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Kenya: 'We Were Humiliated By Cruel Colonial Masters'

by 06/06/2013 18:35:00 0 comments 1689 Views
Kenya: 'We Were Humiliated By Cruel Colonial Masters'
Former Mau Mau fighters, who are in their 70s and 80s, sued the British government for compensation over torture during the colonial era

Kenya turns 50 this year. To commemorate this milestone, the Star is publishing the untold stories of Kenya's clamour for independence which will culminate in the national celebrations on December 12. In the fourth edition in this series, read about how Africans were humiliated by the colonial masters as told by a former Mau Mau record clerk

As Mathenge wa Iregi and his colonial settler boss drove the rickety Ford van from Kiganjo to deliver milk in Nyeri one cold morning in late 1940, a waterbuck suddenly crossed their path. The settler screeched the ancient vehicle to a halt, drew and aimed his pistol at the small game, but the shot was way off the mark.

The waterbuck sprinted to safety upon which Mathenge innocently commented, "Bwana haukuipiga risasi" (You did not shoot it Sir), an observation that so incensed the Mzungu that he slapped Mathenge hard on the face.

The white man reminded his servant that he never got it wrong. "Couldn't you see I hit the animal on the head and it staggered to its death?" Mathenge could only meekly answer, "Ndiyo Bwana".

This is how much the Kenyan of the 1940s and 1950s were humiliated and became submissive to his cruel colonial masters.

In Kiganjo where Mathenge worked as a milking boy in a Mr Evans farm, workers would wake up as early as 3.30am to milk cows and once that task was completed, some would go to the forest to fetch thorn tree branches to fence the cow sheds as others looked after the cows.

The fencing and other manual work would continue until 3pm when the workers would break for lunch, a monotonous daily diet of ugali and skimmed milk.

At around 4pm, the herders would bring the cows home and after hastily taking their poor lunch, embark on the afternoon milking session. At the end of the day, the labourers were dead tired and half fed.

The 81-year-old Mathenge, who was nicknamed Kabarabaria within the Mau Mau fraternity, remembers how those who worked in the shamba did so without taking a break for hours on end. If one stood up to stretch the muscles and he was noticed, he would be denied the daily food ration. "If you were working on a maize farm, the Mzungu owner would at times go to the end of the row, break a maize stalk and hang his hat on it, so that the workers would think he was watching them all the time, while in fact he was away napping or enjoying his whisky. The workers would once in a while glance up to check whether the Mzungu was still there and on 'confirming' it, continue slogging".

Just to give his bluff a sense of weird reality, the settler would at times falsely pick out one or two people for having malingered on the job. Those thus picked would be fraudulently denied their food ration for the day.

Mathenge remembers how as a toto riko (kitchen boy), one would hold a hot tray straight from the oven with his hands for the duration of the time it took the settler family and its visitors to have a meal which was mostly an extended social affair. While the boy balanced the tray on his hand alternating fingers when the heat became too much to bear, the revellers would serve themselves from it including cutting steak with knife and fork at times taking time to chat as the 'boy's' hands burnt and sweat dripped down his face. "Once a while the people on the dinner table would take devious glances at the sweaty 'boy' now literally on fire and smile maliciously".

Early in the morning the 'toto riko' would wake up to heat water and wash the utensils that may have been used by the masters the previous night after which the cook would make and take tea to the master and his wife in the bedroom as 'a wake-up call', then prepare and serve breakfast. Thereafter the boy would wash the family's clothes, clean and polish shoes to the extent where the master could use the shoe as a mirror and iron the clothes when they dried up. That done the boy started preparing items for lunch.

The house 'boys' who did the other manual tasks in the master's house had sore knees from scrubbing and polishing the wooden floors on their knees moving backwards to ensure they did not blot the polished section. For those who picked pyrethrum, if you did not fill the debe to the brim, one got neither the 20 cents wage nor the daily food ration.

When the Mau Mau movement started, a list of those who had taken the oath and those who joined the land army was meticulously kept and Mathenge became the record clerk in his village. "The work was top secret and I hid the register in a pit latrine. Holding the book, I would dip my hand into the latrine hole then using a thin string, secure the book to the underbelly of the latrine wooden cover." Any time records had to be made, he pretended to attend to the call of nature, removed the book and made the necessary recording.

