By: JAMES NGUNJIRI
Mau Mau fighters were once tried in this court during the fight for independence. But now, the Native Law Court in Nyeri has been turned into a museum, attracting thousands of visitors.
The museum is situated next to Ruring’u Stadium near Nyeri Town. The court was built in 1924 and began functioning the following year.
Colonialists set it up to deal with customary law cases, which were previously handled by clan elders before the European settlers arrived.
“If somebody killed a person, the elders discussed the issue and circumstances of the murder. If found guilty, a fine was imposed,” said assistant curator of the museum Anthony Maina.
He said the fines included cows, sheep, or goats. At least three elders would preside over a case.
Mr Maina said the Mau Mau cases were only heard by a white man who was a district commissioner and a magistrate.
Some elders who were custodians of customary law were selected by their area chiefs to work in the courts.
Later, Africans were left to run the court under the watchful eye of the colonial government. Another hall was built in 1956 because of the increasing number of cases.
Mr Mathias Kiragu from Othaya headed the pregnancies and debt cases.
Mr Johanna Kunyiha from Ruring’u headed the criminal cases section.
Four elders were appointed to work in the court.
Some men were hired as soldiers (njama), whose work was to ensure suspects did not escape.
They also delivered summonses and attached properties of those who were debt and poll tax defaulters.
When there were no cases, the court was used by the local native council.
Senior chiefs such as Muhoya Kagumba, Nderi Wang’ombe and Wang’ombe Ihura held meetings in the courts.
In 1961, the Nyeri Law Courts were opened.
Mr Mubia Mathai and Mr Benjamin Githinji Ndegwa were hired as magistrates for the new court.
Elders, interpreters and soldiers were retired because they were not educated. The National Museums of Kenya took over the court in 2007.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION