Mau Mau – A Whisper
Claire waited patiently while Nderitu searched for a good place to start his story.
"The Mau Mau survived as a secret society and fighting force because we were able to get supplies from the people, willingly or not," Nderitu said. He picked up a small rock and tossed it subconsciously a short distance away. "We raided Roman Catholic missions for money and ambushed military trucks for guns and bullets. We fled into the forest after every raid and lay low for a while." Claire said nothing and seemed to be holding her breath in anticipation. "Boys in the forest suffered from lack of food, meager rations, cramped up living conditions in the caves, and diseases. Most of us had grown up with parents and had dropped out of school after witnessing atrocities around us. The Mau Mau men were ruthless, and killed many British officers in ambushes. We trained everyday and became one with the blades and arrows. We were strong because we had."
The words poured out of Nderitu's mouth and he found it hard to stop. "They called us the Kenya Land and Freedom Army or Mau Mau. Surrounded by trees and bound by oath, we fought to get rid of the white man and free the people. Our gang was headed by a Kikuyu tribesman named Mungai. This man was about thirty years old with dreadlocks and a rugged appearance. He had been brought up in a catholic mission after his parents' death and only joined the Mau Mau after his parents' land was taken over by the white people. After a few raids on whites and natives alike, Mungai promoted himself to captain and then general. He always travelled with five men who were his body guards, and people feared and respected him at the same time. When the British troops came close to our caves, General Mungai would order a retreat into the mountain jungle and send out orders for food. Here in the jungle, he would recruit more men to add weight to his force. But the big problem was the lack of fire power, and most Mau Mau men only carried knives and spears."
Nderitu finally closed his eyes and drifted into his past. June 1955. What does it mean to be a Mau Mau soldier? To devote oneself to the course of freedom; to fight with courage and determination, constantly aware of the enemy's superior power.
Nderitu and five other boys moved swiftly through the forest and across rivers, under orders from General Mungai, who had retreated depeer into the Aberdares Forest to lay low after a successful raid on a police station. The boys had one goal and that was to find food and take it back to the tired and wounded men in the forest.
Led by Kamandu who was wearing a leopard skin jacket, the boys ranged between the ages of 12 to 18, and were all armed with daggers except for Kamandu who carried a home made rifle with two bullets. The boys had been in the forest for many months and their rugged clothes and unkempt hair attested to this. Dreadlocks were not only a sign of their seperation from the western world but also proof of their role in the struggle for Kenya's independence. The forest was no place for bathing, and the boys were indescribably filthy, their hair plaited into spikes that jutted out in every direction to make it easy to kill the lice that plagued them.
When they arrived near the villages, Kamandu raised a fist and motioned for the boys to hide in the bushes. The time was 5pm and it was too early and dangerous to try a raid. The boys would rest and wait for the cover of darkness.
Conversation was minimum and mostly in whispers. The boys had a clear view of the dirt road below and the village on the other side of the hill.
"You okay Nderitu?" Kamandu asked as he snuggled closer, rifle tightly gripped with both hands.
"My shoulder is a little soar but am good," Nderitu said, referring to his bullet wound. It had only been a graze but it had bled a lot and left him weak. Recovery in the forest had needed time and a lot of herbs.
"This is our chance to prove ourselves and hopefully the men can take us with them on their raids," Kamandu said.
It was every boy's dream to run with the Mau Mau men. Everything the boys did including stealing guns and finding food was geared up to that one purpose.
"I want to kill a white man," a boy named Irungu said, crawling through the bushes to join in the conversation.
Both Nderitu and Kamandu rolled their eyes like they didn’t believe a word Irungu said. “I mean it!” Irungu added. “I swear I’ll do it.”
"Taking another human life is not easy," Nderitu said, meeting Irungu's eyes briefly. Irungu was two years older at the age of fourteen and two years younger than Kamandu. But he talked a storm and could fit in with any age group as far as conversation was concerned.
"You fight well," Kamandu told the boy. "I have seen you fight. But killing is not easy. Taking another life comes with a price that is very hard to carry."
"I will kill me a white man," Irungu said as he pulled out his dagger to show that he meant business. "It’s the only way I will rise fast through the ranks, like General Mungai. I want to build a legacy and eventually be like Dedan Kimathi. I want to be feared all over the mountains."
