Why Madaraka Day Embu edition was personal

Mbugi Shop at Kithimu Market in Embu County. My dad once owned the shop. [XN Iraki]

Embu County holds a special place in my family’s history. Madaraka came when my parents lived there. They had been there since 1937.

My mother was the first girl to be born at the then Embu provincial hospital in 1937, the year my father arrived in Embu. They married in the middle of the Mau Mau rebellion.

All my grandparents from my father’s side are buried in Embu. On my last pilgrimage there, I found out that the cemetery where they were buried no longer exists!

It was in Embu where myfather’s younger brother joined World War II and fought for the British Empire in Burma. My father tried to join him unsuccessfully. The Britons started becoming choosy about who joined the war efforts.

He left Embu for Mikinduru in Meru where he learnt tailoring. He was probably disappointed for failing to join the war. Or could he have escaped the military draft?

Fighting in Burma did not stop my uncle from going to detention for supporting the Mau Mau and being demoted from the chieftain. My father and my stepmother also spent three years in prison. Ask me why.

During the Mau Mau struggle and afterwards, my father ran a tailoring and shopping business at Kiamuringa, the building was leased by the former Cabinet Minister Jeremiah Nyaga’s family.

Before that, he co-owned a shop at Kithimu, which still stands as “ Mbugi Shop.” They sold the building which he used as capital for the Kiamuringa Shop. My father also worked in a quarry at Kimangaru. I had a high school classmate with that nickname.  

At independence, my parents immigrated once again for the third time in a generation. They went to the leeward side of the Aberdares, overlooking the infamous Happy Valley and its myriad lakes.

My parents lost links with their ancestral home after a generation. That’s why white highlands was a natural home after independence. The new home, the third in a generation, became his resting place.

He left links to Embu through a property business co-owned with fellow wazees. One of their buildings in Embu town was “Embu Tene .” It still stands, though it bears a different name. He disposed of his shares in the late 1990s.

Yet another link to Embu; one of my step sisters married in Embu, and my nephews and nieces still live there. The family of my uncle who went to Burma still lives there. He married an Embu girl ensuring our eternal entanglement in this land.

Some of my step sisters, sisters and brothers were born in Embu.

My parents lived in Embu as squatters for 26 years. They lived in concentration camps during the Mau Mau war.

My mother tells me the camps were constantly shifted to distabilise locals. They lived in Kanyakiri, Kithimu, Kyeni, Machumo and Itabua. But they talked of Kivwe, Kambo, Nthagaiya, and Ishiara among other places. Myfather was fluent in Kiembu. 

He shared another secret. In 1927, he tried to buy land near Tatu City and worked for SOCFINAF. But “Mbari ya Igi” refused to sell the land. I hear this clan is still very stingy with land. Did they sell Tatu?

If they did, they should apologise to our family. Myfather also met Arthur Magugu’s father in Komothai, where coincidentally I taught maths and physics in a girls’ school, 66 years later.

What did they discuss? Did they take any photos? There is one secret my father did not share - why he got polygamous. He told me, “You will know when you grow old.” Not sure if I have grown old…

It will remain a matter of conjecture how my life would have turned out if we never left Embu.

Maybe we could have been assimilated and become part of that community. Maybe we could have reinforced myfather’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Embu will remain part of our family history. I wish I knew where my grandparents were buried in Embu. I never met them, and they left no photos.

I would love to lay a wreath at their resting place. Like Britons leaving for the US, Kenya or Australia, my parents dreamt of a new life in Embu. They were running away from overcrowding and family feuds and from their confession - witchcraft. You can now guess where they came from. The dream turned into a nightmare compounded by the Mau Mau struggle.

My father fulfilled his dream in the white highlands, owning some land, and bringing up his family. We could extend his dream by settling in another country or in an exoplanet.

This year’s Madaraka Day celebration was also a celebration of my link to Embu County since 1937. Can I become an honorary citizen of this county?