In pre-colonial Kenya a story is told of a saloon built at the heart of an infamous town “Death City” in the Eastern Frontier District. The small town was inhabited by a group of outlaws who committed serious war crimes during the Great War of Liberty of 1871 and fled East of Mt. Kirinyaga (now Mt. Kenya). We set out to photograph a few of the remaining 5th Generation descendants who still own and control the secret saloon.
Here’s what we shot:
As the folklore goes, a territorial war broke out between The Western and Southern Frontier Districts, located West and East of Mt. Kirinyaga respectively, the conflict between these two territories forced the Union Government to deploy troops to try and calm the two conflicting territories.
Although the mission was accomplished, the Union soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division committed serious war crimes, carrying out genocidal attacks against the local people, looting and destroying key historical monuments and other serious crimes. When these atrocities were brought to the attention of the Union Secretary Of War back in Nairobi, he ordered the immediate arrest and prosecution of the soldiers involved. Upon hearing these new orders, the wanted men fled Far East of Mt. Kirinyaga, other Junior Union boys followed them and together they founded a new town and named it "Death City” As a result, this region has for a long time been referred to as The Wild East.
To avoid being hunt down, captured or killed on the streets like a dog in broad daylight, they banned all incoming visitors and even went ahead to print "WANTED" posters incase a stranger was spotted in the town. They used to say that "You Only Die Once, Die Honorably”. Most of the killings happened at the infamous Saloon where most of the outlaws used to hang out. Anyone could kill whoever they didn't know or suspected to be an undercover bounty hunter or union officer. There was no way out of the town.
The infamous town was completely destroyed during a punitive raid in 1893 led by Francis Hall, the saloon was refurbished by those who remained. It still stands to date and operates behind closed doors but has never been photographed or anyone from “outside” allowed in.
Read more about Francis Hall and his punitive raids when he was posted as an officer in the Imperial British East African Company in 1892:- https://hubpages.com/education/Francis-Hall-the-man-who-built-a-Fort-in-Muranga
We set out to photograph the few remaining 5th generation descendants of the infamous outlaws who still control the Saloon, although they’re free of their great great grandfather’s sins, the now private club remains closed to the public eye and opens only a few times a week.
I’ve been particularly interested in understanding and re-discovering the pre-colonial history of Kenya-I love history and historic stuff anyway-although it falls at a period when recording history was uncommon therefore very few remaining photographs, paintings and other visual evidence from then reveals very little of the socio-political life from back then that I could use as references.
A quick visit to the National Archives and National Museum of Kenya revealed very little of the said Great War Of Liberty, Death City, The Outlaws, or any visual reference of the saloon. Portraits of Paramount Chiefs from the 19th Century are the only reminders of how life was back then. An example of such a key figure in the history of this great nation is Waiyaki Wa Hinga who is rumoured to have fought in the war.
When I first pitched the idea to my producer back in late May, while we were shooting our Lord Egerton Project, the story was quite vague and involved so many characters and quite expensive set designs were needed to match the kind of “Death City” we were looking for so we discussed and narrowed down to this specific bar/saloon scene.
We were searching for four talents who had different roles, two of them who were to play poker in one of the saloon tables and were relatively unkempt with dull, creasy outfits. The other talent was a cowboy who walks into the saloon holding a wanted poster, he probably had heard there was a new guy in town, he walks straight to the counter and he engages the neat guy and they both have a drink. The fourth talent was the neat guy and as the name suggest, he was the neatest of them all.
These projects usually come up as simple ideas that i’ve for a long time wished to execute but lacked the opportunity to do so, when such a chance becomes available, I give it a try to the best of my ability. I do this for the love of visual storytelling, for self gratification and ofcourse portfolio building, i’m doing this for myself and the course I signed up for; to create stories of the things that I like and issues that matters to me most.
(above) Checking the progress of a vintage gun prop we were to use, this was a week before the shoot. It was made from scratch by Protisa Kenya . The design of the rifle was based on a 1892 Winchester model we had discussed earlier on.
I get inspiration from virtually everywhere, but most importantly from the people I get to meet everyday, favourite film scenes or locations I get to visit. My stories actually starts with the subject or a location that I have in mind, so I must have either for me to develop an idea to a valid concept.
View a short video clip I did for the shoot: https://youtu.be/Ti75uaFCqws
Below are some BTS stills from the shoot
Special Thanks to all the production team, especially the Producer, security team, Nick Karani, Beata Otieno who is my all time stylist, Kate Waititu one of the best makeup artists I know, ProTisa for the accurate replication of the Winchester Rifle, The Curragh Irish Pub and Bistro management for the exclusive access to their property and hospitality and all the talents who owned up part of the production, we did it for ourselves and for the love of art! my special thanks goes out to you all! I am personally humbled to be part of such a huge team, its quite challenging to handle and co-ordinate such a big team but I always believe team work will always and forever win!
Peter Pekat- Producer
Beata Otieno (Ojwa Styling)- Stylist
Kate Waititu (Kanai Beauties) - Makeup Artist
Annerose Njoroge - Makeup Assistant
Peter Irungu- Guest Assistant
Kelestine Amuga- Guest Assitant
Kwach Godwin- Security
Pro Tisa - Gun Props
Location: The Curragh Irish Pub And Bistro
Alex Kirimi- Neat Guy
Njuguna Wacheke -Poker Guy 1
Stephen Ayako -Poker Guy 2
Mathangani Kariuki- Cowboy
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Do you have any question regarding the shoot, the equipments I used, post-processing? Any complimentary message you'd like to pass? or further clarification? Use the form in this page, i'll get back to you in a split second; ASK KAMAU
DISCLAIMER: USE OF TOBACCO OR ALCOHOL IN THESE IMAGES IS NOT SPONSORED AND HAS BEEN USED FOR ARTISTIC PURPOSES ONLY. TOBACCO AND EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL IS HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH.
''You Only Die Once, Die Honorably''- Unknown
Text by; @its_kamau