I Live in the Mau Mau Country
Every night the outnumbered Europeans in the rain forests and scattered farmlands of Kenya keep armed watch, wondering where the knife terror of the Mau Mau will strike next
I LIVE in the Mau Mau country. From my window I can look over the hibiscus bushes now bursting into flower with the long-awaited rains to the long line of hills— the jungle hide-outs of the most militant secret society in the world.
I can see winding over the vlei-land the paths which have become so familiar at night as my neighbors and I patrol the beat allotted to us by the police, for in Kenya most white men live a twenty-four-hour day.
That’s not because we are a besieged people or a frightened people, but because Mau Mau is dangerous and quick. At least sixty men and women have been murdered and none of us knows when the next blow will be struck.
Today the trouble is centred up among the semi-explored Aberdare Mountains, a tangle of ravines and dense rain forest. Tomorrow it may be among the cultivated lands of t he great sisal estates and coffee plantations. And the day after it may be in our own back yard.
Everybody is on watch in Kikuyuland, three thousand square miles of this British colony of Kenya that stretches eight hundred miles inland on the equator to the great lake of Victoria and the source of the Nile.
The natives of Kikuyuland are hated by the other tribes of Kenya because of their aspirations gained through longer and closer association with the Europeans. There are just over a million and a quarter of them, roughly a fourth of Kenya’s total native population. Many still live an almost stone-age existence. Others flaunt brilliant ties and pointed shoes as they talk politics and horse racing in the back alleys of the shantytown that surrounds the bustling modern capital, Nairobi. Most of the house servants in Nairobi are from this tribe, most of the bus drivers and the hotel waiters, most of the messenger boys and most of the criminals.
My own houseboy, a Kikuyu, is probably a member of Mau Mau. It’s almost certain that to save himself from violence he has allowed the sacred seven cuts to be made on his arm.
The secrecy and oaths by which Mau Mau has spread its tentacles into the remotest parts of Kikuyuland are typical of a dozen or more earlier secret societies. There has been the Dini ya Msambwa (dini means society) a fanatical sect drawing its members from the wild Suk tribe on the desert fringes of the northern frontier district. It was led by an ex-lunatic who preached that the days of the Europeans were numbered and that police bullets would turn to water.
At the “Battle of Baringo” three years ago Dini ya Msambwa clashed with the police, three of whom were speared to death. The police bullets did not turn to water. The leader was killed and so were a score of his disciples.
Then there was the Dini ya Jesu Kristo in the Kiambu district, led by another self-styled messiah wearing a red cloak and a red peaked cap. He also told his two hundred followers that police bullets would turn to water. One police officer was killed, this time so that the members of this sect could be baptized in European blood. The Man in Red was captured and hanged together with eight of his followers.
The Mau Mau fundamentally is another manifestation of the anti-European feeling which inspired its predecessors. As the Man in Red did before them, Mau Mau’s leaders combat the white man’s religious influence by proclaiming that Jesus Christ— in whom many tribesmen have learned to believe—was an Englishman and therefore could not be the true Son of God. They combat the white man’s political influence by playing on the black man’s grievances - many of them thoroughly valid—and by constantly reminding their fearful fellow Africans that if the white man’s law is stronger, the black man’s law is cruder.
It is difficult to know where Mau Mau started; even more difficult to guess where it may end. So far nobody in authority has been able to get to the full meaning or origins of this movement that has spread terror across Kenya.
Just after the war large numbers of the Kikuyu tribe migrated to Nairobi. It was a natural drift to the town, hastened by soil erosion in the farmlands, and the demand among the young men to seek adventure and fortune in the growing industry of Kenya, but the town couldn’t provide enough jobs or shelter.
There was a crime wave. Malcontents, finding that a white collar and a knowledge of the ABC was not the right key to easy riches, formed themselves into gangs of housebreakers and footpads. The government decided to introduce kipandes (pronounced kipandies), a form of certificated registration, and made plans to make the Kikuyus in the reserve understand the meaning and practice of soil conservation.
At this stage Jomo Kenyatta, political boss of the Kikuyus, returned from Russia. Whether or not it was on his advice, young men began to take secret oaths. Africans like secret societies and a benign but rather shortsighted administration took no notice. From the desire to abolish kipandes and not participate in soil conservation the Kikuyus’ objective changed to the sabotage of European farms and a great plan to “unsettle the settlers” emerged.
By the summer of 1952 Mau Mau was gaining a hold and men, women and children were being press-ganged into membership. Police action to check the movement was hampered because witnesses called in prosecutions against the society disappeared mysteriously. Headless bodies were found in jungle streams and the sign of the dead cat appeared on European farms.
Dead cats, often mutilated, are Kikuyu notes of warning. They may presage death or attack and mean, “You are a marked man if you don’t clear out.”
