How Maasai warriors led revolt against colonialists
Miriam ole Kisio, widow of the late Narok Mau Mau General Kurito ole Kisio, with her son Memusi ole Kisio during the interview at her home in Fanaka, Narok County. [Photo: Boniface Okendo And File/ Standard]
As Kenyans prepare to celebrate Mashujaa Day and honour independence heroes on Monday, one thing is highly predictable. Fallen fighters from the Mount Kenya region will dominate the day’s narrative.
The Mau Mau Movement, which was behind the bloodiest armed resistance to British imperialism, is synonymous with the Gikuyu community, with their Meru, Embu and Kamba neighbours taking peripheral credit.
Unknown to many though, the Maasai played a vital role in the struggle. Young warriors sacrificed their lives for the country under the leadership of one of the most revered Mau Mau generals, the late Kurito ole Kisio.
While most Maasais cooperated with the British, a defiant Kisio marshalled the Narok war front that heavily destabilised the colonialists, prompting them to put a heavy bounty on his head.
His valour would later see his then pregnant wife, Miriam Enekurito, become the first person to be arrested for collusion with the Mau Mau. Now in her late 80s, she was tortured until Kisio was killed in 1954.
Apparently, it is the Britons who inadvertently engineered the Maasai revolt against them. During World War II, they would select young energetic Maasai men and take them to Burma where they were trained and deployed on the battlefront.
As fate would have it, Kisio would, for four years, fight in the world war alongside childhood friends Turesh ole Tikani and Muntet ole Nkapiani. Also in Burma was Miriam’s cousin Kimange ole Masenge.
“Kisio left Kenya aged 15. They had just undergone circumcision and we cried so much, fearing they would be killed,” Enekurito told 'The Standard on Saturday' at her home in Fanaka, Narok County. “But they readily accepted the offer.”
The four came back energetic and enlightened and wowed their village mates with tales of the war, including how they would parachute from air planes. Kisio married Enekurito, a childhood friend from a Kikuyu family, but raised in Maasai Mau and they settled in Oloropil, Narok.
It was the declaration of the State of Emergency and the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta in October 1952, that marked a new chapter in the lives of the young warriors.
“When the Mau Mau started fighting the whites in the forests, Kisio could not sleep,” Enekurito recalls. “He vowed not to be a spectator as war was fought in his motherland yet he had military expertise.”
Despite deep fear of the Mau Mau among the Maasais, Kisio, Tikani, Nkapian and Masenge decided to join the war. Dozens of young morans, among them Serpe ole Nkere and Sironka ole Nahangi, accompanied them, forming a formidable battalion.
“They took oath and never looked back. They started raiding settler homes and detention camps across Narok in search of firearms,” says Sironka ole Ketikai, who played the role of ‘piki piki’ (gun runner) for the Mau Mau in the 1950s.
Then aged 19, he would ferry stolen guns, drugs, and military uniform from Narok to Elementaita and Nyandarua. The uniforms would later be used to raid police stations, prisons and camps. They also supplied those in Nyandarua with livestock for food.
Under Kisio’s leadership, and with Nkere, Nkapian and Nahangi as generals, the battalion caused the imperialist sleepless nights.
Karari Njama, a Mau Mau general who fought alongside General Dedan Kimathi, the movement’s leader, admits the Maasais were crucial in the resistance against the British.
“Kisio led an army of more than 800 fighters in Melili Forest in Nairegi Enkare. They would move all the way to Suswa and highly destabilised the Britons,” he states. The warrior is said to have employed guerilla tactics in raiding British facilities where they would release prisoners.
It was during one such raid in Olololunga that Ketikai’s uncle was captured by the 'lolonkana' (home guards).
Before long, Kisio and Nkapain officially became generals in the Mau Mau, and according to Karari, the former rose to fourth in command in the movement’s national hierarchy.
Karari, 88, says he only saw Kisio once, when he led five other Maasai fighters to the Aberdares to see Kimathi. “They brought with them diverse weapons. But their main mission was to seek advice from Kimathi,” he recalls.
Karari, who was captured by the colonialists on June 6, 1954, says even the Mau Mau in the Aberdares never expected any support from the Maasais, and were perplexed to hear they were part of the revolt.
“Once they took the oath, we were one and the same in the struggle, and they never looked back,” he explains.
When the colonialists eventually realised that some Maasais were involved in the revolt, they started hunting down Kisio and other leaders. But they were up against a man who had been coded 'thungura' (hare), in the forest, due to his sharp instincts for danger.
Sneaking to the villages
“Since then, he would spend most of his time in the forest, occasionally sneaking to the villages to lure his tribesmen to join the revolt,” explains Enekurito, now the chairlady of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association in Narok County.
Convinced that his wife would become an easy target, Kisio moved her to Loita Hills, where the Britons later traced and arrested her.
“I was sweeping early one morning when a white hand suddenly grabbed my wrist. I looked up and saw two armed white men who led me to a waiting Land Rover,” she recounts. “I was taken to Narok where I was humiliated and paraded at Jela Ndogo, before people who were invited to see the general’s wife. I was then locked up in Narok Prison cells.”
She would later be transferred to a prison dubbed Kapenguria at Narengie Enkare, where she says some home guards plotted to execute her without the knowledge of their white masters.
“Luckily, Daniel ole Kenka, a clerical officer who was my relative, recognised my name at the booking office,” she recounted. “He saved my life by hiding me, ensuring I never followed the group that was to be hanged or buried alive”.
The Maasai resistance would, however, suffer a major blow when their leader was shot dead in 1954.
Kisio was lured out of his hideout in Rotien by two friends, one of them the District Commissioner's driver. “He fell into a trap as the men, instead, came back with two whites who hid under a heap of grass in a Land Rover. They shot him dead, but that was not before he downed one home guard,” states Ketikai.
The Britons paraded Kisio’s body, complete with his firearm, outside a hospital in Narok to serve as a warning to villagers. General Nkapian was captured shortly after, paraded in a cage and then hanged.
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Maasai warriors colonialists Mashujaa Day