Category Archives: History Shorts

Celebrating Kenyan History and the heroes who fought for our freedom. They were from all parts of our country, all walks of life, men and women both young and old.

HISTORY SHORTS: MEKATILILI WA MENZA

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. [1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.

HISTORY SHORTS: FIELD MARSHAL MBARIA KANIU

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.[2] 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 swampIn an act of love he chose to stay back and nurse his injured companion instead of making his escape. [3, 4]

Photo of Field Marshal Kaniu and his injured companion after their capture in Naivasha.

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 [3]:

“…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.

HISTORY SHORTS: JEAN-MARIE SERONEY

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


Read More about Seroney:
Detailed Facebook article that was used for Wikipedia page.
Just for Today: The Life and Times of Jean-Marie Seroney. By Godfrey K Sang ISBN:978-1909204799. Google books.
PHOTO-COURTESY: By Godfreysang – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

HISTORY SHORTS: FIELD MARSHAL MUTHONI WA KIRIMA

FIELD MARSHAL MUTHONI WA KIRIMA (b. 1931;also known as Nyina wa Thonjo) was a close confidante of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi and one of the highest ranking women in the command structure of the Mau Mau movement. Considered by many of her fellow fighters to be a master tactician and a great marksman, she inflicted immense pain on the colonial government and only left the forest right after Kenya’s Independence ceremony.

She received her nickname “Nyina wa Thonjo” (Nyina is Mother-of and Thonjo is weaver bird in Kikuyu) from Dedan Kimathi for her ability to “weave” intricate and brilliant plans on how to fight the British forces.

Field Marshal Muthoni represents the many women and mothers who made great sacrifices and suffered immensely during Kenya’s fight for freedom. Her name is truly worthy of being etched into our history books alongside the greatest of our heroes.


Good Read:

War and Women across Continents: Autobiographical and Biographical Experiences edited by Shirley Ardener, Fiona Armitage-Woodward, Lidia D. Sciama. Chapter 4 “Mau Mau Women” by Tabitha Kanogo. ISBN 978-1-78533-013-1
Field Marshal Muthoni-Kirima, Warrior Woman. Read PDF here.

HISTORY SHORTS: ELIJAH MASINDE

ELIJAH MASINDE (d.1987) was the founder and prophet of Dini ya Msambwa and freedom fighter who brought the BaBukusu people together in the struggle for independence. For his outspokenness and abrasiveness, he was detained between 1948 and 1960 where found himself in Lamu and in Kapenguria. He continued to be a voice against injustice even after independence which landed him in more trouble with the government of the day.

According to historians, Dini ya Msambwa extended its influence to other areas including East Pokot through Pokot spiritual leader and freedom fighter Lukas Pkech who was killed by the British during the infamous Kolloa Affray in 1950.

African Initiated Churches played a big role in the struggle for freedom by advocating for the African way of worship and participating in the armed struggle against the colonialists. Wikipedia


Read more about Elijah Masinde

Elijah Masinde: A Biography (Makers of Kenya’s History). May 1998 by Vincent G. Simiyu

 

HISTORY SHORTS: JOSEPH ZUZARTE MURUMBI

Joe Murumbi and Mother

Joe Murumbi. His mother (pictured right) was the daughter of Masai Laibon Murumbi of Uasin Gishu while his father was of Goan descent.


JOE ZUZARTE MURUMBI (1911-1990) was Kenya’s first Minister for Foreign Affairs and the country’s second Vice President, an office he served for a few months between May and November 1966. He was the son of a Goan trader father and a Maasai mother who was the daughter (pictured right) of Laibon Murumbi of the then Uasin Gishu Maasai.

Born in Eldama Ravine and raised in Londiani, he was introduced to the freedom struggle by his friend and mentor Pio Gama Pinto. Described as an honest man, he was KAU’s roving diplomat instrumental in the logistical planning for independence negotiations with the British and setting up Independent Kenya’s foreign embassies.

Murumbi chose to identify more with his mother’s Masai culture over his father’s Goan roots. It is said that due to his darker skin, some in the Kenyan Goan community did not accept him fully. Although he never fully explained his abrupt departure from government and retirement, many say it was due his disillusionment with the direction that Kenya was taking at the time that had included the assassination of his close friend Pinto.


Read more about Murumbi:

Murumbi African Heritage Collections shows Murumbi’s passion for African culture.
Yesterday in Paradise:1950-1974 By Cyprian Fernandes (2016) ISBN: 9781504303439 (Chapter 16 – Joe Zuzarte Murumbi, Chapter 18 – Pio Gama Pinto)
A Path Not Taken – The Story of Joseph Murumbi (2016) ISBN: 978-9966-083-06-7