The Maasai and the Duruma Meteorite

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On Sunday March 6, 1853, a rare cosmic event took place in Kilifi. A sacred stone fell from the sky.

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A bright ball of fire flashed across the afternoon sky above Kilifi on Sunday March 6, 1853. It then seemed to disintegrate in the distance, and one huge chunk of fire, in the blinding afternoon heat, hurtled towards the young boys and the goats they were herding. It then landed a short distance away, burning a small patch into the grass field.

The curious boys walked to it and poked it. One of them pushed a small gray, rusty-looking stone with a smooth dark brown crust from the smouldering hole. He then wrapped it in leaves and the group sped off home to report their find. It had fallen from heaven, the elders theorised, and thus from God.

The Duruma built a temple for the 577-gram stone, anointed, clothed, and placed pearls on it. It was a classic response, one present in many societies that had witnessed the fall of a meteorite. Was it God? Was it a message from God? What was clear though was that it was celestial, and sacred.

It was a gift from God, a sacred stone to protect them from war and hunger.

Word soon spread about the sacred stone and German Bethany missionaries working in the coastal area became interested in acquiring the stone. They made several attempts to purchase the stone from the shepherds who discovered it, but the Duruma elders would not permit it. The interest of the missionaries was unclear, although an event in Germany 400 years before may offer an answer. In 1492, a meteorite fell in what is now Germany. It caused a furore, with the Emperor, Maximilian, convening a special court to interpret God’s message. The meteorite was later hanged up and preserved in a church, the only seemingly sensible place to preserve a totem.

The Raiding Party

In 1856, three years after the meteorite fell among the Duruma, disaster struck. Disaster’s name, in this case, were troops of Maasai morans from Tsavo, famous for their ferocity and skills in war.

Like Vikings sacking the temples of England, the Maasai raided the Duruma villages laying waste to anything on their path. Their intentions were unknown; for they never claimed the stone or occupied the land. Luckily, someone sneaked the stone out of the village during the raid.

The Maasai raiding party pushed farther to the City of Mombasa where they encountered Baluchi Arab soldiers garrisoned in the area. Sayyid Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar had ordered his soldiers to guard the city after a long bloody power feud with the Mazrui family. Now, he faced a new enemy – the marauding Maasai. The encounter led to a battle in which the Baluchi soldiers ended-up taking refuge at Fort Jesus.

The bloodthirsty army moved South of Mombasa to the Port town of Vanga. Nothing is known about what provoked the Maasai – a rampage followed that led to the complete destruction of the town of Vanga. The murderous rage came to a halt when the City of Mombasa developed an alert system which was sounded when Maasai morans were spotted conducting reconnaissance missions.

The After-Party

Back in Kilifi, the elders were disappointed the sacred stone did not protect them from the Maasai. They kept it in hope of redemption. However, salvation was not to come; the period after the raid experienced a great famine and everyone agreed the stone had lost its potency. They finally sold it to the German missionaries who aptly named it “The Duruma Meteorite” and sent it to the Bavarian Academy of Science in Munich, Germany.

In 1936, the meteorite was exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History in New York under a loan agreement. The stone later found a home at the Munich Museum. Unfortunately; on October, 1942 during the Second World War, air raids on Munich by the British Royal Air Force flattened the Munich Museum and with it, the main mass of 507g of the Duruma Meteorite.

Written by Chris Orwa

Edited by Nyambura Mutanyi.

Last modified: November 8, 2018