Following the arrest of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and the subsequent rounding up of those suspected to be Mau Mau followers, Mathenge feared he too would be arrested and so escaped to Nanyuki, a town he found to be as 'hot' as Nyeri. "So with a group of other young men, we decided to join the land and freedom army and entered the Mount Kenya forest ready for the guerrilla warfare."

He believes that if the Mau Mau did not confront the British, the country would still be under colonial rule. "KCA and KAU tried to negotiate with the white man through peaceful means, but they failed because the colonial regime just arrested, detained their leaders and banned the parties.

"The Mau Mau did not have the firepower to defeat the British Army, but we gave them such a rough time that they had to give up. Because of our guerrilla tactics, the settlers could not sleep for fear of being attacked at night. We made such noisy makeshift weapons as the 'gatuauhoro', 'kibunuga' and 'taku' that told of a mightier army than we were. Our 'cold war' strategy of scaring the British out of Kenya worked well and forced them to the negotiating table."

However, the weather in Mount Kenya forest can be very cold and the forest receives a lot of rainfall. Forest life, Mathenge remembers, was that of extremely cold days and drenched times during the rainy seasons. Most of the fighters had no change of clothes and the clothes had to dry on their skins, which took forever. Most of the fighters did not have shoes and were constantly pricked by thorns and other sharp objects.

Nobody in the forest knew where the next meal would come from, although at times food would be brought from the reserves. This however was a tedious and unreliable undertaking as the food carriers always played a cat and mouse game with the British soldiers and home guards.

Then there were the wild animals. "It took us a long time to learn the ways of the forest and how to co-exist with the wild animals, but finally we discovered some leaves that when rubbed on our bodies and clothes kept the animals away."

Although they had few 'bushes' in the forest where they would meet and cook the little food they got from the reserves or gathered in the forest, the fighters were always on the move.

"We lived a life of ceaseless terror as we did not know when or from where our attackers would strike. We were only armed with machetes, rungus, spears, ineffective home-made guns and the odd conventional gun that we may have picked from a fallen enemy. The other side had guns, bombs, grenades and other missiles, but we had faith and unity of purpose."

He particularly remembers the Rui Ruiru (Black River) battle in Mathira where freedom fighters were ambushed by British soldiers and home guards at Karuthi on their way from Mount Kenya to Tumutumu. "We had been spotted at a place called Kagaki and ambushed by British soldiers and home guards from Marua along the railway line to Rugathati. As we drank porridge at a home we had been welcomed to, women told us that we had been surrounded. To confront the small group that we were, the enemy was using radio calls to seek reinforcement from Nanyuki, Tumutumu and Karatina."

The freedom fighters had a few man-made guns which though not very effective as weapons, made a big racket that confused the enemy. "We also had a few conventional guns and a metal pipe weapon that shot a bullet further than a 303 could, but our main strength was the element of surprise through the loud blasts our weapons made. To make the other side think we were a big battalion, we would raise a flag and blow the trumpet. And if we were overcome, we would instead of retreating, run towards the enemy which at times scared them away as they thought we were unbeatable."

This however did not stop the Mau Mau from becoming casualties of the battle at Rui Ruiru as seven of the forest soldiers lost their lives and others were wounded. Mathenge recalls a colleague he was lying in a trench with who was shot through the eye and endured so much pain that he would keep raising his head in anticipation of a fatal bullet and thus relieve from the excruciating pain. "The man is still alive today and he still remembers how I kept pushing his head down despite his resistance."

The man was captured and taken to Mahiga by the colonial soldiers, but before they could decide on what to do with him, the Mau Mau sent emissaries to the village demanding that the villagers take the man and dig a hole behind a house, from where they would take care of him. A medical officer known as Ngibuini from Karatina and a female nurse looked after him for months and when he got better he was taken to his home village of Kanyama, where he lived on a tree until he was completely healed. Mathenge and others also got drugs from Ngibuini to treat fellow fighters at the Noru Moru cave 'hospital', which was one of the major 'medical centres' in Mount Kenya.

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