Mau Mau Women



Acknowledgements iii

Notes on Contributors iv

Foreword 1

1. Title

Terisa E. Turner, Teena J. Neal and Leigh S. Brownhill 7

2. Unsung Warriors

Muthoni Likimani 8


3. Kikuyu women and the Harry Thuku Disturbances: Some Uniformities of Female Militancy

Audrey Wipper 25


4. The Mau Mau rebellion, Kikuyu women and social change

Cora Ann Presley 78


5. Land, Freedom and Internment: 'Mau Mau' in Mutira Women's Lives

Jean Davison 107


6. Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939-1959 Luise White 137


7. Kikuyu women and the politics of protest: Mau Mau

Tabitha Kanogo 170


8. Nyabingi, Mau Mau and Rastafari: Gender and Internationalism in Twentieth Century Movements for a New Society

Terisa E. Turner 190


9. The fight for fertility: Mau Mau as gendered class struggle

Terisa E. Turner, Teena J. Neal and Leigh S. Brownhill 242


Glossary of Kikuyu and Kiswahili Terms 328


Index 330



Luise White's "Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939-1959," is reprinted with permission from the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Volume 23, Number 1 in 1990. Audrey Wipper's "Kikuyu Women and the Harry Thuku Disturbances: Some uniformities of female militancy," is reprinted from Africa, Volume 59, Number 3, 1989 by permission. Cora Ann Presley's "The Mau Mau Rebellion: Kikuyu Women and Social Change," is reprinted with permission from the Canadian Journal of African Studies, Volume 22, Number 3, 1988. Tabitha Kanogo's "Kikuyu Women and the Politics of Protest: Mau Mau," is reprinted with permission from Macmillan Publishers, Basingstoke, England.


The editors extend a warm thank you to all the individuals who have contributed energies to this work; all of the contributors and especially Muthoni Likimani and Tabitha Kanogo for their warmth and encouragement; Patricia Stamp, Calvin Hernton, Maina wa Kinyatti and Doug Killam for their helpful suggestions and support; our editor at Westview Barbara Ellington for all her work; Teena Jo's mom Lou Neal for being there and helping get things done; Nancy Brownhill, Paulette Dumas and Geoffrey xxx for everything, Lorraine Black, Judy Huston and Carolyn Walker of the University of Guelph for their thoroughness; Greg Searle and John Spafford of Computing and Communication Services at the University of Guelph for sharing their time and computer knowledge; and for their inspiration we thank Adabu Sirya Brownhill, C.L.R. James, Wangari Maathai, Nora Cebotarev, Sheela Samat, Johnny Mutharo, Arnold Baker, Gio Sampogna, Craig Benjamin, Cindy Duffy, Sara Matthews, Michele Doncaster, and David Throup.



Notes on Contributors

Leigh Brownhill is working on an International Development graduate thesis at the University of Guelph. She is a founding member of the International DeskTop Publishing Taskforce. Her work on the social transformation of gender relations has been published in four edited collections. Brownhill has taught in Kenya where she has conducted research on the social history of women. She has published several poems on cultural resistance and creation.


Jean Davison's major research interests are in gender relations of production and land tenure issues as they affect women's food production. She was a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of the M.A. Programme in the Sociology of Women in Development at the University of Malawi from 1989 to 1992. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Stanford University. Davison is the author of two books, Agriculture, Women and Land: the African Experience [Westview Press, 1988] and Voices From Mutira: Lives of Rural Gikuyu Women [Lynne Rienner, 1989]. Currently she is completing the manuscript for a third book, Labours Lost: Gender and Ethnicity in Southern Africa's Clan-based Societies, as well as a chapter for a book on Kenyan Women's Roles in the Mau Mau Liberation Movement. She has published articles on women and girls' educational constraints in Kenya and Malawi, and on gender relations of production in Kenya and Mozambique.


Tabitha Kanogo is a professor in the Department of History at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of the 1987 book Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau [London: James Currey and Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya].


Muthoni Likimani is the Kenyan-born author of several fiction and non-fiction books on the social history of Kenyan women, including Passbook Number F.47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya [Basingstoke, 1987] and What Does a Man Want? [Nairobi, 1981]. Likimani's background is that of an educator, a public broadcaster, a producer in charge of women and children in radio and television and she now runs a public relations business. Likimani is currently working on a new book entitled My Blood Not For Sale.


Teena Jo Neal is pursuing her honours degree at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada in international development and history. She is involved in community radio, computer networking, photography and desktop publishing. Teena Jo Neal has published articles on revolutionary popular culture and popular struggles. She has lived in Ottawa, Montreal, British Columbia, and New York City, and has carried out research in Malawi and Trinidad and Tobago. While in Trinidad she worked on archiving C.L.R. James' documents held by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union.


Cora Ann Presley received a Ph.D in history from Stanford University. She has taught at Humboldt State University, Loyola University in New Orleans and the National University of Lesotho as a Fullbright Lecturer. She is the author of the 1992 book Kikuyu Women, the Mau Mau Rebellion, and Social Change in Kenya, [Boulder: Westview]. She has published articles in the edited collections, Resistance: Studies in Afro-American, Caribbean and African History, edited by Gary Okihiro, and Women, Race and Class in Africa, edited by Claire Robertson and Iris Berger. Her work has also been published in the Canadian Journal of African Studies.


Terisa E. Turner is associate professor, Sociology & Anthropology and Political Studies, University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada. She co-directs the International Oil Working Group, a non-governmental organization with the United Nations in New York. Terisa Turner is engaged in research on gender and development, petroleum politics and international political economy. She has worked with C.L.R. James and is engaged in applying his method of historical analysis to remapping our global understanding of the twentieth century from a woman centered, class conscious standpoint. She is from northern Alberta, Canada and has lived for many years in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. After completing a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in 1977, Terisa Turner co-edited Oil and Class Struggle [London: ZED, 1980] and published several articles on Nigeria, petroleum, social transformation and gender relations. She is editor of Arise ye mighty people: gender, class and race in popular struggles [Trenton N.J.: Africa World Press, 1994].


Luise White received her Ph.D. from Cambridge University. She has taught at Rice University, the University of Minnesota, and Northwestern University. She is currently a research fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. Her book, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi [Chicago, 1990] was co-winner of the Herskovitz Award of the African Studies Association for 1991.


Audrey Wipper is professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. A pioneer in the field of scholarship on African women and development, she edited the 1972 pathbreaking issue of the Canadian Journal of African Studies entitled "The Roles of African Women: Past, Present and Future." She is author of Rural Rebels: A Study of Two Protest Movements in Kenya [Oxford 1977] and editor of The Sociology of Work in Canada [Carleton 1984, 1993].






Mau Mau is more than anybody who was not involved can fully understand. Mau Mau was a top secret movement of people who went to war with nothing - no guns, no spears...nothing but determination to get freedom and their land. What upsets me is that of all the books written about the movement, as much as women were involved, no one has ever written about the extent of their involvement. To me, women were unsung warriors. They were the fighters that no one talks about. They went to the forest with other men. They were seeing that the people in the forest were fed, that the sick were taken care of. Women raised money, stole guns, stole medicine, transported all kinds of goods into the forest, they were even shooting. I know of one of the women, 'Field Marshall' Muthoni, who was trapping wildlife to cook. She went to fight alongside famous warriors of the forest like Dedan Kimaathi Waciuri. In fact, this woman was one of the last to surrender from the forest upon independence, she was not sure to surrender until she saw the African flag.


When mostly all the men and very many women were either in the forest fighting, in detention, or imprisoned, there were some mothers and wives who were left at home alone. The British gave an order to demolish the homes and to build huts in one camp so that they could guard the Kenyans every movement. The women in the camps were being beaten up, raped, harassed, and overworked at the forced communal labour. Yet, they made sure that all the gardens were weeded and growing food. This was done by women alone. Believe me, and I don't say this because I am a Kikuyu woman, Kikuyu women are very tough. Extremely hard working. Even when men came back, women knew that they could survive on their own. The family continued intact through all of the problems. One really remarkable thing that Mau Mau women did was to continue to educate their children. Women would collect money and do all they could to smuggle the brightest children out of Kenya to study overseas. They would smuggle them through Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. The women did so with the hope that their children would come home to be the future leaders of their government. And sure enough, they did.


It was difficult for women to maintain their established trade networks, as their movements were confined. But again, women can always use their heads and they would still sell and barter. They knew how to trick for survival. Kikuyu women were very independent and industrious, they realized that they could survive alone without a man. So the man had a headache? She could do everything - build a house, sell at the butchery - there was no such thing as a man's job any more, women could do everything. In any case, members of Mau Mau were highly disciplined. There was no time for enjoyment of sex. There was no tolerance for rape. Fighting was always first. The oaths which Mau Mau were taking made them highly disciplined.


During the so-called communal labour, which was in fact forced state labour, everyone would go to work. Usually they would work from seven in the morning and finish at five p.m., with only one hour before the curfew time. Understand, there was no tap with running water, no gas to cook with. Someone had to collect water from the river. Someone had to go for firewood. Someone had to gather food from the garden. It was a matter of communal survival. "You go for firewood. I'll go for water." "I didn't have time to get to my garden today." "Here have some beans, have some flour." It was not a time for gossiping and selfishness. It was a time for uniting, for working, for being very close, for caring for each other and surviving.


While many died fighting for independence, it must be acknowledged that one of the first people to be killed by the colonialists in freedom fighting in Kenya was Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru during the Thuku uprising in 1922. When Harry Thuku started to fight the white community he had many strong followers. But when he was arrested and thousands came together to demonstrate outside of his cell, the men remained silent and were easily appeased. The women were infuriated that the men had failed to protect one of their leaders. It was Nyanjiru who stripped naked and admonished the men for being cowards. "You take my dress and give me your trousers. You men are cowards. What are you waiting for? Our leader is in there. Let's get him." The crowd was moved to action and Nyanjiru was killed along with many others. This was 1922 and something was in the air. People were whispering, something was going on. Why is it that there is no street named after Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru today? This is a change we still wait to see.


Women of all ages and all walks of life participated in the Mau Mau war. Grandmothers - old, old women were very involved. No one would suspect a grandmother. Walking sticks in hand, they would take all kinds of things into the forest. These women knew they wanted their land back and their freedom. Many women were involved in finding support for Mau Mau both locally and internationally. One woman who is still alive, Mama Sarah Sarai, was one of the few educated women at the time. She was totally involved in Kenyatta's inner circle. She would go out of the country where she would send letters and cables and get people to write in support of Mau Mau. There was a woman I know of in Nairobi, Mama Josephine Muthoni, who had plenty of cars which were used for Mau Mau activities. She was detained. Another important thing women did was supplying guns, and they would do anything to get them. Sometimes they killed for them, sometimes they didn't. They were first class spies and informers. Very, very well organised. Remember that the Mau Mau warriors started out fighting without a gun.


There was also another lady, Mama Elizabeth Waruiru, she lived in Nairobi and she owned lots of property. She had no children of her own, but she was looking after many nieces and nephews, because you know it is always the woman who takes care of the children. She made her living by letting out rooms in Nairobi. She had such a command of women. On a Sunday afternoon you would find thirty women sitting there. Many leaders of Mau Mau would go to her home to discuss their activities. She would lock the door and put someone outside to make sure there would be no interruptions. If leaders were sitting there and she disapproved of any of their suggestions, Mama Waruiru would tell them off if she thought they needed it. Even after Independence, if this woman says you are not going to be a member of Parliament for her area, Pumwani, then you aren't. Many would seek her approval and backing. Even now it is difficult to win an election unless you are backed by the women leaders of your home area.


In Kenya we were very lucky to have a very, very wise leader - Mzee Jomo Kenyatta - who was very highly respected. Soon after getting independence, he stopped the people from fighting any longer. People were shocked when he said "We now have our independence. We got what we were fighting for. Therefore we must forgive and forget." There were those who wanted to keep fighting but Kenyatta said "No way, forget it. It is time to build the nation." He had such a command that anything he said, people would follow, and therefore the fighting stopped. He turned to the white people and said "Everyone who wants to stay - you are free to, under a black government. If you want to sell your land, there are eager buyers." Many of the whites sold their land, some had over 10,000 acres. In Kenya we don't count how much money a person has, it's how much land you have. Land is so precious. Let me tell you, land is everything. Many Kenyans eager to purchase the land started to collect themselves into land buying groups. Some groups were made up of both men and women, some groups were only women. Though maybe not Mau Mau members, these were women interested in buying land and improving the economies of their families. Some were married, others were single and widowed. The women's solidarity carried through for buying land and sub-dividing land, and farming communally.


The church at this time was helping because people were suffering. If someone was in trouble they could often go to the church for safety. But don't forget that while Kenyans were fighting the settlers, the church would of course side with the British. Some very committed Christians agreed with fighting for land and freedom, but because of their religious belief did not believe in oath-taking and some were made to suffer and were even killed. Let me say that they did not openly fight on the side of Mau Mau, but they were encouraging people to negotiate and not to kill. They were trying to be peace makers, like Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa is doing at present.


The Maendeleo ya Wanawake organization started in the early 1950s under what was known as the Community Development and Rehabilitation Department. When it was started, it was meant for the uplifting of women's lives. They were teaching women subjects such as hygiene, literacy, sewing and proper feeding of their families. At the same time it was under the ministry of Community Development and Rehabilitation. The question is, rehabilitating who? It was aimed at rehabilitating those with Mau Mau mentality, and especially the women, not to be bitter, but to follow the rule of the law, and to appreciate the services offered by the colonialists. Women who were not involved in Maendeleo would be suspected by the government of not being Loyalist, of being Mau Mau. That was how Maendeleo started. Later on, in the 1960s, we decided to break away from the government and became a national organization for all women. Lots of independent women's groups started after that, making women very close. There were very few women who were not involved in some kind of a women's group. Women usually chose a women's group according to income, age group, and common interests. Today there are over a thousand such groups in Kenya. Women come together to help each other. They collect, save and invest money together. They talk about their problems and have started many income-generating projects.


At election time, organizing is happening at the market kiosks. There are whispers from stall to stall, and then the market women whisper to their husbands and sons and the community as a whole. Women of Kenya have participated fully in the new democratic era. Women, especially under the National Council of Women of Kenya, have been responsible for organizing women to run for elections, encouraging women to vote and monitoring the elections. For the first time women have six elected members in the National Assembly and uncountable numbers elected in local government. One of the outstanding women is Professor Wangari Maathai who was recently being named as presidential material. Although some men may be cautious of a woman president, she has a lot of support. She has tolerated a lot of harassment, but she could still afford a smile while she was being arrested. That woman is tough, she is sharp. There is no threat which will stop Wangari Maathai from speaking what she believes is the truth.


People like Wangari Maathai are in the generation of those who are daughters of Mau Mau. She could have been a daughter or a sister of those fighting, she could have been one of the young supporters of Mau Mau. The grandchildren do not know much about Mau Mau. They do not know what it means to have discrimination based on colour. Kenya was just like South Africa is at present I'm telling you. The grandchildren will not know about this unless people write about it. We have not done enough to let them know what their parents went through. Now many Africans can have good jobs, go to good schools, they don't know the struggle and the bitterness of fighting. They should know the pain and struggle their parents went through, that's the only way they can know the importance of being independent. Mau Mau women and their daughters - they know. I myself remember things from that period in Kenyan history. Listening to the elderly women talk, women who were involved in the freedom fighting, one could really learn a lot of things about the Mau Mau struggle. But as time goes on, the women who fought are dying one by one.


The young generation doesn't know. Partly I sincerely blame the historians who like to distort the truth about what was happening. Women have had a very raw deal in the historiography of Mau Mau, they are not recognized. This is precisely the reason I call the women who fought the unsung warriors. People say, "Oh, they cooked food." Yes they did, but they did so much more. Without them, men would not have managed. Women were involved in all the activities of freedom fighting.


Many whites have written about Mau Mau as if it were not a fight for the rights of Africans. They portray the freedom fighters as murderers and savages. John Nottingham is an exception to this. He was a District Commissioner in Nyeri, which was the heart of Mau Mau during the peak of the fighting. He was working for the British colonialists, but he was a very reasonable, genuine person. He was given the name Wamwega by the people because he was a good person, not cruel. Loyalists often made up stories to avenge their enemies, but John would always check up on the stories. Historians are the people who should be blamed for distorting the truth about Mau Mau. The true history must be told, everyone must know the truth about women, the unsung warriors of Mau Mau.


Muthoni Likimani speaking with Terisa E. Turner and Teena Jo Neal, New York City, May 22, 1993.







Title in 18 pt xxx


Terisa E. Turner, Teena J. Neal and Leigh S. Brownhill


Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. - ani difranco, 1993.













Kikuyu women and the Harry Thuku Disturbances: Some Uniformities of

Female Militancy


Audrey Wipper1



African men, like men everywhere, have dominated the public sphere, holding the vast majority of official positions of power and authority. In precolonial African societies women were formally subordinate to male authority and male dominance was buttressed by an ideology of male superiority and a status system where women showed deference to men. But formal systems, ideologies and codes of etiquette are not realities. In some societies women wielded considerable influence and authority, so much in fact that these systems have been characterised as dual-sex political systems with each sex managing its own affairs [Okonjo 1976]. Women were not so much involved in hierarchical orders of relationships as in complementary, mutually dependent relationships.


This article will focus on the collective activity of African women in the Harry Thuku 'Riot' in Kenya, 1922, which involved mass demonstrations, a clash with the authorities, and the loss of lives. It asks: what did the women do, how and why did they do it? I then briefly compare this example of militancy with women's activities in the Women's War in Nigeria, 1929, and the Anlu Uprising in the British Cameroon, 1958 to 1959. Despite their formal subordination to men, in these incidents women challenged not only male but also colonial authority, sometimes successfully. This is not to imply that women in these societies wielded power or authority equal to that of men, but to show that, given certain conditions, institutions and traditions, women did achieve a strong political voice.


Do these manifestations of female militancy throw any light on the general conditions that promote such a voice? Are there any factors common to these three cases? Do they permit us to draw any generalisations, even tentative, about the characteristics of female militancy or about the nature of the societies that produce it? The article concludes by suggesting several uniformities that characterise the women's tactics and the conditions that produce such militancy. Because the data are weak in some areas, these uniformities should be seen as a set of working hypotheses rather than a full-blown explanation.


These examples of female militancy are interesting in themselves since women are not usually seen as playing leading roles in riots and political struggles. Such occasions provide an intriguing view of the clash between formal and informal roles and of the tactics those occupying subordinate positions employ to deal with those in superordinate positions. It behooves us to know more about situations of friction and conflict in which people break with codes and publicly challenge formal authority.


This study may help to dissipate further the already weakened stereotype of women as bound to home and hearth, submissive to male authority, politically passive and hence politically irrelevant. There was nothing servile about these women who acted in ways associated more with male than with female behaviour. They took the initiative politically, were aggressive, both verbally and physically, engaged in ribald, vulgar and insulting behaviour, and at times used violence and coercion to obtain their goals.


Only the Thuku Disturbances will be examined in any detail. The other two cases are well known and dealt with in more fully documented papers.2 Of the three incidents of militancy, the women's role in the Thuku 'Riot' is the least known, involves by far the smallest number of women, and their activity is the least complex, as they played only a minor part in the overall Thuku movement. Since some of the pertinent data remain in archives and since the events have never before been examined from this perspective, empirical evidence is presented.


Before discussing Thuku's protest, let me point to several research problems. Crowd behaviour is difficult to research. Crowds tend to be short-lived, volatile collectivities of large numbers of people marked by strong emotions, ephemeral leadership and shifting membership. The Thuku demonstrations had little social structure compared with Anlu or the Women's War, both of which continued for much longer periods of time. Furthermore, at the time women were not seen as political actors by those doing the talking and writing: consequently their political actions received little attention. This has not helped my attempt to explain their behaviour.


Thuku protests against forced labour and the abuse of women


Harry Thuku, a Kikuyu from Kiambu District, was one of the founders in 1921 of the Young Kikuyu Association (renamed the East African Association a month later in an attempt to suggest and acquire pan-tribal unity).3 Despite its final name and Thuku's efforts to acquire members from different tribes, its activists were young, urban, self-employed male Kikuyu, the majority of whom were mission-educated with roots in the Fort Hall and Kiambu Districts [Spencer 1985:36]. Jesse Kariuki, Job Muchuchu, James Njorage, Gideon Mugo, Abdullah Tairara and Mwalimu Hamisu were on its directing committee. Its members were largely domestic servants, employees and labourers [Clayton and Savage 1974:120]. Weithaga and Kahuhia in the Fort Hall District and Nyeri were areas of strong support [Thuku 1970:30; Spencer 1985:44-7].


Thuku, its secretary, was the driving force. He received a mission education from the Gospel Mission Society, Kambui, an American evangelical sect deeply committed to overseas missionary work [Tignor 1976:257]. He held several jobs in Nairobi, working as a sweeper and messenger for Standard Bank, a compositor and machine man for the settler newspaper the Leader, and a telephone operator at the government Treasury [Thuku 1970:12-17]. It was at the Leader that Thuku became aware of racism: "I read many of the articles that the settlers wrote to the Leader (the paper was strongly in favour of white settlers), and when I saw something there about the treatment of Africans, it entered my head and lay quiet until later on" [Thuku 1970:14-15].


Thuku toured the rural areas speaking to large and enthusiastic gatherings of Kikuyu. He articulated Africans' grievances against the colonial government, mobilised support, and sent cables and resolutions to the colonial secretary and influential and sympathetic people in England. Protest centred on a number of grievances, among them the kipande4, the government's doubling of the hut and poll taxes, a reduction in African wages, oppression by tribal police, and forced labour, especially of women and children [Thuku 1970:18-20; Bennett 1963:451; Leys 1924:213, 311-24; Ross 1927:108, 153; Mungeam 1970:141-2]. The last issue, women's labour, shows why women had particular reasons for supporting Thuku.


