Muthoni Wa Kirima
When Muthoni wa Kirima learned of Kenya’s independence in 1963, she was still living in the forest. She had been there since the start of the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonial authority a decade earlier. No one had told her or her handful of ragged comrades that the fight was over. Most Mau Mau rebels had been bloodily suppressed by 1956. But a hard core had continued to battle on. The only woman said to have been given the Mau Mau rank of field-marshal, she was invited to meet Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-independence leader. At first he thought she was joking when she said she had been in the forest all that time. But she convinced him by unfurling her dreadlocks that had been left to grow throughout her time in hiding.
Now 86 and living in a modest homestead in central Kenya, in the heartland of the Kikuyus who made up the Mau Mau, she says she is still waiting for the benefits of independence. Until she receives them, she refuses to trim her knotted hair, snow white at the roots but dark where it touches the floor. She calls it “the history of Kenya”. She was beaten and wounded by gunfire but never captured by the colonial Home Guard. The Mau Mau were defeated but their campaign marked the start of Britain’s retreat from its African colonies.