An icon tree at Mutunguruni village, Karingani location in Tharaka Nithi county, standing at 84 metres high and believed to be over 200 years old is a sight to behold.
The owner of the land on which the Mutunguru tree lies, Zaberio Mbuba aged 78, regularly weeds around its trunk and welcomes visitors who travel from far and wide to view the tree which can be viewed from as far as 40 kilometers away.
He says the tree would become a great tourist attraction if the area around it is well conserved and properly landscaped.
“This is an important landmark which can be protected to attract more tourists and help in conserving the environment, apart from its cultural significance,” Mbuba told KNA Friday.
Currently the land owner does not charge those who come to marvel at the iconic tree but he gladly accepts monetary gifts offered by some of the visitors including foreign tourists.
Mbuba has gone ahead and planted some flowers around the tree which he waters on daily basis. He has also planted some grass which has to be cut short regularly to ward off pests that may attack the tree.
He further disclosed that cutting off strangler trees growing on the main one is another task that was a great challenge to him. The stranglers, grow within the tree and once they are mature, they kill the main tree.
According to Mbuba, that the work is strenuous and requires younger people. “I am now aged and my strength is not as it used to be. I have also started losing eyesight so the county government should come in and employ personnel to take care of this tree,” he opines.
He also said showing visitors around the tree and engaging them in a hearty conversation poses quite a challenge and a more knowledgeable guide would be ideal for the purpose.
His inability to speak good Kiswahili or English has left some of his visitors disappointed, thereby losing patience and getting annoyed with him. There are those who even call me stupid!” he quips.
But perhaps the greatest fear for Mbuba is that the highly priced tree might be cut down by gullible people just like a similar one around Igoji area in the neighbouring Meru county.
The tree is currently worth over Sh500,000 if harvested and converted into timber. Recently, the family almost succumbed to pressure to sell the tree for timber when one of their family members Lawrence Mugambi was hospitalized and the family could not raise enough money to foot the medical bill.
When KNA visited the home, the wife to the sick man Hilda Mugambi sorrowfully narrated how the cost for his Covid-19 test was a big challenge to the family, especially during these hard economic times occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were required to pay Sh40,000 affront for him to undergo the test at Chogoria Hospital which turned negative and the total medical bill was too much for us to foot. Due to this desperation, we contemplated selling the tree for timber to raise the money,” explained Hilda, who has been married to Lawrence for more than twelve years.
Meanwhile, the superstitious Mzee Mbuba and other residents alike still believe that ancestral spirits linger around big trees hence the need to protect such species.
For now, it’s time for the county government and other conservationists to save the towering tree near the fast growing Chuka University and the recently refurbished Chuka town that is the commercial hub of Tharaka Nithi County.
By David Mutwiri