Irungu had a very big dream. Dedan Kimathi was the Mau Mau leader of the Aberdares Mountain area where Nderitu's group operated while General China was the Mau Mau leader at the Mount Kenya demarcation. Attacks on farms were mostly performed around Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, where the Mau Mau had their headquaters. The Mau Mau had also established a third base on the outskirts of Nairobi and intensified its actions, which had become a real military operation against white settler farms and loyalist towns. Nairobi was especially important because sympathizers of Mau Mau gathered funds, ammunition and information for the guerella movement.
"Whatever happens here, we must stay alive," Kamandu said. "I Kamandu want to live." He thumped his chest.
"I Nderitu want to live."
Two boys suddenly came running from behind trees and dove into the bushes next to Kamandu. "What is it?" Kamandu asked with a frown.
"There's a vehicle approaching," one of the boys said, out of breath.
Nderitu peered over the bushes and searched the road below. He could hear metal clanking and five minutes later, he saw what looked like a pick-up truck carrying something tall and wooden on its bed.
"What is that?" Irungu asked in a scared voice.
"Gallows!" Kamandu whispered. "A wooden frame for hanging people. They are sending a message around the villages, to us and Mau Mau sympathizers."
"It’s either that or have your dead body displayed at the market," one of the other boys said with a chuckle. All boys were scared but a chuckle did wonders to hide it.
The British were retaliating with public hangings which had been outlawed in Britain for over a century, and it was okay because this was Africa, a land occupied by savages. That’s how they justified it to the Queen. Nderitu shuddered as he watched the pick-up truck disappear around the bend.
Dusk came hard and darkness loomed in the air. Up ahead the cows mowed and lanterns appeared. The signs of village life made Nderitu homesick. He missed his family and the times when his dad had been around. Every evening they had sat around the fire for dinner, and talked deep into the night in a smoke-filled kitchen.
The time of the attack on the village was Kamandu's call. The Mau Mau conflict was an independent war, but also a civil war. The loyalists, mostly Christians or followers of their village chiefs that had been bribed by the police or the settlers, were the major target for Mau Mau food supply.
At around 10pm that night, Kamandu finally roused the boys into action. They descended the hill with fresh limbs and climbed again to enter the village. The village was but a number of scatterred huts with no enclosing fence. Kamandu chose a hut at the sight of two white goats sitting in a pen. The boys broke down the door to the hut and found an old man asleep with his little daughter on the only bed in the room.
"Get up quickly," Kamandu growled, pointing the gun at the man. "If you scream, your daughter dies. And you..." He pointed the gun at the scared girl, "If you scream your old man dies."
"Take anything you want," the old man said in a calm voice. "I have been arrested many times by the British for providing food and supplies to the Mau Mau."
"And did you?" Kamandu asked.
"No I didn't," the old man said truthfully. "But they tortured me anyway, raped and killed my wife. Take anything you want, I don't care anymore."
Nderitu noticed the old man shielding his daughter as he spoke. Whether it was innate in him as a father, or whether he was concious of his actions was still an impressive sight to witness.
"We need the goats," Kamandu said lowering the weapon.
"I will help you slaughter them," the old man said, as he headed for the door.
Kamandu was caught off guard by this request and Nderitu realised that his friend had not thought through the plan.
"Irungu?" Kamandu called. "You guys go find the granary or whatever food you can. Let's load up. We have fifteen minutes to get out of here."
Irungu disappeared with another boy while the remaining three boys assisted the old man to slaughter the goats. They did it inside the kitchen where the noise would be muffled. The little girl stood aside akwardly, fearing for her father's life.
"Don't be scared," Nderitu said, as he helped pin the goat to the ground.
"What's your name?" Kamandu asked her. The old man skillfully cut the goat's neck and detached it from the body. It was quick and the goat never had time to bleat.
"Nduta," the girl said, in a whisper, fresh tears appearing on her face.
"Your father is a good man Nduta," Kamandu said, nodding at her. He turned to the old man. "Just cut out the intestines. Don't worry about skinning it."
