How Tigoni evictions led to Lari Massacre

by Rose Wangechi

Chief Luka wa Kahangara was a towering figure in Lari, now in Kiambu County, lording on his people with absolute menace. With his imposing persona, Chief Kahangara had also become a symbol of hate – and the living emblem of the colonial government.

With hubris and bravado, Chief Kahangara had on March 26, 1953, addressed a grand rally in Kimende where he promised to kill all people who had taken the Mau Mau oath.

Ever since he agreed to have his people move from the fertile Tigoni to Lari, there were many people who had never forgiven him. More so, he had continued to brutalise his opponents.

On that day, Mau Mau sympathisers listened as Chief Kahangara, a perfect loyalist, continued his rant against the freedom fighters.

Unknown to him and the colonial government, the Mau Mau were planning an attack to his homestead. The Mau Mau members, mainly drawn from the battalions in Murang’a and Nyeri, descended on Chief Luka’s home, burnt houses and killed people in carefully selected home. The attack lasted about four hours.

There is no consensus on the number of people killed in the attack. However, figures quoted in scholarly and journalistic accounts of the event estimate over 400 deaths, mostly family members, and home guards. Besides inflicting horrific memories in the minds of the survivors and area residents, the attack, later christened Lari Massacre, bolted the government. The killings attracted divided opinion in Kenya and negative international media coverage.

The attackers also pounced on several other homesteads belonging to administrators including Bathi location Chief Charles Ikenya as well as Gituamba area Chief Makimei wa Kuria. Although the two escaped the attacks, their homes were destroyed. The attackers had time to set ablaze houses, destroy crops and kill animals belonging to the two.

But Chief Kahangara was not lucky.

The Lari massacre is connected to the land tussle in Tigoni where settlers pushed out the Kikuyu and Dorobo owners to pave way for tea and dairy farms. But the locals objected the relocation for two main reasons. Tigoni was fertile and a relocation to Lari was deemed a demotion.

Kikuyus, who were mainly the targets of the evictions, had untainted attachment to ancestral land. A move to Lari did not only serve as a blow to family heritage but also a catalyst to the collapse of long established kin relations. Not many welcomed the disruptions to their way of living.

 Initially, Luka Kahangara was among the greatest critics of the government. He opposed the evictions and made a name in the community. His resistance was, however, short lived.

When the government faced resistance from the Africans, it quickly resorted to bribery and underhand dealings to effect the evictions. In classic divide and rule maxim, the government is said to have bribed the community opinion leaders to weaken the resistance from within. Luka was appointed a colonial chief and the influential village elders were also compromised through bribery. The government promised them land and other forms of compensation in Lari – and they got the best land.

While the Africans were subjected to forced labour in European owned farms, the loyalists enjoyed preferential treatment. For the locals, this was a reward to Chief Kahangara for his work in entrenching colonialism. He gladly took the job and immediately embarked on meting out punishments to his opponents. In Lari, the class divisions created by the evictions became clear. The village elders had allocated themselves big and fertile land. Some of the people lost land in violation of an agreement that everybody was to get equal acreage to what they owned in Limuru.

 As he entrenched the colonial footprints, and as the Mau Mau uprising started,  the locals were piling anger and bile against Chief Luka and his masters. Before long, there were two dominant forces in the community; pro-Mau Mau, the majority; and the loyalists. Chief Luka’s support for the colonialists made him a villain, a loathed person.

It was against this backdrop that the Lari massacre took place.

The following day, the police cordoned off the area and rounded up hundreds of people. The primary reason was to flesh out all Mau Mau people from the community. The government ended up killing about 300 people in a counter Mau Mau operation in the area.

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Paul Kariuki February 12, 2021 - 3:29 pm

We appreciate your rich article….

Lawrence Muragu macharia May 18, 2021 - 11:58 am

Very informing


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