Module Twenty Eight, Activity Two

Pre-historic Period: Kenya as a Cradle of Humankind

Kenya has a rich pre-historic heritage that tells the story of humankind’s origin and evolution. The country contains fossils finds that are significant to the study of evolution, early development, and human history. It is one of the countries in Africa which are considered as cradles of mankind, others being South Africa, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. Several thousand fossils and artifacts spanning over 27 million years have been discovered in Kenya. Over the decades the National Museums of Kenya has collected, preserved, studied, and documented Kenya’s past and present heritage; and the Museum houses distinct fossils and artifacts in one of the world’s largest collections.

It is believed that human life began along the shores of Lake Turkana as most of the human fossils discovered in Kenya were found there. In 1968, research work began on the Eastern shores of Lake Turkana (Koobi Fora) led by Dr. Richard Leakey, a world renown paleontologist. By 1994, over 200 hominid and animal fossils were found here, more than any collection the world has produced in past 60 years.

The study of evolution continues to date and the fossil evidence for our ancestors over the last seven million years advances as palaeoanthropologists (people who study human fossils) make new discoveries. Amongst the most famous discoveries in Kenya is the ‘Turkana Boy’ a specimen of Homo erectus discovered in 1984 by a Kenyan- Mr. Kamoya Kimeu, dating back to 1.6 million years ago. This young boy of about 9 – 12 years old and 1.6 meters tall (5ft 1inch) is the only almost complete skeleton of a human related fossil ever found in the world.

Turkana Boy

Turkana Boy

Student activity

For a long time, fossil hunters in Kenya have discovered several hominid fossils, some of which are not found anywhere else. Using this link on the top seven human discoveries in Kenya to fill the table below. Specifically state 5 fossils discovered in Kenya, their features, age of the fossil, the year and place discovered, and the lead researcher (s) or person who discovered it. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-top-seven-human-evolution-discoveries-in-kenya-69297642/?no-ist

Table -blank fossils

Other key fossils from the human family tree discovered in Kenya not found in the above link include:

ProConsul Heselohi

Proconsul heseloni: This skull dating back 18 million years ago was found on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, kenya by Mary Leakey in 1948. It was in many fragments that had to be carefully pieced together. It is believed to be an early ape- a possible shared ancestor of modern apes and man.

Orrorin Tugenensis

Orrorin tugenensis (‘Millenium Man’): Fragments of limb bones, jaws and teething dating 6-7 million years ago. Kiptam Cheboi discovered it in 2000 at Tugen hills, Baringo in the Kenyan Rift Valley.

Paranthropus boisei: A complete skull discovered by Richard Leakey in 1969 at Koobi Fora on the Eastern side of Lake Turkana. It dates 1.7 million years old.

Paranthropus Boisei Skull

Paranthropus boisei: A complete skull discovered by Richard Leakey in 1969 at Koobi Fora on the Eastern side of Lake Turkana. It dates 1.7 million years old.

Homo Helmei

Homo helmei: Almost complete skull discovered by Danhofer family in 1980 at Eliye Springs, west of Lake Turkana and dates 200,000 years old.

Homo Habilis and Homo erectus

In summary, according to the National Museums of Kenya, some of the reasons why Kenya is considered a cradle of humankind include but not limited to:

  • It has the largest number of fossil human remains, approximately 1000 individuals, than any other country in Africa.
  • It has the oldest human remains going back to 7 million year old from Turgen Hills, Baringo along the Kenyan Rift Valley (oldest in Ethiopia is 4.5 million years; in South Africa is 3 million years, and in Tanzania is 2 million years.
  • Kenya has some of the most complete skeletons e.g. Turkana Boy (1.6 Million years), which provided a great wealth of information regarding early human physiology..
  • It has many earliest ape sites, particularly in western Kenya. These apes are ancestors for earliest humans. Ethiopia has just a handful of these earliest sites thus making Kenya the probable place where transition from ape-like to human-like beings occurred.
  • Kenya has the longest and most complete record of human evolution (and possibly the link between humans and apes).
  • Not only are all species of hominids represented but also some other faunal and plant species that relate to the evolutionary theory (e.g. elephants, giraffes, crocodiles and even the dinosaurs).
  • In addition to the fossil record, there is a long record of technological evolution with tools as old as 2.3 million years.
  • There is evidence of other factors that relate to the evolution of humans (e.g. humanity made fire as far back as 1.8 million years, and footprints dating back at 1.55 million years).