Time was of essence. Irungu came back with a bag of maize, beans and sugarcane, and divided them into three loads and Kamandu looked pleased. Getting the intestines out of the goat's belly took a lot longer than Kamandu had expected and all the boys started to look anxious.
“We have to go,” Nderitu whispered to him.
Kamandu suddenly looked alive and stood to his full height. "Let's go," he said. “Hold this.” He gave the rifle to Nderitu, grabbed the goat and swung it on his back.
"You don't want the other goat?" The old man asked, obviously in shock of current events.
"There's no time." Kamandu walked through the kitchen door, paused and listened to the wind. The mountains were too dark to see anything but the air carried noises from far to the trained ear. Nderitu and one other boy joined him outside and stood beside him. They all listened.
“Lead the way,” Kamandu said, nodding at his friend.
Nderitu led the way to the road, stepping through a garden of cabbages; crashing the vegetables under his feet. He held the rifle tight and frequently pointed it at imaginery targets.
"We will take turns on the goat," he said over his shoulder. The road was too quiet for his liking. "Let me know when you are t..." He never finished the words. Bright lights came on and spotlighted the boys.
"Soldier! Run!" Kamandu yelled.
The goat hit the ground with a thud and was quickly followed by the sound of gunshots.The boys fled for their lives, diving into the trees and bushes, scared out of their minds. Nderitu was running when he remembered the gun in his hand. He stopped behind a wide tree trunk and took in a deep breath. He was thinking clearly, He could. With shaking hands, he raised thr rifle high and fired a shot. The sound of his shot was barely audible, muffled by the reply of semi-automatic weapons. A bullet hit the trunk and Nderitu lost his cool. He turned and ran like the wind.
All the time months he had lived in the forest had prepared him for this one moment, one shot and he had done it. He couldn’t do anything more. Up ahead, he could hear the sound of breaking twigs as the other boys fled. He ran after them not once looking behind him.
The boys ran blindly for almost an hour, concious of the direction and fearfully aware of the pursuit behind them. Nderitu could barely see Kamandu who was leading the pack. Some of the boys ran slow and Nderitu narrowed the gap easily. When they reached the river, Kamandu suddenly stopped and dove behind a thick bush. Nderitu and two other boys joined him and all struggled to catch their breath.
The sound of a small plane circling above filled the air and the boys held their breath until the sound moved on.
"Where is Irungu?" Kamandu suddenly asked.
"He was right behind us," Nderitu said, searching around with his eyes. The boys stood up and listened but heard nothing.
“Irungu!” One of the boys yelled.
“Don’t do that you fool!”
"We have to go back and find him," Kamandu said solemnly. "God knows what will happen if the soldiers capture him."
Nderitu shuddered at the thought. The British soldiers were famously known for torture of natives up to and including death. Tortured bodies of children and adults had been discovered many times. The thought of Irungu in the hands of cruel men was enough to give the boys courage to go back. Once again Kamandu led the way, walking slowly and stopping constantly to listen.
The British platoon tactics were well known by the Mau Mau. The small plane was usually followed by Lincoln bombers rumbling through dangerous air, dropping bombs on forest hide-outs, targeting men crouching in caves with bows and arrows. Two platoons would then sweep through the forest to flush out the rebels, while African members of the local home guards policed the forest boundary. Mau Mau rebels would be captured as they ran out of the forest and those who refused to cooporate were shot on the spot.
On this night, the bombers did not come and Nderitu was grateful for it.
"I can hear something!" Kamandu said, ten minutes into the walk. The boys stopped moving and listened. Nderitu thought he heard a man shouting. Swinging the rifle over his shoulder, he climbed the nearest tree and searched the horizon. Flashlights. He counted six, and quickly descended the tree.
"I counted six flashlights," he said. "There is probably more than six men."
Kamandu looked thoughtful. "There are too many of them." He turned to the two boys. "Run back to camp and warn them. Nderitu and I will try and locate Irungu."
The two boys vanished into the trees, happy to get away from approaching danger.
"Up there," Kamandu said with a pointing hand. High ground; it was what the two boys needed and so they climbed up a hilly part of the forest. Once high enough, they looked down and searched the darkness until they were able to figure out what was happening. There were six flashlights, eight men, and in front of them, a small boy leading the way. Irungu!