In his autobiography Thuku explains how he became concerned and how the recruitment of women labourers was implemented through the chiefs.


It was at The Leader, from about 1915, that I first began to think seriously about some of our troubles as Africans, especially this question of forced labour. Before then only men had been made to work, but at about that time women and girls too were compelled to go out to work. This was what happened: a settler who wanted labour for his farm would write to the D.C. (District Commissioner) saying he required thirty young men, women or girls for work on his farm. The D.C. sent a letter to a chief or headman to supply such and such a number, and the chief in turn had his tribal retainers to carry out this business. They would simply go to the people's houses, very often where there were beautiful women and daughters and point out which were to come to work. Sometimes they had to work a distance from home, and the number of girls who got pregnant in this way was very great. But I shall say later what I tried to do about this [Thuku 1970:16; author's emphasis].


At a large public meeting at Dagoretti on the outskirts of Nairobi on 24 June 1921 and attended by the Acting Chief Native Commissioner, government officials, chiefs, missionaries, prominent Kikuyu, Thuku and members of the Young Kikuyu Association, a number of issues were raised. Among them were the kipande, increased taxation and the forced labour of women and girls which involved a number of rapes by African employees, on which documentation is provided.


The young men acted and spoke with a composure and self-confidence that grated upon the paid chiefs. These young men were partially educated. They had attended mission schools (the only ones in existence) for the sake of getting some education...To the paid chiefs they were anathema. Nobody wanted them or wanted to meet them. And here they were, forcing a hearing....They complained of forced labour of girls and young women. Their District Commissioner (so they reported - and he was present) ordered fathers and elders to send their girls out to work on European plantations. If objection was made, it was treated with detention at the Government station, a fine of goats -and the girls were taken. In the previous month 60 girls had been taken to a European estate. They were still there. A list was produced of the names of girls who had been violated while so out at work on farms and were pregnant, with the names of their native seducers in some cases. The native employees at the Government station were apparently somewhat more licentious than Claverhouse's dragoons had been among another far-distant and sullen people. Headmen who did not produce the requisite groups of girls were subjected to public indignities, made to carry loads, for instance...Harry Thuku was present. He asked pointedly if Government would abstain from reducing the pay of labourers in its employ. Why could they not be given as secure a title to their land as all Europeans demanded and got for theirs? [Ross 1927:225-6; author's emphasis].


Sir Edward Northey, Governor of Kenya, ordered an investigation into the charges of rape. He alleged that the girls had been willing accomplices rather than victims, and that, although "in certain instances Headmen have gone further than the Government would have approved," the complaints were either false or exaggerated [Clayton and Savage 1974:157; the original CO 533/264 Northey to Colonial Office, 31 October 1921].


Members of the Young Kikuyu Association called a meeting of Africans on 10 July 1921 to announce the change in name to East African Association (EAA). The resolution passed included statements "That this meeting strongly protests against the Registration of Natives Ordinance, (the kipande), against the practice of compulsorily taking out of girls and married women to plantations for work which has culminated into immoral practices" (see Appendix A at the end of this chapter for the complete statement). The core activists agreed that these resolutions should be sent to the Colonial Office in London. Later the main ideas from the resolutions were put into a telegram, copies of which were sent to the Prime Minister and other interested people in London (see Appendix B at the end of this chapter). Again the compulsory labour of women and girls "culminating in immoral practices" was raised.


These activities, especially Thuku's use of the Treasury's address as his own on his mailings, provoked the government into giving him an ultimatum: his job or politics. According to him:


Mr. Kemp, the Treasurer, was instructed to tell me that I must choose between politics and government service. Well, I was a young man, and very quick to answer. I did not tell him that I would think about it. I told him straight out, "I choose politics." Mr. Kemp was a very kind employer, and when he heard my answer he laughed and said, "I'll tell you what you should do. Your three months' leave is now overdue. Take it, and find out if your people will support you in politics - because I know you think the Government is doing many injuries to your people. If they are behind you, then write me a resignation notice after two months and I'll accept it. On the other hand, if they don't follow you, finish your leave, and come back and continue to work here." I thanked him, left at the end of the month and found out that the people were very angry - it was not, of course, a question of whether or not they would follow me; they were fighting for themselves. At any rate, I sent in my resignation at the end of two months, and received a very good certificate of service from Mr. Kemp. I still have it [Thuku 1970:24].


Thuku continued to hold mass meetings and his speeches became increasingly anti-chiefs, anti-missionaries, and anti-government. At a meeting at Fort Hall on 26 February 1922 he told his followers to pay only 3 shillings tax and to discard their kipandes. The next day at Weithaga, where more than 25,000 had assembled, he forbade any communal work including work on government projects. On 11 March he told a crowd that the "government officers were nobody. The chiefs are nobody. If I send a letter to the Governor a chief would be dismissed at once." By this time Thuku's ideas constituted a direct challenge to colonial rule [Tignor 1976:232, 234].


Warned that he was likely to be arrested, Thuku made one last tour to northern Kikuyu country in early March accompanied by Job Muchuchu and other committee members. "Everywhere I gave advice to carry on underground if the Association was stopped and I was arrested" [Thuku 1970:32].


He describes a women's communal work project that he apparently stopped.


There was one place on the journey where I made myself very unpopular with the administration: we had just come to the Kagumo stream near Nyeri. There is a deep fall there, also an Indian maize-grinder's place, and a large pond of reeds near the road. I saw a large number of young girls and women cutting reeds under the supervision of tribal police. I called over one of these, the one who seemed to be in charge, and asked him what the women were doing. He said they had been ordered to cut reeds to thatch the police-lines in Nyeri. "Well," I said, "whoever told you to force these women to do this forced labour is acting illegally. Don't you know that forced labour of this sort has been stopped by the order of Winston Churchill in the Colonial Office?" (It had been stopped in fact in 1921 in a dispatch telegram to the Kenya Governor, and the Colonial Office had ordered a copy to be sent to me.) I therefore asked him to dismiss the women, and said I would remain there until they had all gone back home. The policeman made no trouble because he himself was angry at this forced labour, seeing his sisters going out to work for no reward. But the administration in Nyeri was very annoyed. However, I did it, knowing that I would shortly be arrested [Thuku 1970:32; author's emphasis].


The government, concerned about Thuku's militancy and growing support, arrested him on 14 March 1922. While detained, he wrote to his friend and adviser, M. A. Desai, the Indian-rights activist and editor-publisher of the radical Indian newspaper the East African Chronicle. In his letter of 2 May 1922 Thuku blamed the chiefs for the forced labour of women and children.


They (Africans) have learnt this from Europeans who are treating them very badly, especially by the way of compulsory labour among women and children on their plantations. I was against four Native Christians, then Chiefs and Government headman, namely Chiefs Philips Karanja James, Chief Koinange wa Mbiu, Headmen Josiah Njonjo and Waruhui wa Kung'u (all are of Kyambu Administration). These four Government servants are office-bearers of the Kikuyu, and it will be rather funny to everybody to learn that Government servants are taking part in private association and Chief Native Commissioner doesn't take any notice of that. These four Kikuyu gentlemen followed the Missionaries' lines by going around the Native Reserve and preaching that I was spoiling the Kikuyu country; but mind you that they are the best friends of European settlers and were forcing Native girls and women to work on European plantations before establishment of the East African Association [Thuku 1970:91-2; author's emphasis].


This letter explains, in part, why Thuku was in jail. In striking out at James, Koinange, Waruhiu and Njonjo he had boldly, some would say recklessly, taken on the powerful Kikuyu establishment. These men dominated the politics of Kiambu for a generation and their descendants were to help shape independent Kenya. District commissioners sought their advice, since few projects could succeed without their consent. Needless to say, they supported the government's deportation of Thuku [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:83].


"Chief of Women"


Kikuyu women applauded Thuku's efforts on their behalf and he was hailed throughout Kikuyuland as 'chief of women', a title that remained his all his life.5 A former coffee picker said, "Harry Thuku is the one who fought for us and stopped us from working like slaves." He was extolled in popular songs.


When Harry Thuku left, that is the time I started scratching my buttocks.

When he came back, the scratching stopped.

Let the white man face that,

Because he is the one who forced Harry Thuku to go to Europe.6


Buttock-scratching was a gesture Kikuyu women used to insult settlers, colonial officials and their agents [Presley 1985:260-61, 271].7 It was an adaptation of the traditional buttock-baring practice discussed below.


Since the chiefs played a major role in labour recruitment, they were disliked. During Thuku's detention, women sang:


Philipo [or one of the other Kikuyu chiefs] let him be cursed.

It is they who have caused to be taken away the chief

of the girls who live in the coffee.8


The government forbade the singing of this song, which ridiculed the chiefs, but a new and similar one was soon composed.


Men resented the forced labour of their women. When Dr. Gikongo Kiano, later a prominent minister in Jomo Kenyatta's cabinet, saw Thuku at a political meeting in the 1950s he called out, "Let me go and shake hands with the old man who stopped my mother from digging roads." One reason a number of Embu people joined Thuku's Kikuyu Provincial Association, begun in 1935, was their gratitude for his lifting "a great burden from their women in 1921" [Thuku 1970:61]. The forced labour of women officially ended in 1921.


In an effort to unite mission students and graduates behind his government, Thuku wrote to Mathew Njorage, a mission-educated Kikuyu with connections to both the Kikuyu Association and the EAA, on 3 December 1921.9 He called upon the students and graduates not to trust their district commissioners and headmen. This appeal sparked off bitter antagonisms among the Kikuyu. The chiefs were furious and Thuku became a pariah in their eyes. At a public meeting at Karia on 26 and 27 January 1922, attended by the Chief Native Commissioner, the chiefs and over 1,000 people, Chief Josiah Njonjo read Thuku's letter and reminded those gathered that Kinyanjui not Thuku was the paramount chief. The chiefs called upon all Kikuyu to stop having anything to do with Thuku and threatened to banish anyone who brought him into the district10 [Tignor 1976:232]. The women's support of Thuku, despite the chiefs' admonition, suggests a willingness to defy chiefly orders.


Thuku would always consider women's issues important. In his memoirs, written almost half a century after he first raised these issues and only a few months before his death, he discusses the plight of women. Thuku appears to have genuinely respected and admired women. He commended them for being in "the forefront of Kenya's fight for freedom"11 [Thuku 1970:33]. For their part, women were among Thuku's strongest and most loyal supporters. It was they who tried to rescue him from jail. Later, they were concerned about his long detention [Presley 1986:56].


It is interesting to speculate on just why Thuku took up women's issues (though speculating on motives is at best difficult and, when it involves crossing cultural barriers, full of pitfalls). It might simply be that, as a political animal, he knew a good constituency when he saw one. This explanation, however, is a little facile since neither the British nor the Africans regarded women as politically important [Kenyatta 1961:chapter 9; Leakey 1977:9]. Furthermore, if one takes the fines for different offenses as indicators of just how seriously Kikuyu society viewed those offenses, it would be hard to argue that it viewed the beating or raping of women all that seriously.12


Thuku's basic values about women were obviously derived from his family and community. For the Kikuyu, female sexuality was confined to carefully defined areas. Virginity in brides was valued and pregnancy before marriage taboo. In comparison to the penalties for the above offenses, the fine for impregnating an unmarried girl was much more severe and the sanctioning process more complex and involving much ritual [Kenyatta 1961:160-5 Leakey 1977:1026-9]. This problem and forced labour were the women's issues that most concerned Thuku and the East African Association.


Early in life Thuku came under the influence of the Knapp family of the Gospel Mission Society, a fundamentalist group that espoused conservative religious values and preached a rigid social code. Thuku's prosperous landowning family had provided the land on which the mission station was built [Tignor 1976:228]. When Thuku was twelve he spent four years at the mission "under the constant care of Myrtle Knapp who became a second mother to him" [Wanyoike 1974:30]. His first job was to tend the calves, his next to feed the mule, but in a short time he was asked to be a house servant. One of his tasks was to look after the Knapps' small daughter. According to Thuku, Myrtle Knapp thought highly of him.


I think that Mrs. Knapp had an interest in these political matters (alienation of Kikuyu land)...for much later on she showed sympathy for me when I was in detention; a man told me after my release that Mrs. Knapp was my great friend during my exile; she would put a map of Kenya up in her class, and pointing at the dot on it which was Marsabit (where he was transferred to) she would ask her class, "Do you know what fearless man is staying in this place?" [Thuku 1970:7-9].


The Knapps, ever on the lookout for talented and devout Africans, had singled him out as a future missionary (though when he did preach it was hardly a religious message). Be that as it may, Thuku remained a staunch Christian all his life. "The teaching of Dr. Henderson (a Gospel Mission missionary) and Mrs. Knapp stood up in my heart. I never changed or dreamt of changing over (to the Muslim faith)." When asked to join the independent school movement after he had returned from detention, he declined, saying, "I will remain GMS. Where I started, there will I remain." After their deaths, Thuku referred to the Knapps as "two of my oldest friends in Kambui" and later he helped to establish a memorial church to them [Thuku 1970:17, 52, 66-7]. Thuku's early and close association with the Knapps probably reinforced his Kikuyu values as both Kikuyu and Christians had strict rules about female sexuality. There were undoubtedly elements of self-interest and intergenerational conflict involved in the EAA's stand on women: young, single, insecure mission converts were pitted against older, powerful chiefs who could afford the brideprice for additional wives, whereas many of the young men could not afford the brideprice for a single wife. Their own sisters and potential brides were taken as wives (sometimes against their will) by old, rich men.13 The young Turks relished having an issue that they could zealously and self-righteously pursue, much to the annoyance of the chiefs (see Ross's account of the Dagoretti meeting, above). They probably enjoyed seeing themselves as protectors of women and feared that, should women leave the protective environment of the reserve to work on settlers' farms, they would in time disregard tribal ways and male authority. While it was all right for the men themselves to become townsmen, they preferred their women to live according to traditional values and to remain in the reserve.


Thuku was exceptional in several ways. Not only did he spearhead early Kikuyu protest against colonial authority but he was Kenya's first African politician to take the exploitation of women and children seriously and to articulate their grievances to an international audience.14 The dominant pattern during the colonial and post-colonial periods was, and still is, one of individual women and women's groups on their own protesting about women's issues, such as inheritance and marriage laws that favour men or support for single mothers and their children.


The Female Labour Issue


By 1914 coffee was Kenya's major export, earning more than all the other temperate farming products taken together. It was to continue to be one of the colony's most lucrative crops [Sorrenson 1968:156]. Once a large quantity was under cultivation, the settlers were faced with an insufficient labour supply and turned to the colonial government for help. Having been encouraged by the government to settle land and to invest in the Protectorate, the newly arrived Europeans expected it to help them get workers for their plantations, farms and ranches. After the First World War, British soldiers were encouraged to settle and open up new farms. The soldier settlement scheme brought in its wake an even larger demand for agricultural labour. The settler's problem was how to get large numbers of labourers for seasonal work yet keep wages low in order to maximise profits. The administration also needed labour in rural areas, for example, to build and maintain roads [Spencer 1985:15]. Thus there were heavy demands for labour from both settlers and government.


Coffee labourers in 1925 to 1928 were among the four lowest paid categories of workers in Kenya [Presley 1985:262], and because the wages were low African men were reluctant to work on coffee estates. The settlers had come increasingly to rely on female and child labour to harvest their crops. Women too, however, were reluctant to work on coffee estates because their help was most needed for harvesting coffee beans during a time that coincided with the peak period of the traditional planting cycle on their own farms.


Faced with both a chronic labour shortage and chronic pressure from the settlers, the government had begun, as early as 1908, to take steps such as increasing hut and poll taxes to induce Africans to take up wage employment [Kilson 1955:128]. These measures culminated in the Northey Circular, which amounted to compulsory labour for private purposes. Under mounting pressure from the settlers, Governor Northey issued Labour Circular No. I on 23 October 1919. It stated under the heading "Native labour required for non-native farms and other private undertakings:"


1) All Government officials in charge of native areas must exercise every possible lawful influence to induce able-bodied natives to go into the labour field. Where farms are situated in the vicinity of a native area, women and children should be encouraged to go out for such as they can perform....

3) District Commissioners will keep a record of the names of those Chiefs and Headmen who are helpful and those who are not helpful, and will make reports to me from time to time for the information of His Excellency. The nature of these reports will be communicated to the Chiefs. In cases where there is evidence that any Government Headman is impervious to His Excellency's wishes, the fact should be reported to me for His Excellency's information together with any recommendations you may desire to make....

5) Employers or their agents requiring native labour will be invited and encouraged to enter freely any Native Reserve and there get in touch with the Chiefs, Headman and Natives [Ross 1927:104-5; author's emphasis].


The subjugation of Africans probably reached its worst in the years 1919-21 following the issuing of this circular. With the jobs of chiefs and headmen on the line if they did not cooperate, there was a strong incentive for them, together with settlers desperate for workers, to interpret liberally the words 'induce' and 'encourage'. Because the administration exercised little control, this led to coercion and intimidation in the recruiting of workers and to the infliction of many cruelties on men, women and children.


Chiefs and headmen were entrusted with the task of getting an adequate supply of labourers for the settlers and the government's communal work projects. Because of a paucity of government funds, chiefs had to create their own para-administrative and military bodies to solidify their power and to carry out the administration's directives. They surrounded themselves with young men called tribal retainers whose purpose was to implement their will. Their interpretation of the Northey Circular involved them in forcing people out in a press-gang fashion, first for unpaid, later paid communal labour, and to work on coffee plantations. Communal labour, originally an obligation only of men but extended to women and children for very light tasks, became distorted to severe tasks without benefit to the community [Clayton and Savage 1974:119]. This communal labour was supposed to fall equally on every member of the community, but in practice did not. Chiefs favoured their own people and those wealthy enough to bribe them. The onerous chores fell on the vulnerable, people not connected to the ruling elite or not wealthy enough to bribe the chiefs. Young people and women lacking in economic and political power, the poor and the old, were among those who shouldered the heaviest burdens [Tignor 1971:354-5]. Missionaries constantly complained in the 1920s that some chiefs discriminated against Christian converts by making them do extra roadwork.


The system encouraged bribery and coercion. Labour recruiters worked in varying degrees of collusion with chiefs and with plantation owners who paid them a fee to provide female labourers. The District Commissioner of Kiambu denounced the practice of bakshesh (bribes), called the 'encouragement' of labour by these retainers, as nothing more than extortion and stated that district commissioners must carefully guard against this practice [Kenya National Archives AR/279, KBO/14 1920:28 cited in Presley 1985:260].


Although chiefs and their assistants exploited all weak Kikuyu, women, unless they were rich and powerful, probably suffered most of all since they were also exploited sexually. It is not difficult to see why rural women would support Thuku, since he spoke out about their exploitation. And it is not difficult to understand why the chiefs hated Thuku since he strongly criticised their misgovernment, corruption and illegal use of office.


The colonial government, which had created chiefs in this traditionally chiefless society, was, by extension, unpopular with the Kikuyu.


Indeed, in African opinion the Government has no redeeming feature. It is always interfering, they think, and it has an insatiable appetite for money. The fact is that the system of taxation leaves less than nothing over when both what are strictly necessary to be done - justice, police, tax collection - are provided for and the demands of the European colony are satisfied [Leys 1924:278].


The African area hit first and hardest by European alienation of land was the southern part of Kiambu District (Thuku's home base) where the government, obsessed with the idea of European settlement, allowed incoming Europeans to claim any Kikuyu land whether or not it was occupied. Some 60,000 acres of southern Kiambu, containing around 11,000 Kikuyu, passed into European hands [Sorrenson 1967:18 cited in Spencer 1985:12]. Consequently this district, with its large coffee estates, required many labourers. In 1923 women and children totalled 64 per cent of the harvest labour force on the coffee plantations and in the slack period, April to September, they comprised 40 per cent of the labour force for the fruitbearing trees and 40 per cent of the labour force for maintenance, especially weeding. In total, they numbered 3,089 women and 2,947 children, amounting to nearly half of all female wage earners in Kenya and nearly a third of the children working on settlers' farms. Women's and children's wages were the lowest in Kenya [Presley 1985:262-3].


Women suffered a variety of abuses. Women labourers were assaulted by male labourers while cutting firewood in the forests. When this abuse was brought to the attention of the district commissioner's office, it recommended that women go in groups with male escorts to get firewood. A former worker on a coffee estate reported, "They treated us badly, we used to go to work from early morning until afternoon, we were beaten and given hard work. They even refused to give us our wages." When asked if there was anyone to whom they could complain, she replied, "No, you couldn't complain. If you did, you were punished again" [Presley 1985:260]. Wambui Wangarama, a resident of Kiambu District who worked both as a coffee picker and on government projects, said that the girls and their parents considered the work slavery.


We started asking for our freedom when we were young girls during the war of 1914. We started putting murram and tarmac along the road and were forced to push the leveller. We made the European feel angry. At that time one girl was killed on the road; she was beaten in the head and died, they were being led by Kinyanjui. Then Harry Thuku was jailed. And our parents said we shouldn't work on the roads but at that time we were caught again when there was a fight at Nairobi and the fight was because the women asked for the men's pants. We were brought to a coffee estate here. We were picking coffee and cultivating, and after five weeks we were given thirty shillings and no food. There was a man who was looking after the women and if he saw that you left one part uncultivated he would beat you. A girl called Mjeri was beaten and her leg was broken. After that we stopped doing the work of picking coffee and cultivating as well. When Harry Thuku was sent to Somaliland16 our parents refused to let us work. We were doing shaking and scratching (pretended illness) while working on the estates to annoy the Europeans. We did this so that Harry Thuku could be released [Presley 1985:258-9].


