On a chilly Monday in January 2020, a team of researchers went on a journey from Nairobi to Nyandura to meet one of the few remaining Mau Mau heroines in the County. The team, led by Prof. Macharia Munene, a renowned historian and scholar, made their first stop in Naivasha town at 10 a.m.
In Naivasha, the weather was more accommodating. The sun beamed over us. The town was lively and brought nostalgic memories of boat rides in the lake. But that was not why we had made the stop. Our primary reason was to pick our chaperone of the day General Wagocho, a Mau Mau veteran.
With age, most of ex-Mau Mau fighters have died and most of those surviving have little recollection of the struggle.
Luckily, General Wagocho, now 95, took part in the struggle for independence as a Mau Mau member and has vivid memories of the war. He also has kept a contact list of many Mau Mau members in Rift Valley and beyond.
As we found out, Wagocho, even in his sunset years, is a lively man. After a moment of acquaintance and breakfast, he declared his readiness to guide us to Nyandarua to meet Virginia Wanjiru, popularly known as Kabiti.
A few moments after leaving Naivasha town, General Wagocho took our attention. It was plain for us that the man has great knowledge of the Mau Mau war. He effortlessly gave a detailed account of the struggle for independence and kept us entertained thought the journey. His sense of humour and skill in deconstructing myths surrounding the war was impressive too.
We made a stopover at Karati Bridge where General Wagocho showed us the tree under which Mau Mau fighters camped during the day awaiting darkness to stage the famous Naivasha Prison raid of March 26, 1953. After this raid, which caught the police unaware, the colonial government realized that Mau Mau was capable of staging military raids on security installations.
After taking photographs of the phenomenal tree, we proceeded to a village called Murungaru, passing through plantations of barley, wheat, and pyrethrum – in what was undoubtedly former white settler farm. We met Njoroge wa Muchoki, Kabiti’s husband, waiting to direct us to the homestead.
At 12.15 p.m. we arrived at our destination. Kabiti was ecstatic, to meet us.
Born in 1934, she told us that she never went to school since her father did not believe in educating girls. As a result, she used to herd cows, take care of her father, and sell maize and beans. She had also been employed and earned 50 cents a day.
Kabiti, a reference to her short stature, was about 20 when she joined Mau Mau and her duties included cooking, washing clothes and storing firearms.
Before she entered the forest where she spent four years, Kabiti took three oaths and endured the harsh forest life. Among the hardships she encountered in the forest were food scarcity, torrential rains, attack by wild animals and lack of clothes.
Kabiti is also a gunshot survivor – perhaps lucky to have been alive: “I was shot at in Kiambu from the back. The bullets went through my breasts (and) I was taken to King George hospital (now Kenyatta Hospital). I was lucky to have survived to tell this story.”
Today, Kabiti carries the memories of the war. She has scars on her body, a stark reminder off the struggles the veterans endured for Kenya to gain independence.