Why King Charles III chose to visit Mugumo tree

Why King Charles III chose to visit Mugumo tree

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For any Kenyan, the Mugumo is a very famous tree. It carries very huge significance in terms of the struggle for freedom and Agikuyu traditional African society.

The Mugumo is what is known as the Fig tree in English.

For the Kikuyu people of central Kenya, the most populous ethnic group in Kenya, the Mugumo has traditionally been a shrine – a place of worship and sacrifices.

The Kikuyu do not allow a fig tree to be cut down because they believe such an act could spell disaster.

When a Mugumo tree falls, it sends members of the Agikuyu community who dwell near it into a panic because they believe it is a bad omen. 

A fallen Mugumo tree cannot be used for firewood and must be left to rot. 

It also comes with myths around its existence and one of them is that if you went around a Mugumo tree seven times, you'd change your gender.

There however, is no proof of such transformation. 

Some people believe that the spirits of the ancestors dwell in Mugumo trees and its canopy has been used as a shrine to offer prayers and sacrifices to gods. However, this does not apply to all Mugumo trees.

Agikuyu ancestors believed that God would heed their prayers when they prayed under the tree. 

Significance to the British

King Charles III and Queen Camilla arrived in Kenya on Monday night ahead of their four-day visit.

Their Majesties are scheduled to hold a series of events in Nairobi and at the Coast, in Mombasa County.

The visit is at the invitation of President William Ruto and comes as Kenya prepares to celebrate 60 years of independence.

The visit is meant to celebrate the close links between the British and Kenyan people. The visit will also acknowledge the more painful aspects of the UK and Kenya’s shared history.

His Majesty will take time during the visit to deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered in this period by the people of Kenya, a communication from the Royal family said.

Their Majesties will also tour a new museum dedicated to Kenya’s history and will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Uhuru Gardens, as well as visit the site of the declaration of Kenya’s independence in 1963.

On this site lays a huge Mugumo tree.

Mugumo tree at Uhuru Gardens
Mugumo tree at Uhuru Gardens
Image: National Museums of Kenya

The tree is symbolic as it was planted on the spot where the Union Jack (British flag) was brought down and Kenya’s national flag was first hoisted after the country gained independence.

Shortly before Kenya gained independence from the British, the Mugumo tree was struck by lightning and began to wither rapidly.

On December 12, 1963, when Kenya officially became an independent state, the tree had decayed and died.

This fulfilled Cege wa Kibiru's prophecy that the fall of the tree would signify the end of the Whiteman’s rule. He had also predicted the coming of ‘intruders’ the Whiteman.

While the Mugumo tree served as a place of worship for the Agikuyu community, the British saw the need to protect it from falling.

They feared its fall would awaken a revolution and the community would start fighting them for self-rule. They then decided to reinforce it with metal bars and a ring filled with soil.

They intended to retain control of the Kenyan protectorate which had given them access to Uganda, through the railway.

The site is currently known as the Mugumo Garden in Thika.