26-10-2019 by Carlo Saba
When in Italy my friends ask me why I am interested in this land so distant and different, I answer that it is the only place I know where, within a radius of 500 km, I can find the savannah, the jungle, the rivers, the lakes, the waterfalls, the deserts, the mountains with the perennial glaciers, surrounded by ancient forests, the warm sea all year round and the animals that are more or less those that were already there before the arrival of man. To all this we must add the traditions of a people that has handed down from generation to generation its culture and its history.
Today we finally have some literary sources that fix in the written word the history of the peoples who inhabited Kenya.
I want to mention above all the beautiful work of Jomo Kenyatta who in his "Facing Mount Kenya" told us the story of Gikuyu whose offspring has lived and continues to live in the "high lands" around Mount Kenya in whose top, according to tradition, resided the God Ngai.
But what many Italian tourists do not know is that in this place, 6,000 km from home, we find a piece of Italian history of the last century: these are the traces left by Italian prisoners who after the war in Ethiopia were transferred to be interned in prison camps located in different regions of Kenya.
One of these traces is represented by the small church located on the road that connects Limuru to Naivasha, in the upper part of the escarpment, from where you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Rift Valley.
The scholar Aldo Manos in his recent book "Campo 360 Ndarugu" gives us a fairly precise idea of the placement of Italian prisoners in the various prison camps and their daily life.
Today we find many literary sources on Italians in Ethiopia and Kenya written both by historical researchers and by the children of prisoners who wanted to remember the experience of their fathers in these distant lands.
During the long years of imprisonment about 600 Italian soldiers died and Amedeo di Savoia, Duke of Aosta, the last viceroy of Ethiopia. Their remains were buried in a church built in the early '50s on a plot of land of the Consolata Missions in Nyeri with the contribution of the Italian Foreign Ministry, the many Italians living in Kenya and the Duchess of Aosta.
I have been to the Italian church several times and I must say that I am always struck by the mysticism that permeates the entire structure. The place is just outside the city, far from the traffic and chaos of the city. You arrive, through a tree-lined avenue, up to a gate that allows access to the square in front of the church in the center of which stands a well-kept flowerbed.
The portal of the church shows the signs of the time, it is in fact facing east and the sun and rain have worn it out but are well evident its wooden bas-reliefs that refer to images described in the Apocalypse of John.
The church has a central nave and side chapels without altars where the tombs of the fallen are located. At the end of the church, in front of the apse there is the tomb of the Duke of Aosta, surrendered to the English army in the battle by Amba Alagi and died less than a year later because of malaria and tuberculosis. Mount Kenya is not far to the north-east and to the west you can see the hills of Aberdare. The place is ideal for lovers of mountain trekking and the flora and fauna in the region have typical features that are not found in the rest of Kenya.
I have always thought that a trip to the Italian shrine in Nyeri could offer tourists a moment of peace and perhaps even a moment of reflection on the meaning of war.
Recently, thinking of doing something useful, I presented to the Italian Embassy in Nairobi a project for the renovation of the entrance portal to the Italian memorial of Nyeri and after some time I managed to get permission to implement my project.
We started in three (with my wife Gabriella and our driver Karisa) to dedicate three full days to this renovation.
The collaboration of a friend businessman from Nairobi allowed us to use a scaffolding to work on the upper panels of the portal.
It was a stressful job but very rewarding and we managed to make a restyling that gives a cleaner look to the whole facade even if we realized that we would need more work to ensure a better hold over time (it is not excluded that we will do).
I now turn to the average Italian tourist who has come here to read this article and I propose a trip to this place of remembrances: it is a half-hour trip, for those who pass through here, to remember what our fathers have done and to reflect on a historical fact of the 30s of the last century.
"Tourists, do not forget to look at the bas-reliefs of the portal including the central ones showing pieces of the Apocalypse of John (the last book of the Bible), the 12 panels of enamelled metal in which stands out the strong esoteric meaning of the number 7 and also the nice gargoyles, monstrous figures known to be used to protect the dead in sacred places".
Tourist ........ is it true that I intrigued you a little?
by Freddie del Curatolo
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