The great migration in Kenya

The first people to settle in Kenya were indigenous African communities who migrated from various parts of the continent. Other visitors included traders, explorers, invaders, missionaries, and tourists who came in from various parts of the world such as Portugal, Arabia, Roman empire, India and Greece. They visited mainly the East African Coast from as early as the first century C.E. While the majority of the visitors went back to their countries, some settled, and intermarried with the local populations giving rise to a new Swahili culture along the Kenyan Coast.

Kenyan communities moved into the country between 2000BCE and 1500BCE. They were attracted to Kenya from different regions by good climatic conditions. The country has three main ethno-linguistic groups, namely Cushitic, Nilotic and Bantu speakers. Over the years, however, this linguistic grouping has changed as a result of intermarriage and other groups of people having migrated into Kenya from other regions of the world.Fco

Cushites in Kenya

The Cushitic speakers were the first outside people to move to Kenya in the modern era (between 3000-5000) years ago into the area around Lakes Turkana. Social scientists believe that the Cushites found other people whose language is not known, although it is believed to have similarities with the dental click languages of the Khoi-San of South Africa. Khoi-San hunters and gatherers once lived in the Rift-Valley, southwest of Nairobi, but it is unclear whether they remained there. These original inhabitants are also believed to have been rock artists and practiced hunting and gathering for subsistence. The Southern Cushitic speakers moved from southwestern Ethiopia to Kenya and Tanzania. To supplement the linguists’ evidence, archaeologists have found pottery with the same forms of decoration and of similar age in the areas that are assumed to have been occupied by the Cushitic speakers. Today Cushitic people live in arid and semi-arid eastern and northeastern parts of Kenya. They include Somali, Rendille, Galla, Borana, and Oromo ethnic groups. Due to dryness of their habitat, Cushites are mainly nomadic pastoralists who keep large herds of cattle, camels, goats, and sheep.

Migration of Cushites

Migration of Cushites

Nilotes in Kenya

After the arrival and several years of settlement by the Cushitic speakers, the southern Nilotic speakers, probably in search of pastures, arrived through the Uganda-Sudan-Ethiopian border region around 2000 years ago. In some of the localities believed to have been occupied by the Nilotes there is evidence of archaeological materials, similar to those found within localities occupied by the Cushites, indicating some form of interactions between the two groups. The Kenyan Nilotes live in the Rift-Valley region and around Lake Victoria. They are comprised of three distinct groups: River-Lake, Plain, and Highland Nilotes. The River-Lake Nilotes, who include the Luo who live around Lake Victoria and mainly practice fishing; the Plain Nilotes include the Maasai, Samburu, and Trukana and are mainly pastoralists, while the Highland Nilotes who include the Kalenjin practice both pastoralism and farming.

Migration of Nilotes

Migration of Nilotes

Bantus in Kenya

The Bantu speakers occupy more than half of Africa south of the Sahara. Just like the other groups, it is not possible to give complete undisputable evidence about their origins and spread. However, it is generally agreed that the Bantu speakers originated from a West African homeland in the northern region of what is now the Cameroon. From the archaeological records, Bantu speakers are believed to have brought with them the knowledge of root crop farming, settled lifestyles and iron working which enabled them to cultivate and occupy vast areas of land. Their expansion into Kenya may have taken place more than 2000 years ago and in other areas like the Mt Kenya region less than 1000 years ago. Bantu ethnic groups make about 70% of the Kenya’s population but they occupy less than 30% of the Kenyan land base. Bantu people mainly live in the coastal, central, western, western and eastern regions of the country. They include the Kikuyu, Meru, Embu in central Kenya, Kamba in Eastern, Luhya and Kisii in western, and Mijikenda, Swahili and Taita in coastal Kenya.

Migration of Bantu

Migration of Bantu

Culture of specific ethnic groups in Kenya

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Kenya communities had rich culture most of which has been abandoned as communities embraced ‘modernity’. Here we look at traditional culture of three inland ethnic groups (Kikuyu, Luo, and Maasai), and Swahili city states along the Kenyan coast.

