Susan's Story, Chapter 3: Field Marshal Muthoni Wa Kirima

Of late, my elder sister Muthoni has been bragging how she shares a name with a superstar, a Mau Mau warrior. She jokes that not “everybody” gets to be published on Wikipedia. I agree with her, I mean I searched my name and nothing popped up.

After learning that Field Marshal Muthoni is related to my Mau Mau guka, I contacted my Aunty Jerioth from Nanyuki for contacts or assistance on how I could reach her. Aunty Jerioth is the wife to my dad’s brother, Uncle Stephen. She promised to contact her and book an appointment for us. This means we will go live and get real information from the horse’s mouth.. (ok, I’m not calling my new found heroine grandmother a horse ✌☺). But before I meet my grandmother, I decided to search more information about her from the internet. I came across two great articles published by both Standard Media and Daily Nation. I’ll try to simplify because there is a lot written about this great heroine.

Her early days

It is sad to comprehend that when we speak of the Mau Mau freedom fighters who shed blood and lost their lives for this country, we only speak mostly of Mzee Kenyatta and Dedan Kimathi.  We fail to recognize other fighters like Muthoni wa Kirima who laid everything down for this country. Muthoni wa Kirima was born in Central Province in 1931. Being born in the colonial era meant Muthoni, as a young girl, saw the injustices committed against native Africans by the colonialists.  Having never had a formal education, to date Muthoni speaks neither English nor good Kiswahili because when others were in school, she was in the forest fighting.  At the age of about 20 years, she became a spy for the Mau Mau fighters who had camped in the forest in 1952.  She had barely stayed with her husband, General Mutungi, for a year when they joined the Mau Mau freedom struggle in the early 1960s and went their different ways into the forests of Mt Kenya.  Gen Mutungi died in 1965 — two years after the end of the freedom struggle — taking with him to the grave the only hope of Muthoni settling down again to start a family. She never had children of her own, she says Kirinyaga (Kenya) is her only child.

Joining the Mau Mau

For Muthoni, spying and bringing food was not enough, she wanted to fight. She wanted to be right where the action was. Muthoni convinced Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi to allow her into the forest as a fighter and proved a gallant soldier. Fighting next to Dedan Kimathi and proving she was a valuable soldier, Muthoni was promoted to Field Marshal and became the only woman to have ever reached that status. She became the most senior woman within the Mau Mau ranks. The liberation movement had only four Field Marshals - Dedan Kimathi, Baimungi Marete, Muthoni Wa Kirima and Musa Mwariama.  Rising to such a position was not a joke. an iron lady. This brings a revelation that her sister Mukami was not a Field Marshal rather than a Mau Mau fighter, which is still cool. Muthoni is an “iron lady”! I guess Jeff Koinange, a Kenyan journalist and talk show host of Jeff Koinange Live would say “Smooooking” We need her on The Bench! Can you imagine Muthoni wa Kirima killed a rhinoceros to save her father’s goats?

Ivory trade

In the forest, Muthoni led the hunt for elephants, walked hundreds of kilometres to pick up weapons from Ethiopia without being caught and only came out of the forest after independence. Field Marshal Muthoni was trapping wildlife to cook. Coming out of the forest after a decade of rebellion, she was poorer than when she joined the rebellion. She was in despair and after trying her hand in business she approached Mzee Kenyatta and convinced him to grant her a licence to trade in ivory, saying she used to kill elephants for food and hide the ivory, and knew where they had buried tusks. But unlike the Arabs, she was unable to export the trophies. She sold them to the Museums of Kenya for about Sh.22 per kilogramme. Her permission to collect and sell  “wild” ivory ended in 1976 when trade in ivory was banned. What a great mind.

Today

Field Marshal Muthoni has kept her dreadlocks to remind her that she is still fighting for a better life for herself and the children of fellow fallen freedom heroes who knew no home except the brutal, dense forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. Muthoni still has a bullet lodged in her hand, after independence, had to go for a medical operation to save her right eye from the effects of another one that had glazed the protective bone around it during the war. There is a demand for a statue to be erected in the honour of the only female Field Marshal when she is alive. I totally agree with that.

To be continued...