Presley interprets the "shaking and scratching" as feigning illness. Although this may be correct for the shaking I think the scratching more likely refers to the buttock-scratching gesture of defiance since it was practised to annoy the Europeans. Presley concludes:


From 1913 through 1923 physical outrages and intimidation connected with coffee production reached a level only surpassed by the anti-Kikuyu violence under the "emergency" situation during the "Mau Mau" rebellion in the 1950s. Any Kikuyu family in a sufficiently favourable financial position tried to avoid having its women work on the coffee plantations because of the demoralizing effects of the labor and the violence to which the women were often exposed [Presley 1985:259; author's emphasis].


I do not have any figures on the number of women involved in compulsory labour or on the number of and kinds of abuses for a particular period. Even if figures were available they would probably be inaccurate, if similar statistics today are any measure, because many cases would go unreported. The following abuses have been noted: beating, rape, harsh living and working conditions, the withholding of wages and food, and being kept away from their homes at night.


As reports of egregious labour abuses grew, the missionaries became concerned and the bishops of Uganda and Mombasa and Dr John Arthur, as the senior representative of the Church of Scotland Mission, wrote a letter to the East African Standard criticising government policy.


The decision to 'encourage' women and children to labour, bearing in mind the meaning that will inevitably be read into the word 'encourage', seems to us a dangerous policy. The children below a certain age should be at home or at school. The women work at home; the plantations, the supply of the daily food, the cooking, the care of the children, and the home depend upon the mothers and the wives. To 'encourage' as a native headmen with the fear of dismissal behind him would 'encourage' the women and girls to go out from their homes into neighbouring plantations, would be to court disaster, physical and moral. Whatever labour legislation is introduced the women and children should be left out of it [Presley 1985:259-60].


A much more radical critic, Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, was furious at the conservative tone of the "Bishops' Memorandum," and the bishops' acceptance that in East Africa "some forms of pressure must be exerted" even for private employment. Weston wrote a pamphlet, The Serfs of Great Britain, in which he charged the Kenyan government with introducing a new form of slavery that was both anti-Christian and moral and political madness. He argued that recruiting, medical examinations and feeding of labourers were all abused, the medical staff inadequate, the recruiters callous and "always the lash is used freely" [Clayton and Savage 1974:114-15].


The focus of the battle moved to London where Bishop Weston's activities together with letters from individual missionaries, the non-Roman churches, the Anti-Slavery Society, the Labour Party, the New Statesman and Contemporary Review appealed to public opinion. Prominent critics of forced labour included Sir Frederick Lugard, Sir Sydney Oliver, Lord Salisbury, the Bishop of Winchester and Leonard Woolf.17 Dr J. H. Oldham, the secretary of the International Missionary Council, played an important role in preparing memoranda for various Protestant groups, in corresponding with the Archbishop of Canterbury and in planning a nationwide protest campaign.18 In short, the forced-labour issue caused an uproar in England, was debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and resulted in several amending circulars and ordinances designed to protect labourers. The Colonial Office issued a new labour circular on 14 July 1920 stating that women and children could go out to work providing they return to their homes each evening and that administrative officers had a duty to check abuse and to make sure that the chiefs did not use favouritism or oppression in sending labourers away to work for wages. Those working on their own plots were not to be pressured to go out to work [Tignor 1976:170]. The colonial government's subsequent position was clearly stated in the East African Standard of 25 July 1921:


Forcing of women and girls to work on plantations


The Chiefs and Elders asserted in strong terms that this practice was still in vogue. The Chief Native Commissioner replied that the Government was not responsible for this, and moreover, would not countenance it. The Government had certainly informed Chiefs that it was advisable that their women and children should work on farms close to their homes so that they could return home to sleep at night. He asked for specific instances of women and children being forced to work by instructions from the Government. He (Chief Mukui) further stated that a tribal policeman had recently been convicted before him of ordering women to work on plantations and had been severely punished and dismissed. The Chiefs intimated that they had further instances of this compulsory labour by women and children...The District Commissioner stated that any cases of this description brought to his notice would be fully investigated and the guilty persons punished [Leys 1924:219; author's emphasis].


Criticism continued in England and led Winston Churchill the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to issue a definitive dispatch in September 1921. Government officials and chiefs were forbidden to recruit labour for private employment, and forced labour for state projects was to be used only in dire emergencies [Tignor 1976:173]. Further legislation followed in 1923 under the Master and Servants Ordinance, known as the Native Women's Protection Act. No woman worker was to remain on a farm at night unless accompanied by her father or husband, estate owners were to provide proper accommodation for single women, and owners who failed to provide this accommodation were not to employ any woman who had to travel more than three miles from her home [Clayton and Savage 1974:119].


New laws do not necessarily change old practices, however, though they may be important for establishing ground rules.19 W. McGregor Ross recounts the following incident as evidence of the kind of practices that "flourished with the full knowledge of Government in the years 1919 to 1921" despite the issuing of government directives:


An official and his wife (probably Ross and his wife) on safari by car, roll into a small Government station in the late afternoon. The Assistant District Commissioner is away in the Reserve. During a leisurely tea...they notice a string of young women and girls passing up the hill upon which the station bungalow stands. Each girl carries a kibuyu, or gourd, of capacity varying from a pint to half a gallon. They are carrying water up to a tank at the officer's house...The swift tropical dusk at length settles down and work is discontinued-but the girls do not return from their last trip up to the bungalow. The visitors go up to inquire, and find the girls sitting in a huddled group near the servants' quarters behind the bungalow looking scared. Inquiring from one of the 'station hands' who is in charge while the Bwana [master] is away, they are told that the girls are to sleep in one of the outhouses, as the work is to be resumed in the morning, the tank being not yet full...The visitors...make for the doctor's bungalow -the only other European habitation in the station. Ascertaining from him that he knows nothing about the alleged order for the detention of the girls, the visitors decide to take the law into their own hands and dismiss them home for the night. On getting back to the bungalow, it is found that the girls have been locked in one of the outhouses in charge of a cowed old man who had come with them from their village. The door being opened, the girls, in their daytime lack of costume, without blankets or food for the night, are found crouching before a tiny fire. It is the same huddled group - only more scared now. They are undoubtedly afraid as to what may happen to them before morning. One thing may be taken as quite certain-that the trembling old man in charge of the party would have similarly opened the door to any of the station staff, porters or askaris who might have told him to do so. The girls are ordered out and told to hurry home. After a moment of apparent incredulity, they tear off down the hill into the darkness to a diminuendo of joyful cries. Danger averted for that one night. It was satisfactory to be able to relate that, when shown the photograph of this water-party...and told of this incident, the Chief Native Commissioner was incredulous. Was it possible, after the Circulars he had sent out, that these hoary malpractices were still going on? Where and when was the photograph taken?... Shortly afterwards, a further definite prohibition of the detention of girls away from their homes was published for general information in the Official Gazette [Government Notice No. 93, OG 1923:294]. The particular example that has been quoted took place at a Government station. Multitudes of girls similarly experienced forcible detention in these dismal years on plantations and in labour camps, and few were as fortunate as the 'water-fatigue' at this bush station on the evening when the touring official with his wife rolled in by car [Ross 1927:110-11; emphasis mostly author's].


The date on the above-mentioned government notice of 1923 indicates that girls were detained on work projects long after the practice had officially been banned. Ross notes that "old sins die hard". Compulsory labour, implemented through the chiefs, was still going on and still being debated in 1926, although most officials attempted to put an end to it despite opposition and even harassment from some settlers [Ross 1927:112-14, Tignor 1976:81]. Protest in Kenya and England appears to have ended the worst abuses. By 1928 the Native Affairs Department was able to report that conditions of work for women and juveniles had improved and that they now willingly worked on coffee estates [Presley 1985:261]. The department further stated that no abuses of women had occurred since the 1923 Act. This I find hard to believe, particularly in view of the difficulties over policing the new regulations. The chiefs obviously could not be responsible since, although supposedly law enforcers, it was they who were breaking the laws. While district commissioners might attempt to eradicate abuses, it would have been next to impossible for them to police adequately the large areas involved, given their scant staff and the remoteness of many estates.


Clayton and Savage, in discussing the larger labour scene of the 1920s, conclude: "The age of harshness, involving large numbers of deaths and much suffering, had evolved to one essentially of taut economic exploitation managed paradoxically in an increasingly humane way...By the end of the decade the cruelty and abuses of labour agents and recruiters had been checked although professional recruiting continued" [1974:109, 147].


The "Riot"20


After his arrest on 14 March 1922 Thuku was confined in the Nairobi police station. On the following day the EAA called a general strike. A crowd of several thousand workers marched to the police station to secure his release. After fifteen minutes of prayer for his safety, most of the strikers returned home at their leaders' request.


The next morning the gathering at the police station rapidly grew until around noon there were from 7,000 to 8,000 people. A deputation of six African men went to see Sir Charles Bowring, the Colonial Secretary Sir Charles assured them that Thuku would be given a full hearing by the government before any decision was taken as to what was to be done with him; he was in no danger and was only being detained. Bowring urged the deputation to return to the police station and to disperse the crowd. They tried but failed. Members of the crowd accused them of being bribed.


The following three accounts of the demonstration were given by administration officials to the subsequent government inquiry and published in Papers Relating to Native Disturbances in Kenya (because the quotations are lengthy, I have emphasised the most relevant sentences). The Governor in a letter to the Secretary of State dated 11 April 1922 wrote:


The repeated warnings and orders to disperse, not only from Government Officers but also from their own leaders, had been disregarded, and the excitations of agitators and the taunts of the women had by then raised the ugliest passions...The attempt to disperse the mob through their own leaders was undoubtedly the wisest and most humane method, though it was unhappily frustrated by the inflammatory speeches of irresponsible natives [one man in particular is mentioned] and jeers of the women, who as always with African troubles, prevented a peaceful termination of the episode. [Kenya Colony and Protectorate 1922:7]


The Acting Commissioner of the Kenya Police, J. C. Bentley, reported in a similar vein:

I called on the crowd to select six of their men which they did; these I sent up to the Secretariat, and proceeded there myself, where they were interviewed by Sir Charles Bowring, who instructed them to inform the crowd to disperse, which they said they would do. I returned to the lines and found that the crowd had considerably increased, there being from 7,000 to 8,000 Kikuyu intermixed with a few Indians, and a large party of native women had arrived, probably 150....When the deputation of six eventually arrived from the Secretariat two of the members went amongst the crowd and called on them to disperse; after some considerable talking there was a tendency on the part of the crowd to disperse, but the women present shouted to the men in aggravating tones which made them apparently change their minds, and they pressured up to the gates and corrugated iron walls round the lines....As far as I am aware 16 men and 2 women have been killed, and 22 men and women have been wounded [Kenya Colony and Protectorate 1922:10-11].


At the inquest B. A. Crean, the Nairobi Resident Magistrate, testified as follows:


The Acting Commissioner of Police arrived back at the lines from this interview with Sir Charles Bowring about 10.45 a.m., and found that the crowd had considerably increased and that the members of it had changed and become quite hostile. This change of attitude is attributed to the fact that certain natives were making inflammatory and seditious speeches to them, and at this time the crowd was increasing in numbers quickly by the arrival of natives from all directions to join it...After the Commissioner spoke to them three of the deputation addressed the crowd and called upon them to disperse. In response to this address a large number of the crowd stood up and looked as if they were going to move off, when, unfortunately, some women who had been in the crowd all the morning called the men who were going to move off 'cowards' and some other names, which had apparently the effect of enraging them. The result of these remarks by the women was that the crowd surged immediately up to a fence at the South Gate where there were forty askaris 'at ease;' the askaris were then ordered by Captain Carey, Superintendent of Police, to bring their rifles to the 'engage' position, and Captain Lumley, Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police, immediately put 20 men at the danger point on boxes, so that they could see over the corrugated iron fence, and he issued to the men 20 more rounds of ammunition...Captain Carey took hold of this person [a male agitator who was inciting the crowd] and threw him amongst the men, but in doing so Captain Carey fell, and as he fell the crowd shouted, threw stones, and rushed toward the corrugated iron fence at the South Gate, and in this rushing by the crowd, a rifle went off, and it was followed immediately by a fusillade by the askaris guarding the gate into the oncoming crowd, and the firing was taken up by the askaris at Government Road side. This firing by askaris lasted between one and two minutes....

What might seem rather remarkable here is that there is no evidence given that the askaris were ordered to fire on the crowd by their officers; but when it is considered that the askaris were on duty for practically 18 hours continuously, that they were subjected to the taunts and leers of the crowd the entire morning, and that the officer in charge of them was on the ground at the time the first shot was fired in a scuffle with one of the most aggressive ringleaders, it appears to me their action is not to be wondered at or criticised.... As the crowd at 9 a.m. on the 16th was perfectly quiet the plan of sending six of the leaders as a deputation to the Governor's deputy appears to me to have been a well conceived one, in fact, I consider the wisdom of it is proved by the fact that the crowd had got up to move off after being addressed by the deputation, and I have no doubt would have done so had it not been for the unfortunate interference by the women of the crowd [Kenya Colony and Protectorate 1922:17-18].


The Director of Public Works, W. McGregor Ross, reported as follows:


The Director of Public Works had motored to the Secretariat and asked to see Sir Charles Bowring. It had appeared to him that if complete passivity on the part of the police forces were ordered, and if they abstained from reprisals, under exasperation by the few women in the crowd, the bulk of it, as the lunch-hour approached, would cease to be interested in the situation and would disperse.... The English Chaplain of Nairobi, the Rev.W.J. Wright, had been in the crowd most of the morning...He was convinced that the women were the cause of the immediate agitation [Ross 1927:231, 233].


And according to the Reverend Wright, Vicar of All Saints Anglican Church, who was in the crowd:


The crowd was mostly seated in groups and very orderly. He (Wright) walked through most of the groups and was struck by their apparent peacefulness. It had reminded him more of a Sunday School treat...several times they had prayers... there were fully 200 women collected there. The women made a great noise...very slowly the women made towards the corrugated fence. They came to within a yard of the bayonets. The askaris in front of the actual gate knelt down and appeared to raise their rifles, probably at what was termed the 'engage' [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:51].


Job Muchuchu, a founding member of the Young Kikuyu Association, a major figure in the EAA and later the long-time secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association [Thuku 1970:20, 23], recalled the scene in detail many years later.21


When they [the delegation of six that spoke with the Colonial Secretary] returned at mid-day, they spoke to the crowd, telling them that the Government had promised to give Thuku a fair trial and that they should now disperse. But the temper of the crowd was by now too high. They accused the delegation of having been bribed, and the women in particular became very excited. Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru (from Weithaga in Location 10 of Fort Hall District) leapt to her feet, pulled her dress right up over her shoulders and shouted to the men: "You take my dress and give me your trousers. You men are cowards. What are you waiting for? Our leader is in there. Let's get him." Hundreds of women trilled their ngemi [a high-pitched cry] in approbation and from that moment on trouble was probably inevitable. Mary and the others pushed on until the bayonets of the rifles were pricking at their throats, and then the firing started. Mary was one of the first to die [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:51-2, from an interview with Job Muchuchu, May 1964].


About the riot Thuku wrote:


On the next morning I could see the Norfolk [the adjacent hotel] through my cell, and I noticed that a large crowd was building up...People were pressing nearer and nearer to the police lines, and one woman, Mary Nyanjiru, began to shout that they should get their leader free. The police opened fire from the front, and I heard that some of the settlers who had gathered on the Norfolk Hotel shot at the Africans from behind. Many Africans were killed or wounded, and the death of the woman Mary showed that women were in the forefront of Kenya's fight for freedom [Thuku 1970:33].

The official casualty figures given at the inquest were twenty one Africans killed, among them four women, and twenty eight wounded.


An inquiry exonerated the police, who had been on duty for more than twenty four hours. Under pressure from the missionaries and the chiefs, and concerned about Thuku's increasingly anti-colonial stand, the government shipped him off to remote Kismayu on the coast and detained him without trial until 1931. The administration, the Colonial Office and the settlers were alarmed by the protests. The EAA, though banned, apparently carried on secretly for a while but little more was heard from it.22 African grievances were given some frank discussion and the tax was reduced from 16 to 12 shillings.


This signalled the end of attempts to coerce more and more Africans into the labour force by increasing their tax rate. Never again were taxes raised for the sole purpose of filling labour needs [Clayton and Savage 1974:145]. Churchill issued his dispatch, which considerably modified labour policy. Already concerned over the forced-labour issue, Churchill's confidence was further weakened in Governor Northey, who was replaced that same year. The worst labour camps were closed23 [Clayton and Savage 1974:121, 145].


Since the women played only a small part in the Thuku movement there is little point in trying to assess the consequences of their action upon the colonial system other than to note that their advance towards the soldiers, culminating in the deaths of twenty-one people, dramatically demonstrated the serious tensions that existed and the urgent need for reform, and probably prodded the authorities in Kenya and England into action. In discussing the evolving processes in the 1930s that were to lead Kenya into a new era of labour relations, Clayton and Savage conclude: "Perhaps the most significant of the processes was the emergence of an ill co-ordinated but clear African protest, part political, part industrial, in the most densely populated and therefore the largest labour supplying areas of Kenya" [Clayton and Savage 1974:19].


Women take over crowd "leadership"


What conclusions can be drawn from the various testimonies about the women's behaviour? The African deputation and the British authorities had agreed that it was best for the crowd to disperse and the crowd was about to follow their leaders' orders when the women, defying their own leaders and the colonial authorities, taunted the men and apparently shamed them into staying. The women, it appears, became angry because they felt the men had capitulated to the authorities. Their aim even on the previous day had been to rescue Thuku. Following Mary Nyanjiru, they pushed their way right up to the police lines. "Suddenly a section of them made a rush for the prison door" [Leys 1924:197]. Then the firing started. Since the Governor, the Acting Commissioner of Police, and Nairobi's Resident Magistrate all blamed the women for preventing "a peaceful termination of the episode," it is tempting to suggest that they were looking for a scapegoat. The last thing needed by the Kenyan administration, already under fire in England over the forced-labour issue, was a bloody riot. General Northey was in the hot seat. His judgement over the Northey Circular was being questioned and he had tried to patch things up by issuing an amending circular. But criticism had not abated. Now the administration was faced with explaining policies that had led to Nairobi's first political riot and the death and injury of forty-nine people. It would be convenient if the blame could be shifted from excitable askaris and their commanding officers to excitable women. The Resident Magistrate had said that there was "no evidence given that the askaris were ordered to fire," which suggests that they were indeed nervous. Research on riots has shown that agents of social control tend to blame the victims rather than the control agents actually responsible for the destruction, and that they tend to believe that irrational rather than rational behaviour prevailed.


The weakness of this hypothesis is that there was unanimity among officials, independent observers, and Africans that the women's intervention had changed the course of crowd action and gave it a new direction. Muchuchu, Wright, Bentley, Crean and Ross, all at the scene, and Thuku, who could see the crowd from his cell, depicted the women as taking the initiative. Ross, one of the administration's harshest critics, whose advice on how to handle the crowds was to encourage "complete passivity on the part of the police forces," had been ignored. He could certainly be counted on to maintain his critical stance.


These observations were made by both African and British men in a setting where, if Africans were consulted at all, it was African men getting together with British men about what should be done. It is noteworthy that the Acting Commissioner of Police told the crowd to select six men to form a deputation, that it was the Colonial Secretary and the male deputation who reached agreement that the crowd should disperse, and that all seven men quoted here, important figures in the riot and the inquest, felt that the women were responsible for the crowd's failure to disperse. The fact that African and British men agreed on what the women did suggests that the women must have acted concertedly. Otherwise the dominant perspective that saw only men as political actors would never have been discarded.


Many witnesses at the inquest testified to being very much impressed with the women's unity and courage. That the women were seen as heroines in African eyes is evident from the song, the Kanyegenuri, which commemorates their deeds, especially the bravery of Mary Nyanjiru. Years later during the Mau Mau struggle the Kanyegenuri became an anthem of resistance. This interpretation does not deny men a role in the final stage of the demonstration. The majority of demonstrators killed and wounded were men. One male in particular was an effective agitator. But it was the women's actions as a group that were repeatedly mentioned.


The women's ability to change the crowd from one course of action to another and their presence in the front line of demonstrators suggest some kind of unity, a unity that may well have been bolstered by oathing. Elizabeth Waruiru, the stepdaughter of the legendary Mary Nyanjiru, told of taking an EAA oath the night before the demonstration. She named James Njorage, an important member of the EAA and its successor the Kenya Central Association, as the oath-giver and the police station where the crowd had gathered as the place [Spencer 1985:43, interview on 11 October 1973]. Since she was then a young girl living with her stepmother Nyanjiru, the latter would have been with her and was probably oathed as well as the other women who were at the demonstration. Oathing undoubtedly raised the women's level of political consciousness and helped create the discipline and unity required to spearhead the rescue attempt.


Supposing the women were oathed, and there is no reason to doubt Waruiru's claim since she named not only the oath-giver but also the exact place where the oath was administered, this was a significant innovation, since it violated Kikuyu mores. According to Jomo Kenyatta: "Women were excluded from taking any of these oaths. Their husband or sons took the responsibility, for the women were not considered fit mentally and bodily to stand the ordeal which involved not only the individual going through it but the whole family group" [1961:225].24


The oathing of women was a step in the direction of treating women as equals rather than as juveniles. It suggests a view of women as people of integrity who can be trusted with secrets and who are important enough to oath. The EAA thus apparently scored a first on two accounts: it was the first political organisation to make use of tribal oaths [Spencer 1985:43] and it was the first organisation to oath women. This highlights the interesting anomaly of an organisation denying membership to women yet oathing them in support of its goals. Women were not permitted to join any Kikuyu political association until the 1930s. The exact year was probably 1933, when, after forming their own association, the Mumbi Central Association, women returned to the Kikuyu Central Association and increasingly assumed leadership positions in rural politics [Presley 1986:56-7].