Maasai

The Maasai people reside in both Kenya and Tanzania, living along the border of the two countries. They are a smaller ethnic group, accounting for only about 0.7 percent of Kenya’s population. They speak Maa, a Nilotic ethnic language from their origin in the Nile region of North Africa. The Maasai ethnic group (or Masai) is a unique and popular culture among tourists and outside television producers due to their long preserved culture, their distinctive dress and body ornamentations, and way of life. . Despite education, and western cultural influences, many of the Maasai people have clung to their traditional way of life, making them a symbol of Kenyan culture. Maasai’s distinctive culture, dress style and strategic territory along the game parks of Kenya and Tanzania have made them one of East Africa’s most internationally famous tourist attractions.

Maasai men are first and foremost warriors. They protect their communities, their cattle and their grazing lands. Maasai boys go through a circumcision ceremony around the age of 15 before they are accepted as warriors or allowed to marry. In the past warriors were also required to hunt lion, an experience seen as a sign of bravery and personal achievement.

Student activity

Use this link http://www.maasai-association.org/lion.html on ‘Facing the Lion: by Maasai warriors’ to answer the following questions

  1. Is the practice of hunting the lion the same as trophy hunting? What is the reason for you answer?
  2. Why has the practice changed from solo hunting to group hunting?
  3. Describe the lion-hunting journey
  4. Where do the Maasai find the lions?
  5. What do they do with the dead lion?
  6. Which tools do they use?

The Maasai live in Kraals arranged in a circular fashion. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. It is a man’s responsibility to fence the kraal, while women construct the houses. Traditionally, kraals are shared by an extended family. However, due to the new land management system in the Maasai region, it is not uncommon to see a kraal occupied by a single family.  Maasai houses are loaf-shaped and made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow’s urine. Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who lived under a communal land management system in which the movement of livestock is based on seasonal rotation. Cattle play a central role in the life of the Maasai. They represent food and power; the more cattle a Maasai has, the richer he is and therefore the more power and influence he will have the community. Most Masaai practice nomadic pastoralism, while others have been absorbed into modern day jobs working in tourism where they showcase their culture to visiting tourists.

Traditionally, the Maasai relied on meat, milk and blood from cattle for food. These days, however, they have a more mixed diet and have adopted a more sedentary lifestyle, which in some cases includes growing or buying cultivated food.

A famous aspect of Maasai culture is the jumping dance

A famous aspect of Maasai culture is the jumping dance

Kikuyu

Kikuyus are believed to have come from West Africa along with other Bantu groups who finally settled in the area around Mount Kenya. They are the largest ethnic group in Kenya, making up to 22 percent of the country’s population. Economically, Kikuyus were hunters and gatherers but gradually adopted horticultural practices. They continue to be great farmers and businesspeople. Majority of Kikuyu are found in central Kenya, and speak the kikuyu language.

According to Kikuyu mythology, all of creation began at the peak of Mount Kenya. The icy peak was the realm of Ngai, the Supreme Creator, who descended from the heavens to his mountainous throne to survey his newly created lands. The mountain became Kirinyaga, his resting place, and it was from here that he called forth Gikuyu, the father of the Kikuyu people.  Ngai told him that all of the lands around Kirinyaga would be the home of Gikuyu and his children forever. He sent Gikuyu to grove of Fig trees, where he found a woman called Mumbi. This grove would become known as Mukuru wa Nyagathanga, the birthplace of all Kikuyu, still revered as a sacred place. Among the fig trees, Gikuyu and Mumbi produced nine daughters- Wanjiku, Wanjiru, Wanjeri, Wambui, Wangari, Wacera, Waithera, Wairimu, and Nyambura. (Traditionally all Kikuyu girls should be given one of these names). Each of the daughters made her own homestead, and nine separate clans of the Kikuyu were born. The unity of these clans was known as the Nyumba ya Mumbi i.e. house of Mumbi, in honor of their Mother.

The first president of Kenya Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, third president Mwai Kibaki, and fourth and the current president Uhuru Kenyatta (son of the first president) are Kikuyu.

