Monday, October 20, 2014

The Forgotten Heroes and Heroines

The Gitu wa Kahengeriled Mau Mau War Veterans Association has published a book that tells the history of the freedom struggle of the 1950s. It explores the suffering of those who fought the British and the continued agony of the veterans under the successive independent governments, as told by those who have lived it. Titled The Forgotten Heroes and Heroines, the book is a collection of first-hand accounts based on interviews with survivors of the struggle from across the country. Some of the interviewees talk of physically executing the war from the forest, where they suffered more from the cold and hunger than the British guns. Others were detained for many years and tortured to no end, while the women narrate how they and their children were deprived of food, medicine and human dignity in what wa Kahengeri insists were emergency “torture” villages. The book tries to show that although it may have been the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru who were referred to as Mau Mau, others in the country also fought besides them or contributed in one way or another towards the limited success of the Mau Mau. “What is unique is that the book enlarges the theatre of the war of liberation to show that it involved more communities than the Gema communities who are normally associated with the Mau Mau struggle. In so doing it does not take credit from Gema; it acknowledges they were the vanguard of the struggle. But the Mau Mau veterans whose voices are listed here are at pains to show that liberating Kenya from the yoke of colonialism was a combined effort from all corners of the country,” notes Muiru Ngugi an associate director at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Nairobi. Those interviewed for the book are old men and women most of them struggling through life with bullets lodged in their limbs or painful memories wedged in their minds. “We will impress upon Kenyans that they are one and that they should act as pillars for each other irrespective of their tribes, colour or religion,” wa Kahengeri put it in the book’s preface. The book brings out personal accounts including rape.“At Gakui where we were taken initially, we would sleep in the open. In the evening would be removed for the interrogation session one at a time where the bottles were inserted into our private parts. The home guards would also rape us at will (and) sometimes a woman would be raped by a gang of five and then sent to dig trenches and benches, humiliated and on an empty stomach,” recalls 85-year-old Wairimu wa Kanene. Another witness of the British atrocities was 98-year-old Nyakomu wa Kahari who recalls how a woman called Wanjiku wa Gathogo was hanged by the British for possessing a Mau Mau register. “(She) was hanged by the British and their corroborators on a Mugumo tree near the Chania River. Thereafter the home guards taunted the women in the village telling them to go down the river to watch how beautiful Wanjiku was dancing gicukia (a traditional dance) atop the mugumo tree.” Apart from their exploits during the war and the torture and suffering in detention camps and prisons, the ageing veterans tell of the shocking ‘homecoming’ they received, which generally included dispossession of their ancestral land that had been bequeathed to the loyalists by the British, unemployment and lack of education for their children. And in their old age they have nowhere to turn for assistance. Written in the traditional journalistic style, the book is a great read as Ngugi notes, it “will by no means constitute the final terminal narrative of the Mau Mau struggle, it will be an important addition to the corpus available to historians, Africanists and general readers interested in how the Mau Mau war was waged.” If the association were to get funding, it would be interesting to expand a second edition of the book to include more survivors and add more background material on the struggle. The launch of the first edition is expected before the end of the year. - See more at:

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