Field Marshal Mwariama: He survived the war, but died from a snake venom

by Evan Mbugua

After surviving the Mau Mau war without being captured or killed, Field Marshal Musa Mwariama, would meet his death in 1989 through baffling circumstances – he sucked snake poison from a friend’s wound.

Mwariama, whose real name was M’Kirigua M’Muchiri, was the highest ranking war leader from Meru region.

While he had survived the Mau Mau and victoriously emerged from the forest, Mwariama would meet his fate in very puzzling episode.

Aged 61, Mwariama had left Meru for Ukambani to visit a friend who was suffering from a snake bite. The brave and selfless Mwariama decided to help his friend – oblivious that his act of kindness would usher his last moments.

Mwariama sucked snake poison from his friend’s leg. He did not survive the venom. His friend, however, did not die.

But even in death, Field Marshal Mwariama has remained one of the biggest revolutionary leaders in Kenya. In Ameru language, Mwariama means “one who speaks the truth,” a name he acquired from his peers who observed he was truthful man – a warrior you could trust.

Born in 1928 at Muthara Location, Tigania Division in Meru County, Mwariama under the Mathathi army which operated in the Meru region of Mt Kenya.

Field Marshal Mwariama’s heroic stance against colonialism is a perfect definition of the adage that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His father, M’Muchiri Mawiri, was also a warrior. Mawiri was wealthy, owned a lot of livestock and the young Mwariama spent most of his early childhood looking after the livestock.

As he grew up, Mwariama widely traversed the Kikuyu land looking for employment in a bid to raise a hut tax imposed on Africans at the time. In search of employment in 1950, he was introduced to a group of young men that was planning to fight for freedom. This group, which turned to be the Kenya Land and Freedom Army,  fascinated Mwariama and he took oath of allegiance. He was among the youth disgruntled by the fact that white people had taken land belonging to Africans.

Field Marshal Mwariama, a pastoralist’s son, was not happy with the manner in which the white settlers had displaced indigenous people and taken fertile pieces of land in Meru. His family had soaked enough disruptions.

In 1915, Mwariama’s family lost land after the enactment of the Land Crown Ordinance in Kenya. This legislation allowed the colonial government to void customary laws on land ownership. It also empowered the government to sell land belonging to the indigenous populations. Although the legal instrument was replaced later that year, after massive outcry, the damage on land ownership rights was extensive.  

So, when Mwariama met an insurgency group willing to reverse these injustices, he found new hope. He was elected chairman of the Action Group for the Mau Mau and Kenya African Union operating from Naro Moru in Nyeri.

During his stay away from home and in search of employment, Mwariama had worked for three different settlers. On his last employment before getting into the forest (In 1953) he was working as a watchman (also known as Special Police) to a settler called Captain Morris.

He took advantage of his privileged position, of “Special Police” to smuggle ammunition out of the home. He gave the weapons to Mau Mau. This act endeared him to the Mau Mau top leadership who in turn honoured him with a title “Muthigari Mugathe” which means an honoured soldier.

Mwariama shot his manager in 1953 with a pistol. After that, he joined the forest forces. He joined other war generals like Ruku, Baimungi, and Kula Twende all from Meru region. The Meru wing of the Mau Mau became instrumental in boosting the artillery of fellow fighters in western side of the Mt. Kenya (Nyeri and Nyandarua).

Mwariama led a troop of a thousand strong fighters from Meru serving from Nyambene hills. Following the arrest and later hanging of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, Mwariama rose from the rank of General to Field Marshal.

After independence, he was decorated with the national Order of Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) and his famous photo with Jomo Kenyatta has been used in many publications.

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2 comments

Ndegwa wairimu freshiah March 31, 2021 - 2:27 pm

He opt to die in place of his friend, if I was the man I could title marshal as”Jesus” my saviour.
He was a great leader a stong fighter he will remain to run in our history

Reply
Daniel Maina Wambugu April 4, 2021 - 2:08 pm

What kind of life did mwariama live? Poverty stricken? Like other fighters or how?

Reply

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