• The elderly recount heroic and tragic anecdotes of the anti-colonial war in 1953
Where my maternals dwell, the old war is still fresh on their minds. You meet in at least each homestead a living member who was affected by it. Those who are in their seventies were kids during the war. Those above them saw it with their eyes. The ones who are dying away in their nineties participated in it actively or inactively.
It was not business as usual. In Nyeri, they coined an adage 70 years ago, when the white slaughter intensified: War is not porridge. Vita sio uji. In most Kenyan traditional societies, porridge is considered soft fodder for the belly and meant for the weak, including the sick, children and the elderly.
War is a heavy meal. It needs intestines of iron to digest it. When we were kids, the bull's eye in a school fight was the belly. A good blow to it sent the opponent vomiting, and capitulation was inevitable. Those harder of fight took such belly blows without vomiting. They had hard bellies made of stone or iron.
They remind you of those who saw the war in 1953. It was the climax because the slaughter of whites was ratified deep inside the forest. The generals and war leaders consulted their shamans and came out of the depths of the forest, which is itself a spirit, euphoric in pursuit of pure sacrifices.
Last week, we saw how Gray and Mary Leakey of Kiganjo in Nyeri were caught in the line of fire. Their grave reminds Kenyans and people of the world that they loved this land and her people. Locals still alive in Nyeri, who knew them, confirm this as accurate information.
In the 1950s, especially after 1953, it was not business as usual around the Central mountain. It was brutal. Last week, I heard from a man who had buried his nonagenarian uncle in a village between Nyeri and Othaya. He deposited oral instalments of his memory with the man in my ears.
It was the first time I saw this tall, dark giant, who is a relative of my mother, cry. He did without oral sounds. Streams of water left his eyes and he left them there. His old uncle had survived the war that left many dead or bereaved. Some went up the forests of the mountain voluntarily and involuntarily, never to be seen ever again.
The recently buried old uncle had shielded his now old also nephews and nieces at a time of great turmoil in that part of Kenya. Some of the people he shielded in that season of acrimony and agony are related to me directly. Some whom he took in, he did so because their fathers had been locked up in detention camps in faraway Hola on the banks of Tana River, and others were surrounded by acres of barbed wires under the skies of Taita Taveta, where baboons from the rolling rocky hills around mocked them with their behinds.
The headless bomas of his relatives became his own, the dead aged uncle. I heard of how one night, the men of war came with locks from the enormous forest, as they did the night they took Gray Leakey, a human sacrifice. It is recorded that Gray, also called Arundell, was buried alive up side down by the Mau Mau, led by a general code-named Tanganyika.
The same method was used by the British to bury earlier the belligerent Waiyaki wa Hinga, son of Kumale ole Lemotaka. Waiyaki is one of the anti-colonial chiefs of the Agikuyu. His father’s family fled Maasailand in the 19th Century and became Gikuyunised near where Muranga Town is today.
The men of war who came that drizzly night had not come for food, as they always did occasionally. Augusts are very cold in Nyeri; July even colder. They had come for sex companions. Women.
To cook and do more for them, they needed them. The thick, ancient and mighty forest of that massive mountain is not a three-star hotel, I tell you. It is a rainy, moist, chilly, mythical, unfathomable dark ecology.
And a man of war is a man first before anything else! The dead man had boldly told them they could take the maidens of his populous homestead teeming with womenfolk, including his nieces. But, artfully, he asked the permission of the warriors to consult their mothers/aunts first because they had just been FGMed. FGM saved lives!
The band of dreadlocked, red-eyed, battle-hardened braves waited. Some smoked Cannabis sativa, some sniffed mbake and all spat saliva, peering into the moonless night hither and thither. Waiting.
Suddenly, their leader followed the man of the Boma. “Leave the women alone. If the maidens have been cut, let them heal first.” Taboo. They left. The spiritualism of the Mau Mau is well known.
That night, the dead uncle and his living relatives, including the one who last week moaned him with a tearful silent cry of men, heard screams of girls, from the next ridge. Screams that made the word sorrow spell itself out very clearly to any listening ears that heard them. That livid and long night. They died, in the forest, as echoes.
Yes. War is not porridge. Many survived to tell the tales. Many more went into the forests of this war of life and death. Never to be heard of or about again.
People who enter the forest to fetch wood or hunt, I hear often fear three things more than the beasts that inhabit it or even the government forces that protect them.
First, they are those who talk of the bodiless voices that cajole you to delve deeper into the forest until you lose your way or mind. Secondly, there are ethereal beings without voices that stalk you and stop when you stop or walk behind you eternally in there. Lastly are the unmarked graves. Your feet can feel them.