‘Kikuyu Women, the MauMau Rebellion and Social Change in Kenya’

The ‘MauMau’ are a group of people who were active in the fight against colonialism in Kenya.

*I have to point this out for my non Kenyan readers. MauMau has a lot of definitions but as far as what the current curriculum teaches in contemporary Kenya, MauMau loosely translated means ‘Mzungu Arudi Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru’ (Swahili for ‘The White Man should go back to his home country for the African to gain independence’)*

Per the general Kenyan public perception, this was (and still is) mostly consists of the Kikuyu, the largest ethnic community in the country. Kenya gained independence from the British colonialists in December 12th, 1963. Prior to gaining freedom in their own land, a number of tribes participated in the fight against the colonialism, naturally. Any History book in East Africa generously dedicates a chunk of its pages to heap praise on the role the male MauMau members played pre colonial era like: Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Harry Thuku, Dedan Kimathi but to name a few.

Present day Kenya recognizes the MauMau as an illegal, radical and terror group whose members are still mostly from the Kikuyu community. I’m not sure how justified this is. I have to say, my knowledge of the MauMau is limited to the compulsory education that was crammed in me in my Primary and High Schools. The textbooks in school painted them as these rogue males dressed in long cloaks that revealed one side of their arms and some chest hair. Growing up, I imagined them in huge and long dreadlocks, brown stained teeth and some kind of weaponry, let’s say a bow and arrow, a spear or a sword. (Cut me some slack, I was 12)I often here about the said group whenever there is an election in the country.  Twice or thrice, my late grandfather would mention them with pride in his voice whenever I visited him in rural Kenya. Being raised in Nairobi, I never really cared about the MauMau. They were just the men who helped Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the first African President of Kenya, to fight for independence, or so I was taught.

Cora Ann Presley does such an objective job in telling the role of the women, not just within the MauMau group, but in the fight for colonial freedom in Kenya. I love the non European presentation of what pre colonial central Kenya was, especially with the use of oral data from actual MauMau members. Her research goes straight to locating where and how the MauMau began, where they were located  (insert Kiambu, Kenya), highlighting just how male centered the group was and how radical their tactics were. Imagining how gendered and sexist life was precolonial Kenya, (it still is actually so…*crickets*) she gathers interviews from actual MauMau female leaders who, in direct sentences, tell about their frustrations during that time. Picture this: Foreigners from God knows where come to your land for trade. You engage with them in trade and they see this as an opportunity to utilize the vast resources and agricultural opportunities to calm the intertribal clashes in your region whilst dictating your political, social and economic lives. That is part of the gist of the scramble for Kenya by the British.

Kikuyu women in 1950 Source: Pinterest.

Reading this research made me morbidly disappointed in all the history books that are currently in the Kenyan curriculum. The information that they are teaching (currently and past) in schools doesn’t do the African women who fought for independence any justice. I mean,  I wasn’t the best student but as far as I can remember, all I was taught was about the male collaborators and the resistors  to the British rule in Kenya. They might have thrown one, maybe two women freedom fighters but never the collective role that A LOT of women played in the grassroots.

The current education system fails to mention the role that women played in the economic growth of their communities. It barely mentions the frustration that the women felt when the Europeans suddenly decided to grab lands from Africans and only listen to/allow any contributions from the African men even though the African women were the ones solely responsible for the farming and taking care of the lands. The books never mention the emasculinity of the African men when the women decided to take matters into their own hands and indirectly fight against the British oppressive rule; all this, in a time when British women were considered docile in their domestic roles but African women would use their perceived victimhood by the British to fight against the British and Even aid the MauMau warriors in their fight against colonialism.

Come on Kenyan history books/historians, you can do better.


In conclusion, this book should be part of the textbooks in The Kenyan History Curriculum.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s