How Kenya got its name in 1849 from a Kamba paramount chief

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On Wednesday at this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave an account of how Kenya got its name on December 3rd, 1849 when Dr. Ludwig Krapf, a German missionary with the Anglican Missionary Society (CMS) was taken to the mysterious Mountain of Mystery, Kere-Nyaga by renown Chief Kivoi Mwendwa.

”Celebrating Mashujaa Day in Kirinyaga County has a second historical significance. This county bears the name of the Mountain of Mystery, and so is our nation. And according to folklore, the naming came from one of our pioneer heroes called Chief Kivoi wa Mwendwa, born 240 years ago in 1780,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said, continuing : 

”On December 3rd, 1849, Chief Kivoi brought Dr. Krapf to Kirinyaga to behold the Mountain of Mystery. When asked, through an interpreter what the name of the mountain was, Chief Kivoi told the colonizer that the name of the Mountain was Kere-Nyaga.”

Read: President Uhuru cautions Mt Kenya against politics of deceit and empty rhetoric

According to popular folklore, Chief Kivoi pronounced the mountain’s name in a Kamba accent but what the colonizer heard was Kiinya. And from this conversation, the name ‘Kenya’ was born, close to 200 years ago.  

”Kirinyaga County is therefore at the heart of our rich heritage as a nation. The development of the then Kirinyaga District created out of the western part of Embu District in 1963, has closely mirrored that of the wider country, culminating with the advent of devolution,” the Head of State said.

Dr. Krapf, together with Johannes Rebmann, both German missionaries and explorers traveled to Kenya in 1844 when they docked in Mombasa.  They were the first Europeans to see Mount Kenya with the help of natives who dwelled at its slopes and those of Mt  Kilimanjaro. Krapf also played a key role in exploring the East African coastline.

Read: Uhuru meets Kirinyaga leaders in Sagana ahead of Mashujaa Day fete

Before coming to Kenya, Krapf spent some time in Alexandria, Egypt. From there he set off for East Africa hoping to reach the Oromo, what is now the Kenyan coast. When he arrived, he began by learning the languages of the native  Mijikenda people and also Swahili which is an East African language of communication.

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