The Mau Mau oath, which perhaps two hundred thousand have taken, is sworn in blood, generally that of a freshly killed sheep, but sometimes of a freshly killed human. It is based on the number seven, the sacred number of the Kikuyu tribe. When it is to be administered a meeting place is arranged. (A friend of mine returned from holiday to find that a Mau Mau ceremony was going on in the servants’ quarters of his own house, not a hundred yards from the local police station.)
Scouts are posted, a code word is arranged and in singles and pairs the initiates are brought in. There is often an arch of banana leaves. There is always blood. There are seven oaths which vary from district to district but the burden of them is the same—the swearing of implicit obedience to the society on pain of death, the promise to kill Europeans and the promise never to help the government or the police.
Each of the seven oaths is pledged by a bite from the heart of a freshly killed sheep, confirmed by a sip of
blood, human or animal, and seven wounds made by the knife of the administrator of the oath. Above all is the' injunction that death will overtake anyone who breaks the oath. That is one of the reasons for the savage killing of Africans.
The number of European deaths, compared with the violence with which the Mau Mau have been conducting their campaign, has been few. The wife of a postal official was hacked to death at the back door of her home in the outer suburbs of Nairobi. A man on a lonely farm was butchered as he was taking his evening bath. A retired naval commander was chopped to death as Mau Mau invaded the farm where he and his wife were having dinner. The wife with thirty cuts from a machete-like knife, managed to drive her car to a police post before collapsing.
A neighbor of mine and his wife were attacked and left lying in pools of blood, but are recovering.
It is the Africans themselves, particularly those who in the face of threats remain loyal to the government, who have suffered most. Chief Waruhiu, a stately old man known as “the African Churchill,” died in a typical Chicago-type murder. Tom Mbetela, an African member of the Nairobi City Council, was knifed to death in Nairobi’s shanty town. I knew him well. He was fearless in his denunciation of the Mau Mau.
Although scores of Mau Mau members will be hanged, few members of the society have been killed in police action. Eighteen were shot when a mixed meeting of Mau Mau, Dini ya Jesu Kristo and Dini ya Msambwa attempted to murder several policemen. Eight others were shot by police when they attacked a small scouting party searching for Mau Mau suspects.
Hundreds of head of stock have been mutilated and killed by Mau Maus and attempts have been made to fire European grazing land. It was feared that the Kikuyu tribesfolk used as labor on coffee estates would desert; so far they haven’t.
When they murder fellow Africans the Mau Mau go in for slow atavistic executions. In the Nyeri district, not far from the Royal Lodge at Sagana where Queen Elizabeth learned of the death of her father, a village headman told the police that he had reason to believe that the Mau Mau were planning an oath-taking ceremony. He was caught by the Mau Mau who ordered almost the whole village to come and watch him die.
The villagers were told to form a circle and inside that circle the executioners formed another circle. Inside that was the headman. Then the execution began—execution by panga, the two-foot-long knife that is used by Kikuyu to till their fields and chop their wood.
First one of the executioners stepped forward and slashed at the headman, then another and another. There was no escape. An arm was severed at the elbow, his cheek slashed to reveal his teeth. Another blow tore open his thigh. No thrust was lethal until, a gibbering bloody mass, the headman fell to the ground. He was then decapitated, his arms and legs cut off. The executioners and the crowd dispersed and the body of the informer was left to the hyenas or the police, whichever arrived first.
Nobody in that village when questioned knew anything about the affair. The answers were sijui (I do not know) or silence. It took weeks to piece together the story—a story that has been repeated time and again in the forests of Kikuyuland.
An administrative officer who has worked among the Kikuyu for years and who is one of the few who speak the strange “running water” dialect of these forest dwellers told me: “There are few Kikuyu now who think that the government can protect them from vengeance should they fall foul of the Mau Mau. That is why they join.”
The Mau Mau is controlled from four centres in Kikuyuland and, although most of the ringleaders were arrested when a state of emergency was declared, a lot of their followers escaped the net. Some have been caught since hut for every man caught a new local leader springs up.
The Mau Mau initiation fee is about a dollar. It can be paid in cash (about seven East African shillings) or kind. The local leader keeps one third of the fee, sends the remainder to the central fund. As the average monthly wage of the East African laborer is only eight or nine dollars a cell leader can become rich by East African standards, especially if he has helpers who will press-gang whole villages into membership.
Police and troops are now ferreting out the Mau Mau, but in this wild country lashed by tropical rain storms, with few roads and practically no telephones, the hiders have a great advantage over the seekers. Farms are isolated and the bush gives plenty of cover. Farm laborers or house servants, members of the Mau Mau, can easily gauge the right time to strike.
Farmers’ cars are fired on, sometimes with rifles stolen in earlier raids from their own farms. One member of the Mau Mau even made a solo bow-andarrow attack on a train.
