The untold story of Chief Kiberenge: A British loyalist who cursed his dead son

by Julie Ngigi

Just under two months ago, I was part of a team that met Mr Gerrishon Kaburu Ndubai, a Mau Mau scholar and survivor, for an interview.  That is how we got to hear the story of Chief Kiberenge.

Ndubai is a gifted storyteller. He understands history too. During the interview, Ndubai took us through the contribution of the Ameru community in the fight against the colonial government. Through his personal and scholarly perspectives, Ndubai’s understanding of Mau Mau remains undisputed.

He not only gave Mau Mau Chronicles invaluable oral information – but also handed his Master’s Degree thesis to the platform that publishes Mau Mau history. His scholarly work is an introspection into the Mau Mau era and the place of the Ameru in the struggle for freedom.

While exploring Ndubai’s thesis, The Ameru in the Mau Mau, I noticed stories that spoke to Ameru contextual realities.

Before that, I was not aware of the extent to which the Meru and Embu communities participated in the Mau Mau war. While I had always known that the two communities had a stake in the war, I did not understand the scale in which the two communities suffered during the colonial period. I have now come to appreciate that role.

At first glance, I noticed there are glaring similarities between the Kikuyu and Ameru resistance. There was, for instance, the invasion of ancestral land by the white settlers, the resistance and emerging collaborators and presence of brave leaders who stood up against the colonial government.

In his work, Ndubai tells a story of a Njuri Njeke leader and area administrator called Chief Kiberenge who hailed from Kianthumbi Location in Meru.

Chief Kiberenge was tasked with the identification of slain Mau Mau heroes. While identifying the dead warriors, he would strike their heads with a walking stick and mention their full names.

What we know is that between 1952 – 1956, the Ameru people contributed 1,827 young fighters to the armed Mau Mau war  against the British government,  according to official records. The sad part to this is that over 90 per cent of these gallant fighters died during the war.

Sadly, the colonial government had no respect for the dead – just as it did not have for the living. After killing the fighters, the police would collect the bodies and take them to a public place for mass viewing. This was not in honor of the dead but meant to shame the fighters. It was also meant to deter people from joining the freedom struggle.

Kiberenge was not alone. He had a group of other collaborators who worked with him. As he did the identification, those accompanying him would utter a popular curse in unison saying ‘Urokua Kairi’ (may you die again) and ‘Arokua ungi na uju’ (May another terrorist like this one die in the same way).

But one day as he conducted his work, Kiberenge came across the body of a familiar person. Amidst great difficulty, he went ahead to identify the name of the person, his father, clan and the village where the slain Mau Mau fighter hailed from. But this time, it was his son – who had secretly joined the war. Apparently, a white district officer (DO) had killed Kiberenge’s son. The DO was furious that the son of a chief was a Mau Mau member.

On this day, Chief Kiberenge had no choice but to treat his slain son the same way he had always treated the other slain Mau Mau fighters. To make matters worse, Kiberenge’s associates were required to perform a ritual denouncing the dead Mau Mau fighters by singing;

U-u-u tukugwirua,

Turi na Mukuu na Mugwate

(We are happy in having one Mau Mau terrorist dead and another one captured alive.)

U-u-u Kogerwo ngero

Nigwe waregere kwigua ukiirwa

(Face the consequences, you refused to heed to wise counsel.)

U-u-u nokamama

Muntu akwabatwa na King’ang’i

(You may sleep now, the culprit has been grabbed, by the crocodile)

The Chief conducted the ritual on his son with a heavy heart. He could not believe that he was working for an administration that was, too, killing his children.

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4 comments

Noella October 14, 2021 - 11:11 am

Wow, amazing story telling Julie. I wouldn’t have know

Reply
David Matu October 16, 2021 - 5:45 am

That is how collaborators (Ngaati) sometimes suffered by betraying the cause for selfish gains. Unfortunately their sons took over the reigns of power upon attainment of independence and still lord it over the rest of us to this day. They also own all the land they didn’t fight for.
Life’s a bitch!

Reply
Waimiri October 16, 2021 - 12:29 pm

That must be the day that great collaborator started dying.

Reply
Eiud mutwiri October 18, 2021 - 11:57 am

Fantastic, well researched,

Reply

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