Why Mau Mau cut ears, lips of traitors

Freedom fighters say cruel measure was necessary to protect movement from equally cruel colonialists

In Summary

• It was a way to punish ears that do not listen and mouths that do not keep secrets 

The Dedan Kimathi statue erected at the site where he was captured near the Aberdare Forest in Nyeri
The Dedan Kimathi statue erected at the site where he was captured near the Aberdare Forest in Nyeri

Writing legend Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o, in the novel 'The river between', stated, "The oilskin of the house is not for rubbing into the skin of strangers." This captures why the Mau Mau never tolerated traitors.

Nkirang’a Mutiria, 74, from Kithiori, Tharaka Nithi county, shared his experience with the Star on how so many men and women were wounded, some tortured, others castrated and others shot dead after some Kenyans gave information on the whereabouts of freedom fighters and their supporters to the colonialists.

Mutiria said while he ran for safety from the colonialists' sympathisers hunting to kill him, he became a permanently disabled person after a thorn injury, which led to the cutting of his leg.

Mutiria, who mentioned some of the traitors, wished such betrayal could never happen again in any country. He said it was a must for every Mau Mau person to take an oath that was administered by revered men. The oath meant you would never betray your country’s loyalty or share any secrets of the elders with a third party.

Mutiria said once one was discovered to have revealed any information, they were presented in a secret place, where their ears and lips were slashed. Some traitors were also killed.

"I joined Mau Mau in 1956. I took the oath at Ciothirai in North Imenti. As I was escaping [from colonialists' sympathisers], I jumped over and stepped on a thorn that destroyed my life," he said.

"We were dedicated to fight for Independence but today, it is no longer the freedom we fought for. I now live a very vulnerable life as a disabled person from the time my leg became a limp."

Mutiria pleaded with leaders to be mindful of the elderly and youths who are languishing in poverty. He said he was among the people who were registered to benefit from the British compensation to Mau Mau fighters, but no coin has ever reached him.

Agnes Karuki said they used to share the little available on the table. “You could not eat alone. We had to share the little we had, including one bean, because the oath worked wonders,” she said.

Mau Mau veteran Joseph Mwenda, who was Musa Mwariama’s brigadier, said they had trusted elders in every district to monitor and help them recruit able young men, and those who refused were killed.

“In any war, killing is not a sin because we killed the enemy. We could also cut off one’s lips and ears when we got information you shared Mau Mau secrets.”

Mwenda said the whites feared Kikuyus, Merus and Embus because they were relentless in the war. He said chopping off ears was a sign their ears do not listen to what should be adhered to and their mouths are a betrayal to what should not be known to strangers.

“Some communities assimilated them (colonialists) and others betrayed us in the war. We had a long journey of eight years in the forest, shifting from Nyambene, Nyaga, Nyandarua and Mt Kenya,” he said.

“The whites killed many of us thinking it was Mwariama. Only one soldier, a traitor, could vividly identify Mwariama because they were circumcised the same day.”

Mwenda recalled how they drank the brains of the white settlers (colonialists) to mark an oath of loyalty and determination for Independence.

Edited by T Jalio

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