December 23, 2013
As Kenya celebrates 50yrs since independence and celebrates the Maumau war veterans it is notable that the locals down here in Chuka, celebrates there drumming heroes who have remained the society entertainers for years locally and also internationally.
The group founded in 1942 by the late Ndei Mutaa, from Igaa village in Meru south Sub County of Tharaka Nithi County where it started by the name Mwinjiro.
According to the group leader Mzee Eustace Njuki who was among the first members of the drumming group, it started with only 10 members where they came together to entertain the community and spread the cultural songs to the new generations.
“Whenever we began drumming and dancing the whole village would join in jubilation and people would dance to the rhythm for hours” Njuki said.
The group drew attention from the locality and in 1961 they ultimately landed a job to entertain European tourist who visited Mount Kenya through the Chogoria gate.
“We would sing and marvel the whites with our skills some even collapsed with laughter at one time.” Njuki exclaimed with joy.
In 1962 the group enjoyed their publicity where they took their first trip outside the country when they were invited to perform in Tanganyika.
The group rose to fame as Kenya was attaining its independence and were invited to perform in state house Nairobi.
Mzee Njuki said that the group attained the first air trip in 1969 where they were going to perform in Nigeria and it was unbelievable since no member of the group has ever bordered the plane.
The group later visited Greece in 1971 where they stayed and perform in Athens for two months before eventually flying back to the country.
In 1973 they visited Canada where they stayed and performed for two weeks. They landed another job in 1975 when they were employed by Taita Short Lake Hotel.
When former President Daniel Arap Moi was being inaugurated as the Chairman of OAU in 1981 they were called to perform to the 42 heads of state present at the function among them Julius Nyerere of Tanzanian, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
The group also had a chance to perform to the late former South African president Nelson Mandela when he visited the country in 1990.
I had travelled about 20 kilometers from Chuka town to Itugururu village where the group trains. On arriving there I found the members rehearsing. The group secretary Ngai Kenneth welcomes and orders a seat for me.
He gives me a brief introduction to the members and tells them the reason of my visit. “This is where we train called its ‘Kabaroni’ Ngai says pointing to a quarter acre piece of land with grass, it is in the middle of a maize and beans. Ngai inform me it’s the homestead of the group’s founder Ndei Mutaa.
I learn that the dancers wear ‘Thumbi’ a head gear made from ‘Nkoroi’ Columbus monkey skin, ‘Kithiri’ waist attire. They wear ‘Magemio’ around their shoulders made from Guinea Fowl they wore chains localy known as ‘ciumaa’.
They are not complete without their drum kown as Mwinjiro made from carving Cyprus tree and goat skin. The drum is designed with colors that resemble the national flag of Kenya.
The group sings and dance and the group treasurer Micheni Ndei the group dances varies along different themes: ‘macia’ was performed during wedding ceremonies mugeni was performed during invitation of visitor. The changes and alternation of stanza is known ‘Kiraka’
The rhythyme according to Njuki pleases the heart.
The neighbouring Mbeere community also has a dance similar to the Chuka drummers only that it is known as ‘Ngootha’
Mzee Njuki says they have registered with the ministry of culture and issued with a certificate as culture contributors.
Njuki lamented their names has been used severally without the concept of the members. “We are the original Chuka drummers but we are informed that our name is being used without us knowing”
The members insisted that the ‘Chuka drummers’ at the Bomas of Kenya are not genuine.
Lack of funds has been a major problem that has crippled the group in poverty despite the name and recognition they have they lack a counsel to engage such pirates in a court of law. Poverty has also made the group to cope with the digital world since they do not have a CD.
The member say their name does not fit the money they receive and they feel forgotten by the government since they are living in deplorable state despite the fact of performing in many government function. “Most of us have even failed to educate their children” lamented Njuki.
The feel they have not been publicized since they struggle to get shows across the country since they do not have a manager.
I take time to ask the members who most of them are above 60 years keep up with the spirit since their dances mainly involve acrobatics. They tell me their diet is mainly yams (ikwa), traditional vegetables and the renown staple food ‘Mukimo’ that is eaten in Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi county.
The group is struggling to ream relevant and have been recruiting young dancers into the group.
Ngai Kenneth called on the county government of Tharaka Nithi to team up with them to explore and teach the youth about their songs and dances to protect the eroding culture of the government.
Njuki encouraged the youth to uphold the culture by singing traditional song and dances and say he was willing to teach the youth whatever he knows.