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Super-centenarian believed to be world’s oldest man dies at 137

The Kenyan super centenarian who many believed was the world’s oldest person has died aged 137 years.

According to family sources, Julius Wanyondu Gatonga died on Monday morning while being attended to at Mukurwe-ini Sub County Hospital where he had been rushed to the previous day.

“Yes, it is true mzee has passed on while undergoing treatment at Mukurwe-ini Hospital. We took him to hospital on Sunday evening as he had not fed well for four days,” confirmed his son Mr John Nguru revealing that he will be buried on Saturday in his home in Weru village, Mukurwe-ini Sub County.

Julius Wanyondu Gatonga receives a call on is mobile at home.

He said the supercentenarian was in his usual jovial mood despite the age-related ill health and hoped to be discharged soon only for some family members to be informed he had passed on during the hospital’s morning visit,” Nguru added.

“None of us thought that was the last time we were seeing him alive. Mzee was his usual self though he had been eating and taking very small amounts of food and milk for the previous four days. He was optimistic to join us home the following day,” added Nguru.

He lauded Mzee Wanyondu’s wisdom saying he prepared and read his will to family members over four years ago after the death of his second wife. “That aside he also showed me where his body will be rested years back as he did not expect to live this long,” Nguru said.

Wanyondu was born in the sleepy village of Weru, Mukurwe-ini Sub- County, Nyeri, in 1884 according to his ID but his family contends he might have been born three years earlier according to his own account on the matter.

The chocolate-faced and jovial senior most Citizen who stood about 5 feet told KNA last year that he belongs to the “Rȋka rȋa thimu” (Telephone age group), a group that was circumcised in 1908 when the telephone network was being connected in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Julius Wanyondu Gatonga’s Identity Card

Going by Wanyondu’s indicated date of birth, he faced the knife at the age of 24 years. In those days, males were circumcised in their twenties.

Had a DNA test been conducted on him and confirmed his age as in his ID, Kenya could have entered the Guinness Book of Records for having the oldest man on planet earth.

However, the supercentenarian is not even in the Wikipedia (the free web encyclopedia) list of the oldest people in the world though according to his identity card, he was 20 years older than the current holder of the slot Kane Tanaka of Japan.

According to the said World Records book, Kane Tanaka was as at last year 117 years having been born on January 2, 1903. She was confirmed as the oldest person alive in March 2020.

According to the same encyclopedia, Frenchman Jean Calment is listed as the oldest person to have ever lived in modern times. Calment was born on, February 21, 1875 but died on, August 4, 1997 at the age of 122 years, 164 days.

So, if the date of birth of Wanyondu as stated in his Identity card is anything to go by, he would have broken Calment’s age record by a whopping 15 years!

It is against this backdrop that the great, great grandfather’s family had called upon any interested party including both county and national governments to assist in facilitating a DNA test to verify his age. But as fate would have it, that is not to be.

“As you know during those colonial days the level of illiteracy was very high and so my father’s birth date was not recorded. Going by the ancient stories he has been telling us he could be even older than the dates on his ID,” claimed his 77-year-old son with the second wife Jackson Gatonga then.

Asked then about the secret behind the long healthy life, Mzee Wanyondu laughed displaying a set of white dentures. “My secret is eating indigenous foods like arrow roots, sweet potatoes, njahi, bananas and traditional vegetables like ‘hatha’ (stinging nettle). These foods protect one from illnesses and makes them strong.”

He advised the youth to stop consuming alcohol and smoking if they want to live long. He sensitized them to start engaging in activities that would generate income and eat from their sweat.

Besides, he encouraged the youth to be God-fearing and embrace Christian values reminding them that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9: 10).

The patriarch to whom loins over 150 living souls could be traced said he married his first wife who bore him a boy and a girl. The boy who was the first born died at his early age but the girl, now an old woman, is married in Kirinyaga County.

They had eight other children with his second wife. Three are now deceased but five, including his son Jackson Gatonga born in 1944, are alive.

He vividly remembers the First World War (WW1 1914-1918), the Second World War (WW2 1939-1945), and the Mau Mau war for independence. Besides, he said he was already an adult when Harry Thuku, one of the pioneers in the development of modern African nationalism in Kenya, was arrested on March 14, 1922 in connection with his political activities.

According to Gatonga, Mzee Wanyondu was among the people who went to pay bride price for the late mother to a 90-year-old neighbour mzee Macharia Githaiga.  Macharia was then house-ridden at the same village due complications related to aging.

“And imagine Macharia who is the fifth and last born in their family, had not even been born when Mzee Wanyondu took part in his mother’s traditional marriage rights,” claimed Gatonga adding that even during his childhood, his father was well advanced in age to qualify to take part in such a respected ceremony.

Wanyondu’s family celebrates his life every August but due to the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, it was forced to shelve the ceremony. “We would not like to expose him to the virus. We are a large family and having only 15 people for such a highly rated ceremony due to social distancing, would have diminished its importance. We would have loved each and every family member to be present,” Gatonga said.

Gatonga said his father had inculcated in them the value of peace, honesty and hard work that everybody should emulate. “He has never had any quarrel with anyone neither have I ever heard of him being accused of dishonesty. He has educated us to the highest level we could individually attain,” he said.

The supercentenarian was a staunch PCEA faithful and during the interview, he prayed for his family and visitors, beseeching God to give them good health and replenish all their needs when in short supply.

By Kamiri Munyaka and Mwangi Gaitha

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