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The Night Of Long Knives: Slain Colonial Chief's Widows Recall Lari Massacre

Friday, March 25, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY NJENGA GICHEHA

Fifty eight years after the Lari Massacre, the slain Chief Luka Mbugua Kahangara’s widows recall that eventful night in 1953 when they lost their husband and 12 other family members. More than 100 people, mostly colonial home guards and their families, were butchered by the Mau Mau fighters in what came to be known as ‘the Night of Long Knives’.

Of the movement, their generals trusted me, though I was only 11 years old, I was a big boy, heavily built and brave, they used me with a lot of enthusiasm,” said Njuguna when we visited him in his Nature herbal clinic in March 26, 1953 is a day the family of slain colonial Chief Luka Mbugua Kahangara will never forget. For her widows, the memory of that fateful day is still fresh in their minds. Luka was a feared chief and because he was a collaborator to the British rule, he became a target for the Mau Mau fighters.

Chief Luka and 97 other loyalists were murdered on March 26, 1953. Among the victims were 13 of Chief Luka’s immediate family members.

Fifty eight years later, Chief Luka’s 92-year-old widow, Jacinta Waruiru, recalls, “That is the day I shall never forget; we had not anticipated anything like that because we had spent the day in a jovial mood as a family.”

Waruiru says that she woke up at 6am on March 26, 1953. She then did her usual chores like milking her cows before serving her husband breakfast at around 8am. Not long thereafter, colonial askaris drove into the homestead to provide security to Chief Luka because word was going round that his life was in danger.“He dismissed the guards who had come in two police vans saying he did not fear death and went to the market to sell timber,” says Waruiru.  “Around, 8pm that day, I served him food while Gacheri, my co-wife, served him his favourite brew. Minutes later, another co-wife, Mbura, joined us. We ate dinner while the other wives - Philemona Nduta, Kahuria, Nyakinyua and Muthoni - were in their huts which were a few metres from each other,” said the widow. 

She added that before retiring to bed, Gacheri’s daughter Wanjiku went outside and came back saying she had seen a big dog lying at the back of the house like a man. “But we all ignored the issue; we later learnt that it was a man who was listening and spying on us,” she says.  “That night I was disturbed and while others snored, I was being tormented by a ghost of fear. My spirit told me something was wrong.” 

She continues, “When I woke up to drink some water, I heard the sound of gunshots. When I looked outside through the window, I saw a group of men and alerted the others. Immediately there was a big bang on our door. “But the door was very strong and could not break so they used the machetes to bring it down. We could then see fire coming from the other huts; I realised the day had finally come for the Mau Mau to finish us as they had always bayed for our blood,” said Waruiru. 

She immediately took Mbura’s one-year-old Wairimu on her back and squeezed though the door.  The Mau Mau fighters who were standing next to the door slashed her hand and she suffered a deep cut. She tried to run but due to pain, she could not carry the little girl anymore; she slipped off.  

Waruhiu says she managed to escape the wrath of the freedom fighters and hid at a neighbouring tree. The poor girl was cut into pieces. Waruhiu  added that she watched as Gacheri struggled to escape with three-year-old Wanjiku. 

With tears welling in her eyes, she explained, “But she could not make it; the house was already on fire, her hand was chopped off and she fell down. The angry attackers thought she had died but they sliced Wanjiku into pieces.” “While I watched from a distance, I saw Nduta and the others struggling to come out of their huts which were on fire; they managed to escape the wrath of the Mau Mau fighters. But all of us bore deep cuts and blood oozed profusely. We ran to Bathi River where we sat down and nursed our cuts until dawn,” says the widow.  “Deep within our hearts, we knew our husband did not escape death and we kept quiet; no-one wanted to ask about his whereabouts. Our fears were confirmed in the morning when we went back to our homestead.  “We saw his body was cut into pieces; his head was chopped off. All the animals had been slain and burnt. Out food stores were no more, the guards who arrived that morning took us to the hospital,” she said.

Philomena Nduta who is now 102 years old says, “That night, 13 people from our household were killed. We just escaped death by God’s grace. I stayed in the hospital for one week. We were hosted by the government for one month before we returned to our shamba.” 

She says that for the three hours the orgy lasted, and by the time help arrived in the morning, more than 100 were dead. Mothers were forced to watch as their children were decapitated by repeated blows of axes and machetes.  Nduta adds that they have never sat down with the “Mau Mau people” for any reconciliation but they have forgiven them.

She added, “After Luka’s death that night, we did not get his body; so we did not bury him but we have built a memorial grave for his remembrance. We hold no grudge for anyone and I remember even after the 25 days of curfew, people started streaming into our home for food because we had plenty of it in our shamba.