The First Chiefs in Tana River


In the 1950’s alot of changes were observed in Tana River and the major one was appointment of chiefs by the colonial government. These chiefs made alot of contribution towards the development of the region. They include the following:


Shambaro Elema, an Orma, was appointed the first Chief of the Northern Orma in 1950. He was a member of the Local Native Council. He was a dynamic leader who believed in setting the pace and example for the others to follow. Although he owned cattle just like any other Orma, Chief Shambaro settled down and grew food crops and cotton along the flood valley area. He was fast in seeing the benefits of education and decided to send his children to school. The colonial Government used him to convince the Orma on the need for vaccinating their cattle against diseases. No cattle dips were built for the Orma due to their nomadic nature and conservatism but the colonial administration took every necessary step to preserve the Orma herd.

Chief Shambaro became a very popular leader among the Orma. The colonial administration used him to convince some of the pastoral Orma to plant fairly extensive farms along the River Tana. The Orma, after seeing the advantages of education, requested Chief Shambaro to ask for a school to be built for them at Wayu near Hola. In response, Chief Shambaro personally marshalled his people to build not only a school but also a dispensary at Wayu in 1952. This was a big achievement, especially while considering that these were pastoralists who shunned education. At the personal level, Chief Shambaro is believed to be the first indigenous African in Tana-River District to buy a car. Records indicate that by 1955, Chief Shambaro had already bought a second-hand Land Rover. He was also the first Orma to own a shop. His shop was at Wayu. Undoubtedly, he was the most progressive Orma at the time.

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Mikael Kirungu Samson, or fondly remembered by others as “Chifu Mika”, was a Pokomo from Ngao. He was appointed Chief of Ngao Location on 1st August, 1950. He was previously a Local Native Council Rate Clerk before taking over the duties of a chief from Stephano Ibrahim Kiozi, who was dismissed for negligence of duty. Chief Mikael carried out his duties with vigour and without fear or favour. The then colonial District Commissioner described him as an “adamant character”. The colonial administration could not have described him in better words than these. Barely a year after his installation, the Pokomo of Ngao Location wanted to rebel against Chief Mikael. They accused their Chief of forcing them to clean their villages, build new village schools, dig pit latrines and even harvest their crops as though they were not aware of their obligations. They accused him of being a draconian leader. They quietly demanded that ex-chief Stephano Ibrahim Kiozi, be re-instated to lead them rather than have Chief Mikael, a draconian leader.

The colonial Government would not tolerate any of their complaints. After all, the complaints lodged against Chief Mikael were measures originating from the Government itself. The Chief was merely carrying out instructions of the Government he was serving. Not surprising, Chief Mikael, in spite of the opposition, remained adamant. In fact, he went further and prosecuted a few dissenting voices as a warning to the Pokomo on what was in store for them in case they continued defying his instructions. His forceful personality enabled him to lead despite the uncooperative attitude shown by the people from his location. The Pokomo of Ngao gradually got used to his type of leadership.

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Leadership qualities paid off when in 1952, Chief Mikael mobilised his people to build an intermediate school at Ngao. It was one of the greatest harambee efforts ever seen in Tana-River District which saw the construction of a new double classroom block and two dormitory blocks. Most of this work was done through voluntary labour under the supervision of the energetic Chief Mikael. The Pokomo forgot the hatred they had against their Chief. He became the pride of the society. Due to his tireless efforts, the village of Ngao, for instance, was swept at least once every week. Ngao village had (and still has) a big bell at the centre of the village. When the bell rung on Saturday evenings, it was time for the youths to sweep their compounds and burn the garbage. Each family ensured that the compound surrounding their house was swept clean. More and more pit latrines were constructed at a rate that was never seen before.

Chief Mikael believed in hard work. He single-handedly cleared some bush near the village to the west of the river bank to the surprise of the villagers with a view to growing plantains. He boasted to the people in Kiswahili, “Angalia!” Look!, in other words, what I have done. That part of the river is still known as Angalia to date.


The colonial administration recognised his tireless efforts and presented him with a Badge of Honour in 1958. Chief Mikael finally retired as Chief of Ngao Location on 1st July, 1959 due to old age. Masinzi Pakia, who was an interpreter at the District Commissioner’s office since 1950, took over as the Chief of the Location to continue from where Mikael had left.


Kofa Gavava was a Pokomo from Zubaki Location. He was an ex-Tribal Policeman and an ex-Native Tribunal elder. He was appointed the Chief of his location on 22nd January, 1951. He took over from Chief Jara Kofa who was dismissed after he declared in public that he (Jara Kofa) had caused the death of one of his subjects, Jonathan Wayu, through witchcraft. His location was notorious for harbouring hard-core traditionalists and witchdoctors, despite the fact that Christianity and Islam had grown roots in the area Coupled with the fear of witchcraft as exemplified by the admission of ex-chief Jara Kofa, the location was difficult to administer.

Chief Kofa Gavava realised all the odds which were against him. He combined shrewdness and astituteness to win the hearts of his people, in spite of his diminutive size. Within a short period, Chief Kofa proved to be extremely popular and dynamic. He succeeded in getting Christians, Muslims and the traditional wakijo working together for the sake of the location. He united Zubaki Location, making it one of the most progressive locations in the district.


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