"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots" Marcus Garvey (1887-1940, Pan-African Movement Leader)
THE NAME BEHIND THE ROAD: ARGWINGS KODHEK ROAD, NAIROBI.
CMG Argwings Kodhek (1923-1969) was the Kenya’s first African lawyer. He is fondly remembered for providing legal defense to freedom fighters during the fight for independence; mostly for free and in the harsh conditions of remote detention camps. Since most of his clients were mainly those accused of Mau Mau-related activities, the colonialists nicknamed him the ‘Mau Mau’ lawyer.
After independence, he went on to become an assistant minister, then Minister for Natural Resources (1966) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1968).
MALKIAT SINGH: THE MAN BEHIND THE 8-4-4 REVISION BOOKS.
As we say goodbye to the 8-4-4 system, there is no other Kenyan writer whose name we identify more with this education system (for good or bad) than Malkiat Singh. Singh came to Kenya in 1958 starting out as a primary and high school teacher before settling for writing books full-time in 1975. Although he sold his brand to Longhorn publishers in 2013, he still earns a royalty of 12% from every textbook you buy bearing his name. Not bad for retirement! And 100 books later – as they say, the rest is history. (Category: History Asides)
The fight for Kenyan Independence and freedom was an all-hands-on-deck affair that started almost immediately after the British arrived and at every corner of Kenya.
Mekatilili wa Menza (born sometime in the 1860s – died in 1824) led the Giriama people between 1913-1914 in resisting British occupation and the disruption to their cultural heritage including worship. Through her eloquent arguments against colonial rule, she marshaled and organized the Giriama people to form a parallel government to the local colonial government.
She took issue with young Giriama men being forced to provide labor for the colonial government along the Kenyan coastal region which brought back memories of Arab slave traders who lured young men with promises of work only for the young men never to come back. Similarly, she brought to task Giriama headmen recruited by the British accusing them of receiving payments to encourage their people to work for the British.  These were just but a few of the grievances that led Mekatilili to take on the colonial government.
To galvanize her followers to the cause, she encouraged them to travel to their Kayas (Kayas are sacred dwellings among the Mijikenda located in forests and are today designated as UNESCO heritage sites) as part of returning to their Giriama traditions and religion. Mekatilili had also installed Wanje wa Mwadori, a mediceneman, as the Chief Judge to lead the parallel government. Mwadori was on hand at the Kaya to hear people’s grievances and most importantly administer the mukushekushe (women) and fisi (men) oaths resisting British occupation. (These oaths were taken very seriously by the Giriama people and the mere mention of them was enough to keep people on the straight-and-narrow path.)
For leading this resistance, she was exiled to Gusiiland by the colonialists. A famous account among her people says she escaped, freed her fellow detainees and walked all the way back to her home to continue the resistance.
To discredit her, the British branded Mekatilili a ‘witch’ and a ‘mad woman’; they were especially befuddled by her performance of the “Kifudu” funeral dance which was her way of attracting large crowds to listen to her. But judging the success of the resistance, one can only conclude that Mekatilili was a brilliant charismatic leader and strategist who united her people against the colonialists by appealing to what they valued most; their religion and traditional values. Wikipedia
Read More About Mekatilili wa Menza.
The Giriama and Colonial Resistance in Kenya, 1800-1920. Cynthia Brantley. ISBN: 978-0520042162
Rethinking the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya. 2007 By S. Alam.
Mekatilili wa Menza (c.1860-c.1925). The widow who beat the British through ecstatic dance. Read here.
Mekatili wa Menza Facebook tribute page.
Photocourtesy: Feature photo – Art by Zarina Patel. Read more about the artist.
It was after our Facebook posts on Mau Mau movement leaders Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima and Field Marshal Musa Mwariama, that a member of Field Marshal Mbaria Kaniu’s family contacted us and brought him to our attention.
Indeed, due to the devolved nature and fluidity of the Mau Mau movement (not to mention divisions within the ranks), it is easy to leave out high ranking members as one delves into reconstructing the movement’s leadership structure. Furthermore, many freedom fighters involved in the armed struggle for freedom were unable to learn how to read and write, leading many of these valiant heroes to leave it to historians and others to tell their story.
This is especially true in the case of Field Marshal Mbaria Kaniu (1920-2003).
As we dug up the history books and archives, certainly it was indisputable Field Marshal Kaniu, who originated from the Fort Hall region (modern Murang’a), was in the upper echelons of the movement. [1,2,3,4] A 1956 Chicago Tribune article reporting of his capture placed him as the Mau Mau movement third-in-command. In many books and articles he is mentioned in the same breath with Mau Mau heroes such as Dedan Kimathi, Stanley Mathenge wa Mirugi, Waruhiu Itote, Mwangi Kariuki aka General Matenjagwo, among many others.
Although he was born in Njumbi, Murang’a, it is in Naivasha where he made his name as a respected Mau Mau military commander. Among his many accomplishments was the successful attack of the Naivasha Police Base in 1953 that led to the capture of much needed guns and ammunition from British forces. It was also in Naivasha that he was famously captured in January 1956 at a papyrus swamp during a British military exercise known as Operation Bullrush whose sole purpose was to flush out Mau Mau fighters from this swamp. In an act of love he chose to stay back and nurse his injured companion instead of making his escape. [3, 4]
Field Marshal Kaniu went on to form the Kenya Land Freedom Army (KLFA) made up of former Mau Mau activists in 1958 but it was outlawed in 1961. After independence, he became a well respected community leader especially in Rift Valley. Marshall S. Clough, in his book on the Mau Mau, describes Field Marshal Kaniu as follows :
“…Mbaria wa Kaniu, on the other hand, was admired for refusing to place himself above the ordinary gitungati (rear guard), for his commitment to justice, and for his skill as a mediator of disputes…”
Field Marshal Kaniu was certainly the epitome of integrity and loyalty. At the time of his passing, he left four widows and thirty-six children who have continued to perpetuate his enduring legacy and keep his name alive as a bona-fide Kenyan hero. This is despite the many financial hardships the family continues to face even to this day.
Caption: Mbaria Kaniu Road in Naivasha
We would like to thank the family of Field Marshal Mbaria Kaniu for the cover picture and their invaluable information which was certainly corroborated by the history books and archives.
References and Good Reads:
A History of Pan-African Revolt (The Charles H. Kerr Library). Oct 1, 2012 by C. L. R. James and Robin D. G. Kelley
Mau Mau: The Peak of African Political Organization and Struggle for Liberation in Colonial Kenya. Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, 12(3) by Maina-Wa-Kinyatti, 1983
Kenya Cowboy: A Police Officer’s Account of the Mau Mau Emergency. Apr 1, 2008 by Peter Hewitt
Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory, and Politics. Nov 1997 by Marshall S. Clough
Rethinking the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya. 2007 By S. Alam.
JEAN-MARIE SERONEY (1927-1982), was the first Kenyan to obtain an undergraduate degree in law (LLB). A brilliant lawyer and politician by all accounts, he was an ardent and steadfast defender of the sovereignty of the Kalenjin community and their land during both the colonial era and post-independent Kenya.
For this and his many honest views including the checking of executive power, he paid a heavy price. He spent 3 years in detention between October 1975 and December 1978 alongside fellow agitators Martin Shikuku, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Koigi wa Wamwere among many others.
He had been elected Deputy Speaker of the Parliament in February 1975, just a couple months before detention. He died in Dec. 1982 but his legacy lives on.Wikipedia