Kikiyu dancers wearing traditional costumes

Kikiyu dancers wearing traditional costumes

Luo

The Luo, a Niloti group, is the third largest ethnic group in Kenya who comprise close to 13% of the entire population.  Luos also live also live in smaller numbers in Uganda and Tanzania. In Kenya, they reside in the regions around Lake Victoria and speak Dholuo language. Luo people are among the few Kenyan ethnic groups who do not traditionally circumcise their males as an initiation to manhood. Instead, in Luo traditions, initiation involved the removal of six teeth from the lower jaw. Other than being a rite of passage, it is claimed that there was an outbreak of ‘lockjaw’ disease, and with limited medical services, removal of teeth was to enable the sick to be fed through the gap. Another unique Luo custom is wife inheritance whereby, if a man dies, one of his brothers or close relatives inherits his widow and must meet all of her marital requirements. However, with most Luos now being Christians, wife inheritance has been regarded as retrogressive and is rarely practiced. There have also been efforts to promote male circumcision to help crub the spread of HIV and AIDS. The removal of teeth is also rarely practiced.

Luos named their children (and still do) at the time of day that they are born. For example: Atieno is a girl born at night, Akinyi is morning, Achieng’ when the sun is high. Akeyo is the name given during harvesting, and Apiyo and Adongo are twins, with Apiyo as the name of the first to be born. The first letter of a name also indicates gender: “A” signifies a woman, and “O” for a boy. For example, Otieno would be the name of a boy and Atieno for a girl both of the same name.

Traditionally, Luo people lived in homestead compounds in large, extended families. However, this tradition has been disappearing since the 1950’s, and is only rarely seen in communities. Traditional Luo culture, like in most Kenyan communities, allowed for polygamous marriages and the size of a compound was generally relative to the number of wives a man could afford. It was easy to determine how many wives and children a man had by counting the number of huts in his homestead. Traditional homestead compounds were circular and a natural vegetative fence of Euphorbia trees bound the homestead, with a formal gate facing west, or toward the nearest body of water.

The husband built a home for his first wife directly opposite the main gate. The home of the second wife was located to her left, the home of the third to her right, and so on. The firstborn son of each wife built a home in the northwest corner of the homestead. The location of these homes was intended to provide security from intruders or marauding animals. The second-born sons built in the southwest corner, and aided in the defense of the compound. All of the female children were married out of the homestead by dowry. The youngest son inherited his father’s homestead and his brothers eventually moved out and established their own. This homestead design embodied a social pattern devised to eliminate friction, to assign every member of the family his or her rightful place, and to ensure an orderly inheritance when the patriarch died. The system of the Luo homestead was formed in recognition of elemental conflicts between wives, their ambitions for their sons, and potential jealousies within polygamous households.

Luo Traditional Homestead

Luo Traditional Homestead

Luo Traditional Dancers

Luo Traditional Dancers

Swahili city-states along the Kenyan Coast

Swahili states were trading states along the east coast of Africa from Kenya to Mozambique. They provided and connected African raw materials to the rest of Indian Ocean World- Arabia, India, Persia (now Iran), China. The earliest Swahili towns emerged in the 8th century CE, and with increasing trade and wealth they developed into prosperous and complex city-states in the 15th century before the Portuguese displaced them in the 16th and 17th centuries, Omani in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Europeans in the 20th century. In spite of these changes in political control, Swahili towns have endured throughout as bearers of a distinctive coastal culture. There were about forty Swahili towns. Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu were the main Swahili cities in Kenya. Each of these cities had a mosque, very few stone structures, and Muslims were (and still are) the dominant population. Most structures were made from coral, which was preferred as it is a few degrees cooler than cement making it an ideal building resource given the hot temperatures along the coast.

The people speak Swahili language. The word Swahili comes from an Arabic word sawahil, which means “coast” and is primarily a Bantu language with some Arabic elements.  Arabic culture and Islam have had a great influence in shaping the Swahili traditions. For instance, Swahili children must attend Madrassa – religious classes in which they study the Koran and learn the Arabic language – from an early age.  Unlike other Kenyan ethnic groups, there are no specific rites of passage for young Swahili men and women.

