Field Marshal Mwariama: Gallant fighter who scared the Brits


Field Marshal Musa Mwariama’s aide, Brigadier Joseph Mwenda, recalls a moment with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and a dreadlocked Mwariama. [Presidential Library and Museum]

During the reign of the British Empire in Kenya, the biggest challenge for the colonial administration was the independence war waged by Mau Mau war veterans.

To contain the emerging rebellion, the colonialists launched a merciless reprisal to subdue anyone suspected of challenging white settler power in Kenya.

The ruthless campaign to turn down the tide of Kenya’s independence struggle lasted for almost a decade, and saw communities disintegrated and wanton killings of ordinary people, whose mistake was agitating for freedom.

Mau Mau generals were hunted down by colonial government forces, with many of them captured to be executed, or jailed and tortured. 

The highest-ranking Mau Mau leader by 1956, Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, was captured and hanged after a short trial.

But even as the British waged terror to subdue Kenyans, there were Mau Mau fighters who outsmarted them and kept the armed independence struggle alive, until the end of the reign of the settlers in Kenya.

One of the most memorable occasions in the days preceding Kenya’s independence on December 12, 1963, was when armed Mau Mau fighters came out of their hideouts to be received by government officials.

The most famous of the images on these occasions was that of Mzee Kenyatta being hugged closely by a tall Mau Mau fighter donning long dreadlocks. The fighter was Field Marshal Musa Mwariama.

Mwariama, whose real name was M’Kirigua M’Muchiri, was born in 1924 in Muthara location, Tigania Division in Meru County. He was the highest-ranking Mau Mau general who never surrendered and was never captured by the colonial government.

Mwariama, who joined the armed struggle in 1951, rose from the rank of General to that of Field Marshal after the capture and killing of Field Marshal Kimathi.

The British were able to quell most of the resistance in the Western parts of Mt Kenya, but on the Meru front, Field Marshal Mwariama’s forces could not be stopped by the colonial army.

In one encounter with the British forces in Kina in Meru, Field Marshal Mwariama is said to have lost close to 500 fighters.

In the battle, he sustained seven gunshot wounds but survived to continue his fight against the British.

Brigadier Joseph Mwenda, who was the personal aide and bodyguard of the Field Marshal, says that Mwariama was able to wage war against the British until the end of their reign in Kenya.

“What they never knew was that we never slept at night. While they targeted the forests and slopes of the mountain, we were on the move carrying out operations against the settlers and colonial government bases,” says Mwenda.

The 91-year-old recalls those who were under the command of Mwariama were taught to survive on raw food.

The Mau Mau veteran, who has been feted as a national hero and awarded the Mashujaa Medal, says the reason why they avoided cooked food was to enhance their natural senses.

“We were taught that a diet without food cooked with fire increases the sense of smell and also reduces body odour, making it more difficult for trackers to pick up our scent,” says the Brigadier.

Field Marshal Mwariama never let down his guard and, according to Brigadier Mwenda, there were four layers of security to guarantee the safety of the Field Marshal and his command base at any given time.

His reputation as a revered armed independence struggle hero was evident when Mzee Kenyatta, the then Prime Minister, chose to welcome him personally.

Before Field Marshal Mwariama agreed to come out of his base ahead of Kenya’s first Jamhuri Day, Mzee Kenyatta made several attempts for his message to be heeded.

Official government communication was released through public broadcasts and when it was evident that Field Marshal Mwariama and the other top leaders were not responding to the message, Mzee Kenyatta sent personal emissaries to meet them.

Jesse Kariuki, the mysterious independence struggle operative who was regarded by many as invisible, led the delegation that was sent to deliver Mzee Kenyatta’s message to Field Marshal Mwariama.

The meeting happened at Ntirimiti cave, which is a short distance from Timau along the Nanyuki-Isiolo highway. After meeting with Kariuki, Field Marshal Mwariama and eight of his men traveled to Nairobi to meet Mzee Kenyatta.

Mzee Kenyatta hosted Mwariama at his Gatundu home, where he presented the Field Marshal with the Kenyan flag and reassured him that the nation was now free.

Mwariama agreed to go back to his base and come out with the close to 2,000 fighters who were in hiding, while also undertaking to convince the Mau Mau leaders in the Meru region to come out.

Mwariama and his men were received by Mzee Kenyatta at Ruringu Stadium in Nyeri on December 12, 1963, the same day Kenya became independent.

After independence, Field Marshal Mwariama was decorated with the Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear (EBS) medal. He then settled in Kiambogo village in Timau. 

Field Marshal Mwariama’s death in 1989 was paradoxical.

For a man who survived the bullets and deadly traps of the colonial government for more than a decade, he died from the effects of snake venom, which he sucked from the leg of a friend who had been bitten by a snake.

Field Marshal Mwariama later succumbed to the venom and was buried at his home in Kiambogo, a short distance from the Ntrimiti Cave, the last base he operated from during the armed struggle.

Even in death, Field Marshal Mwariama remains unbowed. 

A tree planted on his grave after his internment has grown to a towering height with a huge canopy that has to be trimmed regularly, serving as a constant reminder of his unbroken spirit.

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