Love in the times of war: The story of Mukami Kimathi

by Julie Ngigi

Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau freedom fighter is a book that has been on my bucket list for a very long time. When I finally got it at the Ukombozi Library in Nairobi, I knew it would quench my thirst in understanding the life of Mukami  Kimathi, the widow of the late freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi.

 I was not disappointed.

The autobiography by Wairimu Nderitu provides insights into Mukami’s life with the story spanning through the colonial years and her life in independent Kenya.

The writer, not only explores contextual themes such as the Kikuyu culture and the imperial past, but also looks at motherhood during the war years, love, and loss of a husband. The prose and grit in writing are beautifully interwoven to keep readers educated and entertained.

This is a story of two lovers who refused to give up on each other despite the challenges that they faced. But there is more in this book; the two lovers proceeded to fight for the independence of their country and liberate it from the chokehold of colonialism. However, one died – and the other survived to tell the story.

Mukami, the book tells us, grew up in as a strong-willed child; a character which often landed her into trouble with her father. At times, she would be whipped for that.

Although the relationship with her father was mostly icy, it was from her father that she learnt about the excesses of the colonial regime: the Kipande System, the Crown Land Ordinances, and the taxes imposed on Africans by the colonial administration.

Mukami explains that though the policies deeply infuriated her father, he believed in white supremacy. His complacency baffled Mukami. Her father instead vented his anger through his family, especially children who endured beatings.  

Like many other African parents, Mukami’s father did not believe in education. Mukami, however, alongside other children in the village, would sneak from their daily duties and attend school. It is in this school where she met a handsome and respected teacher Dedan Kimathi. He had just come back to Kenya from World War II where he had been part of the British troops.

When Mukami became of age, wealthy suitors from her father’s age set began to ask for her hand in marriage. In this book, she says she never liked any of them. Then, her break came when Kimathi expressed interest in marrying her.

Unlike others who wanted to marry her, Kimathi was a poor man. This context became a source of controversy in Mukami’s family.

Her father disapproved Kimathi and asked Mukami to abandon the relationship. Mukami’s father became hostile and stopped Kimathi from paying any dowry. This meant the relationship, in the eyes of the parents, stood disapproved.

This was emotionally draining for Mukami who had set eyes on Kimathi as her husband. Her resilience would later take the best of her, much to the anger of her father.

As a result, Mukami and Kimathi started dating behind her father’s back. It was Mukami’s brother who used to arrange clandestine meetings between the two. Their love blossomed through a series of meeting and love letters. But it did not take long before their relationship moved from a secret affair to public knowledge.

Mukami’s relatives knew that she was dating Kimathi. Knowing that Mukami’s father was opposed to the affair, her uncles tried to persuade her father to let her daughter marry the man she loved. The father never listened to the pleas.

Against opposition from Mukami’s father, Kimathi and his lover decided to marry. The young couple started their new lives in Nyandarua where Kimathi worked. Mukami reminisces of the times when Kimathi spent many hours reading and writing, sometimes late into the fight. He was deeply involved in the political affairs of the country.

Kimathi was the exact opposite of her father. The young Kimathi believed in self-rule while Mukami’s father approved of white supremacy. On the other side, Kimathi’s intelligence and organizing skills were being noticed within Mau Mau movement.

Caught up in the middle of two opposite, but extreme views, Mukami never tried to strike the grey areas. She chose to help her husband fight for independence. She joined the forest fighters. 

Her leadership and administrative skills soon earned her the position of quartermaster general of Karia-ini Camp. She was in charge of organizing food supplies and treating the sick and wounded. This book illustrates the role women played in the Mau Mau liberation struggle.

When she gave birth to her daughter Waceke Kimathi, Mukami moved to Nairobi. But she did not quit Mau Mau. Instead, she organizing communication lines between Mau Mau camps as well as ensuring food supplies reached the forest.  

In April 1954 Mukami was arrested for not carrying her passbook and thrown to Lang’ata Detention Camp. She describes the facility as a “scene from hell”. She gives accounts of starvation, torture, and death.  She says those who died were fed to hyenas in Lang’ata.

Mukami was still in prison when she learnt of her husband’s arrest in Nyeri after he was shot. In the book, she says that her husband’s dying wish was to “make sure that my name will never be forgotten.”

She believes she has kept this promise. In this book, she speaks about several institutions, awards and statue erected to immortalize Kimathi. She also speaks about her longing to give her husband a decent burial, a request that has never been granted.

In addition, she outlines her political life as a nominated councillor in Nyahururu. She also served in the Kenya African National Union (KANU) as a treasurer in Nyandarua.  

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Ella Wanjiru July 23, 2021 - 1:00 pm

Great read Julie, nicely summarised especially for the young ones

makena kihara August 11, 2021 - 10:53 am

Wonderful resume. I need to read the book in full


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