In terms of trade, the Swahili used the dhow to travel to distant lands. The Swahili mainly provided the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean worlds with gold, ivory, furs, mangrove boats, tortoise shell, and rhinoceros horns and other luxurious items. They also manufactured cotton cloth, glass, and shell beads, for trade with the east African interior. Some of the imports received from Asia and Europe include iron and brass fittings, jewelry, cosmetics, ammunition, books, among others.  The Swahili use arts and crafts to express their culture. When creating art, they express themselves through creativity as well as through shape and function. Some multicultural influences can be seen in Swahili art, furniture, and architecture. They do not often use designs with images of living beings due to their Muslim heritage. Instead, Swahili designs are primarily geometric.

Dhow sailing in Kenyan Coast

Dhow sailing in Kenyan Coast


CNN has documented the rich Swahili culture and architecture along the Kenyan coast through Inside Africa documentary. Follow these two links to learn more: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/17/travel/lamu-island-no-cars/index.html and http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/12/travel/six-reasons-to-visit-kenya-swahili-coast/.


Dilapidated Ancient Swahili building

Dilapidated Ancient Swahili building

Arabic Script on a carved wooden door at Lamu, Kenya

Arabic Script on a carved wooden door at Lamu, Kenya

Pre-colonial and colonial period

In Module Seven Activity One we learned about Europe’s (particularly Spain and Protugal) growing interest in the 15th century in finding a sea root to Asia in order to gain access to the profitable spice trade.  This led to Christopher Columbus’s voyage westward in 1492 in which he hoped to reach Asia.  At the same time, Prince Henry of Portugal sponsored voyage southward in the aim of sailing around Africa to get to Asia.   In 1488 Portuguese sea captain Bartholomew Dias sailed as far South as the tip of South Africa.  Ten years later Vasco da Gama sailed around South Africa and up the east coast of Africa on his way to Asia.  Throughout the 16th century, following Vasco da Gama’s landing at Malindi in 1498, the Indian Ocean coastal cities struggled to remain independent of the external threats posed first by the Portuguese and then by the Omani Arabs. Although the Portuguese established posts and gained a monopoly of the trade along the Kenya coast, the Arabs drove them out and reestablished the Arab authority in 1740. Independent Arab settlements persisted for a century until 1840.

The roots of the colonial history of Kenya go back to the Berlin Conference in 1885, when East Africa was first divided into territories of influence by the European powers. The British emerged with a concern for the Kenya coast in 1887. However, European penetration of the interior had begun decades earlier with the explorations of two German missionaries, Johannes Rebmann and Johann Ludwig Krapf, in 1847- 49 on behalf of the British Church Missionary Society (CMS). In their colonial conquest, the British followed a policy of divide and conquer, (which after conquest became divide and rule) allying with some African groups against others. The Masaai ethnic group, who had suffered a series of 19th-century civil wars over water and grazing rights and had lost much of their livestock to disease and drought, were one group with whom the British allied in order to impose their rule. To aid colonial administration, the British divided Kenya’s Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushitic-speaking peoples into ethnic classifications based on linguistic variations and locality. The ethnic groups were assigned to live in separate areas of the colony and within each subgroup, colonial administrators designated one “chief,” who became responsible for collecting taxes levied by the colonial state.

Before the British came to Kenya, they sent Harry Johnson in 1884 under the pretext of wanting to study flora and fauna in the region. He was able to stay due to the friendly nature of residents who welcomed strangers and gave them a place to stay.  Johnson however sought a charter with help of William Mackinnon (a Scottish businessman who had commercial interests in India and East Africa). They formed the British East Africa Company (BEAC) to colonize Kenyans and take away their precious land, which sustained the indigenous people.  The BEAC played a similar role to that played by the British South African Company in the colonization of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The BEAC claimed that they signed treaties with the local people, which gave them access to land. However, most treaties cannot be validated as the indigenous people neither spoke nor read English so it is questionable how they were able to ratify the treaties. In addition, all the signatures were said to have been represented by an ‘X’ and could have been forgeries by the agents of the British East Africa Company to justify their illegal land seizure. The Company’s charter was revoked in 1895 and the British Government founded the East African Protectorate the same year that continued to open the fertile highlands to white settlers.