Use of a traditional insult


There has been no explanation of how women took over crowd leadership at the riot other than Ross's contention that they were mainly excitable Nairobi prostitutes who aroused the crowd and that the police hoses should have been turned on them in order to relieve the mounting tension [Ross 1927:239]. Nor has there been any explanation of Nyanjiru's strange behaviour in pulling her skirt up above her shoulders while at the same time heaping scorn on the men and suggesting that the women would do what the men should have done. Her action bears a striking resemblance to the strongest insult - a form of curse - at the disposal of Kikuyu women, the guturamira ng'ania, the displaying of one's genitals to the person or thing cursed. Quarrelling women might use it when they were furious with each other. It was also used as a group curse by all the women in a community. For example, women of one ridge showed their disapproval of women of another ridge or of some domineering person who had aroused their ire by removing their undergarments, standing in a line with their backs toward the offender, bending forward and lifting their skirts in unison.25 That gesture indicated the end of social intercourse with the person or persons thus insulted, or, in the case of a man, the women's refusal any longer to recognise his authority. Only on rare occasions when extremely provoked did women use this curse and Kikuyu generally found it disgusting [Lambert 1956:99].


Nyanjiru's offer to exchange attire with the men was a well-understood insult. One of the verses of the Muthirigu, a hymn of resistance that was sung during the female circumcision controversy, went as follows:


When Johnstone (Kenyatta in England) shall return

With the King of Kikuyu (Thuku in restriction) Philip and Koinange

Will don women's robes.

[Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:122]


The words "Philip" and "Koinange" refer to chiefs named by Thuku as responsible for recruiting women labourers.


At the demonstration the women did not form a line and raise their skirts in unison, but, given the circumstances, that would hardly have been possible. Nyanjiru's gesture together with her taunt signalled a repudiation of male authority, at least temporarily, and women taking the lead. The women's behaviour, far from being idiosyncratic, appears to have followed a traditional practice and, from the fact that the women trilled their battle cry and followed Nyanjiru's lead as she advanced toward the police guarding the station, to have had group backing.


Who were these women?


The only woman at the demonstration whose name we know is Mary Nyanjiru. At the time of the 'riot' she was living in Nairobi, although she came from Weithaga in Location 10 of the Fort Hall District [Spencer 1985:53]. This was an area where Thuku had strong support, especially among the young Christian converts who were solidly behind him [Thuku 1970:30].26 She was probably a member of the Church Mission Society at Weithaga.


The women at the riot were in all likelihood Kikuyu. The EAA had called the demonstration and general strike, and although it sought a trans-tribal membership, its members were predominantly Kikuyu. Furthermore, the majority of women who came to Nairobi in the first two decades of the century were either Kikuyu, whose homeland adjoins Nairobi, or Kalenjin, whose homeland lies some 100-150 miles away. They came to escape wife-beating, arranged marriages, parental and marital quarrels, or because of childlessness, widowhood, elopements that failed to work out, or being orphaned. Some women were brought by female relatives already living on their own in the city. The motives of many seem inspired by the old maxim "Town air makes free" [Bujra 1975:217-20]. By migrating to Nairobi they had escaped from the orbit of customary law and were no longer subject to male authority.27 These women were willing to accept both the risks and the challenges the city offered.


Ross, an astute observer of the Kenyan scene, refers to the women as "mostly town prostitutes". There were few other jobs for African women at that time in Nairobi and prostitution flourished, so there is no reason to doubt the broad accuracy of his observation [Bujra 1975; White 1980]. We can assume at least that some of the women at the demonstration were prostitutes.


In this early period the law of supply and demand worked in the prostitute's favour. There was an abundance of customers, rooms were cheap, and she could rely on the goodwill of the community in which she was an active participant for protection against violent customers. There was no need for middlemen, the pimps and brothel-owners who so often exploit prostitutes. Each woman organised her own business and lived on her own [Bujra 1975:221-2].


The women achieved high incomes from prostitution and some made extra money by brewing beer. They invested their money in building and buying homes; quite a few owned two houses. Some bought urban property outside Nairobi but not in their village of birth, and some branched out into other enterprises. Their money-making ability equalled or surpassed that of men and even today women own almost half the houses in Pumwani, Nairobi's oldest existing "African location" [Bujra 1975:213].


Nairobi prostitutes were responsible only to themselves. They married when and whom they chose, and since they could not rely on men, they took full responsibility for the raising of their children. Prostitution, "within the limits of an exploitive colonial context, (allowed women) to gain an unusual measure of equality with men" [Bujra 1975:215].


The women's issues that Thuku championed were of little concern to urban women. But two other issues were of vital concern. The brewing and selling of beer, usually an adjunct of prostitution rather than a separate occupation, was a profitable part of some women's income. In 1921 the Nairobi Council forbade beer-brewing by Africans. It set up a municipal brewery in Pumwani and was soon doing a thriving business though it was noted that "drunken natives" were getting beer from "other sources" [Bujra 1975:222-3]. Women continued to brew and sell beer though now they were subjected to harassment, arrest, fines and imprisonment. Many resorted to bribing the police to turn a blind eye to their activities, at the cost of money and probably sexual favours. Hence beer-brewing in 1922 was not nearly as attractive as it had previously been.


The other issue that probably angered the prostitutes was the city's plan to demolish their homes and banish them from the city's streets. One European argument in support of the plan to demolish "native villages" and build a new, sanitary municipal location for Africans was that venereal disease was becoming a serious problem in Nairobi. Pumwani was built in 1921-2 on the outskirts of Nairobi, and one of the first buildings erected was a venereal disease clinic [Bujra 1975:220]. The campaign to rid Nairobi proper of prostitutes was probably well underway in 1921 and early 1922 when the Thuku disturbances occurred; if not, rumours about the impending dislocation were probably rampant.


Their [prostitutes] appearance in Nairobi's streets was short-lived because their residency in Asian areas coincided with the Medical Department's stated purpose of "taking action against unsanitary premises" and demolitions were commonplace. In late 1923 the medical officer of health wrote to the chief native commissioner about brothels28 and prostitutes in Nairobi announcing the transformation his office had brought about in Canal Road: "You will note that there would appear to be no longer brothels in Canal Road, which, owing now to improvements which have been carried many premises, has become a desirable residential area" [White 1980:8].


By 1924 the prostitutes had been driven off Nairobi's streets into Pumwani and Pangani locations or had returned to their homelands.


Prostitutes then had two reasons, both important to their livelihood, to be disgruntled with the authorities. And those living in Pangani, where the EAA had its public meetings on Sunday afternoons at the sports grounds [Clayton and Savage 1974:120], were probably well acquainted with its anti-government stand. The Thuku demonstrations provided them with an opportunity to show their dislike of the authorities and the police. Since they had already broken with customary law they would feel little compunction about defying male authority at the demonstration. It was entirely in keeping with their independent life style.


We are told that 150 women arrived as a party at the demonstration [Kenya Colony and Protectorate 1922:10-11]. There is no mention in contemporary accounts, however, of specific women's groups or of any delegation of women from the Fort Hall District.29 Given the little interest there was in women's groups at the time, this is not at all surprising. What in all likelihood occurred was that women from the same areas, be it town or country, met to walk together to the demonstration.


H. E. Lambert, writing about female social and political institutions, is exceptional even if vague:


Whether there are formally constituted women's lodges it is impossible at present to say with any certainty. Men sometimes talk of a kiama kia aka ('women's lodge'), but generally mean an ndundu ya atumia ('secret meeting of dames') in reference to some particular subject...Men say they do not know for certain whether such gatherings of women are merely called for specific purposes or whether they are ad hoc committees of permanent and organized chiama....


He concludes:


Whether or not the women have lodges they certainly have the means and will to mobilize themselves with speed over a wide area for concerted action when they feel that their rights have been disregarded or their sphere invaded [Lambert 1956:95-6, 100].


Only recently has this lack of knowledge about women's groups been partly remedied. Research has shown that women's organisations with social, economic and judicial functions did indeed exist [Stamp 1975-76:25; Kershaw 1973:55; Clark 1980:363-8]. Certainly the many cooperative ventures organised by Kikuyu women in post-colonial Kenya, some based on traditional modes of co-operation, suggest that collective activity was well understood and practised [Wachtel 1975-76:69-80].


A tradition of collective even militant action


I lack the data to ascertain whether the women acted spontaneously or according to some preconceived plan. Their effort to rescue Thuku probably developed on the spot, like much crowd interaction does, when they were told to disperse. In their eyes, the male leadership had failed both them and Thuku, and they simply resorted to familiar female tactics: the sexual insult, leers and the shrill cry.


Was their endeavour highly unusual or was it commonplace for women to defy men? Given male dominance of public positions and an ideology that enshrined male superiority, female insubordination would appear to be out of keeping with Kikuyu practices. However, there is impressionistic evidence to the contrary. Governor Northey's somewhat exaggerated remark about the women, "who as always with African troubles prevented a peaceful termination of the episode," indicates that their behaviour was not all that unusual and even followed a predictable pattern [Kenya Colony and Protectorate 1922:7]. While I lack evidence of female protest prior to 1920, this does not mean its absence: it only means that it was not written about.30


There is ample evidence of Kikuyu women in the succeeding decades coming together to protect their interests. Women organised strikes and tried to better their conditions of work [Presley 1985]. Lambert cites several examples. In 1934 thousands of women marched on the Meru administrative station and demanded that corpses buried under the Native Authority Ordinance be exhumed because the burial had caused a drought. In 1938 a number of women went to Nairobi to object to the planting of grass 'wash-stops'. And in 1939 a group of women looted an Indian shop whose owner they felt was not giving them a fair price for their agricultural produce. In the same year another group demanded the sacrifice of a sheep from an old man whose son had killed a man causing, they believed, a poor harvest [Lambert 1956:100].


Yet another instance of protest, known as the 'revolt of the women', occurred in 1947-48. It involved the women of Fort Hall and focused on the government's soil conservation scheme. The women, who had been doing the bulk of the terracing, refused to participate any longer and their boycott brought the project to a standstill. The District Commissioner found it impossible to believe that the women had acted on their own and concluded that they must have been spurred on by a clique of young urban men intent on sabotaging the administration's progressive measures.31 His opinion was common among Europeans.


These protests suggest that women had rights which they resolutely protected. Rosberg and Nottingham conclude their account of the 'Thuku troubles' by noting that over the next few decades there would be more evidence of "the power and strength of Kikuyu women when politically aroused" [1966:55].


These ventures into the political arena are all the more remarkable because women, unlike men, had largely been excluded from modern education and from any formal participation in the colonial political system. They confronted an informal coalition of male attitudes, African and British, which was largely unspoken since there was so much agreement. These attitudes were typified in the remarks of Kenyatta on female oathing and by the District Commissioner of Fort Hall:


The women of the tribe are more untouched by social progress than the men, and this must of necessity be so for the women are bound to their homes and gardens in the Reserves: They are also by nature more cautious and conservative.32


Women control valuable resources and have relatively high status


Other factors that encouraged women's independent spirit and their willingness to defy the authorities was Kenyan society's emphasis on achievement and the women's considerable bargaining power and relatively high status vis-a-vis men.


Responsibility for most of the day-to-day farming fell on women. They undertook the planting, harvesting and processing of food, making all the necessary decisions. They decided whether or not to produce a surplus. It was the woman's right to dispose as she wished of any surplus as long as her family and guests were taken care of at all times [Kershaw 1975-76:179].


Performing these tasks and her other family duties efficiently brought a woman much respect not only from other women but from the entire community [Kenyatta 1961:63]. A girl's chance of a good marriage depended upon her work performance. No young man, regardless of how much he loved a girl, would be permitted to marry her if his parents considered her to be incompetent or lazy. Girls considered a reputation of being a hard worker more important than that of being a good dancer or good looking [Leakey 1977:741].


Women engaged in long-distance trading, produced food and kept their own livestock and thus controlled resources essential to male power. A wife's contribution of cooked food and beer facilitated a 'big man's' entertaining and gift-giving, through which he recruited followers, increased his influence and built up alliances. A plentiful supply of food and beer was also needed to reward work parties that cleared bush and permitted a man to expand his land holdings. Women, by withholding these resources, could hinder men from developing their power base. Carolyn Clark [1980] has demonstrated that women's subsistence activities were an integral part of the political economy.


Within women's organizations and through their roles as wives and mothers Kikuyu women had authority to make certain decisions, including the allocation of the harvest. The power they had to secure compliance was based on their spiritual powers, strength of character, ability to use kin lines of influence to their advantage, and the knowledge of the indispensability of their household services [Clark 1980:367].


Women's control of important resources and their valued contribution to a man's status and power lessened the distance that separated men's and women's statuses. The gap was not unbridgeable and women would question and on occasion even challenge male authority.


The existence of women's groups was particularly important because in these groups women learn to cooperate towards attaining common goals and through discussion acquired knowledge of their rights and how to protect them [Clark 1980:367; Wipper 1984]. Women in such a milieu are more likely than women acting alone to evaluate male action and, if they disagree with it, reject it.


Even though women had their own associations that in some ways paralleled the men's, the Kikuyu had only a limited dual-sex organisation [Clark 1980:36]. Government was based on a series of men's councils from which women were excluded.33 These councils made decisions considered binding on both men and women, whereas women's council meetings dealt with decisions that affected only women: the circumcision of girls, birth and religious activities [Kenyatta 1961:194-5].

Some uniformities of female militancy


I am attempting in this modest study to systematise some data on female militancy at a low level of generalisation. There are obviously many differences between the relatively simple role women played in the Thuku protest which was comprised of demonstrations and a strike on two consecutive days, and the much more complex Anlu Uprising in British Cameroon and the Women's War in Nigeria, which both continued for more than a month with demonstrations, attacks on jails and much damage to property.34 Regardless of the differences between these events, however, they all constitute examples of female militancy and my focus is on their similarities. Sometimes one similarity holds more strongly for one society than for another. These three cases are not necessarily typical, though they do involve interesting parallels despite differences in time, locale and culture.


The patterns and characteristics of militancy


There are some striking similarities in the behaviour of militant women in East and West Africa. Singing and dancing were important components of their rituals. Both the Kom and the Kikuyu women ululated high-pitched cries and blew whistles that served as signals to other women. Kom and Igbo women summoned women who would go to an offender's compound, where they danced and sang abusive and indecent songs. Sometimes they physically assaulted him, destroyed his hut and other property [Ardener 1975:36-7; Van Allen 1972:170].


The sanctioning device, whether it be the guturamira ng'ania, anlu or 'making war', contained a strong obscene element reminiscent of some of our all-male sporting groups where scatological talk, sexual insults and horseplay prevail. Kikuyu women exposed their genitals and buttocks to the offender, the Kom defiled his compound by urinating and defecating all over it, and the Igbo sang scurrilous songs and questioned his manhood. These exhibitions, which revealed an impudent effrontery, especially when used against government dignitaries, were meant to embarrass the offender by showing the women's contempt and utter lack of respect.35


A strong element in these tactics is the 'status degradation ceremony' [Garfinkel 1956:420-24]. Women's indignation over an offence against a woman or women was exhibited in a public ceremony designed to ridicule and shame the offender who had broken important women's values. He would be vilified and cast out from the community of law-abiding people until he displayed contrition.


The use in all three cases of the powerful weapon of public humiliation is probably a common strategy in situations of conflict where one party has a decided advantage over the other in terms of power and sheer physical strength, and where avenues for presenting grievances are absent or have proved ineffective.


In clashes with the authorities, the women's behaviour can be seen as an extension or modification of their traditional methods of punishment to a broader and more damaging scale. Insults, boycotts, ridicule, harassment, physical assault and the destruction of property were all employed. Igbo, Ibibio and Kom women adopted male symbols, wore pieces of male clothing and covered themselves with vines. Kikuyu women taunted men by suggesting an exchange of clothing. Identification with the male role probably signified the offender's failure to fulfil his obligations. Hence the end of male dominance and the taking over of male roles with all their prerogatives by women, a form of role reversal. In taking on the male role, Kom and Kikuyu women addressed men as if they were women - another insult. This topsy-turvy state of affairs could only be righted by the culprit repenting and assuming his proper role with all its obligations.


The results of the women's political activities were mixed and somewhat difficult to ascertain. In the Kom Uprising the women secured several of their numerous demands: an Anlu leader was allowed to sit on the local council and the Roman Catholic authorities transferred several unpopular teachers. Ardener writes that eventually things settled down to a new order but fails to explain the new order [1975:40].


The Women's War was successful in deferring for a while the taxation of women and in getting rid of the corrupt system of warrant chiefs, but in the long run it did little to enhance women's political power and authority [Mba 1982:97].


Since women played only a minor role in Thukuism, their activity was of little account in bringing about change compared with the efforts of Thuku and the EAA, and of humanitarian interests in Kenya and England. As would-be Thuku liberators their actions apparently caused the askaris to fire into the crowd. This tragic event emphasised the urgency of the situation and probably led to the reforms then under consideration being given a higher priority by officials in Kenya and England.


There are several constraints on women's political participation that should be considered. Excluded from the formal political structure, women had to resort to extra-legal channels to voice their grievances. This required verve and audacity, was dramatic and heroic, but was costly in time and effort. Once the explosive aspects of their ventures were dissipated, the system tended to settle back into its routine or somewhat altered ways.


As wives, mothers, farmers and traders, women were already overburdened with diverse demands on their time and energy. They produced and prepared the food that fed large families. They mothered many children. They carried out the tiring chores of getting water and firewood. Study after study has shown that African women average considerably more hours of work a day than men, much of it physical labour. To engage in a riot or a rebellion was a drain on their already taxed resources. To engage in protest over an extended period of time was beyond the capacity of most women. Hence, their involvement could be for a limited time only while colonial administrators and many African men had no such constraints.36


Another characteristic of female militancy is the lack of rewards for its leaders. Instead of co-opting them into the administration, instead of securing formal or public positions for them, as happened with men,37 they remained largely anonymous. Although Kikuyu women were the heroines of the demonstration, the sole woman we know of is Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru, though the names of a number of African men connected with the protest are recorded. Mamma Abdula and Mamma Neng are the only women mentioned in accounts of the Anlu Uprising although thousands of women were involved. The Women's War is an exception. Since there was a commission of inquiry and since it has been much researched, the names of many participants are known.


An unpopular colonial regime


In these precolonial societies women had had a fair measure of self-government, well-established rights and ways to handle grievances. Igbo society has been characterised as a dual-sex political system with women's interests represented at all levels. The Kikuyu and Kom had more limited dual-sex systems.


While colonial government can be faulted for being insensitive to Africans' needs in general, it was both insensitive to and ignorant of the institutions, rights and aspirations of African women. It tended to perceive African women as apolitical and in the Women's War and the Anlu Uprising British officials believed that the women were being secretly organised and directed by men [Van Allen 1972:176; Ritzenthaler 1972:400]. Colonial government was particularly disliked by women, who lost most in power and self-government under it and/or acquired additional burdens.38 Women were excluded from the administration while African men were brought into the system at the lowest levels and allocated what prestigious and authoritative positions were available. This gave individual African men great power and high status relative to other Africans.


Under colonialism Kikuyu women continued to provide for their family's sustenance, performing work that involved time-consuming, labour-intensive tasks. In addition, with the implementation of the Northey Circular, they acquired the onerous tasks of working on government projects and on settlers' farms. Much of this work was required at the very time when the women's work in their own gardens was heaviest. Since it directly clashed with their own interests it was strongly resented.


Conflict between colonial government and the women came out most clearly at the level of local government where the colonial system directly impinged on their daily lives. The women's strongest hostility was reserved not for the British, but for their local agents. Chiefs, headmen, court clerks, tribal police and labour recruiters often abused their power, exploiting the women who, being among the most vulnerable members of these societies, had to shoulder a disproportionate share of government-imposed burdens. In the women's eyes these men were collaborators who not only cooperated with, but profited from, the colonial regime. In Kenya their songs praised Thuku and ridiculed the chiefs. At the Thuku demonstration the women taunted the askaris and defiantly confronted their rifles. They scathingly rejected their own male leaders, whom they saw as selling out to the British, and pursued a course of action diametrically opposed to what the men had advocated. In Igboland warrant chiefs were hated for collecting taxes and for their arbitrary and corrupt rule, and the women had only contempt for the native courts [Mba 1982; Tignor 1971; Perham 1937:201-2, 207, 234]. The Kom chief was unpopular, as were several government agents who tried to introduce change, and Anlu women, disgusted with the courts, set up their own [Ardener 1975:39]. Since the women had lost faith in the formal channels for settling grievances, they resorted to informal channels.


In both the Thuku and Aba riots African police under British command fired on unarmed demonstrators, killing and wounding 149 in all, and thus provided the women with martyrs and carved out a niche for themselves in history as the bully boys of an unpopular regime.


A strong economic position, well-defined rights and status inconsistency


The women involved in these struggles had considerable economic autonomy and well defined rights. Rural Kikuyu women controlled valuable resources essential to male power, which gave them considerable bargaining power. Enterprising Nairobi prostitutes owned houses and other urban property and their wealth in terms of money equalled or surpassed that of most men.


The rights of Kom women to land and crops, which were recognised and respected by men, gave them security and control over important discussions.39 The freedom they enjoyed in managing their farms, granting temporary loans of land to kin and friends, transmitting their land rights to close kin, and allocating and disposing of their produce gave them leverage and status [Kaberry 1952:35-48].


Igbo and Ibibio women in the late 1920s had achieved considerable wealth through the production and distribution of palm oil and cassava. Beginning in the early 1900s and up to the 1930s, women played an increasingly important role in these industries. Many farmers had turned to cash crop production and a new generation of traders had emerged, many of whom were women. Men and women from the Igbo and lbibio speaking Ngwa-Ohuhu clans of the Aba area became managers of large-scale palm oil corporations. Significantly, it was women from these clans who led the early riots in the Women's War [Ifeka-Moller 1975:139-41].


