Brutal Massacre on the banks of River Kayahwe

by Evan Mbugua

 In early 1954, the Central Committee of the Mau in Nairobi received classified information on General George Erskine’s plan to flush out Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities from Nairobi.

To forestall this, the Mau Mau leaders decided to pre-empt the move by fleeing in advance. It was a strategic move – but it would end up badly on the banks of river Kayahwe. It was a bloody encounter.

The would-be fighters had left Nairobi where the Mau Mau had established a strong movement that had infiltrated every corner of the city.

To save their young men from arrest, the Mau Mau leaders had decided to send them to the reserves hoping that they would not be nabbed under the Operation Anvil in Nairobi. They walked from Nairobi chaperoned by a Kamba man and two Kikuyu girls.

When they reached Thika, the group fell under the leadership of General Kago and started their trek to Aberdare forest. General Kago was commanding the Kenya Levellation Army in Murang’a.

While on their way to the Aberdare Forest, General Kago led them in attacking Kandara Division Camp. The troop descended at the camp before noon and caught the security forces and home guards guarding the facility unprepared. The camp was burnt and demolished.

This raid proved crucial because the fighters managed to get guns and ammunition. This particular raid also announced the arrival of Mau Mau in Kandara division and the wider Murang’a.

The fighters, at first, continued with their journey navigating through dense woods and finally went to the Aberdare Forest where they met Dedan Kimathi, Stanley Mathenge and Mbaria Kaniu –  the foremost Mau Mau  generals.

In the Aberdare, they received training on guerrilla war tactics. The environment in the forest was different from the town setting. They had to learn how to live in the forests without roofs over their heads.

Most importantly, they received training on how to escape after an ambush. They also received training on how to attack farms and steal property belonging to colonialists.

Buoyed by the success of the Kandara raid, General Kago marshalled the recruits towards Fort Hall Reserve. They spent the night there.

But the already shock-stricken, and angered, government forces were tracking the fighters. When the troops reached the banks of River Kayahwe, police from Murang’a, who had already called for reinforcement from Nyeri, Nanyuki, Nairobi, Meru and Embu, encircled the fighters and launched attacks.

The enemy had also commissioned aircrafts to the area to drop bombs and kill the fighters. There was no doubt the troops had been overpowered.

The Kayahwe massacre, where about 90 Mau fighters were killed by government forces, was probably the biggest setback in Kenya’s liberation war.

But the fighters, knowing they were outnumbered, decided not to surrender. The government forces responded with brute force.  

While General Kago managed to escape the attack, many fighters were not as lucky. About 100 fighters were arrested and ordered to hand over all the items in their possession including money, clothes, shoes and weapons.

The fighters were shot and killed at the scene.

On the morning, General Kago made it to the Aberdares and explained the horrifying killings to other Mau fighters.

It was a big setback in the war. The massacre sent the whole Murang’a village into panic even as the government seized the moment to boast of containing the war.

Kayahwe massacre remains immortalised in songs and in the Kikuyu lore. One of the songs demonstrates the gravity of the massacre.

Kayahwe is a very bad river.

Kayahwe is a very bad river.

Kayahwe is a very bad river.

Where our heroes were massacred.

Let me go, mama

I go, Mama.

Let me go and see Kayahwe,

Where our heroes were massacred.

General Kago cannot sleep.

General Kago cannot sleep,

Our heroes cannot sleep,

When they remember Kayahwe.

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1 comment

Njoroge Irungu August 3, 2021 - 2:33 pm

A nice excerpt,,our story. Bravo! MAUMAU


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