The British colonial regime made laws that forbid Kenyan ownership of land in certain parts of the country. These included the Land Acquisition Act (1894), Crown Lands Ordinance (1902), Crown Lands Ordinance (1915) and the Kenya Native Areas Ordinance (1926). Most of these laws and ordinances oppressed the indigenous people, and saw the leasing of the 20 per cent medium to high potential land to European settlers and multinational corporations for 99 years (the infamous ‘white’ highlands). This alienation of the land was facilitated the declaration of Kenya as being ‘Crown’ land owned by the Queen of England to be disposed at her discretion. The British also forcefully evicted entire communities, especially those that resisted their encroachments. With the fertile land in Kenya reserved for recently arrived European settlers, numerous Africans communities were forced off of their ancestral homelands and were moved t mostly on infertile areas that were not desirable for European settler-farmers.  As a consequence many African communities experienced a much more precarious life than prior to the arrival of the British, while, the White settlers became increasingly wealthy. Kenyans were not compensated for the land taken from them.

European settlers, desiring inexpensive farm labor, convinced the colonial government to adopt measures that essentially forced Africans to work the farms. The measures included higher hut taxes on Africans, who, lacking money were obliged to work the settlers’ farms in order to pay them. The hut tax was introduced in 1902 and was charged for each hut a family owned or at household basis. The punishment for not paying hut tax was a fine and when not paid led to forced labor thereby providing the British settlers with the cheap labor they were searching for. Other than taxes other measures used by the British to secure and control African labor included first, forbidding Kenyans to grow some cash crops such as coffee and tea. For instance coffee growers needed a license and it was very difficult for Kenyans to secure a license. Second, the colonial government introduced a pass or kipande system to control the movement of Kenyan workers and to keep track of their employment histories. The kipande system was passed into law in 1915, implemented in 1919 and abolished in 1947. During this period the law required all men to carry a pass, or kipande that recorded a person’s name, fingerprint, ethnic group, past employment history, and current employer’s signature. A third measure was use of forced labor. By this time, the European settlers had achieved considerable political influence in the territory, which was changed to a colony and renamed Kenya in 1920. A British governor administered the colony of Kenya. Africans and Asians were not allowed to vote and were denied representation in the council until 1944.

It is important to briefly point out the similarities between the British policies and practices in Kenya and those imposed by the settler regimes in South Africa and the Rhodesias (Southern and Northern: now Zimbabwe and Zambia).   As detailed in Modules 20, 29 and 30, land, labor and tax policies very similar to those imposed in Kenya were enacted in South Africa and Zimbabwe—and to a lesser extent in Zambia.  These exploitative and undemocratic policies and practices were essential to the creation and maintenance of political and economic hegemony by a small minority European settler population to the extreme detriment of the indigenous population who vastly outnumbered the settler population.

By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in the fertile highlands and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy. The area was already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu people, most of who had no “legitimate” claim to the land according to colonial degree and who were forced to live as itinerant farmers.

The Kenyan people resisted the Britons fiercely over years yet they lost their best land to white settlers who immigrated to the country in growing numbers. By the 1950s, the white population numbered 80,000. In addition by Mid-1930s about one-fifth of all usable land in Kenya was under the exclusive control of the settlers.

At beginning of the colonial period (between 1985 and 1901) thousands of Indians were also brought into Kenya to work on building the Kenya-Uganda railway line and subsequently settled there and invited their kin, who were mainly small-scale traders, from India to join them. While building the railroad, a number of the Indian railway workers and local African laborers were attacked by a pair of lions known as the Tsavo man-eaters. These Indians and most of their descendants later remained in Kenya and formed the core of several distinct Indian communities.