The growing and selling of cassava, known as the 'women's crop', added to the de facto power women were building up in the cash economy. This profoundly changed the social relations between husbands and wives as men became increasingly dependent financially upon their wives [Ottenberg 1959:215]. By the 1930s women in one village of Owerri Province regarded themselves as the food producers and crop owners, and all but one of the twenty crops cultivated were grown and owned by them [Ifeka-Moller 1975:139-41]. As women's financial assets grew, they diversified their business interests and used their wealth to advance their children.


These women were in an especially strong economic position as a rising commercial group with control over impressive economic assets, but as a group they were, like women in the other two colonies, denied participation in the political system. They, as well as the Kenyan prostitutes, were in a position of status inconsistency and, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, such people tend to harbour strong resentments and are likely recruits to protest movements.


Precolonial society as relatively egalitarian:

status gained largely by achievement


In these societies during precolonial times men had more power, more wealth and more status than women. But although men received the bulk of their money from bridewealth, controlled land through patrilineages, and held the most prestigious titles, women were not without wealth, power and autonomy. They held important and respected positions in their societies and had considerable control over the disposal of the crops, freedom to travel and attend to their own affairs. Well-off Kikuyu, Igbo and lbibio women had an unusual measure of equality with men. The gap between men's and women's status was not so great that it was unthinkable for women to challenge male, even colonial authority.


Furthermore, status based on achievement was stressed over status based on ascription. Energy and skill in farming were important to a Kom woman's success as they provided the means by which she could gain entrance to, and rank in, a prestige-conferring society such as the afaf [Kaberry 1952:48].


Among the Igbo, membership in the ikipore ani, a representative body of women, was based sometimes on lineage but always on achievement. To become an opinion leader and eligible for membership, a woman had to demonstrate the qualities of logic and the ability to "talk well". Since achievement was culturally valued, women were encouraged to develop their talents whether in farming, trading or organising. Therefore it is not surprising to find a grassroots leadership springing to the fore. Leadership of a women's movement could provide energetic and talented women with an avenue to prestige and authority among women and recognition by men. Because of this emphasis on achievement women would have lacked any deep respect for age, sex, birth or formal authority as criteria of rank, and this was probably an important factor in their readiness to protest.


A tradition of collective, even militant, action


Women apparently understood the importance of female solidarity, understood that in unity lies strength. Perham notes that in the Women's War the women called themselves Oha Ndi Nyiom which roughly translates to 'women world' or 'spirit of womanhood.' "When the character of the riots themselves is reviewed, the overwhelming impression is the vigour and solidarity of the women" [1937:211, 214]. Leith Ross makes a similar observation:


More than the men, they seem to be able to cooperate, to stand by each other even in difficulties, and to follow a common aim... Among the women, there seems to be something - perhaps merely the bond of sex - that links them up over wide areas so that a woman's call to women would echo far beyond the boundaries of her own town [1939:21-2].


Anlu at its peak was estimated to have the backing of 99 per cent of Kom women. Historically the Kom had a queen, chosen by the women to represent them, who possessed considerable authority, even her own stool, symbolic of chiefly rank [Ritzenthaler 1972:401]. In these societies women traditionally had their institutions and associations, and it was their collective strength that gave women political clout [Kaberry 1952:97-101].40 The twentieth-century protests were not unique but part of historical patterns. Time and again women had proved their mettle by demonstrating an ability to mobilise rapidly to protect their common interests.


Collective action provided a way of handling matters of particular concern to women, of seeing that their rules and regulations were enforced. Many of the tactics used, such as strikes, demonstrations, boycotts and ostracism, depended for their effectiveness on the cooperation of all women. One reason for women's solidarity probably lies in the separateness of men's and women's worlds. Women developed strong relationships with their mothers, sisters and other women to whom they turned for support. Or, to put it another way, they were free from a psychological dependence on men.


Observers have commented on the character of Igbo women. "Among the Ibo...the women do play an influential part, not only by native custom but because of their inherent vitality, independence of views, courage, self-confidence, desire for gain and worldly standing" [Leith-Ross 1939:21-2]. Perham describes the character of the women involved in the Women's War:

Such a movement is almost unthinkable among the more docile stay-at-home women of the greater part of eastern and southern Africa, but the West Coast women, at least in those parts where neither strong measures of conquest nor Islam have tamed them, seem to be made of sterner stuff. The traveller from East Africa must be struck at once on his arrival in Igbo country by the huge crowd of strenuous, excited women who fill the markets and stream along the roads in pursuit of trade, and whose manner is markedly free both towards himself and their fellows [1937:211].


Having had considerable self-government and their own associations, women were accustomed to presenting and defending viewpoints, making and enforcing rules, learning to compromise, and in general had developed useful political skills. These skills in turn gave them self-confidence and self-images as independent actors: bold, competent, resourceful women who quite matter-of-factly handled their own affairs.41 Any encroachment upon or abrogation of their rights, be it by chiefs, agricultural officers, colonial administrators or even the head of state, was met with righteous indignation and a will to resist.


Female militancy was enshrined in the folklore in the form of heroines, legends, martial symbols and distinctive garb. The Kom had a tale of women warriors repelling the enemy [Ardener 1975:36]. The bravery of the Kikuyu women was extolled in the Kanyegenuri song. Wreathing the head in young ferns, swathing sticks in palm fronds, wearing pieces of men's clothing and covering the body with vines were symbols of female militancy. It was not that such militancy occurred frequently or even regularly, but it happened and was not forgotten.42 Such a tradition, respected by both men and women, helped legitimise women's protest. Since the folklore provided role models such as Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru as well as a tradition of successful militancy, it facilitated its recurrence.


Appendix A


Resolutions of the East African Association


The mass meeting of Natives of Kenya puts on record that in its opinion the presence of Indians in the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya is not prejudicial to the advancement of Natives, as has often been alleged by the Convention of Associations and some of the writers in the press, and is of the further opinion that next to missionaries the Indians are their best friends.


That this meeting strongly protests against the Registration of Natives Ordinance, against the practice of compulsorily taking out of girls and married women to plantations for work which has culminated into immoral practice, against the increased Hut and Poll Tax, and most respectfully requests the Secretary of State for the Colonies to repeal them.


This meeting requests the Government to make suitable provision for the education of children of the soil and that schools be started at all important centres.


That this mass meeting views with great alarm and strongly condemns the movement started by the European settlers to cut down native wages and requests the Government not to countenance it at all.


This meeting respectfully urges the Government to apply the revenue derived from the natives of Kenya to the benefit of Natives and especially to their education.


That this meeting requests the Government to give franchise to all educated British subjects in the country to return representatives to Legislative and Municipal Council of the country.


That this meeting requests the Indian delegation now on its way to England to represent their case to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the above lines, and if necessary to the Prime Minister also.


That this meeting authorises the Chairman to send the above resolutions to the Secretary of State for the Colonies through the local Government by cable if necessary and to bodies and newspapers at his discretion.

[Resolutions of EAA, 10 July 1921, Oldham Papers, Edinburgh House, London] 43


Appendix B


Thuku's cable to London, 13 July 1921


Prime Minister, London

Chapelries, London

India Office, London

Lord Islington, Lords

Wedgewood, Commons

Jeevanjee, care, Vasili London



Native mass meeting held Sunday 10th July over two thousand natives present declared Indians presence not prejudicial natives advancement as alleged convention of associations stop Next to missionaries Indians our best friends demanded repeal Natives Registration Ordinance compulsory taking of girls married women for plantation work culminating into immoral practice also increase hut poll tax stop Humble request apply native revenue for solely native benefits specially education open schools important centres stop Condemned European settlers movement cutting down our already low wages stop Give franchise all educated British subjects....

[Oldham Papers, Edinburgh House, London]44 [Thuku 1970:83-4]






1. I wish to thank Murray Last and his readers for many helpful criticisms and suggestions.


2. See my "Riot and rebellion among African women: three examples of women's political clout," in J. F. O'Barr (ed.), Perspectives on Power, Durham, Duke University Press, 1982:50-72, and a revised version, Working Paper No. 108, Women in International Development Series, Lansing: Michigan State University, 1984. Note 34 provides references to other research on the Women's War and the Anlu Uprising.


3. There is a slight discrepancy in the date of origin in Spencer's account of the Young Kikuyu Association. He states that Thuku and his friends formed it on 7 June 1921 [Spencer 1985:38], although on the following page he discusses the meeting at Dagoretti on 24 June 1921 and states that a week later Thuku formed the Young Kikuyu Association, which would date its origin to 1 July. It was in early July that Thuku renamed it the East African Association [Thuku 1970:20-2].


4. The kipande was a labour registration scheme adopted from South Africa at the insistence of the white settlers. Under the kipande, African adult males were compelled to carry cards bearing their fingerprints to enable settlers to keep track of their labourers. For a discussion of the legitimacy of African grievances and a scathing attack on the settlers' self-interested policy, see Ross, 1927:217-37.


5. In his autobiography Thuku notes, "Do you know, even today, Kenyatta and others still call me that when we meet" [1970:47].


6. This is incorrect. The administration deported Thuku to Kismayu. He visited old missionary friends in England and Scotland in 1954 [Thuku 1970].


7. Cora Presley tells me that the women sang songs and scratched their buttocks in front of the settlers who, failing to understand the insult, assumed that the women must be infected with lice [personal communication, 19 August 1988].


8. The text of this song was sent by Dr John Arthur of the Church of Scotland Mission to the Chief Native Commissioner on 17 November 1922. Arthur provided the quoted translation for


Filipu aromakoguo

Nio matwarithirie munene wa Nyacing'a

Nyacing'a ituire Kahawa-ini

[Clayton and Savage 1974:121, 158]


Thuku also mentions the women singing this song [1970:47].


9. Among the dominant members of the Kikuyu Association were chiefs, headmen and mission employees. Its main interest was Kikuyu land alienated to settlers. Led by chiefs, it was a conservative group viewed by the administration as a "harmless Association" [Murray 1974:84]. Rosberg and Nottingham characterise the East African Association and the Kikuyu Association as follows: "Sooner or later a clash between the two groups was inevitable, for they represented what was later to be recognized as two different approaches to politics. The leaders of the rural Kikuyu Association accepted the colony's basic political structure, under which they had achieved great power and status as the new elite in the tribe. They sought only its modification and reform. On the other hand, the leaders of the East African Association tended to reject the fundamental premises of white rule, adopting a more militant and uncompromising approach to political change" [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:42-3].


10. This is a simplified version of relations between Thuku and the chiefs. For much fuller discussions, see Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:42-9; Tignor 1976:227-35; Spencer 1985:chapter 2.


11. Detractors of Thuku may well point to his support of Waiganjo wa Ndotono, one of the founders of the Young Kikuyu Association and a tribal retainer, whom the chiefs had accused of forcibly recruiting women and girls to work on coffee plantations and of permitting his followers to take advantage of these women [Tignor 1976:230-31]. To explain this element of Thuku's motivation takes one into the turbulent area of local politics, which lies outside the focus of this paper. Suffice to say that Thuku's support for Ndotono probably had more to do with his opposition to the chiefs than with any ambivalence on women's issues, which, from a 1980s perspective, are more accurately depicted as social issues.


12. The fine for beating a married woman was one ram, raping a married woman or an initiated girl, four rams, and attempting to have sexual intercourse with a woman in her own hut using threats or coercion, three rams and a ewe. In comparison, the fine for killing a person's goat or sheep was one ram plus ten goats and sheep; knocking the teeth out of a person, one ram plus five goats and sheep for each tooth; and wounding or causing permanent injury to a man's penis, fifty goats. The fine for causing the pregnancy of an unmarried girl was four or five rams and nine goats and sheep, high in contrast to the fines for injuring a woman but trivial when compared to the penalty for damaging a penis. The above discussion of fines has been simplified [see Leakey 1977:1013-32].


13. This element in the conflict was suggested by Murray Last.


14. The Young Kikuyu Association rather than the chief-dominated Kikuyu Association was probably the first association to raise the issue of the forced labour of women, at the Dagoretti meeting in June 1921, if the Governor Sir Edward Northey's interpretation of the chiefs' views is correct. He wrote to the Colonial Office: "It is clear on the evidence of the Chiefs themselves that no force whatever has been employed in sending girls to the plantations" [Clayton and Savage, 1974:158].


15. This section relies heavily on Cora Ann Presley's [1985] account of women's labour in Kiambu District in the colonial period and evidence comes from her unless otherwise stated. For broader discussions of the labour history of this period see Clayton and Savage, 1974; Ross, 1927; Berman and Lonsdale, 1980; and Tignor, 1976.


16. He was sent to Kismayu, then part of Kenya, now called Chisimaio in Somalia.


17. Karen Blixen, the gifted Danish storyteller then living on her farm in Kenya, may have become involved. In a letter to her mother Ingeborg Dinesen dated 10 August 1922 she wrote: "People here are saying that the Governor is to leave, and that we are to have the Governor of Tanganyika in his place. He is said to be pro-Indian and pro-native, which suit me very well. I have grown most interested in politics here, far more than I ever was in Danish politics, and felt like writing to Winstone [sic] Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury, you may have read that they have been making speeches about this country in the House of Commons; but I have not managed to do so yet..." [Dinesen 1986:130-1].


18. See Clayton and Savage 1974:chapter 4, and Tignor 1976:166-75, for fuller accounts of this campaign.


19. The use by chiefs of coercion in labour recruitment began prior to the First World War and was given an impetus during the war when, under order from the government and, sometimes supported by police and military detachments, they recruited for the Carrier Corps [Tignor 1976:169].


20. I am indebted to Rosberg and Nottingham, 1966; Ross, 1927; and Kenya Colony and Protectorate, 1922: Papers Relating to Native Disturbances in Kenya for most of the material on the 'riot' itself.


21. One may question Muchuchu's ability to recall Nyanjiru's exact words some forty years later. It could be that her message made a strong impression on him and, since it was short and clear, he was able to recall it or, at least, paraphrase it. Or it could be that this version has become part of Kikuyu mythology. I myself heard much the same story from a Kikuyu, Frederick Murage, in 1984. See also Wangarama's statement: "there was a fight at Nairobi...because the women asked for the men's pants." Some doubt is cast on this version by Elizabeth Waruiru whose house in Pangani village became a Kikuyu Central Association meeting place. When she first came to Nairobi from Fort Hall, Waruiru lived with her stepmother Mary Nyanjiru. Waruiru says the story of Nyanjiru sparking off the riot by accusing the men of being cowards is not true. She maintains that she arrived with her stepmother at the police lines and was next to her when she was shot by a Maasai policeman as the crowd surged forward [Spencer 1985:53; interview on 11 October 1973]. For my purpose exactly which woman took the lead and taunted the men is not of much significance. It seems unlikely that Muchuchu and Thuku would incorrectly identify the woman but, given the volatile nature of crowds and the difficulty in pinpointing exactly who did what in moments of crisis and unexpected behaviour, it certainly is a possibility. Waruiru's testimony, since she was next to Nyanjiru, is certainly hard to discount unless she had a personal reason for discrediting her.


22. Wanyoike maintains that although the Association was banned the remaining leaders carried on secretly until allowed to form the Kenya Central Association [1974:197]. According to Spencer's well-documented account, the Association held a few meetings following Thuku's arrest but after a large meeting at the Nairobi race track in August 1923 there were no more public meetings in its name [1985:56-7].


23. For a fuller discussion of the consequences of the riot see Clayton and Savage 1974:121-2.


24. In both Kenyatta's and Leakey's accounts of oathing only men are mentioned as oath-takers although, according to Lambert, women had their special forms of oaths [Kenyatta 1961:223-5; Leakey 1977:91, 96-101, 119, 493-6, 1005-13, 1025-6; Lambert 1956:98-9]


25. Skirt raising may appear to be of colonial origin since the wearing of skirts is associated with mission teaching about female modesty. While it is true that many missions taught women to wear plain frocks reaching to their ankles, traditionally Kikuyu married women wore short frocks [Tignor 1976:87]. Though these did not reach below the knee, they were nevertheless garments that could be raised [Leakey 1977:347]. The buttock-baring gesture appears to have a more or less similar meaning around the world, whether it is done by men or by women, singly or in a group. A recent example of the lone individual is that of the Maori who dropped his trousers and displayed his buttocks to Queen Elizabeth II in protest over the Crown's failure to honour old treaties [A. Fieras, "Crude form of protest a Maori tradition" [Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 2 April 1986:A7; and personal communication].


26. Kenya National Archives (henceforth KNA):PC4/1/2 Kikuyu Provincial Annual Report, 1922.


27. This interpretation was suggested by Greet Kershaw and is strengthened by Bujra's analysis.


28. Bujra takes issue with the view that prostitutes operated from brothels and were paid by the brothel-owner. She argues that these early prostitutes worked independently and were beholden to no one [1975:221-2].

29. Besides the accounts already footnoted, the Fort Hall District Annual Report, 1922 [KNA:FH/2], was also checked.


30. Betty Plewes in her study of women and trade in West Africa noted the same problem. The largest gap I found was in the descriptions and analyses of women's political activities...For example there is reference in the literature to the strikes, boycotts and demonstrations carried out by women during the nationalist struggle in Ghana, but nowhere have I been able to locate descriptions of how they were organized, who the leaders were, or what the effects were' [1977:10-11]. Fortunately research like that of Presley on women in Mau Mau is lessening this lack of information.


31. KNA:FH/48, Fort Hall District Annual Report, 1948:4.


32. KNA:FH/24, Fort Hall District Annual Report, 1924.


33. Tignor writes about Kikuyu society being "democratic" with a "diffused government of elders" where "most adult males had the right to voice their views during council meetings" [1971:342]. While I agree that these societies were more democratic and egalitarian than the kingdoms, it should be recognised that half the population, the women, did not participate in the most politically important decision-making bodies, the councils of elders.


34. The Women's War or Aba Riots, as the British called them, took place in south-eastern Nigeria in 1929. Thousands of Igbo and Ibibio women, convinced that they were to be taxed and angry at corrupt warrant chiefs for implementing disliked government policies, rebelled against colonial authority by demonstrating, destroying government buildings and harassing, even assaulting, government agents, primarily the warrant chiefs. More than a hundred women were killed or wounded in the clashes and property damage was estimated at more than 60,000 pounds. See Nigerian Government Publications, 1930a, 1930b; Perham, 1937; Leith-Ross, 1939; Green, 1964; Gailey, 1970; Van Allen, 1972; Ifeka-Moller, 1975; Mba, 1982. In the Anlu Uprising some 7,000 Kom women staged a series of mass demonstrations to protest against their rumoured taxation, the contour terracing of their farms to prevent soil erosion, and the actions of unpopular government agents. They seized control of tribal affairs in Bamenda Province of the British Cameroons, now Cameroon. By mid-1958 the women were strong enough to take the political initiative. Using anlu, a sanctioning device traditionally used by women to punish rule breakers but for this occasion revamped into a tightly organised, well disciplined association, they rendered the paramount chief and his executive council powerless, unseated the ruling party, the Kamerun National Congress, in the 1959 election, and helped to get the Kamerun National Democratic Party into power. See Ritzenthaler, 1972; Ardener, 1975; Nkwi, 1976.


35. Another Kenyan tribe, the Pokot, employs the kilopat or shaming party for gross violations of important norms. Although men employ it against their wives or one wife against a co-wife, kilopat, especially in its extreme forms, is more commonly used by women against husbands who have repeatedly and flagrantly misbehaved. Some shaming parties, though far more drastic than the guturamira ng'ania are similar in content to the Kom's anlu and the Igbo's 'sitting on a man' [Edgerton and Conant 1964:404-18]. Yoruba women also used such tactics. After petitions, court cases and publicity had failed to redress their grievances, more than 10,000 women maintained an all-night vigil on 29 and 30 November 1947 outside the alake's (king's) palace where they sang abusive songs with blatant sexual references [Johnson 1985:251].


36. Thuku mentions that a number of African men had become full-time politicians supported by money raised by political associations and, he might have added, the food produced by their wives [Thuku 1970:54].


37. The District Commissioner suggested to Thuku after his detention that he should become the secretary of the Kiambu Local Native Council. Parmenas Githenda Mukeri, a Kikuyu Central Association delegate sent to London to discuss closer union of the three East African countries, who was seen as a possible trouble-maker by the administration, was offered the chieftainship of the Fort Hall area when he returned [Thuku 1970:50-51].


38. Women's loss of power and status under colonial regimes all over Africa is well documented. See for instance Boserup 1970:53-6; Okonjo 1976:55-6; Staudt 1975-6:81-94.


39. My source of data on the Kom land tenure and farming systems is Kaberry 1952:29-52. Kaberry is actually describing the Nsaw ethnic group but states that their system of land tenure can be regarded as typical for Bamenda Province where the Kom live, and that the general principles of the Kom system appear to be similar to those operating among the Nsaw. In the absence of better information, I use the Nsaw data.


40. Plewes's study [1977] supports this hypothesis. She states that where women's organisations exist, women have more political power resulting from the potential and actual use of collective action than in their absence. Mba in her study of women's political activity in southern Nigeria [1982] makes the same argument.

41. This is speculative in the sense that empirical data on self-images are not available. Data do support other aspects of the statement.


42. Ifeka-Moller refers to the cultural impact of women's militancy in writing about the Women's War "of which memories are undimmed, although it took place a long time ago, and in parts of Nigeria is still a potent element of the culture of today" [1975:127]. Tabitha Kanogo and Frederick Murage of Kenya both told me separately in 1984 that they had heard the story of Mary Muthoni in their youth. Tales of the women's deeds have become part of the Kikuyu political consciousness and hence part of the education of succeeding generations of youth.


43. Quoted in Thuku, 1970:82-3.


44. Thuku, 1970: 83-4.






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Kershaw, G., 1973. "The Kikuyu of central Kenya," in A. Molnos (ed.), Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa, Vol. 3: Beliefs and Practices, pp. 47-59, Nairobi: East African Publishing House.


