Tafaria is no longer just the name of the first castle built in Kenya by an indigenous Kenyan whose name just happens to be George Tafaria Waititu.
“Tafaria is now what the neighbors call the area that used to be known as Deighton Down,” says Mr Waititu, the statistician and former Managing Director of Steadman Ltd (now Ipsos Synovate) who sold his highly successful company, after which he retired to develop his mother’s home village.
‘The area is just three kilometers from the Aberares Park,” he says, adding that Tafaria Castle sits at the intersection of Nyandarua and Lakipia counties and just next to Nyeri as well.
From Nairobi, it takes a good three hours to reach the Castle, but it’s well worth the drive since the Tafarias, Eunice and George haven’t stop developing George’s grandiose vision of a grand cultural complex that includes everything from the castle that currently contains over 60 rooms for guests (including two wedding suites), three conference halls (one called the Think Tank, one the Round Table and the third called the Horse Shoe), a health centre featuring a tennis court, an archery range, a yoga-facilitating gym (complete with 16 yoga-posed metal statues) and a multifaceted Centre for the Arts.
He’s also imported a Landau Carriage all the way from Britain, which is drawn by a rare breed horses specially imported from South Africa (but originally coming from France, waititu explains). In the carriage, one can tour a portion of the 20 acres on which is located the Castle complex. But as of now, it can only take one to the edge of the extra 100 acres of bush which Waititu plans to transform into what he calls a ‘statue forest’ with the assistance of visiting sculptors who have already begun coming to Tafaria to take part in the Castle’s Artist Residency Program that he started several years ago with assistance from what was then known as Kuona Trust.
Kuona is now known as the Kuona Artists Collective/Alliance, but it’s still helping Waititu to carry out his grand vision which keeps evolving even as it started from humble beginnings. Waititu himself came from humble roots himself. The last born of his mother’s nine offspring. He started school walking barefoot but thanks to his hard work, determination and gigantic dream of doing great things with his life, he’s creating a virtual paradise that might one day become one of Kenya’s own ‘wonders of the world.”
“We’ve got plenty of room to do just that,” says this visionary whose genius was in mathematics not the visual arts. Yet he’s cultivated a love of the arts which has led him to not only establish the Tafaria artists residency program (the first participants of which were Kevin Oduor and Cyrus Kabiru Nganga) which now has two self-contained artists quarters. He has also built an open air amphitheater for the performing arts, a giant exhibition hall that he intends to make into a combination art gallery and ‘museum of experiential philosophy’ and what he’s calling a Collectors Paradise.
“I know there are many people with private collections who would love to share them with a wider audience. The collections wouldn’t be for sale, but it would be an opportunity to broaden our appreciation of the arts and the reasons for collecting in the first place,” says Waititu who’s become quite a collector himself.
Among Kenyans he’s had Kevin Oduor up at the Castle severally, creating works specially for Tafaria. He’s also had other Kuona artists in residence such as Maggie Otieno. Joan Otieno, the brilliant junk artist has also been working up there. But there have also been a number of international artists who have visited and been part of the residency program. They’ve come from Scotland, India, Germany, France and Zimbabwe. But Waititu welcomes more Kenyans to apply for the residency which they can do online. The residencies can range from one to two months depending on what the artist is creating.
But frankly, Waititu hopes to integrate the artists’ works with his Museum of Experiential Philosophy which he foresees as a vibrant center for debate and dialogue. “I’d like to take philosophy out of academia and see it promoting critical thinking and deeper understanding among people, and I know the artists have meaningful messages contained in their art which can also be useful to provoke conversation and enlighten people’s approach to live,” he adds.