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I wasn’t forced to cut dreadlocks: 92-year-old Mau Mau fighter Muthoni wa Kirima

Mau Mau Field Marshal Muthoni Kirima after shaving 70-year-old dreadlocks [Ndungu Gachane, Standard]

Mau Mau Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima agreed to be tonsured.

The news that the five-foot long dreadlocks the only female Mau Mau Field Marshal had kept for 70 years had been cut sparked outrage on social media platforms.

From former Mau Mau freedom fighters to politicians and activists, many have differed with Ms Muthoni’s decision to shave her dreadlocks last weekend.

In an exclusive interview at her Pembe Tatu home, Ms Muthoni dismissed claims that she was coerced. She said she requested former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta to shave her.

Ms Muthoni said the move was informed by the urge to live a new life and forget the forest struggles.

“I needed to breathe new life. The dreadlocks reminded me of the struggle, persecution and punishment meted on me and my colleagues.”

Ms Muthoni, 92, urged her fellow freedom fighters not to read so much into her decision. She said although their welfare had not been considered by the government since independence, her shaving will not block anything in store for them. 

She said despite the country gaining independence, the dreadlocks held her captive. 

“For me, I feel like I have just come out from forest and I’m now living in African reserve. I feel the air flow on my head and very free,” she said.

“I have not been coerced because I still hold the strength I had during the fight for independence. I can fight off anyone who may go against my will. I never received a penny and my decision was conscious and I’m glad for my actions.”

She also said that she has enjoyed close relationship with the First Family, especially Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

“It was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who received me from the forest at the historic Ruring’u Stadium where I placed my skinned cloth near the Kenyan flag. At one time she flew me with Mama Ngina to Mombasa and I have enjoyed a cordial relationship with the family,” said Muthoni.

She said after meeting Mzee Kenyatta, she sought for permission to sell elephant tusks which the Mau Mau fighters had collected and hid in the forests and was subsequently issued with a Game Trophy Dealers Licence which was legal until the late 1970s.

“I sold the ivory and bought land in Nairobi where I developed rental premises and in Nyeri where I built myself a comfortable home,” said the freedom fighter

Captain Ndiritu Wambugu, another Mau Mau freedom fighter who witnessed the ceremony, defended Ms Muthoni.

He urged the rest to respect her decision, dismissing claims that she had made any promises or conditions within which she would shave her dreadlocks.

“I was present at the event and it is Ms Muthoni who requested Mama Ngina to shave her hair.”

Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga was among the leaders who cast aspersions on whether Ms Muthoni okayed the ritual. “As a political detainee, I am pained by the ritual. Did she really consent?” Dr Mutunga posted on Twitter.

Mr Joram Njora, alias General Kiambati, one of the remaining Mau Mau generals, said he was surprised by news that Ms Muthoni had shaved.

Speaking on telephone from Nyandarua County, the 100-year-old father of 10, said she had vowed not to cut her hair until the government honours Mau Mau freedom fighters and freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi’s remains are found.