What Is The Lustre Of Literature In Names Of Places In Kenya?
BY VICTOR OCHIENG’
Some names of places in Kenya are rife with lustre of literature and history. Somewhat, a moniker goes beyond just an ensemble of letters welded together to sound sweet and pleasant to ears of humankind. Names are part and parcel of our collective culture, literature history and heritage. Some names of Kenyan towns and places, were inspired by economic activities, wars or contact with the colonialists.
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Indeed, a literary scholar would say, colloquialism and charactonym, have been employed in names of places. Colloquialism touches on a word or phrase that is not formal used in ordinary conversation. Charactonym on the other hand, is a feature of style that suggests a distinctive trait of a particular character. For instance, those who have read Utengano by the putative Kiswahili novelist called Said Mohamed, know that this stupendous style has been employed in that text to a great extent. There is a character called Maksuudi because he does things blatantly. But again, we meet a place called Madongoporomoka, an insalubrious place rife with dingy and dilapidated buildings.
In actual sense, I was penning this piece at my writing and editorial centre, which sits in Rural Tents, presently known as Riruta. This is in Dagoretti, initially known as the Great Corner. Cow Grade Lane, now known as Kawangware, is at a stone-throw distance. In close-range, is Kabete, which my informer tick in history apprises me that it was formerly known as Carpet Ville. Not far from here, is the high-end estate called Kileleshwa, which was coined from Clay Land Swamp. What of Kariakor? During the First World War, a contingent of Africans who were enlisted in the British army, were asked to carry their luggage. The Carrier Corps, as they were known, carried everything the soldiers needed in order to survive during the tempestuous East African Campaign of the First World War.
Again, all these places I have mentioned are found in Nairobi, the jungle of concrete. Being our capital city, it hosts tall buildings that kisses the skies. Historians posit that the Maasai, were its original inhabitants. Therefore, the name ‘Nairobi’ was derived from the Maasai phrase ‘Enkare Nyrobi’ – to mean ‘a place of cool waters’.
Furthermore, along Nairobi-Nakuru, there is Kinoo, which before corruption of the name, was known as Kings Knot. If you are fond of driving along that busy highway, then you must also have seen Sigona, not far from Kikuyu Town, which my fellow scribe tells me was described as Singers with Honour. Still in Kikuyu, there is Thogoto. When the Church of Scotland Mission settled in this chilly land, they created a little Scotland by building schools, Church and mission hospital. The aborigines of this lush land could not pronounce the name Scotland correctly. They puffed it as ‘Thigoto’, and thus the moniker Thogoto was born. From those distant days hitherto, the town maintains its name.
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Consequently, there is Limuru has a close connection with ‘ilmur’ to mean donkey droppings, in tribute to a melange of donkeys that were found in that area. Moreover, the name Naivasha, was coined from ‘enaipasha’, which meant the lake. Nakuru was coined from Nakuro’, to mean a ‘dusty place’. Somehow, Nyahururu came from ‘enaiwurwur’ meaning a windy place. In Bomet County, there is a place called Tenwek. The small town is known far and wide because it is the home of one of the oldest hospitals built in 1936. People say that the name Tenwek is believed to have come about because it took people ten weeks to travel from Mombasa to the area on foot.
In addition, in Baringo, there is Kabarnet Town, which was named after a Frenchman known as Barnet, who in the years of yore, settled in the area, and made it his home. A spit-throw distance from Kabarnet Town, is Kapropita, where we have Kapropita Girls’ High School. Kapropita is a corrupted version of Corporal Peter, a settler who stayed in the area sometimes back. Before you reach Nanyuki Town, there is Naromoru, a cool place on the leeward side (rain shadow) of Mt. Kenya, which originally meant Narrow Mall.
Corruption of English names
It is also important to note that some places got their names due to the corruption of English words and a special type of word play called homophonic pun. The places include Rumuruti (Remote Route), Ikolomani (Gold mine), Kilifi (Cliff), Kariobangi (Carry Your Bags), Kirigiti (Cricket), Longisa (Long Distance), Rodi Kopany (Road Company), et cetera.
Finally, in Western Kenya, when girls reported at Bunyore Girls, the white men told the girls that they went there to ‘Aim Higher’. The original inhabitants picked it and made it the name of the place – Emuhaya.
The writer is a tutor, orator, author and trainer. [email protected]