_____, 1975-76. "The changing roles of men and women in the Kikuyu family by socioeconomic strata," in A. Wipper (ed.), Rural Women: development or underdevelopment?, Rural Africana, 29 (special issue), pp. 173-194.


Kilson, M., 1955. "Land and the Kikuyus: a study of the relationship between land and Kikuyu political movements," Journal of Negro History, 40:2, pp. 103-153.


Lambert, H. E., 1956. Kikuyu Social and Political Institutions, London: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute.


Leakey, L. S. B., 1977. The Southern Kikuyu before 1903, 3 vols. London: Academic Press.


Leith-Ross, S., 1939. African Women, London: Faber and Faber.


Leys, N., 1924. Kenya, London: Hogarth Press.


Mba, N. E., 1982. Nigerian Women Mobilized, Berkeley: Institute of International Studies.


Mungeam, G. H., 1970. "Masai and Kikuyu responses to the establishment of British administration in the East Africa Protectorate," Journal of African History, 11:1, pp. 127-143.


Murray, J. M., 1974. The Kikuyu Female Circumcision Controversy, with Special Reference to the Church Missionary Society's 'Sphere of Influence,' PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.


Nigerian Government Publications, 1930a. Report of a Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire into Certain Incidents at Opobo, Abak and Utu-Etim-Ekpo in December 1929, Sessional Paper No. 12.


_____, 1930b. Report of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire into the Disturbances in the Calabar and Owerri Provinces, December 1929, Sessional Paper No. 28 (this report is referred to as the Aba Commission Inquiry).


Nkwi, P. N., 1976. Traditional Government and Social Change: a study of the political institutions among the Kom of the Cameroon Grassfields, Fribourg: Fribourg University Press.

Okonjo, K., 1976. "The dual-sex political system in operation: Igbo women and community politics in midwestern Nigeria," in N. Hafkin and E. Bay (eds.), Women in Africa: studies in social and economic change, pp. 45-58, Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Ottenberg, P., 1959. "The changing economic position of women among the Afikpo Ibo," in W. Bascom and M. Herskovits (eds.), Continuity and Culture Change in African Cultures, pp. 205-223, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Perham, M., 1937. Native Administration in Nigeria. London: Oxford University Press.


Plewes, B., 1977. Women and Trade in West Africa, MA thesis, McGill University, Montreal.


Presley, C. A., 1985. "Labor unrest among Kikuyu women in colonial Kenya," in C. Robertson and I. Berger (eds.), Women, Race and Class in Africa, pp. 255-273, New York: Holmes and Meier Press.


_____, 1986. "Kikuyu women in the 'Mau Mau' rebellion," in G. Okihiro (ed.), In Resistance: studies on African, Afro-American and Caribbean resistance, pp. 53-70, Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.


Ritzenthaler, R. E., 1972. "Anlu: a women's uprising in the British Cameroons", in R. A. Turner and L. M. Killian (eds.), Collective Behaviour, pp. 399-404, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Rosberg, C., and Nottingham, J., 1966. The Myth of "Mau Mau": nationalism in Kenya, New York: Praeger.


Ross. W. M., 1927. Kenya from Within, London: George Allen & Unwin.

Sorrenson, M. P. K., 1967. Land Reform in Kikuyu Country: a study in government policy, Nairobi: Oxford University Press.


_____, 1968. Origins of European Settlement in Attica, Nairobi: Oxford University Press.


Spencer, J., 1985. The Kenya African Union, London: KPI.


Stamp, P., 1975-76. "Perceptions of change and economic strategy among Kikuyu women of Mitero, Kenya," in A. Wipper (ed.), Rural Women: development or underdevelopment?, Rural Africana, 29 (special issue), pp. 19-43.


Staudt. K., 1975-76. "Women farmers and inequities in agricultural services," in A. Wipper (ed.), Rural Women: development or underdevelopment?, Rural Africana, 29 (special issue), pp. 81-94.


Thuku, H., 1970. An Autobiography, Nairobi: Oxford University Press.


Tignor, R. L., 1971. "Colonial chiefs in chiefless societies," Journal of Modern African Studies, 9:3, pp. 339-359.


_____, 1976. The Colonial Transformation of Kenya, Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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Wanyoike, E. N., 1974. An African Pastor, Nairobi: East African Publishing House.


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The Mau Mau rebellion,

Kikuyu women and social change


Cora Ann Presley




In his 1982 work, Essays on Mau Mau: Contributions to Mau Mau Historiography, Robert Buijenthuis surveyed the state of scholarship on the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya from the 1950s to the 1980s. Buijenthuis, an early scholar of the Mau Mau rebellion and Kenyan nationalism, ably assesses the questions that researchers and participants in Mau Mau have addressed. Some of the fundamental questions explored are: What were the origins of Mau Mau? What were its patterns of recruitment and definition of membership? A second level of questions attempts to delineate the political, ideological, and personal connections of Mau Mau to nationalist associations in the pre-1948 period. Third, the historiography has focused on the different phases of the Mau Mau rebellion. A fourth concern has been how the colonial state and the British government marshalled their forces to counter and defeat Mau Mau. These questions were widely explored from the 1950s to the 1970s. Beginning in the 1970s, questions of class and local level analysis came into vogue. Typical questions were: Which of the Kikuyu districts in the Central Province contributed members to the rank and file as opposed to the Mau Mau leadership? Was Mau Mau a conflict or civil war between rural/urban populations and elite/mass sectors of society? Or was it best understood as labour conflict which evolved between the lumpenproletariat and the skilled workers in the trade unions?


All of these questions have deepened our understanding of the multifaceted nature of Mau Mau and have revealed cleavages in Kikuyu society. Some cleavages began in the precolonial period. Others were introduced under the colonial regime. While debate rages over some of these issues, in particular over local level and class differences in Mau Mau participation, scholars still exclude from consideration women's contribution to the rebellion and to Kenyan nationalism in general. The earlier Mau Mau studies did not examine women's participation. [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966; Tignor 1976; Kilson 1955; Buijenthuis 1973, 1982; Kanogo 1977; Barnett and Njama 1966; Clayton and Savage 1975; Furedi 1973, 1974; Tamarkin 1976, 1978; Coray 1978; Newsinger 1981; Stichter 1975; Leakey 1952, 1954; Majdalany 1963; Ogot 1972; Sorrenson 1967]. With the exception of a few works, such as Tabitha Kanago's recent book on Mau Mau and squatters in the Rift Valley, 1980s scholarship accords women only token acknowledgement as participants in the 'passive wing' of Mau Mau [Kanogo 1987]. By not questioning women's contribution to Kenyan nationalism and Mau Mau, analyses continue to project a view that Mau Mau was a conflict among males. The following dyads were created.


-Africans versus Europeans

-nationalists versus loyalists

-mass versus elites

-rural versus urban

-lumpenproletariat versus trade union members


Research has ignored an important aspect of Kenyan nationalism: the development of nationalist sentiment and activity among women since the 1920s and the colonial state's response to women's nationalism.


The Government's response was to alter social policy. The center-piece of this was the development of a department whose policies and programs were directed specifically to wean women away from Mau Mau. These policies were developed in response to two needs. The first was to isolate the military force of Mau Mau and to defeat it by attacking and cutting off its popular support, which the British called the 'passive wing,' composed largely of women. Their function was to supply information, to smuggle arms, food, clothing, and medicine to the guerilla army, and to maintain the lines of transit for recruits travelling from the urban and rural sectors of the Central Province to join the military forces in the forest.1 The phrase 'passive wing' hides the importance of this type of activity. The women and men who were the support troops of Mau Mau should more aptly be termed the non-combatant forces. They were treated as a serious force by the British.


The second part of the Government's policy was a program aimed at capturing the loyalty of the Kikuyu. This involved villagization and a full blown propaganda program whose main purpose was to detach women from Mau Mau. The Government paid special attention to women's activism since key officials believed that women were "far more rabid and fanatical than the males and more violent in their support of Mau Mau [KNA, NAD, AR 1953; KCP, CDD, AR 1956:4] In response to women's "fanaticism" institutions designed to address such unmet needs as education, health care, access to a clean and reliable water supply, and child-care were created. The policy acknowledged, perhaps for the first time, that the colonial government had a primary responsibility for the welfare of rural populations. The Community Development Department, which was created in 1954 addressed these problems. It was given a large annual budget of 250,000 pounds and a staff which included Africans as well as Europeans [Great Britain 1954:80].2


This Department was part of the British struggle to control women. Before the 1920s, the contest over who would control women, African or European males, revolved around jural issues: chiefly the marriage laws [KNA,Political Record Book (PRB),Kiambu Disctrict (KD),1912,KBU/109/PartII(K):10; KNA,PRB,KD,1908-1912,KBU/76:85-87]. The colonial state, of course, won the contest [Presley 1986:149-200]. Other conflicts of this nature revolved around female circumcision and women's wage labour.3 Women's massive participation in Mau Mau contributed to the rebellion's initial psychological, if not military successes. A total of 34,147 women were sentenced to prison for violation of the Emergency Regulations from 1952 to 1958 (see Table 1 at end of chapter). Thousands of these women were repeat violators of the regulations, which included taking oaths and aiding the forest fighters through supplying food, guns and information. Thus, from the standpoint of both the British and the nationalists, wooing women's loyalty was an essential ingredient in winning the war.


The image of women nationalists


When women's activities are described in the pro-colonial histories, two pictures of women emerge. Women are seen either as victims of Mau Mau or as prostitutes who, through personal contact with male nationalists, were drawn to Mau Mau while resident in Nairobi. The view of women as victims of Mau Mau originates from the colonial record. Women are presented by officials as the physical and psychological victims of atavism. The first type of victimization characterizes women as being forcibly compelled to take the oath of allegiance to Mau Mau. A 1952 Special Branch report on intimidation in oathing recounted the forced oathing of a Catholic Kikuyu woman. She was stripped naked, severely beaten to the point of unconsciousness, and upon her revival compelled to "drink blood from a bottle, and perform the other disgusting rites constituting the Mau Mau ceremony" [Corfield 1960:155-156]. Another 1952 incident contributed to the view of women as victims. In Nyeri, the District Commissioner reported that forcible oathings of women and children were widespread [Corfield 1960:134]. Further fuel was added to this image of women by writers who were openly antagonistic to Mau Mau. In State of Emergency, F. Majadalany portrayed women's attraction to Mau Mau as being caused by a misdirected hero-worship of nationalists, described as "young thugs and criminals." According to Majadalany, however: "When the fighting gangs were formed each included its quota of women, and though their first function was to act as pack transport (with some concubinage on the side) many of them became ferocious and implacable fighters too" [1963:60].


Both F. D. Corfield and Majadalany ascribe irrationality and bestiality to Mau Mau. One measure of its supposed fanaticism was the repeated attacks on Loyalist women [Corfield 1960:101]. In the Lari Massacre on the 26th of March 1953 eighty-four Loyalists were killed, two-thirds of the victims women. During 1952 Mau Mau military actions killed twenty-three loyalists of whom two were women and three were children [Corfield 1960:157; Majadalany 1963:137-147]. While the rebellion was in progress, a popular British tactic was to portray women as Mau Mau's principal victims. However, only ninety eight of the 1,024 Kikuyu killed by Mau Mau were women [Buijenthuis 1982:184]. This figure represents actual deaths and does not include threats, beatings, and other intimidation.


The image of women nationalists as prostitutes originates from district and provincial reports. Women nationalists began to be described as prostitutes when the Kenya African Union (KAU) successfully staged mass rallies. For example, a rally in Nyeri on 26 July 1952 was described by the District Commissioner: "Over 20,000 men, women and children attended. KAU insinuated over 40 bus loads of Nairobi thugs and prostitutes, who were clearly under instructions to excite the crowd" [Corfield 1960:136-137]. In describing the participation of the Meru in Mau Mau, J.T. Kamunchulah repeats the theme of a connection between prostitution and women's activism. He attributes the success of the Mau Mau in acquitting arms from government soldiers from 1950 to 1952 to "a network of communication with prostitutes, who lay tender traps for African askaris, of ambushing the African askaris in dark streets and abducting and later suffocating them to death" [Kamunchulah 1975:193].


Women, nationalism and the colonial infrastructure


These views suggest that women were attracted to Mau Mau for other than political reasons and that, moreover, only those women who were pariahs in European and African society were likely to be seduced by Mau Mau nationalism. These images of detribalized women as the initial female contingent of Mau Mau are counter-factual. In the first year of the Emergency, local level British officials noticed that large numbers of women were actively involved in Mau Mau. The accepted explanation for women's attraction to Mau Mau was that they had had less exposure to British institutions such as the missionary schools, fewer opportunities for employment in the settler economy, and were more 'primitive' than the males who had become westernized [KNA,NAD,AR 1953:25; KCP,African Affairs Department (AAD),Central Province (CP),AR 1953:27]. Indeed, Kikuyu women were not as tied to the day to day structures of colonial rule as were their men. Nonetheless, they were affected by colonialism. In the precolonial period women farmed land which was later alienated by the Crown Lands Act of 1902. Loss of land produced scarcity. Consequently, women as well as men were affected by overpopulation and land pressures which the introduction of the settler economy and state had induced. In the areas dominated by the settler economy, women were an important part of the labour economy, used extensively as seasonal labourers in the production of coffee, the country's leading export. During the harvest season, female and juvenile labour made up sixty percent of the labour force [Presley 1986:108-119; KNA,NAD,AR 1926:79,87; KNA,NAD,AR 1925:64]. Missionaries intensively recruited women. They viewed themselves as champions of the alleviation of women's misery through stamping out customs they perceived as devaluing and harmful. From the European standpoint, these included the payment of bridewealth, prohibitions on remarriage of widows, and female circumcision. Though missionary efforts at educating girls always received a lower priority than those directed toward boys, the rural schools and churches focused on persuading women to accept western mores, customs, and values [Temu 1972:l06-107; Presley 1986:149-164]. Colonial laws also were directed toward women. The effect of land alienation has already been mentioned. Other colonial laws such as communal labour (1908) and the hut and poll taxes (1910 and 1934) were also assessed against women. These laws caused resentment, and combined with the issues of female circumcision, unfair labour practices, taxation, lack of adequate education, and exclusion from politics, they drew women to the nationalists' ideology.


Affected by colonial laws, women, long before Mau Mau, had registered their protest against these laws. Colonial officials did not, however, treat women's resistance as an integral part of the rising tide of protest dating to the 1920s. Several indicators of women's activism were dismissed as being instigated by others. Women had organized labour strikes over the conditions on the coffee estates. These strikes, notably one in 1947, were dismissed as being caused by male agitators [Presley 1986a:129-48; KNA,AR 1946, KBU/38:1-2]. Another major incident occurred in 1947 and 1948 when women of Fort Hall District participated in what was termed 'The Revolt of the Women.' This was a protest against a scheme to compel women to dig terraces in their fields for the purpose of soil conservation. According to the Corfield report, this protest was initiated by the Kenya African Union. At a large meeting, an agreement was reached that women would not participate in the government scheme. The women's unanimous support for this agreement meant that none of them showed up for the communal labour, and "by the end of August all communal labour was virtually at a standstill" [Corfield 1960:67]. The Corfield Report consistently interpreted women's agitation as aberrant:


During the earlier part of the year (1948) agitation against soil conservation continued in Fort Hall district and led to a minor political upheaval known as 'The Revolt of the Women' in two locations of that district. Disruptive elements outside the district continued to agitate against the co-optation of women in soil conservation work, and this later led to a full-scale descent of the women themselves to district headquarters. This as the District Commissioner commented, marked a growing tendency which was entirely alien to normal Kikuyu custom, indicating that agitators had been at work [1960:77].



Women in the Mau Mau rebellion


Women's participation in public arena politics was indeed alien to Kikuyu custom. Colonialism changed women's political roles. This change did not originate in the decade before the State of Emergency was declared but predated Mau Mau by twenty years.4 Small groups of women became nationalists in the 1930s. Over the next twenty years, they recruited thousands of other women to the nationalists' cause [Presley 1986:222-227]. Women gained recognition from the major nationalist associations, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) and the Kenya African Union (KAU) before these organizations were proscribed by the government.5 Their roles in the Mau Mau rebellion were as multifaceted as the revolt itself. Women had primary responsibility for the organization and maintenance of the supply lines which directed food, supplies, medicine, guns, and information to the forest forces. They also recruited for Mau Mau. They officiated at and participated in oathing ceremonies [Corfield 1960:84]. In 1950 the Kiambu District Commissioner reported to his superiors that men were no longer administering oaths of loyalty to Mau Mau:


Women, however, were proceeding with the work of oath-giving.... For a woman to administer a Muma oath would be utterly contrary to Kikuyu custom, although it must be admitted that until the Dedan oaths were started it was also unknown for a woman to have a Muma oath [Corfield 1960:90].


A break with custom in giving and taking oaths was one of the many changes in gender roles nationalism introduced for women.6 They also joined the forest forces and served as combat troops. They were so important to the movement that the British rounded them up in the military sweeps, aimed at arresting the leaders and the more active Mau Mau adherents who were not in the forests. Their high visibility in the movement is indicated by their mention in colonial records. In 1953 women's activism caused the District Commissioner of Kiambu to pass on this observation to his superiors:


In September, the Chura location appeared to become a centre of the Mau Mau central committee, and every Itura had its own sub-committee, nor did they lack a women's section, the latter throughout may well be described as the 'eyes and ears of Mau Mau'[KNA,PRB,KD 1953,KBU/44:1].


In 1953 the African Affairs Department notes:


The part played by women to aid the terrorists was considerable. They not only fed them but carried food to gangs in the forest, and some were caught dressed as Mau Mau askari (soldiers). The attitude of the women of the tribe towards the Emergency was, in general, particularly distressing - the primitive and indigenous cult of Mau Mau has had for many a powerful appeal. There have been instances of female relatives being privy to the murder of their loyal menfolk [KNA,AAD,CP,AR 1953:27].


Kikuyu women joined the nationalist associations to improve their economic status, to gain access to the political process, to further their education, and to abet the return of alienated land. Muthoni wa Gachie was a member of KCA and KAU in the 1940s. She recounted women's motives as being political in origin:


Q: When did you join?

A: I joined in April of 1945.

Q: Why did you become a member?

A: So that I could be a politician of the country.

Q: Were there other women who were members?

A: Yes, there was a group of us.

Q: How many?

A: The whole of Central Province.

Q: Were women already members when you joined?

A: Yes, very many were already members.

Q: What did KCA want?

A: We wanted only to make the Europeans to go from the country.

Q: What were your responsibilities as a member?

A: I was cooking for visitors and I contributed for Mzee (Kenyatta) to go to Europe. We were fighting so we would know how to become independent....

Q: Were you a leader?

A: Yes, even I was taken to prison. When the war started we thought of some people going to the forest. We were cooking food and taking it to the forest. We were carrying guns, if we would give it to her and she would take it to the forest. We went during the night. During the day the homeguards came to collect us. We were brought here to dig the ground with our hands. Some were killed. Others were just jailed for some years. Then from there the war slowly came to an end.

Q: How long did you spend in jail?

A: In one year I was jailed three times. This was in 1958. Then I was detained in 1959 for one year. I was detained at Athii River, then I was taken to Embu [Interview, 10 January 1979].


Wagara Waomama also described herself as a leader of Mau Mau. Unlike Muthoni wa Gachie, she was able to avoid being placed in detention.


Q: When did you take your first oath?

A: About 1948.

Q: How many did you take?

A: Only two.

Q: Were you a member of the Mau Mau committee?

A: I was a committee member of KAU and of Mau Mau.

Q: Which area did you represent?

A: I represented Karura (Muthurura) Kiambaa.

Q: Was your husband involved in politics?

A: Yes.

Q: How was it that you were not put in prison?

A: I was not detained because my husband was beaten. My co-wife's son was also detained. The co-wife was sick so that there was no one left so that the Europeans left me to care for the sick.

Q: Did they know that you were an active Mau Mau?

A: They knew (there were Mau Mau in the area) but not who the actual person was unless the other Kikuyu told them.

Q: Did you get put into the villagization program?

A: Yes, we built the villages.

Q: Did you carry on the work of Mau Mau from the villages?

A: Yes, we continued after that. We women were taken to a place and forced to do work for nothing. This place was called Kianjogu.... We did digging and we didn't know the reason we were doing this digging. We dug all around the camp, sweeping and clearing the camp. Then we were taken to another camp. We stayed in Kianjogu for seven months. Then we were taken to a village for four years and then I went to my farm. This was in 1955. We were only fighting and in the end we were helped by God. In the 1930s the women started the Mumbi Central Association and when Kenyatta came back from England he called us all together and organized us. I took food to the Mau Mau. We also took guns. When I was taking food, I was hiding from the Europeans when another one of us saw the police, she started screaming and ran down to the river. I grabbed her by the throat so that we could not be heard. When the soldiers came near, I ran away and the other one was screaming again. Then the other one was caught and put in detention [Interview 29 April, 1978].


Wangui wa Gikuhiu joined KCA when it was first organized. Though an active supporter of Mau Mau, she described herself as "only a member." Women leaders "did the work of talking about how to get the land" [Interview 13 May, 1979]. Priscilla Wambaki, a leader before Mau Mau and a KANU (Kenya Africa National Union, the ruling party) leader in her division in the independence period, recalled the beginning of women in politics:


Q; Were you a member of a political party?

A: Yes, I was a member of KAU.

Q: Did you belong to KCA?

A: KCA was the one before KAU, but I was only a member of KAU.

Q: Did you ever hear of an organization called Mumbi Central Association?

A: I was a member of Mumbi Central Association. I was also a member of KAU.

Q: When did you join Mumbi Central Association?

A: I can't remember the year but I joined it with Wambui Wangaram and I worked with Rebecca Njeri...

Q: What did Mumbi Central Association want to accomplish?

