Kangundo town, the central offices of Kangundo territory, lies about 50 Km E of the metropolis of Nairobi. About 10 Km from the town along the dust-covered Machakos-Kangundo route, is a level dry grassland dotted with chunky thorny shrubs of a semi-desert terrain. This is Syanthi small town, competently named in the local Kamba idiom which literally translates, of the ( dry ) land. But unknown to the passer-by, this is place to an surprisingly alone web of rock-solid belowground caves.
The Oxford English dictionary describes a cave as: a hollow topographic point in the side of a drop or a hill ; or a big natural hollow topographic point under the land. It hence follows that Syanthi caves are non merely your ordinary caves, but an luxuriant series of interrelated unlighted belowground streets, some of which tally for up to 2 Km. Incredible as it sounds, in some subdivisions of these intriguing buried main roads, the bouldery roof is high plenty to suit the tallest adult male on Earth and sufficiently roomy for 4 grownups to freely walk side by side. And on some of the walls are drawings and unusual Hagiographas, proposing likely pre-historic life of a people civilized plenty to compose ( and read? ) . These Hagiographas, which appear antiquated, are done in some brown oily substance immune to endure elements. Might Kenya have been a state of the ancient Egyptian or Semitic civilisations? Merely archeologists and historiographers can state.
Struck by this obscure chef-d’oeuvre of Godhead admiration, this Scribe interviewed the proprietor of the land where the caverns originate.Ee Mbandi ( Ee is Kikamba for Mr ) , otherwise popularly known as Nzwii Washington Mbandi, inherited this hereditary land from his male parent, the late Mbandi Washington Mbuluvulu, who must hold lived in the center of the nineteenth century. Excerpt
Scribe: I hear people mentioning to you as Nzwii. What really is your existent name?
Mbandi: My existent name is Samuel Ndiku Mbandi. ( He so doffs his chapeau to uncover a thick harvest of satiny silvern hair ) . In Kikamba, ndiku agencies thick hair like mine, but since the common Kamba name for hair is nzwii, people started naming me Nzwii, and with clip, the name stuck. And I do n’t mind it either.
And make you cognize when you were born?
Yes, I was born in 1925 but I do n’t cognize the month or day of the month.
You look much younger than that! Who were your parents?
My male parent was known as Mbandi wa Mbuluvulu and mwaitu ] was called Ann Katee and she hailed from Mbee in Iveti location. Mbuluvulu had a brother called Mulele aka Ivai. Have you heard of mbaa Ivai? ( the Ivai household ) .
( It ‘s my bend to reply! ) Yes of class. I ‘ve heard that Kathaana small town is inhabited by mbaa Ivai and mbaa Luu. But state me more about Mbuluvulu. Does this name have something to make with the celebrated Buruburu Estate of Nairobi ‘s Eastlands?
May be, I do n’t cognize. Possibly you can make some research on it. But you see, I belong to the Mbai ya Ambuli kin, besides found in Cardinal state as Mbari ya Ambur, I said to be the kin of a late outstanding political leader with huge influence.
So when did you go cognizant of these caves?
Hour angle! Hour angle! Hour angle! I was born here and when I foremost opened my eyes, I saw these caves! As a kid, I played inside there running and sprinkling the Waterss therein. They are portion of me and therefore keep no peculiar captivation for me at all.
How did you get the land?
Listen to me. I inherited this land from my male parent. This is hereditary land, and this full country is occupied by my brothers and cousins ; but they occupy the tracts and I the beginning of the caves.
But I hear all these Akamba in Kangundo came from elsewhere to settle here. Are you migrators?
My people have non ever lived here. We came from Mua Hills and merely settled here after being kicked out of our place by the Mzungu who came to busy Mua. When my sires settled here, the caves were pullulating with hyaenas, ululating off all dark long.
Is that why the caverns are besides referred to as Maimani Kwa Mbiti? ( the hyaena ‘s godowns ) .
Precisely! They were in their 1000s and they wholly dominated the topographic point, I was told. But now there ‘s non a hint of them.
Please describes these caves briefly
There are 4 in all. My ain house stands on top of one, and as stated earlier, they all originate here and so ramify out past my relations ‘ compounds. The longest goes past Kathaana primary school and opens out at ithemboni Kwa Mwamisi. There is another one whose issue is at the ithembo near Syanthi primary school. The other long one goes upto my brother Mututu ‘s 2nd home.The shortest is about 100m long.
That puts the longest two at approximately 2 Km long ; this is incredible!
Precisely, but it ‘s true. And hence one needs either bright lanterns or strong limelights to tour these belowground streets, for truly are dark.
Are there any marks of life there under?
Not now, but in the recent yesteryear some fat porcupines lived at that place. In add-on, there are drawings and unusual Hagiographas on some of the walls. The drawings depict animate beings resembling cattles but I ‘ve non been able to decode the Hagiographas because they ‘re non in the ordinary alphabet.
Belly laugh! Describe the Hagiographas and the drawings ; were they scratched in or was an ink-like substance used?
They used an greasy substance assorted with a strong dye. In fact I thought it was a brown dye assorted with mauta mom ng’ombe.
State me, am I the first individual to demo involvement in these caves?
Of class non. A certain politician, he has since died, one time upon a clip approached me with an offer to purchase the land. I felt he wanted to victimize me so I turned the offer down
Any visitants in to these caves?
Oh legion. In fact tonss of Mzungu tourers used to come here, so instantly after uhuru, they stopped, Oh! and one more thing. During the Mau Mau rebellion, both black and white askaris were posted here merely in instance it was a Mau Mau hideaway. They found no 1.
What about these yearss. Are there visitants?
Many! From Meru, Kikuyuland and a few Mzungus. But largely it ‘s schools that frequent the topographic point, possibly on educational trips.
Supposes person was interested in these caves?
We can discourse along with my kids.
Even if it means your go forthing?
No job, every bit long as they do n’t victimize me.
Have these caves been either interfered with or damaged in any manner?
Merely some dirt has accumulated in some waies, but this can easy be cleared off. Otherwise they ‘re integral.
One last inquiry. Some people refer to this small town as Kathaana while others call it Syanthi. What ‘s this topographic point called?
This topographic point used to be called Ngungani Sya Nthi which literally means the caves of belowground, but since this is a mouthful, it was contracted to merely one word: Syanthi. Therefore those stores over there are supposed to be known as Syanthi stores and non Kathaana stores. But because of a appellative difference we had with a neighboring shopping Centre over the name Syanthi, we decided to call the stores after the nearby Kathaana river and our small town similarly adopted the same name. Otherwise as you can clearly see, this is the logical Syanthi.
Mwaitu – ma ; mama ; female parent
Mbaa Ivai and mbaa Luu – the Ivai household ( line ) and the Luu household ( line )
Ithembo ( ni/ ) – the traditional Kamba shrine. It comprised a big evergreen tree of the monkey-bread tree household
Mauta mom ng’ombe – ghee. It can be in either liquid or butter.
UKA UKAMBA UKATHE
Research and interview by