Revisiting the Colonial Past
They stood as architectural masterpieces for long until new modern buildings began appearing around and eclipsing their worth. Neglect, and leveling down of others, has conspired to make the few standing relics of the colonial past stick out like sore thumbs. Some are on their death knell currently.
Had they been properly maintained, they would fetch the owners a tidy sum in the real estate market. Sadly, most of these buildings are in public land occupied by schools with the school management seeing wisdom in leveling them down to give way for modern classes. In sum, the schools managements seem intent in obliterating the last legacies of the colonial past.
A visit to places like Murunyu, Wanyororo, Danger, Bavuni, Tabuga, amongst a host of other places in Nakuru County, indicates the white settler inhabiting these buildings must have relied on the samearchitects in coming up with similar looking buildings, though they are miles apart from each. All have quarry bricks reinforced either on the inner or outer walls with a thickness of mud wall with the latter plastered and coated with white painting. This made the structures to act as fortresses of sort in stopping flying bullets from mau mau freedom fighters.
Of note are their impressive roof structures. These roofs towers high in some of the buildings and ranges from mansard, Dutch gable, gable and hip roofs. The iron sheets are of a heavy gauge in thickness compared to the ordinary mabati and had to be held in place with metal fasteners.
Despite the buildings being cemented, they have polished wooden floorboards to make up for tiles. The high ceilings too are made of polished wood boards with wire protrusions at centres where chandeliers once hang. The rooms are enormous with banqueting halls of some being spacious enough as to accommodate the space taken by three rooms of a typical village house.
Some old folks around the villages, who have nostalgic recollection of colonial times’ say they do not attach any sentimental value to the remaining buildings other than view them in another light.
“They remind me of subjugation of the black man to white man’s domination,” one mzee in Wanyororo village told me.
He doesn’t see why many would still refer to places inhabited by colonialist as ‘kwa mzungu’ (like Kona ya Muthungu in Murunyu) long after independence when the land in first place belonged to the natives Africans. He points out the white settlers acquired land by forceful evictions.
A fundi I encountered had a different take of these colonial edifices. “You can say some are an infusion of African and Western architectural styles,” he said. He pointed that the way the outer and inner walls are reinforced with earthen walls is in the similar ways African tradition houses have been made where ochre and cow dung served as the strengthening agent.
His take is that the building would be worth more today had not neglect taken a toll on them. “They should have been preserved for posterity’s sake to know where we are coming from,” he opined.
According to some sources, these colonial estates where these houses stand covered vast tracks of land. It is said the colonial settlers vacated the places around 1980s. The administration of the day decided part of what comprised the homesteads or farm houses, averaging about ten acres at most, would not be subdivided but remain as it was until the time it would be converted into schools. Tabuga initially served as a local administration camp until 1991 when it became Tabuga primary school with the colonial houses serving as first classrooms. The same is true with Wanyororo farm where initial classes were white settler houses. But today, some of these buildings have been brought down to pave way for modern classes.
It is not unusual for locals and strangers alike to pass these buildings with hardly a glance. Impressive architectural designs have come up over the years and have served to render these colonial derelicts irrelevant.
It is no surprise that, since independence, we have run virtually everything bequeathed us by the colonists to the ground, dismantled some of these legacies piece by piece, or let decay set in owing to poor management or neglect.
Though I do not vouch for a return to the colonial past, with all its attendant ills, at least these building could have served as tourist attractions of sorts or centres to preserve and showcase our heritages. How can we know where we are going when we don’t know where we are coming from? Hyrax Hills Museum, for example, was once a settler’s farm but a chance discovery of earlier civilizations turned it into a National Museums of Kenya heritage site. What of the Lord Egerton Castle in Njoro?