The Meteorite and the Maasai

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Anyone traveling in the pre-colonial era had two things to fear; wild-animals and the Maasai, for the two were almost everywhere and attacked in a ferocious swoop. In 1856, a raiding party of Maasai warriors wandering eastwards from the Tsavo brought to an end a three-year obsession with a meteorite among the Wanyika tribe[1].

On March 6, 1853, a rare cosmic event took place in Wanyikaland[2]. A meteorite flashed through the sky and landed on the grazing fields. Boys herding sheep rushed to pick-up the meteorite and brought it home. The Duruma sub-tribe of the Wanyika declared it to be God since it had fallen from heaven. The gray, rusty-looking stone with a smooth dark brown crust was now to be protected with all the zeal that could be mastered.

The Duruma built a temple for the 577-gram stone, anointed it, clothed it, and placed pearls on it. Word soon spread about the stone and German Bethany missionaries working in the coastal area became interested in acquiring the stone. They made several attempts to purchase the stone from the shepherds who discovered it, but the Duruma elders would not permit it. The ensuing melee must have unnerved the Maasai.

The Raiding Party
Like Vikings sacking the temples of England, the Maasai raided the Duruma villages laying waste to anything on their path. Their intentions were unknown; for they never claimed the stone neither did they occupy the area. Luckily, someone sneaked the stone out of the village during the scuffle.

The Maasai raiding party pushed farther to the City of Mombasa where they encountered Baluchi Arab soldiers garrisoned in the area. Sayyid Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar had ordered his soldiers to guard the city after a long bloody power feud with the Mazrui family. Now, he faced a new enemy – the marauding Maasai. The encounter led to a battle in which the Baluchi soldiers ended-up taking refuge at Fort Jesus.

The bloodthirsty gang moved South of Mombasa whereupon they came to the Port town of Vanga. Nothing is known about what provoked the Maasai – a rampage followed that led to the complete destruction of the town of Vanga. The murderous rage came to a halt when the City of Mombasa developed an alert system which was sounded when Maasai morans were spotted conducting reconnaissance missions.

The After Party
Back in Wanyikaland, the elders were disappointed the stone did not protect them from the Maasai.  They kept it in hope of redemption. However, salvation was not to come;  the period after the raid experienced a great famine and everyone agreed the stone had lost its potency. They finally sold it to the German missionaries who named it The Duruma Meteorite and sent it to the Bavarian Academy of Science in Munich, Germany.

In 1936, the meteorite made it to the exhibition hall  of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, US under a loan agreement. Later, the stone found a home at the Munich Museum. Unfortunately; on October, 1942 during the Second World War, air raids on Munich by the British Royal Air Force flattened the Munich Museum and the stone was destroyed.

[1] Wanyika was a derogatory term used by the Swahili to refer to culturally inferior tribes living in lands adjacent to theirs.  The name translates to ‘people of the bush’. The tribe is now respectfully referred to as Mijikenda – the nine tribes.
[2] Wanyikaland refers to the present day Kilifi district.

Edited by: Nyambura Mutanyi


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  1. Our late father who passed on in April 2005 at the age of about 87 told me about this Maasai raid of the coastal people. He said Maasai warriors went as far as a place called Rimba which I believe is somewhere to the North of Malindi town, near where the Sabaki river enters the Indian Ocean.

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