Home » Njiiri Wa Karanja: Inside the Life of the Illiterate Richest Man in Central Kenya Who Had 42 Wives

Njiiri Wa Karanja: Inside the Life of the Illiterate Richest Man in Central Kenya Who Had 42 Wives

by Paul Nyongesa
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Senior Chief Njiiri wa Karanja, a prominent figure in Central Kenya during his time, left an indelible mark as the region’s wealthiest man.

Long before modern amenities became commonplace, Senior Chief Njiiri stood out, owning a transistor radio – a rare commodity within a 1,000km radius.

His affluence, derived from various sources including extensive land holdings, livestock, and a unique personality, made him a legend in the region.

The chief’s wealth was not only defined by vast land holdings, but also an impressive livestock collection that included 5,000 goats, 4,000 sheep, and a formidable herd of 2,000 cattle.

In a time when material possessions were scarce, Senior Chief Njiiri’s opulence set him apart as a symbol of prosperity.

One of his notable distinctions was the possession of a horse, a luxury that few could afford.

While owning a bicycle was considered a status symbol, Chief Njiiri took it to the next level, using a Land Rover to chauffeur his grandchildren to school during the 1950s.

Chief Njiiri’s commitment to education was equally remarkable. At a time when formal education was not widespread, he sent his son, Kariuki Njiiri, to the United States for further studies. This demonstrated not only a foresight for the future but also a dedication to breaking barriers in pursuit of knowledge.

The chief’s authoritative presence was felt not only in his possessions but also in the strict protocols surrounding his compound. Guarded by security personnel, with entry permitted only through a designated gate, Chief Njiiri’s residence was a symbol of power and influence.

A significant chapter in Chief Njiiri’s life was his staunch opposition to the Mau Mau during the fight for independence. His unwavering stance against the Mau Mau, displayed by flying a 60-feet British flag outside his home, earned him favor with the colonial government.

He was so revered that he was guarded by police officers at the Kinyona police station during the day, with a police reserve helicopter dropping a daily copy of the East African Standard at his doorstep – an act of admiration and acknowledgment of his loyalty.

Despite being illiterate, Chief Njiiri’s loyalty to the colonial administration did not go unnoticed.

His fame extended beyond Kenya, reaching Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II paid him a courtesy call in 1957. This international recognition culminated in the award of the Member of the British Empire (MBE), a prestigious honor.

Chief Njiiri’s personal life was as complex as his political standing. With a total of 42 wives, his family life was a spectacle in itself. The narrative of his life extends to his death in 1974 at over 100 years, leaving behind a legacy of wealth, influence, and a multifaceted relationship with the colonial authorities during a pivotal period in Kenyan history.

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