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Kenya’s newest city: Do you know how ‘Nakuru’ got its name?

Nakuru yesterday received a city charter from President Uhuru Kenyatta, making it Kenya’s fourth city after Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.

The ceremony, attended by several national and local leaders among them former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, followed a legislative process as outlined in the Urban Areas and Cities Act of 2011.

“The award of the charter [makes] Nakuru attractive for business as it attracts investors to put up factories, industries creating employment for the youth,” said President Kenyatta.

“Historically Nakuru is a melting pot where all communities live harmoniously. It is a known fact that whatever happens in Nakuru politically will affect the whole country. It is said when Nakuru burns, the whole country burns and if Nakuru is calm then the nation is also calm,” the President added.

Nakuru’s Etymology

But also historically, do you know the etymology of the name ‘Nakuru’?

It goes back to the 1920s colonial Kenya. The town’s (now city) official birthday is January 28, 1904. It was just four years after the railway reached the area.

Elspeth Huxley and Arnold Curtis inform us in Pioneers’ Scrapbook: Reminiscences of Kenya, 1890 to 1968 that it was created “when an area within a circle having a radius of one mile from the main entrance to the railway station was proclaimed to be a township.”

Nakuru City
President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) during the awarding of city charter to Nakuru yesterday. The city has a rich history dating back to colonial times. PHOTO/COURTESY

The Maasai called it “the place where cows won’t eat grass.” It was an arid, windswept stretch of plain between Lake Nakuru and Menengai “where soda dust from the lake shore was apt to settle and no human inhabitants at all.”

“When the European cattle were introduced,” the book says, “they suffered from a wasting disease called Nakuruitis. In 1926, scientists from Aberdeen in Scotland found the cause to be a deficiency of iron in the pastures.”

And thus the place of Nakuruitis naturally came to be known as ‘Nakuru’. Others say it was derived from Maasai word Nakurro, meaning “dusty.”

Nakuru charter TV47
President Kenyatta delivers the city charter to Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui. PHOTO/COURTESY

Like other settler locations in Kenya, Nakuru had its fair share of flowery characters. Take Pioneer Mary, an Irish woman who came from Australia with her husband John Walsh.

She was a study, fiery and determined person who, according to Pioneers’ Scrapbook, “kept order amongst the railway labour force with her rhino-hide whip.” She also made good pies and bread.

“On one occasion, Archibald Buchan-Sydserff, a railway engineer known as Bwana Simba, had been out all day in the bush at the height of the hot dry season, surveying towards Rongai. Weary and hungry, he was making his way back to his camp at Nakuru, looking forward to one of Mary’s fresh hot loaves, a roast guinea fowl and a good long rest on his camp bed. Suddenly, an agitated African jumped out of the bush and barred his path.

“Return at once, Bwana Simba'” he cried. “Memsahib Kiboko is calling for you! Quickly, come.”

Pioneer Mary was on the rampage, all ready to thrash him with her rhino hide whipe. His labourers, she claimed, had stolen sheets of corrugated iron from her ovens. Bwana Simba had to sleep out in the bush that night, supperless and weary. Nobody dared face Pioneer Mary when she was in a really good old-fashioned Irish temper.”


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