Kamandu cursed and narrowed his eyes. "Irungu is crying. Looks like they cut a hole in his ear and put a rope through it. He's leading them back to our camp!"
Nderitu bit his lower lip and felt conflicting emotions. Irungu was a young boy with big dreams like everybody else; to kill the white man, to give the land back to the people. But right now, Irungu was about to get a lot of people killed.
"What do we do?" Kamandu asked, voice full of panic. It wasn't every day that the older boy panicked and Nderitu was a follower and not a leader.
“I don’t know.” Smoke came out of his mouth - it was getting cold. The two boys say in silence for a long time. The soldiers kept coming closer.
"I'm going in," Nderitu suddenly said, rifle held in both hands.
Kamandu looked startled. "What do you mean? Towards them?"
"Yes. Wait here," Nderitu said. "If I don't return in five minutes, run!"
“But… wait.” Kamandu sounded worried. “You only have one bullet!” Nderitu turned a deaf ear and started descending the hill headed towards the approaching men. The calmness in his body bothered him. Kamandu was panicked while the other boys had fled back to camp in fear, and here he was walking towards danger. He acknowledge for the first time in his life that he was different. He was afraid of death like everybody else and yet he approached it like an old friend.
The tree he found had a thick trunk that provided a great cover. He hid behind it and breathed very fast. It was his heart. The voices of the soldiers were now loud and audible.
"If you take us on a wild goose chase we are going to kill you!" One soldier yelled at Irungu.
"Show us the camp and we will spare your life!"
It was a lie and Nderitu knew it from past experiences. Mau Mau boys were tortured and shot to death. Irungu was a dead boy walking.
Nderitu raised the gun and aimed. There was only one bullet in the rifle and he had to make the best use of it. One mistake and he too was dead. One mistake and Irungu would lead the soldiers straight into the Mau Mau camp where hundreds of men would be killed. They would send the bombers and destroy everything that moved. Nderitu hardened his heart and pulled the trigger.
Claire suddenly stood up and started pacing the grass. "No, no," she moaned, tears pouring down her face. "Please don't tell me what I think you are about to say."
Nderitu placed his head in his hands and wept like a small boy. "I killed him Claire. I killed Irungu, dropped the gun and vanished into the darkness." His body shook with sobs.
Claire stopped pacing and stared at the crying man, and then quickly she cut the distance and embraced him. "Shsssss. It's okay Nderitu. I know it’s a big burden to carry, but you sacrifced one life to save hundreds. You were the hero that night. You made a call that many would have hesitated to make. You were a soldier!"
He soaked in her embrace and drew strength from it. Even in his grief he was painfully aware of her sexual appeal...the way her breasts pressed against his head. "I sometimes see him in my sleep," he said, as the tears started abating, voice muffled by her clothes. "I wonder what kind of a man he would have been if he had lived. I wish he could have seen Kenyatta walk out of jail and Kenya achieve its independence."
"He saw it," Claire said as he pulled back and looked into his eyes. "He watches from above and knows that his death was not in vain. The dead speak loudly to us, you know? All we have to do is listen." She tried for a smile to reassure him, and let him know that he was not judged for his past actions.
Nderitu took a sip at his soda, wiped the tears from his face and looked away. She sat next to him in comfortable silence and together they watched the people below go about their business. One man was really struggling with a cart full of potatoes. He caught it every time it was about to tip over.
"General Mungai was beyond excited when he heard about what had happened," Nderitu continued, trying to find an ending to the story. "I became an overnight sensation amongst the men and was given a leopard jacket, just like the one Kamandu had. It wasn't just as a gift, but also a symbol of courage and leadership. After that, the boys envied me and the men treated me like royalty. It was downhill from there. The war destroyed us and I became a monster."
"Don't say that," Claire whispered in a scared voice. "You are not a monster. You did what you had to do to survive. The promise of freedom is real because of men like you."
He tried to brush her off with a hand wave. "I know what you are trying to do and am grateful. But there's a side of me you don't know about Claire. I fear you will look at me differently when you discover my true identity. I try to fight it but its hard not to go back there."
Claire shook her head vigorously. "You are human and just like anybody else you adapt to your environment. What you were as a Mau Mau is what kept you alive, and brought you home. I understand it can be confusing, the adjustment. You must listen to the small voice inside you. You must follow it, for it is the boy inside you, talking to you, trying to reconcile with the man you have become."
