Kenyan witness to the historic coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Britain's Queen Elizabeth I

 In this file photo taken on June 2, 1953, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh wave to the crowd from the Balcony at Buckingham Palace, following her coronation.   

Photo credit: AFP

Title: Wadhi e Coronation (We are Heading to the Coronation)

Author: Paul Mboya M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire).

Publisher: South Nyanza African District Council, by The Advent Press, Kendu.

Cover Photo: Odhiambo Orlale

There are some novels like Wadhi e Coronation (We are Going to the Coronation), by former chairman of Luo Council of Elders Paul Mboya, that are a gem.

The 111-page book, published in 1953, is written in Dholuo and is a narration of the author’s second visit to London in the United Kingdom with his wife, Miriam Mwango, to witness the historic coronation of Queen Elizabeth II who had succeeded his father, King George VI, upon his demise.

On the eve of her father’s death, Princess Elizabeth was on holiday in Kenya and got the sad news while at Tree Top Hotel in present day Nyeri County.

The author’s first trip was in 1946 to the capital of the then British Empire in a delegation to celebrate the end of the Second World War which lasted from 1939 to 1945, and pitted the British and allied forces which included the United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and France against Germany, Italy and Japan.

It was from May 25, 1953 to June 29, of the same year.

Senior Chief’s maiden flight

Says the author, who has five other titles under his name: “We left Kisii town on April 25, 1946, and travelled to Nairobi, where we arrived on April 27, 1946. We were in a delegation of seven people and our mission was to join the celebration and goyo sigalagala (we were to ululate)” in the Victory Parade, on June 8, 1946.”

According to the author, who hailed from Karachuonyo in the then South Nyanza province, that trip was organised, co-ordinated and led by Mr P. Wyn Harris, MBE, who was the Provincial Commissioner.

The first trip to and from London for the Victory Parade lasted from April 25 to August 24, 1946, and was at the end of the Second World War.

Others in the 1946 delegation were E.W. Mathu (Kiambu), Solomon Adagala (Teacher at Government African School in Kakamega), Chief Elijah arap Chepkwony (Kapsabet), Rev. Charles Muhoro and Chief James Mwanthi (from Nyeri district) and Mr Grant Ralph (Coast Province).

For the next 100 pages, the author gives a blow-by-blow account and thorough description of the environment, itinerary, politics of the day, English culture, tradition and culture of Britons and the Royal Family.

Indeed, for those who love vernacular literature, the book is a gem as it challenges the reader to discover new words in the language spoken by the Luos who had emigrated from South Sudan and settled in parts of Uganda and around Lake Victoria in Kenya and Tanzania in the last century.

Vernacular literature

The book is one of the five by Mboya, who is not related to Tom Mboya who served as Kenya African union (Kanu) Secretary-General and Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the most famous of them is the classic, Luo Kitgi gi Timbegi (Luo Culture and traditions) published in 1945 and is must-read for members of the Luo community and those interested in learning and knowing the language, history and culture.

It is the only Luo reference book so far ever published on the dos and don’ts among the community who have since settled around Lake Victoria having travelled down stream on River Nile from Bar el Ghazel area in Central Sudan, in present day South Sudan, in search of adventure and greener pastures.

Their other relatives up north are the Nuer and Dinka who stayed back, while others went further north along the longest river in the world which stretches from Jinja town, in Uganda, to Alexandria, in Egypt.

Paul Mboya

Author Paul Mboya with his fellow Kenyan delegates who attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in London, in the United Kingdom, in 1953. 

Photo credit: Pool

Mboya was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA), went to primary school up to class four, became a priest and later was co-opted by the colonial government to resign and become a senior chief. He later became the Ker (leader) of Luo Union East Africa (EA).

History and culture of the Luos

His second trip to the UK started from his home in Karachuonyo, near Kendu Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria, and took him and his wife to Kisumu town, across the Winam gulf, where they boarded an airplane at 5.25pm. and landed in Nairobi at 6.20pm.

