By Kibiria wa Thiongo
AS WE HEAD TOWARDS 2022, WILLIAM RU SUPPORTERS OUGHT TO BE EDUCATED ON THE LEGENDARY FORGETFULNESS OF THE KIKUYU.
I say this as a kikuyu myself and, I believe, an elementary student of history. Let me start on that historical note. If you remember your history lessons, Kikuyus (and other Kenyan Bantus) originated from central Africa before migrating into Kenya. And even if we were to entertain doubts about Central Africa origins, what is now regarded indisputable is that Kikuyus migrated into kikuyuland from the north particularly the Nyambene Hills in Meru. However, after some time the Kikuyus conspired to forget their migration history. That is why you never hear in kikuyu folklore of the battles the Kikuyus must have waged in the course of migrations and before settling in what I call kikuyuland.
In contrast, the Luo are said to have passed the story of their migration from Sudan through Uganda to Kenya from one generation to the other. I hear that a typical Luo would have a good grasp of the communities heroes who led the epic migration south and through great battles and conquests. That preservation of history has seen the Luo community retain its legendary pride. I am told that is why the typical Luo does not believe that a “mere” kikuyu can beat him in an election. Or that a “mere” Luhya can beat him in a game of football. But I digress.
I was talking about how the Kikuyus conspired to erase their entire history and instead created some silly myth about Ngai (God) having created Gikuyu and Mumbi and placing them at Mukurue Wa Nyagathanga in modern day Murang’a County- the heart of kikuyuland. The myth continues to say that Gikuyu and Mumbi had 9 daughters and no son and that 9 young men emerged from nowhere, married them and went on to found the hegemony that is today’s kikuyu community. Critically, the myth emphasizes on how Ngai planted Gikuyu and Mumbi at the heart of kikuyuland. Now there is a powerful lesson right there. That the entire community conspired to forget its probably colourful history in favour of adopting a myth that would justify the community’s occupation of a certain area of land as God-sanctioned.
In a way, you have to admire this practical logic. There is no use holding to history that does not help us chart the future. Discard it. Re-invent it. Twist it. Re-shape it. Just do something and get history that favours the community in laying claims with an eye on the present and the future. That is how the community ended up holding an extremely tight grip on the land in kikuyuland.
Now, by kikuyuland we mean the original kikuyuland before the coming of the white man. That is the land surrounded by the following natural boundaries: Kirinyaga (Mt Kenya) to the North, Kia Nyandarwa (Aberdare Ranges) to the West, Kia Mbiruiru (Ngong Hills) to the South and Kia Njahi (Kilimambogo) to the East. But the point is that Kikuyus can revise, and have revised, history to fit certain narratives that were thought to be for the good of the community going forward. Ruto’s supporters are you still with me?
Still on history, many of you might have known that the Mau Mau war split the kikuyu community into 2 halves- the freedom fighters (Mau mau) and the white man’s loyalists (home guards). I have no space here to tell you the atrocities committed by the home guards (on instruction from the white men) against their tribesmen. The official figure of deaths supplied by the colonial government is 11,000 freedom fighters. However, independent research estimates the death count to be as high as 300,000. Don’t get me to discuss the brutal nature of those deaths. Then there was the torture. Starvation, rape, sodomization, floggings, insertion of broken bottles, snakes and other vermins into men’s rectums and women’s vaginas. All these, and many others, being carried out by one half of the community against the other.
In fact, it is now a generally accepted fact that the home guards were much harsher and brutal to the Mau Mau (who were their village mates) than the white man. Remember the Lari massacre? In return, the home guards were allowed by their white superiors to confiscate land and properties of the Mau Mau. And to rape the wives of their Mau Mau brothers. And to live in obscene opulence side by side with the starving Mau Mau. And to continue piling wives after wives (Chief Njiiri had 60) who were excused from hard labour while the wives of Mau Mau were subjected to compulsory unpaid labour. So bad was the situation between the home guards and the Mau Mau that certain historians (such as E.S. Atieno Adhiambo) thought Mau Mau was more of a civil war between kikuyu landed gentry on the one hand and the landless on the other than it was against the colonialist.
Indeed, so intense was the hatred in the years 1952-1959, that you could not imagine the home guards and the Mau Mau living together thereafter. Then comes independence in 1963 and Jomo Kenyatta’s message of reconciliation. Within no time, Kikuyus were pursuaded that the history of Mau Mau (which occurred a short 4-years earlier) was no longer important. It was time to build the country under the clarion call “Harambee”. That history was not of any use in the present (1963) and the future. In fact, even Mau Maus began repeating Kenyatta’s message that “we all fought for Uhuru” and that “Mau Mau was a disease which had been cured”. Just like that, history was revised. There was no longer either Mau Mau or home guard.
When I lived in South Kinangop (one of the epicenters of the Mau Mau war) in late eighties and early nineties, it was virtually impossible to tell who was previously Mau Mau and who was home guard even though many in the two sets of groups still survived. Indeed, some of those who were alleged to be the most brutal home guards/loyalists ended up reaping the fruits of independence fully. Think of Isaiah Mathenge. Think of Peter Muigai Kenyatta (yes, that one). Think of those many others some of whom I can’t mention here due to certain reasons. Yes, Kikuyus do revise history.
Do you need me to remind you how a short 15 years ago, women in Nyeri used to ululate and dance singing that a certain Raila Odinga was “Mutongoria Njamba”. Does anybody needs reminding how Raila Odinga was viewed in the same area, among the same women, a short 4 years later? History revisionism.
Do I need to mention that in the nineties most of us (Kikuyus) believed Daniel Arap Moi was the devil incarnate. That he was a devil worshiper? That he had invited devil worship into Kenya? That he kept a huge snake in State House which would lick him a few times every morning…? These days, we think Moi is some sort of Thomas Jefferson. We celebrate every time we see our beloved Kamwana paying the same Moi a visit. If history is inconvenient, discard it. Revise it. Re-invent it.
I conclude with 2007-2008 violence. Cut the hypocrisy. Every kikuyu believes that William Ruto masterminded most of it. We have previously hated him for it. We can conveniently edit his role if the exigencies of the moment demand. But we might just as well remember his role if the circumstances so demand. As Kikuyus, history has never been our master. It is ever our servant. We can revise it. We can undo it. We can un-make it. We can whatever it. We just can’t allow it to get into our paths.
So as we head towards 2022, let it sink in some heads that decisions will be made based on what “the community” will consider to be serving its interest then and into the future. Hii kiherehere ingine ati “oh history, oh betrayal, oh we did, oh he did, oh he sacrificed” watu wapeleke Kapkatet!