During his last days, Dedan Kimathi wrote to a Catholic priest to educate his son and take care of his wife

NAIROBI: Although dead men tell no tales, one of Kenya's most recognisable freedom fighter, Dedan Kimathi has continued to speak from his unmarked grave half a century after he was secretly hanged by British colonialists.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga released to the public some of the papers, including the court file of Mr Kimathi's trial, which led to his conviction and hanging in 1957.

The release of the papers will help clear some doubts of the life and the times of a man lionized or vilified for the role he played in the struggle for independence.

The Kimathi files shed more light than the portrait used for decades of a bare-chested handcuffed man helplessly lying on a hospital bed. 

Before the release, one of the most popular documents has been a letter purported to have been authored by Kimathi shortly before he was hanged, where he was pleading with the Catholic church to educate his son.

The  letter, prominently displayed at the Kenya National Archives, shows Kimathi was a staunch Christian who was ready to go to heaven and had made peace with the world. His only concern being the education of his son and the future of his wife Mukami.

The controversial letter, addressed to Father Marino of Catholic Mission, P O Box 25 Nyeri reads:

"It is one o'clock at night and I have picked up my pencil and paper so that I may remember you and your beloved friends before time is over. I am so busy and so happy preparing for heaven tomorrow February 18, 1957. I only want to let you know that Father Whellam came to see me here in my prison room as soon as he received the information regarding my arrival. He is still a dear and kind person and I did not at first expect it. He visits me very often and has given me sufficient encouragement possible.

He has provided me important books with more that have set a burning light throughout my way to paradise... I want to make it ever memorial to you and all that only Father Whellam came to see me on Christmas Day while I had many coming on the other weeks and days.

I am sorry that they did not remember me during the birth of our Lord and Saviour. It is also a pity they forgot me during such a merry day. I have already discussed the matter with him and I am sure he will inform you all. Only question of getting my son to school. He is so far away from many of your schools but I trust that something must be done to see that he starts earlier under your care etc. Do not fail to see my mother who is very old and to comfort her even though she is so much sorrowful.

My wife is here. She is detained at Kamiti prison and I suggest that she will be released after some time. I would like her to be comforted by sisters e.g Sister Modester for she too feels lonely. And if by any possibility she can be near the mission near Mathari, so that she may be close to the sisters and to the church.

I conclude by telling you only to do me one favour by getting education for my son. Farewell to the world and all its belongings. I say best wishes to my friends with whom we shall not meet in this busy world. Please pass my compliments and best wishes to all who read Wathiomo Mukinyu. Remember me too to the fathers, brothers and sisters."

But these wishes, according to Mukami were never honoured. She said the Church did not assist her in any way and her son, Wachiuri, was not accorded education as the freedom fighter had requested.

In an earlier interview she gave to historian Main Kinyatti, as recorded in the History of Resistance in Kenya, Mukami also contradicts the picture created by the letter of a submissive fighter who had given up fighting for freedom.

At around 4am on February 18, 1957, Mukami had been allowed to see Kimathi and the two chatted for close to two hours surrounded by security agents.

"My husband had requested to see me before he was executed in February 1957. I was secretly driven into Kamiti. He welcomed me with great love. There were no tears and we were in the vising room surrounded by a swarm of white prison guards," she said.

Kimathi told Mukami: "I have no doubt in my mind that the British are determined to execute me. I have committed no crime. My only crime is that I am a Kenyan revolutionary who led a liberation army... Now If I must leave you and my family I have nothing to regret about. My blood will water the tree of Independence."