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Why souls of many slain Kenyan freedom fighters are yet to rest

By Murimi Mwangi | December 30th 2013

By Murimi Mwangi

Nyeri, Kenya: As the nation celebrates 50 years of independence, the souls of many slain Kenyan freedom fighters are yet to rest.

The quickest reminder of this disappointing news is a Mau Mau graveyard that is located in the sprawling Kiawara slums in Nyeri. An abandoned and unmarked parcel of land sandwiched between the slums and a sharp valley is still the abode to hundreds of Mau Mau souls, five decades after independence.

From a distance, the land covered in bushes and thickets would probably pass for an ordinary deserted parcel of land. You can never know there are thousands of human remains hidden here unless you listen to disturbing tales of area residents. Coming across human bones or human skull is a normal encounter for residents who farm around the area.

 These are remains of men and women who sacrificed for the independence of this country. Joseph Mwaniki, who farms on an encroached wend of the land, remembers how he once when he exhumed a human skull.

“My jembe stuck in the ground. I thought I had hit a tree trump. I pulled the jembe out but when I gorged it out the obstruction to my work turned out to be a human skull,” recounted Mwaniki.

Shallow graves

At the height of the State of Emergency, many Mau Mau fighters were killed by the British soldiers and buried in massive graves. The captured fighters were buried in shallow graves here. Their remains have over the years been exposed to the surface by soil erosion and human activities on the land. Ironically, there is nothing to applaud the bravery of the men and women whose remains lie under the land 50 years after independence.

A signpost initially implanted on the road leading to the site was uprooted by thugs and sold it to an unscrupulous scrap metal dealer. Groups of thickets initially marked the individual grave sites but encroachers have since slashed the bushes.

According to Anthony Maina, the assistant director at the Nyeri Museum mass graves were dug only up to five feet.

“The colonialists were cruel. They did not care whether the bodies would be exhumed by the dogs or even wild animals,” said Maina.

“We owe these people, an apology. We are enjoying the fruits of what they fought for. It is just very unfair,” he lamented.

This is a sharp contrast to the admirable graveyards of White soldiers killed in the same war, located about a kilometre from the piteous resting place of the Mau Mau heroes. The graves are located within the Baden Powell memorial centre, 500 metres from Nyeri town.

Here the graves are clean, arranged in rows with well-polished gravestones, and a care taker employed by the Common Wealth to sweep and weed the vicinity daily. Each of the graves has an epitaph, on which the names of the departed are clearly emblazoned and emotional send-off messages inscribed.

Regular visitors

The families of the fallen soldiers occasionally visit the graves and lay flowers to commemorate the death anniversaries of their loved ones. And they need not worry about the dates, as the “sunrise and the sunset dates” of their loved ones are also clearly inscribed in the epitaphs.

Some withering flowers on one of the graves is an indicator that one such white family had visited their loved one recently. But at the common wealth grave site the souls of the fallen white soldiers are at ease, miles away from their homes.

They occasionally connect with their families who loyally visit them at the memorial graves to commemorate their lives well lived in a foreign country. Their graves are ever clean, because a man on the common wealth’s payroll is there to ensure that the graves are swept and weeded every morning.

Forgotten heroes

Maina Wachira, the Nyeri County Commissioner of scouts who frequents the Borden Powel centre where scouts training take place, says the gravestones never stay without visitors.

“Most of these soldiers were in their early twenties at the time of their deaths. Their relatives fly from Europe just to place flowers on their gravestones every anniversary,” he said.

Captain Wambugu Nderitu, the Nyeri County chairman of the Mau Mau veterans’ Association lamented the Kenyan administration has forgotten the war heroes.

“I will be happy at my death if all my counterparts who died during the war are given an honourable send off,” said Nderitu.

Ms Betty Karanja the curator at the Nyeri museum said there are plans for the county government to set up a memorial centre at the Kiawara mass graves.

“This is a very important place to this county, and it deserves recognition commensurate with the bravery of those buried here,” she said.

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