Tag Archives: Mau Mau




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).

Sadly his life was cut short in 1969 in what has been described a mysterious road accident along this road now named after him. Wikipedia – French. (Category: History Asides)


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.


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.


Field Marshal Musa MwariamaMusa ( 1928–1989, born M’Kiribua M’Muchiri) was one of the four main Mau Mau leaders along with Dedan Kimathi, Stanely Mathenge and Waruhiu Ihote (General China). He was in command of the Meru Region.

He died in 1989 from snake poison that he had accidentally imbibed while trying to save a friend from a snake bite. Courage in both life and death. Wikipedia Page

Musa Mwariama Kenya Gazette

Intrestingly this Kenya Gazette posting of May 18th 2007 shows Musa Mwariama died on 18th September 1993 and not in 1989 as stated in Wikipedia page.

Read More about Field Marshal Mwariama

The Last Mau Mau Field Marshals: Kenya’s freedom war 1952-63 and Beyond : Their own Story. 1993. by David Njagi. ASIN: B0006F2WS2. Google books.