Nderitu bobbed his head. "How do I do that Claire? How do I live a normal life again?"
"I can't answer that Nderitu. Life is a labrynth for you at the moment, and you are like a man without a lamp in the darkness. You must look closer though, you must see, you must remember."
"It doesn't feel like home anymore."
"You should lean on the people who love you, like your sisters for example.”
Nderitu sighed in defeat. “It’s not that easy. My sisters love me, and I love them. But war is not just hard for the soldier, its tough on the family left behind. Bonds break and wounds appear. Love doesn’t change but we will never have the magic we had before the war.”
Claire took his hand. “You must not give up Nderitu. I saw you in church today and I liked what I saw. You were intrigued by the word of God and the people. It’s the life you desire without even knowing. You must try. You must find a place to start.” She gave a great pep talk and Nderitu was intrigued. “Our happiness comes from within,” Claire continued. “Not from somewhere else. Most people spend a lot of time thinking about what they were or could be. The present is what’s real. We must reclaim the present and release ourselves from our unconscious relationship with the past.”
Nderitu was silent for a long time. During this time, he retrieved his hand from her and stood up. It was as though Claire was not there. The thoughts in his mind fought to overthrow each other and dominate. He started pacing and Claire knew better than interrupt. Finally he stopped and looked directly at her. "I think I know what to do. I must quit my security job. I must change my life and get a normal job. I must interact with the community; play with the children in the park, and have tea with friends."
Claire smiled. "What kind of job will you do?"
He sat down and the haziness disappeared from his eyes. Below, the man pulling a cart was drinking water from a bottle, sweat pouring down his face. "An electrician of course. I will work during the day and take classes in the evening. I think I can do this Claire."
She reached across and hugged him. He noticed for the first time that her hair smelled good. "Whatever you do Nderitu, I am here for you. I will help where I can."
His eyes sparkled at the thought of a new life. "I just need to go to the ranch and tell Kamandu...." He suddenly trailed off and worry clouded his eyes.
"What is it Nderitu?"
"My friend Kamandu," he said. "We have been friends since childhood. We were raised on the same land and he understands things about me that nobody else does. He saved my life once and I awe him a debt I can't repay."
Claire moved in with a firm voice. "Now listen to me Nderitu. If he's a true friend, he will understand. Life is about pursuit of happiness, and if you don't do what makes you happy, you will never truly live."
Nderitu nodded vigorously as though to convince himself. "I will talk to him tomorrow. I will tell him where my heart truly lies. I don't want to be a Mau Mau anymore. The forest war ended a long time ago."
Nderitu vividly remembered the British planes equipped with bombs and machine guns sweaping over the jungle, firing and killing everything that moved including cattle used as food by the Mau Mau. Security forces including home guards, every available soldier of the 39th brigade and hundreds of Kenya police reservists raided the forest and ambushed Mau Mau camps, killing hundreds. By a miracle Nderitu, Kamandu and other boys had slipped through the net, and escaped with their lives.
In 1957, with the main leaders of the Mau Mau arrested or dead, seven African moderate political leaders were admitted to the legislative council. Nonetheless, natives were not satisfied with this measure that still did not confer them a proportional representation. The following year, the number of Africans in the council was doubled, which allowed them to boycotte the new constitution proposed by the colonial secretary Lennox-Boyd, while they claimed for a Kenyan constitution.
The wind of change started blowing in Kenya in 1959 when Jomo Kenyatta was released from prison, though kept on probation in a remote village. In 1960 the government put an end to the state of emergency and the same year the British Government arranged a conference in London to speed up the process. In the conference, celebrated at Lancaster House, the African delegates presented a common front demanding independence and the immediate release of Jomo Kenyatta. The date for independence was set for late 1963, including the celebration of elections to set up a legitimate African government.
"How does one come back from a point of no return?"
She sighed and squeezed his hand. "It is only God who can deliver you. Trust and obey. As a Christian you are commissioned to be bold in your faith and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. Jesus says, 'Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. You must not be ashamed of your life in the forest. It made you who you are. This is your story. God knows your story. This is how you saved the world."
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...