A: Kiama kia Mumbi had the aim to preserve the customs, to not allow them to dissolve. But before we went further the war started...First women were not invited to join Kikuyu Central Association. We met together and decided we didn't like this so we asked the pastor of the church to help us. He did and we raised money and started Mumbi Central Association. We would have dances to raise money and the men could not matter. It was only Mbiyu Koinange who was allowed. After a while we joined the men again.

Q: How much money did you raise for Kiriri?"7

A: I don't know since the books were destroyed, but it was much more than 100,000 shillings.

Q: How many oaths did you take?

A: ...Only children did not take the oath. I won't talk about that. I want to tell how Mbiyu helped to build the dormitories so that you can understand the role women played when Mzee (Kenyatta) came from Europe. We met with him. We had not completed the dormitories. We had no windows. He helped us, he was on our side. From that time on he was on our side. If there were no women, then the war would not have been carried on. And the women were mostly girls, because if the men were beaten, they would tell the secrets and the girls would not. Even Mzee knew that the girls played a great part and that is why he gave us Madaraka...8


Women's activism sparked a response from the Government. They were arrested, detained and interrogated in large numbers. When the Emergency officially ended in 1956, of the 27,841 Kikuyu who were still in the detention camps, 3,103 were women [Daily Chronicle 7 September 1956]. Tables 1 and 2 reveal the number of women imprisoned during the Mau Mau period compared to the total number of Africans detained in the camps. Of the 13,265 females admitted to prison in 1955, 1,714 were discharged from prison custody, 11,467 were sentenced to imprisonment (9,961 of these were first offenders, the balance were repeat offenders) [KCP, Treatment of Offenders 1957:10]. Virtually all women imprisoned were suspected of Mau Mau involvement.


Before the Emergency, there was so little female crime that no particular prison facilities had been built. To the surprise of the colonial government, when Mau Mau activities became pronounced, women's participation was on such a large scale that a facility had to be built to house them. The Kamiti prison was extended to accommodate the upsurge in women prisoners and detainees; the camp included 1,335 women prisoners and 1,010 women detainees by the end of 1954 [KCP, GH Heaton 1953:3; KCP, Treatment of Offenders 1953:4; Treatment 1954:4]. Women were also detained in other facilities. The Athii River detention camp which was built in 1953 to contain violaters of the Emergency Regulations had ten compounds containing 1,429 detainees. One of the compounds was reserved for twenty-seven female detainees [KCP, Treatment 1953:16-17]. Most women prisoners were sentenced for violations of the Emergency regulations [KCP, Treatment 1956:8-9]. A large proportion of the women sentenced were first time offenders. Sentences ranged from short terms of one or two months to the full duration of the Emergency, with a majority sentenced to terms of six months or less - twenty percent (1952) and twenty-seven percent (1953) were sentenced to six months to two years. As Mau Mau became more threatening, the length of sentences increased.


The camps were not merely holding facilities. Prisoners were required to work and also to go through a re-socialization process whose goal was to get them to renounce Mau Mau and be 'cleansed' [KCP,CDD,AR 1954:21-24; KCP,CDD,AR 1955:22-26]. The Community Development organization was involved in rehabilitating prisoners [KCP, Treatment 1955:2]. At Kamiti, the Department was given some control over the detainees' 'leisure time' [KCP, Treatment 1955:2]. Nearly three hundred female detainees attended classes. They received instruction in animal husbandry, hygiene, health, agriculture, and local government [KCP, Treatment 1956:2]. However, these classes were not the most important aspect of the organization's work in the struggle to defeat Mau Mau. The Department also ran child-care facilities [KCP,CDD,AR 1956:6].


Most of the apparent success the Government achieved in converting Mau Mau detainees in 1955 and 1956 was among female prisoners in Kamiti prison. Several facilities for women were maintained around the colony, but Kamiti was for the 'hardcore' Mau Mau women [KCP,CDD,AR 1954:30]. The number of women released from the Kamiti facility in 1956 was 1,194 leaving 1,384 women in the camp. In 1957 4,220 women were released and 174 remained in detention. Many 'hardcore' women were not released until 1960. The rehabilitation efforts among women were so 'successful' that by 1957 Mau Mau women detainees were "processed straight to their homes on release and have not passed through the pipe line camps in their own areas as is the case with men. This is a tribute to the thorough and successful rehabilitation work undertaken at the camps" [KCP,CDD,AR 1956:4].


Community Development officers were aided in their work of detaching women from Mau Mau by the missionaries. The Christian Council of Kenya sent representatives to the camps to hold Christian services and 'cleanse' women prisoners of their radical beliefs [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:22-23]. The Department categorized prisoners according to the strength of their attachment to Mau Mau and response to rehabilitation. The 'Y' category were those who were responding to re-socialization.9 Kamiti women prisoners were considered to be in the 'Y' category of rebels. Confession was stressed. When word circulated that those who confessed could gain an early release, the number of penitents rapidly soared [Wipper 1977:255].


Conditions in the prisons


Former women prisoners at Kamiti described conditions of terror, physical punishment, and forced labour. They received inadequate food and clothing. Conditions for women Mau Mau and/or Mau Mau suspects were similar to those for males who were arrested and detained. Interviews with former Mau Mau female prisoners reveal a prison system which meted out harsh treatment [Interviews 24 May 1979; 7 January 1979; 13 January 1979; 29 April 1979; see Presley 1986c]. Women in Kamiti were required to work for the prison system [KCP, Treatment 1953:4-5; KCP Treatment 1955:16, 18]. Light work of raising vegetables and fruit was given as a reward for cooperating with the rehabilitation program, another impetus to confess.10 This cooperation usually took the form of taking a pledge renouncing Mau Mau and giving information about Mau Mau activity in the prisons and elsewhere. The more intransigent were required to work on road-building and quarrying stone. The prison commandant reported in 1955 that 199,000 running feet of stone was quarried by Kamiti prisoners [KCP, Treatment 1955:15]. Once the stones were quarried and dressed, women prisoners transported them on their heads. In 1954 women helped to terrace the thirty-five acre prison farm. The value of the labour extracted from these women through the cultivation of the 197,305 pounds of vegetables they raised in 1956 was 1,973 pounds [KCP, Treatment 1956:14]. Other forms of punishment included solitary confinement, the withholding of food, and corporal punishment [KCP, Treatment 1954:II]. Harsh and inhuman treatment was the rule in the prisons and detention camps according to former Mau Mau prisoners. The following is from an interview with one of them, Priscilla Wambaki:


Q: Were you detained?

A: Yes.

Q: Where were you taken?

A: I was taken to Kajado in Maasailand.

Q: When was this?

A: It was in 1952. That was the time when Mzee (Kenyatta) was detained with Rebecca Njeri...(Njeri was the most prominent woman nationalist, detained at the same time as Kenyatta). I was in detention for one year then I was taken to the Athii River (camp)...At Kajado only the women leaders were detained. Men were there also but the women were kept separate. We were not forced to work but kept locked in our rooms. There we were beaten but not too much. But when we were taken to the Athii River, we were beaten very much. All of the members of KAU, men and women were detained. Women were not many at Athii River, we were about two hundred, but the men were uncountable. Those who were involved in politics or any other movement but not the church were taken to Kamiti. This was in 1954, and only women were there. We were beaten and very many died. During that time people were hanged in great numbers and many were buried there. We were not afraid of the corpses, even if we were doing this job we were still beaten. We could see some corpses with the blood from the beating still on them. During the time of getting food in the prison the young girls would pull the carts...they were tied three by three to the carts in order to pull them to where they were to get the food and then they had to pull the carts back to Kamiti. Even now, I remember what was done when I see a young girl like you...We would leave the prison to dig the terraces. We took breakfast at 5:00 a.m. We had ugali (boiled ground maize meal); the girls would bring it from two miles away; then we took the jembes (hoes) and basins to dig the terraces, we were only women...We got ugali with boiled beans or boiled cabbage. We worked up to three then we took supper at four. After that we were locked in the house and one could go to wash. We were fed ugali, and it was not well cooked. If there were no beans or cabbage, we got only one boiled potato with the ugali.

Q: Was there any meat, eggs, milk or tea?

A: No! Even the children couldn't get these things. I am disappointed to hear that many people believe that women did nothing in the war; we buried the bodies. The children of Kamiti were tied with ropes together to be guarded while we women worked. They gradually died off. It was due to hunger. We suffered a lot from hunger. Kamiti was a hell prison. Some were dying, some were beaten to death, sometimes they died after work. We were happy when someone died because we said "Now she is free!" I was still in Kamiti in 1956 [Interview 23 May 1979].


Muthoni wa Gachie was detained in 1959. Her experiences were consistent with those recounted by other respondents. She talked of torture inflicted by the Homeguards.


Q: Were you a leader?

A: Yes, even I was taken to prison...When we were in detention the work was only to be beaten, given hard work and not enough food. We spent one week digging trees with other women.

Q: Why were you detained?

A: Because I was speaking about the Government.

Q: What did you say?

A: I was saying that Europeans should be taken to their homes and our children should be given education.

Q: How did the Europeans know about you?

A: Other people reported me.

Q: Were you married then?

A: Yes.

Q: Did your children go to detention with you?

A: No, they were not in detention with me but they suffered because they lacked, food, clothing and education.

Q: Was your husband involved?

A: He was also jailed but not put into detention.

Q: Who took care of the children while you were in jail and detention?

A: Only God. Our homes were burnt, cattle were taken, we were left with no clothing and wore banana leaves. Even that woman gave birth on the way. We had nothing to help the child. We removed the headscarf to carry the child. Bottles were put in our private parts as a punishment.

Q: Where were you detained that they did these things?

A: Just here at Githunguri. The Homeguards were doing this.

Q: Were they doing this to make you admit Mau Mau?

A: They were doing this so that the Europeans could give them something [Interview 10 January 1979].


The fact that women were a significant portion of the prison population and that they were not accorded any special treatment because of gender is little known and rarely mentioned in the historiography of Mau Mau, although these facts were not hidden from public view during the Emergency. Indeed, the treatment of women prisoners caused a minor scandal in 1956 in Kenya and England. Eileen Fletcher, a former member of the Kamiti Prison staff, revealed the poor conditions and abuse by officials at Kamiti in her testimony before members of the House of Commons in London and in statements and interviews with the British press. She recounted that underage girls were wrongfully detained. In the course of several House of Commons debates on the subject, an official inquiry into the prison system was initiated [Presley 1986:256-264; Tribune, London, 16 November 1956; Daily Chronicle, Nairobi, 31 May and 7 September 1956]. After the inquiry, annual reports on the conditions in the prisons included detailed information on the treatment of prisoners and the punishment or dismissal of wardens and staff for their mistreatment of prisoners.


Greater administrative attention to reporting on prison conditions was not enough, however, to ensure the end of abuse: "The scandal involving the murder of eleven male detainees at the Hola Camp in 1959 finally brought an end to the detention system and the 'pipeline' process of gradually releasing detainees from high to ever lower security facilities until finally they were released to their home villages" [KNA, Records of Proceedings, Hola Camp 1959; Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:335-344].


The impact of social policy on women's nationalism


When the remaining women detainees were released and returned to their villages in 1960, they discovered that the Government had radically altered village life as a part of its war against Mau Mau. The campaign against women was a major part of this. This change was achieved through the villagization program. Initially begun as a punitive measure, the project became a centrepiece of social policy [KCP,AAD,CP,AR 1954:33]. The turning point in defeating Mau Mau on the home front was achieved when activists or those suspected of being activists were rounded up. The entire Kikuyu population was semi-imprisoned in guarded villages. The importance of the villagization program in the defeat of Mau Mau was recognized in official circles. Addressing the Legislative Assembly in 1955, the Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring stated:


It has been possible in many areas to arrange a system of movement control by which villagers going to work on their shambas (farms), or herding their cattle, do so under escort from either the Tribal Police or the Watch and Ward Units. It is the establishment of this system which in many areas has broken the physical contact with the gangs. The individual gangsters must often have hidden in a hole in a sisal hedge and have slipped out for a few minutes to tell a woman working in her field that food must be left at a certain place at a certain time or else there would be trouble. In this way the fear of the terrorist was maintained. Now, there can be no absolute certainty, but it appears probable that the new system has in most areas broken that physical contact and dissipated that fear...As a result too, the flow of information from the villagers has greatly improved [KCP, Legislative Council Debates, 18 October 1955:4].


The breaking of contact between villagers and Mau Mau fighters meant that women who were not imprisoned during the Emergency had their own intensive encounters with the regime. The object of these encounters was, of course, to defuse nationalism and curtail their Mau Mau activities. Just as in the prisons and detention camps, the main plank of the policy was the withholding and granting of benefits to sway the non-combatant wing away from radical nationalism. One of the consequences of being identified as Mau Mau was loss of land. The Government confiscated the land of Mau Mau members and reallocated it to 'deserving Loyalists.' The instrument for this policy was the Community Development Department. It was thought to have the potential for creating a true social revolution in the villages, its major goal being:


To teach the women in the new villages a new way of life and to show them that the possibilities of community life in a smaller area offer better opportunities for improved homes than the old scattered villages - as indeed they do [KCP,CDD,AR 1954:31].


The relocation scheme was begun in 1954 and began to be phased out in 1958 [KCP,CDD, AR 1958:7]. It involved the forced relocation of the entire Kikuyu population of the three Kikuyu districts in Central Province. More than eighty thousand Kikuyu households were uprooted in Kiambu District in 1954 and 1955. Also, more than seventeen thousand squatters who were ejected from the Rift Valley by settler farmers joined the Kikuyu who were required to live in the new villages [KCP,AAD,CP,AR 1955:35,51]. For Kiambu District, the focus of my research, this involved over 300,000 men, women, and children. They were compelled to build new villages and tear down or abandon their homesteads. They lived under guard behind barbed-wire fences. To farm, women were escorted to their fields by the Homeguard. Everyone had to be back behind the barbed wire fences by the 4:00 p.m. curfew [KNA,CDD,AR 1957:33; KNA,AAD,AR 1954:33]. In 1955 threats of the confiscation of land and the imposition of a twenty-four hour curfew were used in Kiambu District to break the 'passive wing.'


Abuse of villagers under the authority of the Homeguard was reported. Milka Ngina who spent the Emergency in the guarded villages recalled:


A: We were beaten and forced to dig the terraces. They beat us very much and it was the Homeguard who did the beating.

Q: Did you take the oath?

A: Yes, I took very many, and we were beaten when we took the oath.

Q: Were you put into detention?

A: Some women were detained but not all of them.

Q: Did Kenya become independent because of Mau Mau?

A: Yes, because they bought the freedom with blood.

Q: Did others in your family take the oath?

A: All the Kikuyu took the oath at that time.

Q: Was there any fighting around your home?

A: Yes.

Q: What happened?

A: We were beaten by the Homeguard because the Mau Mau passed through our homes. I myself was almost beaten to death.

Q: Why did the Homeguard help the British?

A: We were beaten by the Homeguard because the Mau Mau were not on good terms with the Homeguard and those who were giving food were on good terms with the Mau Mau [Interview 11 May 1979, Kiambu].


Catherine Wajiru, who lived in Embu during the Emergency, was also exposed to the civil war between Mau Mau supporters and the Loyalists (Kikuyu seen as loyal to the regime).


Q: Did you help the freedom fighters?

A: Yes.

Q: How did you help?

A: I gave them cooked food.

Q: Does that mean that there were freedom fighters in Embu?

A: Yes, they were there because they were living in the forest near us.

Q: Were you happy to give them food?

A: We gave them food because we had no security and if we refused to give them food, they could beat us.

Q: Were you living near Embu people?

A: Yes, we were mixed. We built the homes in the same place and we worked on the shambas with other groups.

Q: Did the Embu give food?

A: Yes, they did. They stopped giving them food when the villages were built but before that the Mau Mau would take goats and even cows by force. Also we were beaten by the colonials if they found that we were giving food. There were spies called Homeguard who would tell when you helped.

Q: Were you beaten?

A: Yes, I was beaten very much and my husband died during that time because of the beating [Interview 11 May 1979, Kitambaya].


Villagization was successful in demoralizing the non-combatant wing. The African Affairs Department recorded:


The withdrawal of the surrender terms on 10 July 1955 was combined with local propaganda, so that at the end of June and the beginning of July the volume of confession swelled to such a degree that the teams were unable to cope. A very great deal of Mau Mau funds was handed in as well as guns and ammunition. The threat of confiscation of land, together with the imposition of 24-hour curfews also had a considerable effect in breaking the last efforts of the Mau Mau to conceal information. The confession teams in the settled areas...had an extremely difficult job to begin with...they subsequently achieved remarkable and effective results in breaking the passive wings on the farms and discovering the main gang bases or food depots [KCP,AAD,AR 1955:37].


The major point of contact under these semi-concentration camp conditions was through the Community Development Department. Initially, most of the Department's annual budget of 250,000 pounds was spent on the work of rehabilitation [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:I]. The Department focused on women:


In view of the large numbers of women and children to be found in these villages whose husbands are either serving sentences, detained, working in the homeguard, operating in the forests or living in the towns, the accent of rehabilitation must be on the women [KCP,CDD,AR 1954:31].


The Department's major vehicle for influencing women was through the Maendeleo ya Wanawake (Progress among Women) clubs. The clubs had begun in the late 1940s but did not have significant membership until the Emergency years since it could be the crucial difference between survival and starvation under the villagization program. The work of the clubs included running day nurseries, making and supervising the distribution of soup, and the distribution of milk to hungry children, and "caring for children whose parents were missing or dead" [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:7].


These humanitarian efforts were affected by the Emergency since the "work of Maendeleo clubs (was) hampered by subversive propaganda and additional communal work necessary in the rehabilitation of and fortifying villages." The clubs were only able to meet after the four o'clock curfew [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:7]. The Department measured its success through the increase in membership. In 1954 the membership totalled 36,810 in 508 clubs (see Table 3). Kiambu women joined forty-five clubs with a membership of 5,050 [KCP,CDD,AR 1954:13]. Forty-five percent of the members came from the three Kikuyu districts of Kiambu, Fort Hall and Nyeri, and Nairobi where Mau Mau activities were greatest.


In addition to administering to the needy, the Community Development programs were "responsible for internal broadcasting, libraries, the distribution of papers, classes, barazas (public gatherings), recreation and instruction in various forms" [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:25]. The purpose of the education component of the program was to counteract Mau Mau by providing a course of "general knowledge" [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:25]. Typically, this included bringing books, pamphlets, and a film truck to villages. This information stressed the positive benefits of colonialism and the evils of Mau Mau [KCP,CDD,AR 1952:9; KCP,CDD,AR 1956:1-10]. The Government viewed the clubs as "an effective instrument against subversive elements" [KCP,CDD,AR 1954:12-13].


In the guarded villages, the clubs were used to aid the security forces. Club members gathered information about Mau Mau activities and tried to persuade Mau Mau adherents to abandon the movement [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:7].11 Women were told that they had to become allied with the Government rather than with Mau Mau. If they chose to remain publicly sympathetic to Mau Mau, they lost access to the services which the clubs offered [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:7].


In most areas where the backbone of Maendeleo clubs had been in existence since 1951-53, the club members have in many cases been of value to the Security forces giving information freely and persuading others to give up Mau Mau. In at least one case they played an important part in the capture of a Mau Mau general. The women realized that the ideals of Maendeleo and Mau Mau were incompatible and they would have to choose between them. It is very encouraging to note that the numbers of clubs and members in these areas are on the increase as more and more realize that Mau Mau has brought nothing but distress and sorrow [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:7].


This persuasive message resulted in a tremendous growth in membership. By 1955 the number of clubs increased to 596 with a membership of 43,000 [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:12]. The benefits of belonging or simply being associated with the clubs were particularly crucial in 1955 and 1956 when famine struck Kiambu District [KCP,AAD,CP,AR 1955:48]. A scarcity of food was induced by the curfew, for women had fewer hours available to them in which to fetch water and fuel and to cultivate their fields.12 During the famine, the 107 clubs in Kiambu District operated soup kitchens and increased their milk allotments [KCP,CDD,AR 1956:13-14]. In 1956 there were 34,500 fully paid members, in addition to 11,500 women who benefitted from the club services but were unable to pay the membership fees [KCP,CDD,AR 1956:10]. By the end of 1957, the number of clubs had grown to 986, but fully paid membership had declined to 33,613.


One of the goals of the Community Development Department was to train Africans to be good citizens according to British standards. A byproduct of this was women's representation on the village and district councils. By 1955 "Maendeleo members [were] coming forward to take their place on locational and District Councils in greater numbers, so that in future there is hope that the voice of the women will be heard more and more" [KCP,CDD,AR 1955:6].




Viewing Mau Mau from the female perspective adds several important aspects to the understanding of the rebellion. It illuminates an often repeated statement that landless and less affluent Kikuyu were more likely to take part in Mau Mau whereas the better off Kikuyu publicly took sides with the British and joined the loyalist forces as Homeguards. In some families, women were deeply involved in Mau Mau while males publicly disassociated themselves from it. There are two possible explanations for this phenomenon. First, women's involvement with Mau Mau cut across 'class' lines. Wives of prominent Kikuyu were jailed. At least one woman organizer was the wife of a chief. Second, women's involvement in radical nationalism expresses the ambiguity of prominent families' identification with Mau Mau. Males of such families might have silently supported Mau Mau while maintaining a public face as Loyalists. If men openly supported the rebellion, the consequence was loss of more land and privileges. This may have led to a perception that it was marginally safer for women to carry out the family's commitment to Mau Mau. The entire family need not then be impoverished by supporting it. A nationalist female, if arrested and detained, could be easily discredited and disowned. Whether this was deliberate family policy among a number of families is of course unknown. It may, however, explain some of the curious features of Mau Mau reported by the Government and uncovered in oral interviews. Specifically, it may explain the Government's contention that women were more rabid and fanatical, that men had stopped giving oaths, and that women were assuming these responsibilities. It may also explain the Government assertion that women of loyalist families were involved with Mau Mau. Mau Mau women reported to the author that their husbands, though considered loyal to the Government, knew of the aid they gave to the Mau Mau rebels and did not report them.