The couple was received by Mr C.N.C. Prichard who took them to Thika Road House Hotel for the night.

The Mboyas were accommodated at the hotel for two days, courtesy of the British Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, K.C.M.G., V.O. (The Royal Victorian order established by Queen, Knight/Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George), before being driven to the airport on May 27, 1953, for the 9am London flight in a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) plane for the marathon and historic journey.

From Nairobi International Airport they made their first stopover at Khartoum, in Sudan, for one hour where they were amazed to see the majestic River Nile flowing towards the Mediterranean Sea that separates Africa from Europe.

They later departed from Khartoum for another stopover in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, at 8pm for an hour, before they departed for Rome in Italy, where they landed at 5am.

From Rome, they made the last flight to London and arrived at 9.30am and were awe-struck by a hive of activities, numerous skyscrapers, planes of different sizes and designs; with some landing while others taking off as others were parked waiting to be boarded and loaded with luggage and goods.

Also in the Kenyan delegation was Mulama from the African Appeal Court in North Nyanza; Chief Nathaniel Mbele from Taita Taveta in Coast; Joel Omino from Central Nyanza; Chief Daudi Kandie from Baringo in Rift Valley; Gideon Mpoke from Narok also in Rift Valley; and Jeremiah Pekoli from Kenya Tea Company in Kericho, also in Rift Valley Province.

Kenyan delegation treated like royalty

 For the next four weeks, the seven and their spouses were treated like royalty by being booked in hotels, driven around in official cars, and included in the very important people’s guest list to attend and witness the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in the iconic 7,000-seater West Minister Abbey.

During the visit, the author confessed that he saw the first television set for the first time in 1953 when he and his wife were hosted by one of the members of the British royal family for dinner.

Each member of the Kenyan delegation was later presented with a gift and souvenir wrapped in an envelope with the Queen’s Coronation Medal.

On June 11, the delegation was invited to attend the Queen’s Birthday Parade, where the author and his wife were given reserved seats number 37 and 38.

But not everyone was comfortable with the delegation from Kenya, as one of the hosts asked the author: “There must have been a mistake to invite you here as your compatriots, the Mau Mau, are killing women and children!”

‘Ghost’ of Mau Mau in London

Some crafty people made a kill on the eve of the big day by booking strategic spots along the ceremonial route and charging between Ksh600 and Ksh1, 000 per person to get the vintage spot to view the Queen.

Other highlights of the trip were the sight of the gold-plated horse carriage that was used to transport The Queen and her husband, Duke of Edinburg, from the coronation venue to her official residence at Buckingham Palace; a conducted tour of British House of Commons and House of Lords; and other visits to factories, a 3,000-acre farm owned by one of their hosts, educational institutions and homes for orphans and the disabled.

The memorable trip came to an end on June 25, 1953 when the author and his wife bid their hosts goodbye as they boarded another BOAC plane for the return trip to Nairobi via Rome, Cairo and Khartoum.

Says the author: “We were welcomed back by the Nyanza Provincial information Officer in Kisumu who took us to his office for debriefing. He then organised transport for us to be taken to my home in Karachuonyo. Later, we met the Kisii District Commissioner who organised for me visits to various locations to talk about the experience at the Queen’s Coronation, lifestyle of the British, work ethic, agriculture and livestock developments among others.”

The former SDA priest-turned- chief later used his office and opportunity to “caution the public to ignore misleading calls by Mau Mau leaders, who are like blind people leading others to a bottomless pit!”

By then, the colonial government had ordered the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta and his six comrades-in-arms; had them charged with “being members of a terrorists group,” and sentenced them to detention in Kapenguria in West Pokot District for seven years.

The book is an eye-opening account of the dark and dying days of colonialism before December 12, 1963 when Kenya gained independence and the Union Jack was replaced with the Kenyan national flag with Kenyatta as the first Prime Minister before he later become President of the new nation.


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