The Origins of Mau Mau
The idealistic British drive to create a harmonious rural British past in Kenya led the British Protectorate to encourage not only white settlers from Europe, Rhodesia and South Africa to settle in Kenya but, in order to complete their “civilizing mission”, they fostered the placement of Christian missionaries to educate the “erstwhile benighted Africans” (Muriuki 177). With coercive language, missionaries, settlers, and colonial administrators sought to force the African into domestic serfdom on European farms; while, ironically “non-missionary whites did not even pretend to be Christian” (Githege 115). Africans could see these obvious disparities and, as Githege quotes in his article on the missionary relationships to other whites, “one white man got you on your knees in prayer while the other stole you land” (Welbourn quoted in Githege 115).
Waiyaki wa Hinga, (unknown-1892). He is pictured on the left.
Photograph from Mau Mau’s Daughter
Waiyaki wa Hinga was the great grandfather of Wambui Otieno the author of Mau Mau’s Daughter, the autobiographical account of Otieno’s struggle as a women political figure in Kenya during and after the Mau Mau Rebellion. In 1892, Waiyaki wa Hinga was one of the first casualties of British Imperialism in Kenya. As Otieno explains, “Waiyaki was a well-known, respected, and successful warrior“(14). He was known as a muthamaki (English translation, ruler or king) a political leader, even though the Kikuyu did not have the designation “King”.
In his generosity, Waiyaki gave Captain Federick Lugard of the IBEAC a site where he could establish a European presence in Kikuyuland at Gataguriti(later known as Fort Dagoretti). As a part of the deal, Europeans were to respect Kikuyu women and not to compromise Waiyaki’s power over his domain. Unfortunatley, this agreement was broken and Waiyaki and his warriors went to battle against the IBEAC. The Kikuyu had two battles with Lugard’s men and won both. After the battles, Waiyaki was celebrating his victory when “…[Henry Purkiss of the IBEAC] …ordered his arrest and clubbed him on the head“(17). He was given no medical treatment and died as a result of his injuries while in the hands of British authorities. Before he died on September 6, 1892, he was quoted as saying,”You must never surrender one inch of our soil to the foreigners, for if you do so, future children will die of starvation.” These events will forshadow the future of the Kikuyu/British relations especially at the time of the uprising of 1952.
Kikuyu Central Association
After World War I, the Kikuyu continued to search for ways to survive in an increasingly hostile environment. Many moved to urban centers such as the Nairobi slums while others struggled with labor laws and limited availability of land in the Kikuyu reserves. Discontent grew rapidly.
Early on in 1920, young spokesperson named Harry Thuku began to organize protests to the kipande system, exploitation of the Kikuyu workers and the hut tax (Anderson 16). He was arrested and imprisoned. In the protest that followed, it was estimated that between 20-50 protester were shot by police. Thuku was exiled for years. After his return, he would remain a marginal political figure but his legacy would spur the establishment of a group of young moderate leaders who called their association the Kikuyu Central Association, KCA. It was founded in 1924 according to Wangari Maathai’s account. In 1945, a more radical group called the Kenya African Union, KAU. The KAU would attract a far more militant group who would radicalize the KAU. It was called “Anake a forti” or “The Forty Group” (Anderson 36). These men were from the ranks of ex-servicemen who had returned from WWII with a hightened sense of justice and human rights. This political association would be located in the city of Nairobi but have strong connections to their families and friends in the Kikuyu reserves..
Once the fuse was ignited the Oath of Unity spread resistance to colonial rule from Olenguruone to the Central Province. During the late 1940s to early 1950s, the idea of oathing was adopted by the young militant wing of the KAU called Muhimu or kiama kia wiathi (freedom council). The goal of solidarity of the Kikuyu landless and disenfranchised became a reality with the adoption of the oath by young militants of Nairobi trade and political unions. The Land and Freedom Army, labeled Mau Mau by the British officials, would strike the colonial government and the White Highlands by surprise. It used the combination of Kikuyu ritual symbols of the riika ceremony, the power of magical beliefs and the threat of death to unite the rural landless Kikuyu with the urban Kikuyu lumpenproletariat. This solidarity movement bypassed the Kikuyu sub-elite, such as the moderates of the KAU and Kenyatta, for its own grassroots rebellion. Like the spread of wildfire, this mass appeal would impose “insuperable problems” on its unprepared radical leadership; and, as Lonsdale notes “provoke ‘premature violence by militants’” (Lonsdale 290). The consequences of these events would cause a knee-jerk reaction by the colonial government, who would create a “counter-insurgency” calling for a State of Emergency on October, 20, 1952. Also, it would set the course for brutality unknown in Kenya to either side prior to this conflict.