 

Colonial rule in Kenya: British troops round up Kenyan locals for interrogation during the Mau Mau uprising

Colonial rule in Kenya: British troops round up Kenyan locals for interrogation during the Mau Mau uprising

Fight for independence

A trade union, the Kenya African Union (KAU) developed into a political movement of African nationalism. In 1947, Jomo Kenyatta became its chairman of the KAU and soon after demanded voting rights for Africans. In 1952, in response to political and economic marginalization, members of the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Kamba ethnic groups took an oath of unity and secrecy to fight for freedom from British rule. The Mau-Mau Movement began with that oath and Kenya embarked on its long hard road to National Sovereignty.  Most Kenyans affirm that the name Mau-Mau came from Swahili “Mzungo Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru”, which means “white people go back to your land, let the African be free”. The movement launched a guerilla style of insurgency against the colonial British government from the forests of Central Kenya.

As the war against colonialism escalated, so did the colonial crackdown on suspected Mau-Mau freedom movement leaders. Mau-Mau was outlawed and branded a terrorist organization by the colonial establishment though it was, in fact, a movement demanding freedom in Kenya and return of the stolen land to its legitimate owners (the Africans). The colonial government’s decision to round up all the leading nationalists was, however, not promoted merely by the desire to eliminate Mau-Mau, but to eliminate the only political organization, the Kenya African Union (KAU) which was fighting constitutionally for the rights of the Africans. Women also played an important role in the Mau-Mau movement. Some played a role in in helping the men hide from the British; some fought alongside the men; while others brought food and weapons to the men.  In addition, some women were also members of the Mau-Mau Councils, which helped to make important decisions about the rebellion.

In 1953, Jomo Kenyatta and five others were charged with directing the Mau-Mau and were sentenced to seven years imprisonment with hard labor. Another freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi was arrested in 1956 for his role in the Mau-Mau uprising as one of the leaders of the struggle for independence and was subsequently hanged by the colonialists. Kenya was put under a state of emergency from October 1952 to December 1959, due to the Mau-Mau rebellion against British colonial rule and thousands of Kenyans were incarcerated in detention camps. During this period, African participation in the political process increased rapidly and in 1954 all three races (European, Asian and African) were admitted into the Kenya Legislative Council on a representative basis.

The Mau-Mau uprising, a revolt against colonial rule in Kenya helped to hasten Kenya’s independence. Only through detention of young men and the resettling people into what was called defensive villages, the colonial administration finally succeeded in overpowering the resistance in 1956.  The official number of Kenyans killed during the fight for independence was estimated at 13,000 by British sources but it was much higher than this. Contrary to the defamatory image spread by the British media about the supposedly bloody Mau-Mau, only 32 white civilians and 63 employees of the security forces died.  However in 2006, about 40,000 Kenyans sued the British government for the atrocities they suffered in the hands of the British during the fight for independence. In 2013, the UK government agreed to pay US$30 million in compensation to Mau-Mau freedom fighters. It also agreed to support the construction of memorial in Nairobi to the victims of torture. The British expressed ‘sincere regret’ for the many abuses committed under their ruthless colonial rule. The compensation was a way of saying ‘sorry’ to one of the most brutal and horrific massacres of the Kenyans.

In 1957, the first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place and those elected increased the people’s agitation for Jomo Kenyatta’s release from detention. In 1962 Kenyatta was released to become Kenya’s first Prime Minister, when Kenya finally gained independence on December 12, 1963. The following year, Kenya became a Republic with Kenyatta as its first President. In the same year Kenya joined the British Commonwealth.  Kenyatta was the president for 14 years and died on 22 August 1978 while still in power. His vice president, Daniel Arap Moi, who was elected president without opposition a month later, was the country’s president for 24 years until December 2002, succeeded him. Moi stepped down following a constitutionally imposed term limit. Mwai Kibaki Mwai Kibaki won the presidential elections in 2002, and led the country for 10 years (two terms). In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of first president Jomo Kenyatta, was elected president.

Mau-Mau fighters: they used homemade rifles

Mau-Mau fighters: they used homemade rifles

Jomo Kenyatta (3rd left) and five others charged of being Mau-Mau leaders

Jomo Kenyatta (3rd left) and five others charged of being Mau-Mau leaders

The four presidents of Kenya. From left to right: President Jomo Kenyatta, President Daniel Moi, President Uhuru Kenyatta (son of the first president).

The four presidents of Kenya. From left to right: President Jomo Kenyatta, President Daniel Moi, President Uhuru Kenyatta (son of the first president).

Continue on to Activity Three, or select from one of the other activities in this module.