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Why name Mau Mau is set to outlive its British tormentors

By - Amos Kareithi | July 7th 2013

By Amos Kareithi

The Swahili people have a saying that when things are nasty, a log can serve as a raft to enable one navigate turbulent waters but it’s later hewn into pieces to be used as firewood.

This is exactly what happened 60 years ago when Kenya, which had been colonised for over six decades, was desperately trying to shake off the yokes of colonial slavery.

At the height of the agitation for freedom, Mau Mau, one of the most effective vehicles used to fight for liberation had no form or structured leadership. This notwithstanding, white settlers were terrified of the amorphous organisation, which to the Government had forced it to make several concessions.

Historical accounts show Mau Mau was criminalised by the colonial Government and driven underground and into the bowels of Mt Kenya and Aberdare Ranges forests from where its rag tag army waged guerrilla attacks.

 Although many accounts have been given over the origin of the name Mau Mau, there still appears to be no universal agreement on what the name really meant.

 After poring many of these accounts the version offered by historian, Maina Kinyatti sounds more credible. It gives a more convincing description of the men and the circumstances that bequeathed Kenya the name that for generations’ to come would remain on everyones lips.

 In his book, Agikuyu:1890-1965; Waiyaki,-Kenyatta-Kimaathi, the historian rolls back  the mat of time, taking the reader to a nondescript court in Naivasha in May 1950.

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 He freezes time in an expansive farm owned by a no nonsense colonial settler, SA Aitichison, where there is a spot of trouble.

 The supervisor, Njihia Wa Kinuthia, stirred the hornets’ nest when he reported the going ons in the shamba.

 He reported that some of his charges were involved in some secret meetings. According to Kinuthia’s report, the farm labourers were up to no good as they appeared to have taken an oath.

 Kinuthia, like his bosses, was convinced that those who had already partaken the oath were indeed members of a secret dangerous party or organisation.

 Scared but determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Kinyatti explains, that the Government rounded up a total of 19 labourers, 15 men and labelled them as the ringleaders of oath administration.

Secret organisation

 The suspects were severely beaten and ordered to reveal the secrets of their organisation.

Despite being subjected to a lot of torture, all but one of the suspect denied any knowledge of the secret organisation.

They also refused to tell the authorities its name but one man, Magrougi Ole Kondogoya stunned his interrogators when he admitted that he had taken the oath.

 He further said his organisation was determined to kick out the white settlers by whatever means even it mean use of violence.

When the hearing of the case against the suspect ensued, Ole Kondogoya refused to tell the court the name of the organisation although he readily admitted that he had already taken oath.

 When he was pressed to describe how the oath had been administered and the name of his organisation, Ole Kondogoya retorted in Kikuyu:

 “Ndingikwira maundu mau nderirwo ndikoige ni kiama. Maundu mau mau nderirwo ni hitho  ya kiama. (I cannot tell you these things as the party forbade me. Those things are the party’s secret. )

Kinyatti explains that in the course of translation by the translator, Permanis Kiritu, who was a court clerk at the time, missed the true meaning of the prosecutor’s questions and Ole Kondogoya’s responses.

 Upon hearing the words Mau Mau (those repeated for emphasis) repeated both by the accused and the translator, the prosecutor assumed that he had finally stumbled on the real name and ordered Ole Kondogoya to truthfully answer his questions.

 He demanded a yes or no answer as to whether Mau Mau was the name of the secret organisation to which the accused interjected, “Tell him I say yes. I cannot reveal those secrets.”

 Excitedly the prosecutor exclaimed: “This is what I have been suspecting. It is evident the name of this mysterious party formed by terrorists is Mau Mau.” Hastily the case was closed and Ole Kondogoya and other co accused were sentenced to a seven year jail term each and hard labour.

The day after the judgment, Kinyatti adds, the colonial newspapers as well as the BBC told the world that a secret terror group, Mau Mau had been formed with the sole aim of violently evicting whites from Kenya.

 Kinyatti has based his narrative from interviews he says he conducted inside Kamiti Maximum security prison in 1985. At the time the history don was a political detainee together with the late Nakuru politician, Kihika Kimani.

Kinyatti was sharing a cell with Kihika who claimed to have attended the Naivasha case where the name Mau Mau was hatched.

Kihika was at that time selling charcoal in Naivasha town and had monitored the case although he would later join politics and represent Nakuru as MP before he was detained in the 1980s.

Back at Naivasha during the Mau Mau case, Njihia had told security agents that one of the most notorious oath administrators in Aitichison’s farm was Dedan Mugo.

According to Njihia, Mugo had been traveling from Kiambu to Naivasha to secretly administer the “Mau Mau” oath before sneaking out under the cover of darkness.

 The security agents tracked down Mugo to Kiambu where he ultimately arrested and forced to confess his role in Mau Mau activities. He was tried by a Kiambu court and sentence d to seven years in jail and hard labour.

 However, upon completing his sentence, Mugo was sauntering home when security agents pounced on him, dispatching him to a detention camp where he languished until 1961.

 Despite his tribulations, Mau Mau freedom fighters facing off with Government forces in the forest lionised his role and even composed a song in praise of his bravery.

 According to the freedom fighters’ song, Mugo was a true patriot, a true friend of the common people who had played a crucial role like other leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta and Mbiyu Koinange.

 Long before the Kapenguria six including Kenyatta and Paul Ngei were arrested and tried, Mau Mau had already been criminalised and branded a terrorist organisation in 1950. 

    It later took 47 long years for the Kenyan Government, whose leaders owed their offices and power to the Mau Mau freedom fighters for the  “terrorist” brand to be lifted.

 Curiously neither Kenyatta nor other top leaders who had been tried and jailed for being members and managing the affairs of Mau Mau were keen to recognise its role.

Although some freedom fighters later emerged to claim glory after independence with streets, roads, schools and hospitals named after some of the characters whose role in the freedom struggle were insignificant, Mau Mau was treated like a curse word.

The closest the Government ever came to acknowledging Mau Mau was naming of a girls secondary school in Hola, Tana River after this liberation struggle.

The Mau Mau memorial girls’ boarding secondary school was built in 1978 through the concerted effort of the locals emulating the Harambee spirit and was aptly named Mau Mau Memorial school.

 The school is situated in what was once Hola detention camp whose horror in 1959 catapulted the remote facility into international limelight is a repository of history.

Clobbered to death

 Its commemorative stone immortalises the 11 Mau Mau detainees who were clobbered to death by colonial authorities in 1959.

 The names of those who were killed in Hola are given as Kabui Kimani Ndunga, Kibaki Mwema Kinuthia, KInyanjui NJoroge, Koroma Mburu, Karanja Munuthi, Ikeno Ikiro, Migwi Ndegwa, Kamau Karanja, Mungai Githi and Ngugi Karitie.

 The organisation was somehow sanitised in 2003, exactly 47 years after the colonial Government branded it a dangerous and illegal outfit.

This was after the Government withdrew the legal notice that had criminalised Mau Mau.

 Although most of Mau Mau’s adherents have been whittled away by old age and diseases, just like their erstwhile tormentors, the name is set to outlive them all.  It is however doubtful whether any main street in a major city or town in any part of the country will ever bear the name Mau Mau.

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