Cultural and environmental activists are up in arms over alleged plans to cut down a Mugumo tree, to pave way for the construction of a train station in Gitaru shopping centre in Kabete constituency.
The giant tree, said to be in existence for more than 40 years, stands about ten meters from the railway line that leads to Kikuyu Station, from Nairobi. Already construction work around the tree has commenced with the digging of trenches around it.
While appreciating that commuting to and from Nairobi will be made easier, a section of locals are urging Kenya Railways to spare the tree because of the deep cultural significance attached to the tree by the Agikuyu community.
The Mugumo tree is revered by the Agikuyu, who consider it sacred as prayers and ritual sacrifices used to carried out under the tree. “Whenever the country witnessed calamities like prolonged drought, anointed elders would gather under tree, sacrifice a special and pray to Mwenenyaga, the Gikuyu deity,” said an elder who did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
He added that it is taboo, among the Agikuyu to cut down a Mugumo tree as the action might bring about misfortunes and calamities on the people. “Our people cannot even use branches from the tree as firewood, for the same reason,” he said.
If it became clear that a Mugumo tree had to be brought down, ordained elders would conduct special prayers under the tree, to plead with Mwenenyaga not to visit calamities on the people. “Such payers were conducted on very rare occasions,” said the elder. “Clearly, this is not one of such an occasion as there is enough room near the tree, to relocate the commuter station.”
Presently, there are traders who conduct business under the sacred tree, who now fear that they will lose their source of livelihood if the tree is brought down.
While plans are underway to hold demonstrations to protest the said cutting down of the tree, there are locals who are wondering what the fuss is all about. They claim that a ‘mere tree’ cannot be a hindrance to development activities in the area.