The Muthaiga Country Club in Nairobi has captured the imagination of filmmakers and authors the world over, and for good reason. With few rules — its footloose and fancy-free members fuelled by a never-ending supply of alcohol — the Club boasts a history that would make most Country Clubs blush.
You might be wondering how I managed to weasel my way in, as the club is strictly members-only. It's all thanks to my father, who is a member of The New Club in Edinburgh, a reciprocal club to Muthaiga. Determined to make use of this to get access to this historic and legendary building, we spent one night at the Muthaiga Country Club. Here is just a taste of what I learnt about the club and its extraordinary history.
Opening on New Year’s Eve, 1913, the Club had just 14 members, most of whom were coerced into joining. Apparently, the club was too far from town — hard to believe seeing as it’s now a short 4km drive from the city's bustling centre. This is testament to how Nairobi has changed, but there is another fantastic story from the club as further proof.
In 1953, after 40 years of service, Ali bin Mohamed Saidi, head waiter at Muthaiga Country Club, spoke of an incident etched sharply in his memory from his time there. It happened early one evening as guests were sitting down to their tables for dinner. As they settled in, an unwelcome guest joined them from the then-open grassland surrounding the club — a lion! According to Ali, guests scattered as the lion loped onto the verandah. Not finding much to its liking, it ambled off back into the bush as suddenly as it has arrived. Nowadays, the wildest thing you can expect to find on the manicured lawns of the club is a naughty vervet monkey.
But I digress. The Muthaiga Club gets its name from a combination of two Kikuyu words, ‘Muthiaka’, Kikuyu for the Greenheart tree which flowered there, and ‘Muthika’, its bark, oft-used in Kikuyu medicine. Halfway through the building of the club, the country ran out of cement and the only alternative was lime that came from Kiambu. It was a brilliant solution and when mixed with murram (a reddish clayey material found in Kenya), it became the iconic pink stucco that adorns the Muthaiga Country Club to this day.
Historically, the rules of the club are few and far between, but there are some that are very strictly adhered to. First, there is a rumour that club members are fully allowed to do whatever they wish with any furnishings, etc. just so long as they pay for the piece twice over. I wasn’t willing to test that out. The next rule I happen to know for a fact to still be enforced to this day is that you are not allowed to take any photographs or videos in the club. This a very difficult rule to follow for a Gen-Zer, so you'll have to forgive the pitiful number of photographs — most of which are taken off the club's Facebook page.
In fact, they follow this rule so strictly that not even the glamour and wild romance of Hollywood’s ‘Out of Africa’ could find a foot in the door. When the Secretary of the club was approached by the film producer to ask if they could film the ball scene and Karen Blixen's wedding party there, the request was flatly turned down because it would "interfere with Members' drinking". Instead, they had to build an exact replica of the ballroom.
While much has changed and the club has modernised itself to keep up with the times, one thing seems to have remained as strong as ever: the famous — or infamous — pink G&Ts (sadly, not pictured for fear of corporal punishment).
If you ever find yourself in the Muthaiga Country Club, you will do well to remember the original rules as set out below.
The Laws of Muthaiga Country Club:
NOW these are the Rules of Muthaiga - pure rubbish they well may appear,
Who heeds them is always most welcome - who doesn't is out on his ear!
Whatever you think of these Rules you must always and ever remember,
The strength of the Member's the Club, and the strength of the Club is the Member.
Dress neatly from head top to shoe-sole - drink deeply but never too deep,
You may think the nights for carousing, remember that others want sleep.
If ye drink after midnight, be silent, and wake not the Club with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the sleep from the Members and keep them awake until day.
Your Guest may come in with you, Members, but you must never forget
If HE starts to play silly buggers, it's YOUR hide the Committee will get.
Keep peace with the Lords of Committee; treat the Chairman and Vepees with care,
And trouble us not with your problems, or mock our dear Sec. if you dare.
If attention is drawn to a Rule, Sirs, by waiters who may seem a bit huffed,
The answer you give is 'yes Boss', NOT You there, just go and get stuffed"!
Your brats may seem perfect to you Sir, and need neither direction nor check
But remember - to most of our Members, they're simply a pain in the neck.
If you must bring your young to the Club, pray stop them from arsing about,
It may be THEIR breach of the rules - it is YOU who will get booted out.
In your office you may be a tycoon, Sir, and slave away early and late
But your business is not wanted here, Sir, please leave it outside our gate.
NOW these are the Rules of Muthaiga with one simple object in view,
To enable this tumbledown pot-house to make life more pleasant for you.
Please see Muthaiga – The First One Hundred Years for more outrageous, hilarious and shocking stories, as well as photographs and letters from the club's members.
Filed under: East Africa Travel
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