Why Field Marshal Muthoni Kirima did not attend Mukami's burial

Field Marshal Muthoni Kirima. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

If only her leg would ease off a bit and the deadlocked grandmother could drive herself, she would have cruised from her pad in Mweiga, down to Ihururu along the winding Mau Mau Road up the crescent of Aberdares.

And then she would have cruised for about 20 Kilometres past Ndunyu Njeru to Sasumuwa to give her last respects to a comrade in arms, Mukami Kimathi as she was interred, not very far away from where her iconic husband Dedan KImathi bravely fought the colonial forces.

This would have been like a journey through Kenya's oppressive past, its quest for determination, as well as the triumphs and travails of the last 60 years of independence. It was also a reminder of countless pledges and broken political promises to the people who sacrificed their all to kick out colonialism.

But this journey was just a dream for Miriam Muthoni Mathenge. It was not to be. Her leg which had been bothering her from the beatings she received more than half a century ago from colonial chief Nderi Wang'ombe hurt too much.

At the same time, the road that would have almost delivered to her destination was also a mirage. Despite having been launched twice in 2016 and in 2022 by former President Uhuru Kenyatta and his successor, William Ruto, the Mau Mau Road has stalled.

The last time Muthoni's matted greyed dreadlocks boasted of an encounter with a pair of scissors or a comb, Kenya was still a colony and airplanes were roving around the Aberdares bombarding the forest with real bombs. Muthoni then was operating from the forest, her fingers caressing a homemade gun alongside her husband.

And for these and very many other reasons, Muthoni was unavailable to see off her comrade in arms, Mukami. The mention of Mukami's name to Muthoni conjured up memories of a packed ward at Kamiti Maximum Prison in 1957. Here Muthoni, Mukami, and a host of other hardcore women like Mama Ngina, labelled Mau Mau wives, sweated under the cracking whips of wardress as they laboured and suffered for their political convictions. Their babies waited in the cells waiting to be breastfed and bathed.

The women were locked up in what the prison authorities named Kambi ya Fisi (the Hyena's camp). Ngina was waiting for her husband, Jomo Kenyatta to be released, Mukami wailed when Kimathi was hanged but Muthoni' was being gnawed by uncertainty.

Her husband, General Mathenge had differed with Kimathi, refused to surrender when called upon to do so by millions of leaflets dropped all over Mt Kenya and Aberdare Forests, and somehow sneaked accompanied by a bunch of his supporters out of the country under the noses of his pursuers.

Legend has it that Mathenge fled to Ethiopia where he ultimately settled and somehow faded into obscurity.

But things changed sometime in 2003. An enthusiastic journalist Joseph Karimi broke the story that he had finally traced the long-lost Mau Mau general somewhere in Ethiopia. Coming just at a time the government had proscribed Mau Mau as a proscribed movement, the discovery triggered a national frenzy.

However, when the "long lost General, jetted into the country, it was an anticlimax. The General "who had then assumed the name Ato Ayanu could not speak his mother tongue. He could not recognise any freedom fighters.

"I did not get an opportunity to see the man and determine whether he was my husband or not. I had gone to Ethiopia with Karimi and seen the man said to be Mathenge," Muthoni said.

But her memory was not as sharp as it used in the 1940s when she married the dashing General, who had earned himself a reputation as a gallant soldier during the Second World War. Muthoni said that although Mathenge was her neighbour, a boy she had known all her; life, when he proposed to her, she did not hesitate and her father was given cows as dowry.

Muthoni had one wish. She wished she could know where her husband went and what was his fate. But since she was certain Mathenge went to Ethiopia, she had vowed that she will never cut her long hair as this was her only reminder of the days she fought for freedom and her lost love.

She was, however, shaved by founding father Jomo Kenyatta's wife Mama Ngina in April 2022 as per her wishes.

The cut locks were collected, wrapped in the Kenyan flag and placed in an African basket which was then handed over to Ms Muthoni.

Mama Ngina said the ageing heroine had asked surviving freedom fighters to come and witness her shaving. It signified that Kenya was truly free.

"There is a lot of pain and hurt symbolised in her hair. It stands for sacrifices. She reached out to us, the remnants of the struggle, to come to witness the ceremony."

[Additional reporting by Lydiah Nyawira]