How British troops fell into a Mau-Mau trap on the banks of Rui-Ruiru in Nyeri

by Evan Mbugua

In the Mau Mau patriotic songs – and wars of victory – the song about Rui-Ruiru battle is one of the famous lyrics.

When we reached Ruiruiru

We stumbled on a traitor

He threatened to scream

He was told to go ahead

And his screams would be drowned by bullets

So celebrated is the Mau Mau victory on the banks of Rui-Ruiru that is has been used by survivors to showcase their prowess during the war.

Today, in Nyeri County, River Ruiru flows down the terrain, with few locals knowing about its celebrated status and the significance of the battle that took place on its banks.

The river, located at Ngaine Location, Mathira, Nyeri County, is endowed with caves known as Kariba Caves, named after one of the most celebrated Mau Mau leaders, General Kariba, the Nyeri District leader of the Kenya Levellation Battalion.

The Mau Mau used the caves to hide from the British patrols, especially when the military commenced aerial bomb attacks on the fighters in the forest.

Ann Wacuka, a Mau Mau veteran once lived in these caves during the Mau Mau war. She was General Kariba’s cook.

“Among other girls, I was selected to be General Kariba’s cook. We used to hide in caves at Rui Ruiru River until someone tipped the police of our whereabouts and we were arrested. Mbaara ya Rui Ruiru is without a doubt one of the most intense battles during the Mau Mau period,” Wacuka told Mau Mau Chronicles.

In late 1953, a group of Mau Mau troops led by General China, General Tanganyika and Brigadier Rui of Levellation Army were taking a rest on the banks of River Ruiru after a long journey.

They were oblivious of the lurking danger as  police got wind of the presence of Mau Mau fighters in the area. And with haste and desperation, the government consolidated troops to counter the Mau Mau battalions.

Luckily for the fighters, a woman in the villages run to the venue and alerted the Mau Mau of an impending attack by the colonial authorities.

The fighters quickly drafted a combat strategy. In a short period of time, they hatched a plan that would later shock the European administrators.

According to historical accounts of the event, a brave Mau Mau soldier called Faranja put on a woman’s dress and went on a spying mission. He left the group and went to a vantage point on a hill top from where he could spot the police vans moving towards the direction of the fighters.

Dressing as women was a strategy the Mau Mau fighters used to remain inconspicuous.   

From top of the hill, Faraja saw the police. He even met some home guards who mistook him for a woman fetching firewood in the forest. Women and children were perceived harmless and innocent. The government did not invest much surveillance on them.

Faraja returned to the river banks and confirmed the police were on pursuit. When the police were in close proximity, the Mau Mau released another strategy.  

Some of the fighters had full police uniforms they had acquired from attacks on police and government installations.

Kibara wa Mararo wore police uniform and walked towards the direction the police came from.  The government strategy was ambush. They had planned to suddenly attack the fighters, denying the Mau Mau heroes a chance to organise for attack. The police were on instructions to shoot and kill all fighters on the scene.

But Mararo had other ideas.

The police uniform he wore indicated he was a police inspector. When the police saw him walking from the direction they were headed to, they stopped for a moment.

Mararo lured them towards the river. But it was a decoy strategy that the government forces did not quickly discern.

The security forces made up of the King’s African Rifles (KAR), the British Colonial Army in Africa, and the Kenya Africans loyalist rushed towards the river as instructed by their “boss”.  

The Mau Mau fighters launched an attack. The government officers realised they had fallen into a trap. But it was too late to untangle themselves from the witty Mau Mau. Their strategy had aborted.

Mau Mau fighters demolished nearby bridge to deny the police a route out of the battle ground. The first contingent of the police was subdued and had to call for back up from Karatina, the Divisional headquarter.

The battle of Rui Ruiru was intense. According to witnesses, such as Mau Mau veteran Kinyua wa Ndugire, the police and Mau Mau fought for hours. There were casualties on both camps.

When the war ended, Kibara wa Miraro was crowned as a Mau Mau General. He was given the name General Chui meaning a sharp leopard.

Joram Muchuni Kirungi, one of the surviving Mau Mau veterans who fought at the battle, says the Mau Mau won. The police were forced to flee from the scene leaving a trail of dead police officers and Mau Mau fighters on the scene.

When the battle ended, Muchuni reports, Mau Mau blew a trumpet to signify victory. About 21 Mau Mau fighters died but the police suffered more with over 61 police officers dead.

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Maina wa githui June 3, 2021 - 9:01 am

Very rich history

Mwangi wa Gaita June 9, 2021 - 12:03 pm

Good work I term for more

Simon M kimani June 9, 2021 - 4:56 pm

Sharp thinkers then

Githinji wa mwai June 10, 2021 - 1:19 am

Joram muchuni kirungi is believed to be a colonial guard who was also spying for the colonial gorverment hes my neighbor and my grandfather who was in his 20s at that time can give testimonies about his work at the said time.

Arthur muchiri June 10, 2021 - 2:48 am

Gallant soldiers these were.

Silvester June 10, 2021 - 7:05 am

Kenya’s history needs to be rewritten and told from our perspective.. And this must be done with utmost honesty that way our children will understand where as a people we have come from.Thanks big.

Mbiri kiarie June 10, 2021 - 7:12 am

Nice story

Cege Gacuhi June 10, 2021 - 3:54 pm

You are doing a fantastic job for future generations. Can we immortalize these heroes in films?

Njau wa Mungai June 11, 2021 - 1:04 pm

Thanks for enlightenment. We always hear one side of story where its always the british who conquered the Africans. Great history, we need to learn on our history and even a book should be written about our heroes and heroine.

Wachira Kariuki June 12, 2021 - 11:27 am

This is great and we should start a narative tourism package as a historical tourism as we continue remembering our freedom heroes

Kanyi June 13, 2021 - 7:02 am

Brave Mau Mau


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