Original Research - Special Collection: Social Memory Studies

Njega wa Gioko and the European missionaries in the colonial Kenya: A theo-historical recollection and reflection

Julius M. Gathogo
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 3 | a6790 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i3.6790 | © 2022 Julius M. Gathogo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 April 2021 | Published: 12 January 2022

About the author(s)

Julius M. Gathogo, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, Faculty of Humanities, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa; Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Kenyatta University, Mombasa, Kenya; Faculty of Theology, ANCCI, Amarillo, TX, United States


Njega wa Gioko (1865–1948) was one of the pioneer Chiefs in Kirinyaga county of Kenya. The other pioneer Chief in Kirinyaga county was Gutu wa Kibetu (1860–1927) who reigned in the Eastern part of Kirinyaga county. Gioko reigned in the western part of Kirinyaga county (Ndia) that extended to some geographical parts of the present-day Nyeri county and the present-day Embu county. Njega also became the first paramount Chief of Embu district, which refers to the present-day Embu and Kirinyaga counties. As colonial hegemony and the protestant missionary enterprises, and its resultant evangelical theology, began to shape up in the present-day Kirinyaga county and the surrounding areas between 1904 and 1906, it found Gioko and Kibetu as the Athamaki (the most revered leaders). The evangelical European missionaries (Church Missionary Society [CMS]) who were comfortable with the colonial expansion, as it provided western governance structures that favoured their enterprises, employed Calvinistic theology in their dealings with the colonial government, and they dealt with the local leaders (Athamaki), who were eventually ‘promoted’ to the post of Chiefs in 1908 by the new rulers. Nevertheless, the missionary’s emphasis on unrealised eschatology (future concerns) differed sharply with those of Athamaki who were the custodians of African indigenous religion and its resultant emphasis on realised eschatology (present concerns). As an agent of African religion, how did Gioko relate with the early 20th-century evangelical European missionaries and their Calvinistic tendencies that favoured the Church–State relationship as the way of God? The data for this research article are gathered through oral interviews, archival sources and extensive review of the relevant literature.

Contribution: This article contributes to the journal’s vision and scope with its focus on the early protestant theologies of the European Missionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries, and their resultant clashes with the theologies of African indigenous religion. As a multidisciplinary article that builds on a theo-historical design, the article contributes to the ongoing discourses on gospel and culture.


Calvinism; African Heritage; European missionaries; Athamaki and African Chiefs; Njega wa Gioko and the missionaries


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