Quakers who set up schools in Kaimosi

Panorama:  A view of Kaimosi where Quakers set up the earliest educational institutions in Western Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Panorama: A view of Kaimosi where Quakers set up the earliest educational institutions in Western Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Quakers are members of a historically Christian group of religious movements formally known as the Religious Society of Friends or Friends Church. Members are all generally united in the belief of the ability of each human being to experientially access “that of God in every person” and therefore they profess the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine derived from the First Epistle of Paul.

The first Quakers lived in mid-17th century England, being part of dissenting Protestant groups breaking away from the established Church of England. Described by BBC journalist Peter Jackson as “natural capitalists”, some Quakers founded banks and financial institutions including Barclays, Lloyds and Friends Provident; manufacturing companies including shoe retailer C & J Clark, the big three British confectionary makers, Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry’s; philanthropic efforts including abolition of slavery, prison reform and social justice projects.

In the past Quakers were known for their use of the word “thee” as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, plain dress, refusal to swear oaths, opposition to slavery and teetotalism.

Although different groups worldwide have different modes of worship and theology, there is a common core of organisation structures, which are expanded or reduced according to local needs. In some countries there is a lower cadre, the village or preparatory meeting which meet once a month.

Several monthly meetings congregate to form quarterly meetings while in Kenya quarterly meetings join to form regional meetings. In all quaker organisations, all units join to form yearly meetings to carry out worship and business.

In 2012, there were 377,055 adult Quakers, 52 per cent of whom were in Africa.

The first Quakers in Africa came to South Africa in 1728 from Holland but it was not until 1902 that two young American Quaker missionaries arrived in Kaimosi, western Kenya. Inspired and accompanied by Willis Hotchkiss one the founders of African Inland Mission (later African Inland Church), Arthur Chilson and Edgar Hole founded a mission that would become the biggest Quaker body in the world.

They came from Five Year Meeting, now Friends United Meeting(FUM) in the USA. Having come from the programmed arm of Quakers in America their mission was the evangelistic planting of churches.

Arriving in the port of Mombasa on June 24, 1902, the three Americans proceeded by train to Port Florence (now Kisumu) where they were received by the District Commissioner, C.W. Hobley.

While looking for suitable land to set up their mission, they met Paramount Chief of Mumias (King of Wangaland) who welcomed and encouraged them to establish a mission station among the North Kavirondo (Luhya tribe) and teach them the word of God. The Nandi had proved to be unfriendly.

On Sunday, August 9, 1902, they experienced a sensation of arrival while at River Galagoli and the following day Chilson climbed up a tree to have a better view. He sighted a place across the river, which appeared to be suitable for a camp. This was Kaimosi, where the very co-operative Hobley gave them 1,000 acres.

After Kaimosi Mission was established, a school known as Friends Africa Industrial Mission was started in 1903 to train the local people. This is acknowledged to be the oldest formal school for Africans in Kenya. In 1904, the school name changed to Kaimosi Friends Elementary School diversifying the learning programme to include reading, writing, carpentry and dressmaking. The school accepted both boys and girls.

In 1924, two intermediate schools, one for boys and one for girls were started at Kaimosi as demand for higher education grew. The two schools were upgraded to full primary level in 1949 much to the ire of Friends in the north around Lugulu who felt that too much attention was being concentrated in the south, at Kaimosi.

To remedy this situation, it was agreed that the boys’ school would be transferred to the north as a secondary in 1958 and it was named Kamusinga Friends School. The American Mission Board recruited Allan Bradley, an Englishman, to head the school to reflect the need to match the British secondary school system. Today, Kaimosi Mission is a centre of excellence hosting a university, two secondary schools, a primary school and a hospital.