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Kenyans call Britain to return Koitalel Arap Samoei’s head after Queen’s death

Kenyans call Britain to return the resistance leader’s head Koitalel Arap Samoei after the Queen’s death.

After the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, there are growing calls in Kenya for Britain to hand over the head of a revered tribal chief who oversaw a deadly uprising against colonial control more than a century ago.

Koitalel Arap Samoei spearheaded fierce opposition to the construction of the so-called “Lunatic Express,” a railway from Kenya’s Indian Ocean port of Mombasa through Nandi in the Rift Valley to Lake Victoria in Uganda.

According to Kenyan history, British colonial authorities led Samoei to a conference in October 1905 under the pretense of negotiating a truce but instead executed him and several other warriors.

Nandi elders claim that Samoei, an Orkoiyot or spiritual leader of the Nandi people, was beheaded and had his head carried to England as a war trophy.

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday has rekindled calls for Britain to acknowledge the atrocities of its colonial past.

The Nandi people demanded Samoei’s head be returned to his ancestral village for a proper burial, according to Nandi County government attorney George Tarus, a request that was widely echoed by Kenyans social media.

The queen “meant so much to so many people… despite the history of the British Empire and its atrocities”, he said, highlighting the strong relations between Britain and Kenya today.

“But as the world is mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II maybe now is the right time to implore the British government to do what is only right — return the head of Koitalel Samoei and issue an apology publicly to the people of Nandi.”

Tarus said 20,000 people were killed during the uprising and thousands more displaced when British authorities seized 140,000 acres of fertile land in Nandi now used for tea plantations by British multinationals.

“To this date, there hasn’t been any compensation from the British government,” said Tarus, who is leading legal efforts to seek justice for the Nandi community.

He said this was despite Britain agreeing in 2013 to compensate over 5,000 Kenyans who had suffered abuse during the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule.

In 2006, heirs of colonial-era British army colonel Richard Henry Meinertzhagen said to be the man who killed Samoei, returned a walking stick and baton to Kenya that had belonged to the tribal leader.

Samoei launched his unsuccessful and ultimately fatal struggle after foretelling that a black snake spitting fire — a steam engine — would pass through Nandi, destroying tribal culture and disenfranchising local farmers and cattle herders.

Tarus said he believed the British took Samoei’s head not only as a trophy but also to study. 

“I think they wanted to find out how… he could resist the British for 11 years with their sophisticated weapons while the Nandi were only using mainly bows and arrows.”

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