The first expedition against the Kisii

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By Levin Odhiambo Opiyo

The colonial government organised the administration of the Gusiiland around seven Kisii tribes. Getutu(Kitutu), Mogirango (Mugirangu) , Nchari (Wanjare), Bassi, Nyaribari, Majoge and Mogusero (Makseru)

It is worth noting that although at times these tribes acted in unison especially in defence against external attacks , they never acted in unison when it came to political and social matters.

The decision making mainly centred in the clans and local lineages which made up each tribe.

Of the seven Kisii tribes, the largest by far at the beginning of the 20th century was the Getutu. Unlike other Kisii tribal sections, the Getutu consisted of the huge clan of Nyakundi (the founder of the tribe) surrounded and intermixed with other clans which were not Getutu.

These non Getutu clans in the Getutu tribe, were mainly made up of refugees from other six Kisii tribes who fled and sought protection of the Nyakundi clan following attacks from hostile neighbours.

In a nutshell, the Getutu tribe was a political group arranged round the dominant and influential Nyakundi clan. The influence of the Nyakundi clan was more felt in the colonial days.

Before the establishment of colonial rule in Gusiiland, the Getutu fought with and raided both the Luo and the Kipsigis who were already under British administration.

Prior to 1905, the British had very minimal contact with the Gusii . In fact the first contact the British made with the Gusii was as a result of an appeal made by the smallest Gusii tribe the Mogusero.

The Mogusero were settled between the Getutu and the Luo and served something like a buffer zone between the two tribes.

This meant they were always caught up in the war between the Getutu and the Luos. At times they were directly attacked by the Getutu.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the Getutu attack on the Mogusero became increasingly severe. Their numbers were reduced and scattered.

In their desperate plight they turned to the British for assistance. In 1900, a prominent elder known as Ombati led a delegation to Kisumu, which was the nearest British administrative post.

They declared their support and requested for weapons. The British, however, refused to give them the aid. They feared that if they came as friends of Ombati and Mogusero tribe, they were likely to court enmity from the Getutu.

Nevertheless they were able to form friendship with Ombati and the Mogusero tribe, an alliance which enabled the British to enter Gusiiland.

The first British administrator to enter Gusiiland was H.B Partington, the officer In charge of Kericho station. He was warmly recieved when he visited North Mugirango in 1904.

In contrast another attempt, by F.W Isaac to enter Getutu was rendered impossible by the defiant attitude of the Getutu people.

The first attack against the Gusii by the British happened in September 1905 .This was in response to the Gusii cattle raids against the Luo. The British felt it was an act of agression for the Gusii to attack the Luos who had already accepted their rule, and were unde their protection.

Therefore, one aim of the expedition was to punish the Gusii for attacking the Luos, and to demand compensation for Luos

Then there was a hidden motive in the whole expedition. It had instructions to select a site suitable for an administration station in Gusiiland. Both Sir Eliot and his predecessor Governor Donald Stewart wished to see Kisii being brought under British administration.

Governor Stewart also viewed Gusiiland as a potential area for European settlement. In fact after an expedition sent to deal with the Kipsigis in Sotik, Governor Stewart wrote:

“After the Sotik have been brought to reason, l hope the Kisii will give no trouble.”

Nevertheless, the expedition against the Gusii was led by Captain E Jenkins and consited of 100 soldiers from Kings African Rifles and 50 policemen. Accompany the force was GAS Northcote, the administrative official in charge of Karungu. He was accompanying the expedition as a political officer.

The force entered Gusiiland on 20 September and stayed there forcefully collecting cattle as fines for the raids against Luos until 7 October.

During the expedition there were two engagements between the British and two Kisii tribes. First was with the Nchari on 28 September and resulted in the killing of 67 and the wounding of 140 Gusiimen.

The second was with the Getutu on 4 and 5 October. The British took 200 herds of cattle after holding a peace ceremony with Getutu elders. But as the drove away the cattle, the Getutu descended on them with arrows and spears. What further annoyed the Getutu was that the interpreter for the British expedition was Ombati of Mogusero tribe.Seeing their old enemy with the British really annoyed them.

The engagement between the Getutu and the British, left 97 Getutu dead and 24 wounded.

This marked the first British expedition against the Gusii.

Just to add that prominent Chief Kitoto of Kano in Nyanza came from the Getutu clan but was assimilated into the Luo tribe. In the early 20th century Kano plain was known as Kitoto plain. It is always said that Luos of Kano have warlike traits like their ancestors the Getutu.

(The writer is a journalist and historian. The article was first published in his social media page. All rights belongs to him.)

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