Peter M’itirikia was born in 1909 in Antubetwe Kiongo, Karichu village in what is now Meru County, Kenya. As the Ameru customs demands, he was initiated into the Michubu age-group. Usually, young people who were circumcised together belonged to the same age group that was named depending on many factors such as the season or any other activity or occurrence. M’Itirikia was an extraordinary boy who began to show his unique qualities while very young. For example, during wrestling, an activity where the strongest young men were chosen to represent their clans, M’Itirikia always emerged the best. He was thus a strong warrior who was feared by many. Due to his courage, he was known in the whole of Antubetwe.
He also had the qualities of a good leader from the time he was a boy. Due to this, he became the senior leader of his Michubu age group and later the leader of his Antubangai clan. Antubangai is literally translated as “People of God.” This was a mighty clan because people believed it was favored by God. With the coming of the missionaries, some people regarded this clan as “Israel,” which implied that its people had been chosen by God just as He had chosen the Israelites. Members of the Antubangai clan had large portions of land and many herds of cattle. Most of the religious specialists such as rain makers, herbalists, diviners, and priests came from this clan. The clan also produced the best warriors such as M’Itirikia. He was one of the Antubangai warriors who brought a lot of fame and victory to the clan.
M’itirikia was enrolled in Tuuru Catholic Mission School in 1926 at the age of seventeen. The Consolata Catholic missionaries had occupied northern Meru in 1913, opening up mission stations at Tigania and Amung’enti. In 1922 and 1923, after some resistance by the locals, they founded other mission stations at Tuuru and Mekinduri.
It should be noted that as a leader of his age group and clan, M’itirikia was already a religious person who strictly followed the Ameru traditional religion. As a matter of habit, everybody in Africa was religious. When he joined the Catholic Church, the missionaries very quickly noticed his leadership qualities and he was made an altar boy. He then started attending catechism classes. It was through this exposure to the new religion of Christianity that he developed an urge to know more about the Christian religion. He was used to the Ameru traditional way of worship where they worshipped in Ng’aya forest and sacrificed to the nkoma cia bajuju (ancestors).
He was not so happy with some of the teachings and practices of the new religion, that is, the Catholic faith. This led him to defy some doctrines of the Catholic Church. He started to educate his village and clan people, the Antubangai, on what he liked and disliked about the new religion. The more he knew about the “white man’s religion” (Christianity), the more he disregarded its teachings and practices and the more he became motivated to denounce the Christian ways of worship. He proposed that the Ameru return to their traditional ways of worshiping Murungu (God) and the veneration of the ancestors. He became increasingly anti-colonial and anti-Christian, because he saw no clear distinction between the white missionaries and the colonial masters. He led a number of localized defense campaigns against the colonial authorities and the missionaries. He later left the mission school and the Church and went back to his village. Appeals by Bishop Perlo for him to go back to the Church and school bore no fruits as he adamantly resisted.
He believed in one God (Murungu) but not the “white man’s religious beliefs and practices” as propagated by the Catholic Church. He felt that their practices and teachings were not based on the Bible. He felt that the white people had brought some good things but that it was their time to go. He also criticized the authority given to chiefs. At the village, he encouraged young warriors and men to embrace African Traditional Religion.
M’itirikia married four wives, namely Mukombiti, Kanochia, Makamba, and Kaloki who gave him sixteen children – eleven sons and five daughters.
His disapproval of what he termed as the “white man’s religion” led him to think of a Christian faith that was more appealing to the Ameru. He felt that Christianity was not necessarily a bad religion but that it had been wrongly presented by the missionaries. He thus became an independent preacher who agitated against colonialism and the European way of worship.
He was greatly inspired to start a church that would integrate African norms, values, culture, and way of worship pioneered by the four independent Kikuyu preachers who were the founders of the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa. He felt that this was a good Church as it allowed Africans to worship as Africans and recognized their culture and religion. He had to preach and mobilize people to follow him secretly because he was afraid of the colonial government.
Those who accepted his teachings met secretly at a place called Koongo Ka Aruu with other village elders to discuss how to fight the “white man’s religion” and expel him from Meru. They were joined by the Mau Mau fighters because they were also against the colonial government and Christianity. During one of these meetings, M’itirikia was captured by the colonial government because they viewed him as a threat to colonial rule. He was imprisoned for three years alongside other people of his clan and his eldest sons M’Maroo and M’Munoru. In the prison, he met other people from different parts of Meru who shared his views. This greatly inspired him. After his release, he was more determined to start a Church in the area where they used to meet, that is, at Koongo Ka Aruu. The local people helped him to establish a church. Many contributed by giving timbers and helping to actually build the church. That way the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa or AIPCA, Koongo Ka Aruu Church was started. This was the first AIPCA in the Meru region. From there it spread to other Meru regions.
M’itirikia’s Contributions to the Development of the African Independent Churches
He was the founder of the AIPCA in Antubetwe village the church which gave birth to many AIPCA churches in the area and farther afield in Meru community. He gave out many portions of land that belonged to his family and his clan (Antubangai) so as to establish churches and also to house disadvantaged people, particularly the Mau Mau war veterans who spent most their time in the forest fighting the colonial government. He built many sub-branches of AIPCA in different villages in Antubetwe, such as Karichu AIPCA now known as St. Martins AIPCA, Koongo ka Aruu AIPCA now known as St. Peter AIPCA among others.
Under his leadership many local people left the mission-founded churches and joined AIPCA. He also started schools that preserved and embraced African cultures in contrast with westernized missionary schools. For example, St. Peter Primary School is named after him. Through school, people received education and this led to the emergence of public figures in society. These schools also acted as hiding places for Mau Mau fighters where they came to get food, clothing and information about the colonialists.
Due to his courage, he inspired many people to start independent churches where they could worship according to their local customs. He is remembered for being a courageous and vocal person in society. M’itirikia served the Antubetwe people with no discrimination and united many groups and clans because he believed in unity and peace.
M’itirikia will be remembered for many achievements in Igembe, particularly the founding of the AIPCA in Meru and several schools. He died in the 1979. His death brought conflicts among different branches of the AIPCA in Antubetwe because they all wanted to take his body for burial. One of his sons had to intervene by stating that M’itirikia had indicated that he wished to be buried at the Koongo Ka Aruu AIPCA.
Dickson Nkonge Kagema
Baur, John (1990). The Catholic Church in Kenya: A Centenary History. Nairobi: St. Paul.
Bernadi, B (1959). The Mugwe: A Blessing Prophet. Nairobi: Gideon Were.
Ntharangwi, K. L (2016). Oral Interview. Antubetwe.
M’itirikia, Kaloki [M’Itirikia’s fourth wife] ( 2016). Oral Interview, Antubetwe.
This article, received in 2017, was written by Dickson Nkonge Kagema, PhD. Dr. Kagema is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies & Philosophy at Chuka University in Kenya and Research Associate in Practical Theology & Missiology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He is a Canon in the Anglican Church of Kenya. His email is dicknkonge[email protected]