Inside early bus rides to Nairobi
Friday April 23 2021
By DOUGLAS KIEREINI
- Around 1914, the eastern tip of Kibichoi was annexed as “Settled Area” to allow for European settlement while the remainder of the land was earmarked as “Native Reserve”.
- Africans who happened to be inhabiting the new settled area were forcefully removed to the native reserve.
- My family was one of those that were forcefully ejected and this was the subject of one of my earlier articles.
Kibichoi, my home village, is situated about 20 kilometres northwest of Ruiru Town in a rich red soil agricultural zone in Kiambu County.
Around 1914, the eastern tip of Kibichoi was annexed as “Settled Area” to allow for European settlement while the remainder of the land was earmarked as “Native Reserve”.
Africans who happened to be inhabiting the new settled area were forcefully removed to the native reserve. My family was one of those that were forcefully ejected and this was the subject of one of my earlier articles.
Over a period of time, using cheap labour from the reserve, many large coffee plantations were established in the settled area, such as Kitamaiyu, Murera, Ruiru Mills, Otter Head, Oaklands, estates and later the Jacaranda Coffee Research Station (now Coffee Research Foundation).
Most of Kibichoi residents were subsistence farmers but many younger people relied on casual paid employment in the neighbouring coffee plantations.
As formal education became more widespread, a small number of Africans ventured farther afield and secured paid employment in Nairobi and other towns. In addition, the more enterprising Africans started trading agricultural produce at the Municipal Market in Nairobi.
By the 1940s, there was enough demand for a daily bus service between Kibichoi and Nairobi. Four gentlemen, Karani Muhia (my grandfather), Gitau Muhia (the driver), Kirika Mairang’a and Njuguna Kiige purchased a bus which was nicknamed “Gatuanduma” (breaker of darkness).
The bus was actually a glorified Chevrolet box-body pick up with an inline six-cylinder engine. Being an American model, it was left-hand drive (LHD label at the rear), green in colour, with a three-speed non-synchromesh gearbox operated by a long gearlever to muscle gearshifts which required a double-clutch action. It was fitted with a carrier on the roof and a pressed steel external sun visor (king’eti) while the passenger seats comprised wooden benches.
Depending on the season, the bus was parked either at Gateiguru shopping centre or Kibichoi Primary School. Starting its journey at 3 am, the bus would take the route to Marige, Kwa Michael, Kaamiitu, Kamiti Corner, Roysambu, Muthaiga and eventually end up at the Municipal Market (current City Market). Passengers would meet at the nearby Kinyamarira Hotel, belonging to Kamau wa Muiruri, while waiting for the bus to commence the return journey at 3 pm.
Nduti wa Nduta was the designated turnboy and he announced the imminent departure of the bus as it passed each homestead.
The traditional dress for Kikuyu women in the day consisted of, among other things, a skirt-like garment made of calico and fastened with a cloth string at the waist known as a “rinda”. It had no pockets.
Wamangu wa Gathina was a respected resident of Kibichoi because he was employed as a messenger at the District Commissioner’s office, Kiambu.
He used to reside in Kiambu during the week, coming home on Saturdays to be with his wife Wanjiku and the family before returning to work on Monday morning.
The regular uniform for government messengers was a khaki jacket and shorts with wide leggings and pockets. The shorts were fastened in a similar fashion to the ladies rinda.
One Monday morning Wamangu overslept, waking up to the voice of Nduti wa Nduta announcing the departure of the bus outside his home at Kaandogo.
In the dark of night, he hurriedly dressed and rushed out to board the bus. Upon reaching Kaamiitu, Nduti asked Wamangu for the fare (25 cts). Reaching down to fetch his fare, to his wonder and amazement, Wamangu discovered that the garment had no pockets, and it was then he realised that in the confusion of the morning he had worn his wife’s “rinda”. Not wanting to alert the other passengers, he called Nduti aside and whispered “wa Nduta, ona mbaki nindikiri! Ndigikirire rinda ya Wanjiku!” (son of Nduta, I don’t even have snuff on me! I put on Wanjiku’s rinda!).
Fortunately, when Wamangu got to the office in Kiambu, he knew where spare uniforms were kept in the store and he was able to change immediately into a “kinyasa” (shorts) before suffering any further embarrassment.
Nduti wa Nduta was a bit of a cheeky fellow and after the incident, every Monday as the bus approached Wamangu’s home he would shout, “Wamangu ndume, na ndugakiume na rinda ya Wanjiku!” (Wamangu come out but, don’t come out with Wanjiku’s rinda!).
Such was life in Kibichoi in the 1940s!
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