Mukami: A lifetime of sacrifice and betrayal

Her close association with Kimathi, the face of Mau Mau and rebellion who was hanged in 1957, made Mukami undesirable in Central Kenya and Nairobi where being a son or daughter of Mumbi was a crime punishable by detention or a gun shot in the back. Mukami died a disappointed woman whose wish to accord her husband a dignified burial by colonial and successive post-independent governments had fallen on deaf ears.

Despite her shabby treatment and unlike many freedom fighters who bottled up their experiences and frustrations in their hearts, she left the country with memories of what she had gone through in her eventful life.

Though she dropped out of her school in Tetu and waltzed into welcoming hands of her hero to be his bride, she has immortalised her struggles in 307 page autobiography, Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter, published in 2017.

Hers is a story of a villager whose parents were disinherited before her birth in 1930, torn between opposing forces of colonialism, Christian missionaries and traditionalists who were forever tussling for supremacy.

Her illiterate father was a traditional seer who believed in his mwano, (traditional guard used by medicine men) and a swish of his fly whisk to foresee the future, even as he supervised other villagers slaving for the Consolata Missionaries who had appropriated their land in Tetu.

Mukami's polygamous father hated the missionaries and had bought two hippo whips which he liberally used to drum sense into his wives and daughters whenever they strayed.

On more than one occasion, Mukami tasted the whips when she listened to the Christian preachers and neglected to look after goats. The same whip administered his father's version of justice after she defied him and chose Kimathi.

One occasion, incensed by Kimathi's courtship of his daughter, Wangome went to a court in Ruring'u Nyeri where he extracted orders to attach his property for trespassing his compound in pursuit of Mukami.

"My father walked to Kimathi's homestead waving a warrant in the air. Come fight me," he said, "you who has the guts to trespass on my property," the angry father taunted. Kimathi refused to fight him and would not even stand up or cast away the newspaper he was reading.

Court decision

When his challenge was declined, Wangome herded out all Kimathi's goats and cows to his home and Mukami says "they became my father's property. Kimathi did not appeal the court's decision, so my father kept all Kimathi's livestock as his own."

Dedan Kimathi's monument at the spot where he was shot and captured in 1952 at Karunaini in Tetu, Nyeri County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Mukami stood rooted to the spot. The announcement was followed by taunting from some prison warders who jeered her that the man Kenyans thought was their messiah had been shot.

Mukami wondered what would become of their children Waciuri, Nyambura and Waceke. She was momentarily reunited with Kimathi after she was granted permission to visit him at Industrial Area Remand Prison where he was transferred after he was found guilty of being in possession of a firearm and sentenced to die. "He asked me to be strong. Then he asked that I should not allow the Kimathi name to die. If you get children after I am gone, they must carry my name because they will be my children but do not get married to anybody else." His last words to Mukami were: "Find ways to keep my name alive. They will kill me but do not let them kill my name, Kimathi Wa Wachiuri." Although Kimathi knew he was going to be hanged, he desperately wanted to see his children one last time. Mukami was asked to prepare to go and fetch them and was shocked to learn the following morning that her husband had been hanged.

While Mukami got to know of the death from the Kamiti grape vine, the government press officer issued a press hand out, No 199 titled, Dedan Kimathi executed. And announced that this had been done at 6am at Nairobi Prison.

The bounty for Kimathi's capture was later distributed on November 5, 1956 where six members of the tribal police were given 25 pounds each while the man who shot Kimathi, Ndirangiu Mau, was given 150 pounds while his colleague Njugi Ngati, who had assisted him, bagged 75 pounds. When Mukami was released after Kimathi's hanging, she went home to find that her husband's land had been shared out to home guards, and his mother had lost her other sons and was living in somebody else's land.

When she went to her home, her father was very cold. "He looked at me and asked me why I had come home. "As she was to learn later, her father was now a head man, a colonial symbol of authority who could not entertain any Mau Mau in his home. She was literally chased out of her home by her biological father who warned her never to set foot on his compound again. Since she was still on probation, the home guards under who she worked without pay would cane her as the father smiled. "My father was extremely pleased to see his wayward daughter who had embarrassed him work in public and told me so."

Though she lived in squalor, when the agitation for independence came, Mukami campaigned for Kanu and was nominated as a councilor in Nyandarua County Council after independence.

"Serving as the only female councilor was a hard task as whatever I said was dismissed. They were very uncomfortable with my presence not only because I was a woman but because they thought I should not make any decisions."

She tabled a motion to have women teach kindergarten and primary schools, and after lobbying, succeeded in convincing the council to pay them the same salaries as men. She sacrificed her youth for the freedom struggle and dedicated her entire life fighting for what Kimathi lived and died for freedom and human dignity.