By Maina Kiarie
Meru is a city in central Kenya, the sixth largest city in Kenya. It functions as the headquarters of Meru County. Meru is home to Meru museum which was opened in May 1976. Foundation of the museum was a joint effort by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and the Meru Municipal and County Councils. The museum is primarily designed to meet the needs of the district residents and visitors. To this end it has exhibits of general interest including prehistory, cultural history and natural sciences.
The museum is housed in an old historic building built in 1916 which served as the District Commissioner’s office since the colonial days. The museum building is in itself an exhibit of historical architecture; there are displays of the cultural and diverse history of the Meru people; a garden of indigenous medicinal shrubs and herbs; and a compound of traditional huts replica of Meru homesteads.
Also incorporated to the museum is the traditional court of the Meru people in a building known as Njuri Ncheke house. The building is not open to the public. The name ‘Njuri Ncheke’ is derived from the ritual oath that was taken by the members of the traditional council; only the elders (judges) of the ‘court ‘ knew this sacred and secret oath.
The Njuri Ncheke house was constructed in 1960-61 and donated to the NMK by District Development Committee in 1989. The building is oval in shape representing all parts of Meru and the traditional Meru architecture. It comprises of a large main hall which is 40 by 30 feet and a kitchen at one end. The Njuri Ncheke house was and is still used once a year by a Meru council of elders as the venue for settling disputes arising within Meru communities.