In the 1840s, in the beautiful hilly land of the Taita at Mwanda Kwa Weni Ngasu, a hero, soldier and Chief known as Mwangeka Wa Malowa was born. A wealthy man, he had three wives; Zighe Mshote, Mfwa Mwaghowa and Mfwa Ndaghina, from Msudu, Kashinyi and Mwanda Njawuli villages, respectively. He was able to sire four sons and two daughters from the marriages.
He championed his people in opposing colonial rule in the 19th century. With the Taita army under his command, he watched over all insecurity prone areas on the long-distance trade routes from Mombasa through Taru, Voi, Mwatate and Tavera to Kilimanjaro.
Since he was in control of this route, the coastal traders, including the Sultan family, were required to pay taxes to access Taita, either from Mombasa to Kilimanjaro or vice versa. Some traders also signed treaties/agreements (mtero) with Mwangeka to ensure their safety while passing through the Mombasa-Kilimanjaro route. However, some traders did not take this kindly and viewed it as disrespectful to the Sultan.
During Mwangeka’s reign, security in Taita Taveta was good, and at the same time, the British colony was planning on how to invade Kenya under the Imperial British East Africa Company(IBEACo).
In 1892 Captain Nelson teamed up with the Sultan and the Coastal traders to destabilise Mwangeka’s leadership. The invasion of Taita land by the British soldiers was filled with a lot f inhuman torture, burning of houses, destruction of property and killing of innocent unarmed people.
When they met Mwangeka’s soldiers at Mwashoti in Mlughi village near Mrughua, they were received with fierce resistance. The military fight lasted a month and the British sent scampering down the hills in retreat, even with their superior weapons. They were no match for the military tactics of Mwangeka’s soldiers.
Traditional Taita medicine men and a team of fortune tellers known as Walaghui are said to have worked tirelessly with charms to ensure the protection of Mwangeka and his troops from any threat. This strong resistance by the Mwangeka troops forced Captain Nelson to order a tactical retreat, and the British military intelligence scouts were sent to villages to spy on the freedom fighter’s fighting tactics.
They met Mbogholi wa Samaghembe from the Bura location, who they reportedly bribed to spy on the war veteran. Being a Taita and a resident of Bura, one of the worst insecurity prone areas of Taita due to Arab caravans passage route, when he approached Mwangeka for advice on how to combat the invading enemies, he gave him all the fighting tactics in good faith.
With the full intelligence report at hand, Captain Nelson commanded his troops and advanced through Mlughi village. Innocent people were tortured, houses burnt and property destroyed. An ally of Mwangeka, Isanga Iwishi, quickly sent him a message that the British were oppressing his people in Bura and Mwashoti. He disregarded the warnings from fortunetellers, determined to save his people.
He led his soldiers to Mwashoti and Mlughi and put up a spirited fight, but the resistance was vicious. An urgent demand for more soldiers was made to Werugha, Wumingu and Mbale, but it was unfortunate that they did not come in good time. A British bullet hit him, and he fell to the ground.
Mwangeka’s soldiers could not believe that their leader was dead. Even The grief of his demise could not compare to the loss of many Taita soldiers. Mnjala Wa Ruma, who was in command after Mwangeka, gathered his people into the Vuria caves, which were their last line of defence. It was here that he announced to the community members that Mwangeka wa Malowa was no longer alive. It was after the intervention by French missionaries that peace returned to the land, but the trade routes were now under the control of the British.
The Vuria caves remind us of the heroic deeds of chief Mwangeka. The location of the caves is endowed with rare plants and animal species not found anywhere else in the world, serving as a tourist attraction for visitors from Kenya and beyond.