the lanky proud dude the nickname “Mutang’ang’a”.
They had both attended a meeting called by the legendary Chief Machuguma at Katheri market (locally referred to as “Gîchûgeene”).
Being a “working class” lot, they could afford classy stuff and on this occasion Mutang’ang’a wore brand new “Travolta” boots that he had just bought at the “Johnies” (British Army) camp at Nanyuki.
Naturally he’d want to impress the young damsels with his fashionable boots, so as everyone else sat on the green lawns of Gichûgene to listen to the no-nonsense Chief Machûgûma the young man remained standing at the back.
Asked by the Chief why he wouldn’t sit like the other citizens, he quipped, “Bwana chibû ni iratû mbîkîrîte biiraaja mono”. (Sir Chief, I’m in very long boots, I can’t bend). To which the Chief retorted, “ûkaanoga mûtang’ang’a”.
(“See your life mister mûtang’ang’a”!) – a kimeru clichè depicting a tall lamp post. And at that, the nickname “Mutang’ang’a” was born. Anyway I digress.
It is the events that took place on the train dubbed the “Lunatic Express” many days later that would “immortalize” the name Mutang’ang’a.
By the way did you guys know that this train formed the theme of the Kimeru folk song “mûnyoro ûrejîîra Buurî î yiî Mwîjî” (A chain is coming down through the jungle, young boy)? Anyway that’s a story for another day.
As it was during the the colonial era, black natives were supposed to travel third class. Second class was reserved for the middle class black elites: the Paramount Chiefs, Colonial Native Policemen (Kaborio), clerks and other colonial sympathizers and informers. First class was exclusive for the colonial masters, white settlers and their families.
An elder of my community told me about one Friday evening that Mutang’ang’a and his colleagues at the settlers farms decided to board the train to Nairobi to enjoy their hard earned salary of 75 cents a month.
They had saved enough shillings to “eat life” in the “city of many lights” for a whole weekend before going back to their sheep shaving and other menial jobs at the expansive ranch owned by a white settler nicknamed “Karimoni” (a corrupted baite version of “Coleman”)
Mutang’ang’a felt on top of the world with the many shillings in his pouch. He would boast to fellow black travelers how he could pay for all of them to spend the night at the Royal Suburbs (Roysambu).
By the way the present day Safari Park hotel was then the Officers Mess of the colonial Army Headquarters.
As the Lunatic Express snaked its way through the Mt Kenya forest, Mutang’ang’a felt the urge to relieve himself.
With no toilet facility on the third class couch and the heat of the stuffed wallet massaging his bigger than Mt Kenya ego, the proud Baite decided to do the unthinkable. He trod through the coaches to the second class and requested to use the toilet.
The “honorable” occupants of the second class would have none of it, to which Mutang’ang’a declared that actually he could even do it on the first class! – after all this is his country and he could do whatever he wanted!
The guys in charge of second class coach laughed at that audacity and actually granted the lanky dude passage to the first class coach! Proudly and majestically Mutang’ang’a walked down the isle to where the white marshals were sitted on the first class couch and demanded for his “right” to use their facility or else he would do his thing right there on the carriageway!
Naturally he would be told off and ordered to go back to his cabin or else face the consequences of his daring stunts.
As he resisted and persisted in his demands, the white marshals would finally dare him to make good his threat and defecate on the gangway of the first class coach – to which, being a “mûtaane wa Kimeru” (a circumcised Meru warrior) who as per the doctrines must never back off or retract on his word, the dude went ahead and “downloaded” a giant chunk right there on the passageway amid shocked stares of the white “lords”, their ladies and kids!
At this point my friend Deejay Afro would exclaim, “Makosaa!” What followed was a thorough “hiding” which saw him handed down from one security marshall to the next down the passageway through to the “kaborio” (tribal police) in the second class coach who finished off the job and carried his (now) pulpy body to his rightful place in the third class compartment.
The thrashing was so thorough it left Mutang’ang’a numb and mute for the rest of the journey and for many days after. It was an occurrence he never shared with anyone, not even his colleagues with whom he was travelling.
They were only left to speculate what had actually transpired to their bubbly buddy in just a few minutes. It was such a horror show that would be talked about in hashed tones as nobody could decipher what could actually have happened to such a tough talking Baite warrior in the span of such a short period of time, as to leave him so paralyzed, knackered and as meek as a merino sheep.
Thus a warning phrase was coined henceforth: “Ûkoona bûrîa Mûtang’ang’a ooneere ngaarîne e mwanki”. (Loosely translated: Watch your steps or else you’ll see what Mutang’ang’a saw on the lunatic train!)
Adapted from Discover Meru
By Karani Marete
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