Not far away from KEFRI Kitui Centre lies the famous Nzambani rock, locally known as “Ivya ya Nzambani”. This is a uniquely conspicuous 60 feet tall rocky mass situated 8.4 km from Kitui town along the Kitui-Kibwezi road.
Nzambani rock is an exceptional attraction, often visited because of the mythical story told by one generation to another.
Legend has it that going round the rock seven times can result in one’s change of gender. Two distinct legends are told of this rock. Once upon a time a beautiful Kamba maiden, Nzambani, together with two other girls, went to fetch firewood in the vast wilderness of Kitui.
On the way she spotted a beautiful round stone that she imagined was good for grinding her grandfather’s tobacco. She cunningly covered the stone with a hip of her collection of firewood
After they had collected enough firewood, Nzambani tried to lift her load but found it too heavy. She cried for help from the other girls but their frantic efforts were unsuccessfully. The load and the stone could not lift from the ground. They rushed back to the village to seek more help.
Unfortunately, darkness set up before they reached the village and no one could dare enter the forest at dusk. The following day the rescuer found the young lady had changed into a rock. Thus, in her honour, the rock was called Nzambani. The locals say that the stone continues to grow to-date!
Mr. Mbeva Mutaki, the gate keeper at Nzambani rock
According to the curator at Nzambani rock, Mbeva Mutaki, another legend is told that during the early days of exploration in Africa, some white missionaries arrived in Kitui and were met by hostile locals. The missionaries walked around the rock to escape from attacking Kamba warriors.
One missionary was cornered by the warriors and he sought refuge inside a cave, where he stumbled upon women’s robes which he wore to disguise himself. When the warriors caught up with him they were surprised to find that the missionary had changed into a woman. That is why according to the legend you can change your sex if you walk around the stone seven times.
On top of the Nzambani rock is a great viewpoint over Kitui town and its surroundings. The vegetation consists mainly of dry woodlands and bush land with small covers of dry forests.
This is the point where KEFRI, with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency has made a breakthrough in the germination, propagation and raising of the Melia volkensii tree, locally known as Mukau.
In addition, KEFRI has domesticated selective high value trees namely Dalbergia melanoxylon (an indigenous slow growing tree highly valued for wood carving), Terminalia brownii (indigenous and favoured for its good form and resistance to termites), Senna siamea (exotic and prioritised for its fast growth and provision of fuelwood), Mangifera indica (a fruit tree) and Citrus sinensis (for its adaptability and fruits), and has been used for rehabilitating the degraded dryland central regions.
The first Europeans to reach the interior of Kambaland were the German missionaries Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), in 1849.
At that time, Kitui was the home of Kivoi, a celebrated Kamba trader who commanded a large following which included slaves. It is said that Kivoi met the missionaries in Mombasa, and guided them to Kitui where, on December 3, 1849 they became the first Europeans to see Mt Kenya.