Elias Mwangi’s home in Githuri village faces Kiambicho Forest, three kilometers away, and when he wakes up every morning, the forest revives memories of how his grandparents died under the hands of colonial officers.
Both were hauled up in a colonial village at the peak of the forest, where they were punished and subjected to forced labour. Mwangi’s grandmother died from torture and hunger, and her body was fed to marauding hyenas.
His grandfather could not stomach the persecution in the hell-like village and tried to escape. However, he was shot dead and his body, too, thrown to hyenas.
“We actually consider the forest as the graveyard of our fore parents due to the colonial village. Our land was grabbed by the Home Guards. My father was orphaned as a small boy,” Mwangi, 54, said.
Located in Kiharu, 19 kilometers from Murang'a town and five kilometers from Sagana, it is the only dry forest in Murang'a County and a habitat for hyenas, antelopes and monkeys.
The recent discovery of colonial village ruins at the highest peak of the dry forest have only served to entrench Mwangi’s memories of a lost childhood. The ruins are located four kilometers from the forest offices, which are manned by the Kenya Forest Station.
But according to the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), the discovery of the ruins is a major boost for historians since it gives a clear picture of colonial villages.
“It is the only ruin that we have so far; some were developed as towns while others were destroyed during land subdivision and for agricultural activities,” says Antony Maina, a curator at the NMK.
During the colonial era, at least 840 villages were set up by the British government across the Central Kenya region, mainly from Murang'a, Embu and Nyeri Counties where there was high concentration of Mau Mau activities.
The establishment of the villages in 1954 was intended as a punitive strategy to contain, control and discipline Mau Mau sympathisers, especially women.
The emergency villages also saved the colonial government money that could have been used to expand detention camps for locking up increasing numbers of Mau Mau adherents in the duration the state of emergency lasted.
After Kenya attained her independence, most of the containment villages were interfered with, and soon became extinct.
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However, a year after the state of emergency was lifted, Kiambicho forest was gazetted under legal notice number 185/1961. This is the main reason the ruins remain to date, 60 years on, as it is a protected area.
The curator said the recognition of the site is a major breakthrough since there has never been an original colonial village. NMK intends to mark it as a tourist destination site.
“It will serve as a reminder of what our parents went through during the struggle for independence; we will not gazette the site since it’s already in a gazetted forest,” he said.
Kiambicho Forest Station manager Simon Kimaita said the newly-found site will play a major role in attracting local tourists interested in hiking and camping in the forest.
“The forest sits on a 23-acre land and comprises of four major hills. We hope that the site will add value to the forest for those who yearn to learn about history,” Kimaita said.