To each European in Kenya the Mau Mau poses his own particular problems. Tn the towns they must decide whether to dismiss the Kikuyu servants and whether to risk a visit to the cinema. They must also make sure to lock up the loaded revolver before going to work.
In the country the problem is more urgent. Farms cannot be left unattended. Farmers will not leave their wives hy themselves; in fact they are forbidden to do so by law. Tn some areas much of the labor to plow and plant and harvest is either in prison or has run away to join Mau Mau. Doors are bolted and barred, windows covered with screens of two-inch steel mesh, and it’s a brave man now who will take his after-dinner coffee on the veranda and provide an easy target for a terrorist sniper.
A farmer’s wife, who lives near Gilgil on the fringes of the Abordare forest, summed it up like this for me: “If Dick doesn’t go on patrol at night he feels he’s letting the others down. If he does go out he’s in a blue funk wondering whether the kids and I will he all right.
“We have to have systems of alarms. Red rockets bought from navy surplus stores, wartime air-raid sirens and a simple morse code of rifle shots give warning to the patrols that individual farms are in trouble.”
Some of the Mau Mau members are literate. We know that because of the threatening letters that have been found, some written in Swahili (the lingua franca of East Africa) others in English. One series of letters threatens to “Make meat of the Europeans that will be eaten with posho.” (Posho, the staple diet of the Kikuyu, is ground maize meal, boiled and eaten like porridge.)
Perhaps at this moment my own houseboy is sitting in his hut at the back of my garden, with a pencil he has stolen from my desk and, by the light of a candle filched from my wife’s store cupboard, laboriously composing a note that threatens death to some-
body. Perhaps there is an African doing just the same thing in a railway station, or in a government office nobody knows. The Mau Mau has guarded and preserved its secrecy to an extent unknown before in Africa. Its leaders have instilled secrecy by fear to such an extent that the average Kikuyu tribesman, even if he is not politically minded, will join the Mau Mau and risk losing his cattle or a term of imprisonment rather than stay outside the society and lose his life.
In some areas where the power of the local chief or the missionary has commanded respect the power of Mau Mau is not so great. Here loyal Kikuyu have formed themselves into resistance groups, groups of armed spearmen who co-operate with the police and troops in tracking down members of the society.
Rut those areas are few and far between and in the great areas of bamboo forest and thick tropical jungles Mau Mau is paramount. In villages the Mau Mau demand protection money or a levy of cattle or goats. Shops of Africans loyal to the government are raided.
Kikuyu women, who are allowed by tribal law to possess only a goatskin to cover their nakedness and a set of stones to cook their man’s dinner, are often fanatical members of the society, urging their men to acts of cruelty that are incomprehensible to Western minds.
There are efforts now to build up the morale of the Africans so that more will be encouraged to reject the Mau Mau oath. Anti - Mau Mau witch doctors are using the sacred Thenge stone, the “stone of death,” to provide an oath that is even stronger in native minds than that of the Mau Mau.
The Thenge stone, heart and soul of Kikuyu tribal law, is the vertebra of an elephant handed down from generation to generation and is such powerful medicine that only one man is allowed to touch it.
The government is encouraging these ceremonies. I attended one to watch a wizened painted witch doctor, who wore an RAF greatcoat against the chill mountain air, work himself into paroxysms of emotion as he cursed the Mau Mau.
But what was more significant was to watch scores of Africans sidle away before the actual oath was pronounced. Mau Mau members, they would not risk the threat of the Thenge stone and did not want to be informed on by Mau Mau spies at the ceremony. Caught between two fires many Kikuyu still prefer to be on the side of the Mau Mau.
With fields untilled, famine faces the Kikuyu tribe because the government is determined the tribe will have to foot the major portion of the bill for the unrest. The Kikuyu will be compelled to pay for the forty new police stations being built in the reserve.
The Africans in Kenya outnumber Europeans more than a hundred to one but have no say in government, low wages, few privileges. They want
more schools, more money, more land, the right to vote. The long-range government policy, as indicated by both Labour and Conservative administrations, is to lead Kenya gradually toward self-government. But the white view is that 3he Africans still have a long way to go. There are more than five million of them, yet fewer than a thousand can read a government announcement and understand it.
Even the Mau Mau members who have learned to wear European clothes discard them at the sect’s ceremonials. What is more significant is that when-
ever a European is murdered, every Mau Mau witness must take a slash at the body with sword, panga or spear.
That is “blooding,” the physical demonstration of manhood, legacy of darkest Africa and reminder that, whatever else is behind Mau Mau’s aspirations, it is determined to recapture a past in which the young warrior needed no kipandes, had no worries about soil conservation, taxes, missionaries, white governors and the other unwelcome appendages of civilization —to all of which the Mau Mau feels the panga is the best and only answer, it