Women's participation in the violent Mau Mau revolt focused Government attention on the need to use some of its resources to develop programs to serve women and their needs. In order to defeat Mau Mau militarily, it was crucial for the British to isolate the guerilla fighters from their supplies. Mere isolation, however, was not sufficient. The non-combatant forces, led and organized to a large degree by women, had to be engaged with force and persuasion. Thus, women were jailed in increasing numbers from 1954 to 1957. The increase occurred at the same time the British victory over Mau Mau was assured. It is my contention that this is not mere coincidence, but that success in the war against women was a necessary ingredient in the war against Mau Mau. The campaign of propaganda and education was designed to convince women not already Mau Mau activists that disassociation from Mau Mau held positive rewards. First, the entire Kikuyu population was relocated to villages which were closely supervised by Security Forces, the Homeguard, and the new Community Development Department. Within three years of this policy, a drop in Mau Mau activities occurred. The British government started a social revolution by providing an extensive social services program. Women were the first to be experimented upon since the Government recognized that they had to be detached from Mau Mau for final victory to occur. This had consequences for post-Mau Mau Kenya. The creation of the Community Development Department was the precursor of the Community Development Program in independent Kenya and, much later, the Women's Bureau. The contemporary Maendeleo ya Wanawake clubs also owe their origin to women's vigorous nationalism during Mau Mau. In the 1980s the Maendeleo clubs number over six thousand. Maendeleo is Kenya's largest women's organization [Ndumbu 1985-86; Wipper 1975; Wipper 1975-76].


One reason for the lack of research on women's nationalism is that scholars followed the line taken by the colonial government. Until thousands of women were imprisoned for Mau Mau offenses, colonial administrators dismissed incidents which indicated that women were actively involved in resisting colonialism. In the case of labour stoppages and protests against terracing, district officers maintained that women's activism was caused by male agitators. Therefore, psychologically, the administrators were unprepared for women's protest. It seemed to them to be sudden, fanatical and unexpected.


Historians of Mau Mau have also treated women's nationalism as incidental to the main currents of nationalism. Their sources of data for the study of Mau Mau have been almost exclusively male, whether they were Europeans or Africans. The use of this data source and perspective has created the false paradigm that politics was mainly a male concern. Consequently, the questions posed to male respondents and the official records focus on the actions of men. When men did comment on women's involvement, it did not seem to be a major thread of the rebellion. In searching for answers to a political dilemma, scholars have naturally looked to those departments which had responsibility for political and economic issues. The full story of the colonial battle against women's nationalism is not revealed by political records, though important indicators occur there. In the social services area, even more revealing data surfaces. Since the colonial officials were trapped in their 1950s perceptions of women, they relegated policies dealing with women to community development. As the Community Development report noted, the voice of women began to be heard during the Mau Mau rebellion, although women had spoken out through their protest, be it on economic, political, or social issues, for over twenty years in colonial Kenya. When they took up arms and supported violent rebellion, their voices began to be heard. The legacy for contemporary Kenyans is to acknowledge women as equal partners in politics.





1. For a more extensive treatment of women's roles and contributions to the rebellion see Presley 1986.

2. The original Community Development staff included twenty-four European Rehabilitation Officers and thirty-seven African Rehabilitation Officers.


3. For female circumcision see: KNA,NAD,AR 1929:11-12; Rosberg 1966:106-125; Murray 1974; Presley 1986a. For women's wage labour see Presley 1986b.


4. There is well documented evidence that Kikuyu women's public political activity predated Mau Mau by at least thirty years going back to the Harry Thuku Riot in 1922 (see Wipper 1989).


5. I interviewed Kikuyu women nationalists in 1978. They told me of the development of women's nationalism. In 1930 women of Kiambu district formed their own nationalist association because they were excluded from formal participation in the KCA. After three years of organizing other women, they approached the Kiambaa branch of KCA and were able to persuade the leaders that women's organizational talents were indispensable to it. From then onwards, each location had a women's wing. See Presley 1986c.


6. Oath-taking by Kikuyu women appears to have occurred in the Harry Thuku movement in the early 1920s. See Wipper 1989.


7. Kiriri was the women's dormitory at the Githunguri Independent School which was established by nationalists after the break with church and government controlled education which resulted from the circumcision controversy. Mbiyu Koinange and his father Sr. Chief Koinange were the driving forces behind changing the Githinguri School into the Kenya African Teachers College, an institution for the higher education of all Africans in Kenya. When it formally opened in 1939, there was a feeling among nationalistic Kikuyu that education was the key to political power [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:179-180].


8. lnterview on 23 May 1979 in Juja, Kiambu. Madaraka Day marks the granting of internal self-government in 1963, about half a year before independence.


9. There were four categories: (1) Z1 - Mau Mau leaders who refused to respond to the rehabilitation program; (2) Z2 - rank and file who refused to renounce Mau Mau (3) Y - those who responded to rehabilitation; and (4) X - those who were rehabilitated and placed on parole. See KCP,CDD,AR 1956:3-6.


10. Convict labour was an important source of both income and supplies for the Department of Prisons. In 1953 the value of the agricultural produce raised by prisoners totalled 10,220 British pounds. The amount of revenue received from prison industries amounted to 150,595 pounds, and 15,897 pounds was given to the system as payment for using convict labour on the East African Railway, Harbour Administration, and other authorities. See KCP, Report on the Treatment of Prisoners for the year 1953:14-15.


11. These activities caused the Maendeleo movement to be severely stigmatized among the Kikuyu in the early period of independence. See Wipper 1975-76:199-204.


12. The connection to the Emergency conditions and the famine in the district is clear. No mention is made in the colonial records of famine in other parts of Kenya in 1956.






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Government Documents


Kenya Colony and Protectorate (KCP), Community Development Department (CDD), Annual Report (AR) 1952.


KCP,CDD,AR 1954.


KCP,CDD,AR 1955.


KCP,CDD,AR 1956.


KCP,CDD,AR 1957.


KCP,CDD,AR 1958.


KCP,Legislative Council Debates 18 October 1955.


KCP,G.H. Heaton, Report on the General Administration of Prisons and Detention Camps in Kenya, 1953.


KCP,Report on the Treatment of Offenders (Treatment) 1953.


KCP,Treatment 1955.


KCP,Treatment 1956.


KCP,Treatment 1957.


KNA,African Affairs Department (AAD), Central Province (CP), AR 1953.






KNA,AAD,AR 1954.


Kenya National Archives (KNA),AR 1946,KBU/38, 1-2.


KNA, Native Affairs Department (NAD),AR 1925.


KNA,NAD,AR 1926.


KNA,NAD,AR 1929.


KNA,NAD,AR 1953.


KNA,Political Record Book (PRB), Kiambu District (KD) 1908-1912, KBU/76.


KNA,PRB,KD 1912,KBU/109/ Part II(K).


KNA,PRB,KD 1953,KBU/44.


KNA,Records of Proceedings and Evidence into the Deaths of Eleven Mau Mau Detainees at Hola Camp in Kenya, 1959.




Interview, April 29, 1978, Kiambu.


Interview with Elizabeth Gachika, January 7, 1979, Kiambu Town.


Interview January 10, 1979, Githunguri, Kiambu.


Interview with Nduta wa Kore, January 13, 1979, Tingang'a.


Interview with Wambui Wangarama, April 29, 1979, Kabete.


Interview May 11, 1979, Kiambu town.


Interview with Catherine Wajiru, Kitambaya, Kiambu, May 11, 1979.


Interview on May 13, 1979, Ruiru, Kiambu.


Interview May 23, 1979, Juja, Kiambu.


Interview with Tabitha Mumbi, May 24, 1979, Thika.


See Presley 1986c for extensive oral interviews with Mau Mau women.







Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and

Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939-1959



Luise White



A decade of research on African women has raised serious questions about the kinds of historical reconstruction we do: when we study the men and women who made events, do we look at them as groups of undifferentiated migrants and militants, or do we see them as men and women whose behaviours were constructed and constrained by the times, places, and cultures in which they lived? Do we take gender as a given, or do we ask how genders were constructed, contested, and maintained? Do we see the sexual division of labour as a cultural absolute, or do we ask how it was arranged, struggled over, and rearranged? In recent years, feminist historians have used the testimonies of individual women to question these categories, and thus have given us a detailed picture of private life, power relations, and their relationship to political action [Geiger 1986, 1987; Wright 1983; Marks 1989; Mirza and Strobel 1989]. The use of men's life histories and autobiographies has not yielded the same kind of information. Men's lives are thought to take place in the public spheres of production, politics, and work. The conventional wisdom for twentieth-century Africa is that men's preferential access to political life, wage labour, and the cash economy meant that their lives were governed by class and economic interests, not personal ones. Therefore most studies of African men, particularly in the political arena, have tended to make men seem monolithic and homogeneous, either as resistors or collaborators; they have had factions, but no personal reasons for joining them. Men were motivated by land shortages, poverty, and decreasing real wages, but not by their qualms and anxieties about the changing rights and obligations of fatherhood.


Such assumptions have omitted a gender from historical scholarship - the male gender. Men's private lives are not seen as a site of contestation and struggle, nor are those struggles given a political dimension. Instead, men in politics are taken at face value: they are patriotic, zealous, enemies of imperialism. Men's words, however, are not always taken at face value. Men's struggles over the nature of domestic rights - could they be good husbands and providers while fighting for liberation, for example - are simply not taken as seriously as their struggles over the question of armed violence. Men's lives are often abstracted into historical processes; they are rarely contextualized within those same processes. Autobiographies, taken as the lives of great men who did great things, have often been used to reproduce this level of abstraction. Recent feminist scholarship, however, has suggested that autobiographies enable us to place individual concerns and motivations at the center of the historical processes that then contextualized their lives and later their writings. Reading autobiographies as histories of class and gender relations makes them political documents [Maynes 1989; Isaacman 1989]. The very subjectivity - and vulnerability - of the autobiographer's 'I' offers historians a political authenticity that disinterested observers do not have [Swindells 1989; Sacks 1989]. To generalize and infer from that 'I' or, as in the case of this essay, from many 'I's' - is to argue that there is a clear relationship between the personal and the social, that the former is in fact embedded in the latter, and that the two may be interdependent.


In the last twenty five years, a specifically Kenyan autobiographical form has developed, the memoirs of men who participated in, or were jailed for, the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. There is no comparable literature anywhere else in Africa. Thus far they have all been written by men.2 These participants seem to have written their memoirs for a wide variety of reasons, all of them political; some wanted to justify a recent religious conversion, others wanted Kenya's youth to know their history. Only occasionally were these authors 'discovered' by a foreign scholar who edited their stories, in which case both editors and activists had their own political agendas. Thus, despite Donald Barnett's mid-1960s attempt to make Karari Njama's story a coherent picture of 'the Movement,' Mau Mau from Within is in Njama's hands an attempt to legitimate and democratize Dedan Kimaathi's hierarchical Kenya Parliament [Barnett and Njama 1966]. In just such ways, these books continue the debates of Mau Mau in writing. As this chapter will show, writing itself was a source of conflict within Mau Mau, and written autobiographies suggest a resolution of that conflict.


As source material, however, these books have not figured in academic studies of Mau Mau, possibly because of intellectuals' distrust of popular literature [Throup l985, 1987; Maughan-Brown 1985; Lonsdale 1986; Kanogo 1987a; Furedi 1989]. But popular literature is popular, especially when readers have only a smattering of literacy, precisely because of its sensitivity to local concerns [Brooks 1988]. On the other hand, academic debates on Mau Mau have not been taken up in participants' autobiographies. My goal in this essay is not only to gender men, but to bring Mau Mau participants into the academic debate on Mau Mau.


What is remarkable about Mau Mau autobiographies is that in them men wrote, among other things, about being men. They wrote about defining gender, about courtship, about whose task it was to cook and fetch water. They wrote about being husbands, lovers, and fathers, gender roles that were an integral part of their political struggles. These men were not, however, the only people in central Kenya concerned with the conduct of African masculinity: colonialists had been obsessed with the needs of working men for years. Long before Mau Mau, colonialists had put men to work, in long and short trousers depending on the job, and legislated what they would earn and where they might reside with their wives: beneath the rhetoric of social control, these were attempts to create an African masculinity that mirrored a flattering vision of the officials' own maleness. But these constructions of masculinity depended on the economics of the time; colonialists, like feminists, did not see sexual behaviour as separate from work and earnings [Rubin 1975; Walkowitz 1984; Padgug 1989].


In Nairobi in 1939, for example, the municipal native affairs officer (the MNAO) argued that "the needs of eight men may be served by the provision of two rooms for the men and one for the prostitute" [St. A. Davies 1939]. Two years later, the next MNAO wrote that the resulting "temporary and sordid" unions caused crime, largely because "of the evil home life a child sees." If an African worker could "live decently" with his wife in Nairobi it would bring "responsibility and communal pride" to the town [Martin and Colchester 1941]. Wartime officials designed policies to make sure that some Africans had family lives and others did not. The point of creating a respectable working class was to make it utterly distinct from the mass of the labouring poor. The former were to have families - whoever was to work the farm in this scenario was never clear - in specifically designed housing. Families would treat workers to a life that the unskilled young men would not get: companionship, support, someone to talk to, not necessarily because it was a good thing in and of itself, but because that would keep men from congregating with other men in overcrowded rooms and beer halls. In officials' ideology, men together bred crime and dissent; married men were fulfilled and complacent. Colonialists' fears of the dangers of men together were challenged in the Mau Mau revolt of the early 1950s. The colony of Kenya was perhaps unique in the effort to which it went to keep men together and under state control: it attempted to solve a crisis by interrogating an entire tribe, arresting a good proportion of them, labelling their degree of loyalty and their potential for reclamation, and housing them accordingly.


Africans of course had their own ideas about respectability, order, and rank in the home and work place; they also were influenced by what colonial social engineering was trying to do -if they did not do it, they nevertheless developed a healthy respect for the idea. There is simply not enough evidence to say whether or not skilled railway employees wanted the companionate marriages of official dreams, but the educated men who fought in the forest in Mau Mau seemed to have done. The illiterate ones, the Kenya Riigi, banned rank and relationships. The state's belief that a respectable working class was one that would be restrained by marriage and cohabitation was taken over and inverted by a generation of men the state called terrorists. The response of colonialists in the 1950s, a timely combination of officials, missionaries, and the Special Branch, was to dismantle the gender in revolt. Colonial attempts at constructions of gender were active processes in which Africans sometimes participated in collegial relations, and sometimes resisted. It was the nature of gender, and the proper division of labour by sex that followed from gender relations, that was the contested terrain of colonial control.


Self, self, and other


The men who wrote the memoranda about stable urban homes were themselves denied a family presence for their early years of colonial service. Originally colonial officials could not bring their wives for the first two and a half years of service; by the 1930s it had been changed to four years. The colonies were considered "unsafe" for wives, who could be a "bloody nuisance" [Colchester 1977]. But white men, settler and official, single and married, had sexual relations with African women. The extent, duration, and content of these relationships seem to have been determined largely by where they took place: men who took women to their homes or hotels in the Settled Areas made far more demands, for far more remuneration, than the men who, starting in the 1930s, visited women in their homes in the African locations of Nairobi. I have argued elsewhere that the relationships that took place in the locations were under the prostitutes' control [White 1987].


European men were brought by their servants, or starting in 1939, taxi drivers, who found women for them in ways that seemed of little concern to the prostitutes themselves: "maybe he had come to me once, maybe he was of my tribe." Prostitutes did not mystify Europeans, nor did they pay anyone to bring them to their doors: "he came with the white man, the white man had to pay him." Europeans "used to come at night, have sex, pay you, and then go away" - relations identical to those sold casual labourers; the only difference was the amount they paid and the fact that their drivers came back for them, "because some white men when they had sex with an African woman didn't want anyone to see them in the morning" [Athmani 1976; Njeri 1976; Musa 1976].


During World War II African soldiers took white troops into the locations, where they translated and negotiated prices for them. Throughout the 1940s a few young prostitutes began to go to downtown Nairobi specifically to look for white men to bring home: "in those days no mzungu felt ashamed to go with a dirty woman from Majengo...they didn't care if we were poor and our houses were dirty" [Waweru 1976]. Indeed, prostitutes as a rule had no fantasies about their relationships with Europeans: "white men didn't touch your breasts if they wanted you, they weren't looking for women to marry, they wanted someone for short time" [Njeri]. Even the women who celebrated the generosity of white men did not seek them out to the exclusion of African customers; indeed, some women worried that white boyfriends would alienate African ones, that "they would think you were very expensive and not even try to make an appointment with you" [Mohammed 1977]. There is not much evidence to assert that such interracial sexual relations were of much importance to African men: settler sources claimed that Mau Mau demanded an end to sexual relations between white men and African women, but no Mau Mau authors reported that [Leigh 1954:191].


It is impossible to tell from this data who these European men were but it is very likely that some of the men who spoke with authority about the needs of African men had some experience, however brief, however atypical, with African private life. For the most part, they had obtained that knowledge with the aid of third parties, for even in the most casual and anonymous of these encounters more than two people were involved. House servants, taxi drivers, Kings African Rifles - these men were as crucial to European men's sexual relations with African women as the women were. Moreover, these men, unlike the prostitutes they found, were frequently in relationships where sanction, loyalty, and reciprocity all mattered. Any discussion of an imperial desire to possess, to penetrate, to conquer that which was most alien was in Kenya mediated daily through the most commonplace of male relationships, in the taxi, in the officers' mess, in the parlour [Mannoni 1964:112]. The boundaries around white prestige and racial distance tangled as European men asked African men to help them find a woman [Stoler 1989:146-148]. However alien African men were, European men relied on them for intimate assistance. The metaphors of domination and submission, of active and passive, that sometimes accompany discussions of sexual relations between ruler and ruled must for Kenya be diminished by the intensity of the ruler's relationship with the third party - an intensity that does not exist with a purely financial relationship with a pimp, for example. Go-betweens did not necessarily make interracial sexuality any less exclusive, but they did make interracial male cooperation more intimate than it might otherwise have been. The categories of 'self' and colonized 'other' that emerged in explanations of the colonial repressions in the post-war years [Manoni 1964:97-122] may not accurately describe men's behaviour before crises or even during them, when relations between ruler and ruled may have been more interdependent than the language of mirror images would allow.


Breeding contentment


In Nairobi, colonial officials had envisioned a remarkable city in which African men would come, work for low wages and live wherever they could, and leave as soon as their contracts ended, without commitments or loyalties; they settled for a city in which the tasks of social reproduction were parcelled out to

landlords, prostitutes, and hawkers - a city in which migrants' obligations and ties in general were to each other, and people whose work was illegal. Family housing was regularly demolished until the mid-1920s because it was "not an economic factor to the community in Nairobi" [Radford 1916]. After 1930 the emphasis shifted, sloppily, to an official policy of making landlords out of prosperous but otherwise disinherited single women who, as the allocation of 176 houses in Shauri Moyo in 1938 revealed, could be made grateful for the opportunity to house and socialize the labour force. But individual African landlords, whether legal or illegal, did what colonial legislation intended but could not do: reduced money wages and removed the poor through the rents they charged, "beyond the capacity of the average native to pay without hardship" [Brooke-Popham 1939]. But by 1939, the year that wildcat strikes rocked Nairobi and paralysed Mombasa, some colonial officials were beginning to doubt the merits of the social life engendered by a former prostitute housing several rooms of male migrants [White 1983:167-91]. Late in 1939, Governor Brooke-Popham, by then fairly sophisticated about the failure of his urban administration, wrote to his successor suggesting that many more African women should be educated:


...not only in cooking food and looking after babies both of which I admit are very important, but also sufficient to be able to read native books and papers so they shall be able to talk on an equal footing with their menfolk. At the present time I believe that the African who takes an intelligent interest in European affairs gets fed up when he goes back to his hut and finds his wife can talk of nothing but maize, manure, and goats. Thereupon he goes off to his counterpart of a club, the village duka, which may become sort of a talking shop and possibly a centre of disaffection [Brooke-Popham 1939].


According to such policies an African man with no one to talk to, no helpmate, no companion, was a man in danger. Not from his sexual desires which could be met by the prostitute in the next room, as the MNAO wrote in 1939 [St. A. Davies 1939] but from his emotional needs. Such a man would be drawn to political action because there was no home life to contain him. The estranged African man, drifting into militancy because there was no one to talk to, was a potent colonial fantasy. Journalists and scholars attributed just such qualities to Jomo Kenyatta in the early 1950s: Peter Abrahams to show how his despair led him to lead Mau Mau, and David Throup to show how marginal he was to postwar politics in Kenya. "He had no friends. There was no one in the tribe who could give him the intellectual companionship that had become so important to him in his years in Europe" [Abrahams 1960:52; Throup 1985:399-445; Throup 1987:272].


The colonial fantasy of what the lonely man might do was equalled by the political fantasy of what married workers' housing could do. While the old couples and former prostitutes had been called 'detribalized,' 'deruralized,' and 'degenerate hybrids' in the 1930s attempts to demolish the wealthy settlements of Pangani and Kibera, the quarters for 96 married workers erected by the Railway in 1938 were hailed as a medical and social breakthrough [Wade 1936; Hosking 1931].


They alone were said to have reduced the Landhies' number of venereal disease cases in that year by one-third, or 677 [Central Province, Annual Political Report 1938]. In two separate reports published in 1941 the MNAO wrote that "When ten natives are crowded together in a room, the opportunities for petty thieving which may be the beginnings of a criminal career are as numerous as the frequency of such thieving shows," [Martin and Colchester 1941] but "The healthiest figure in Nairobi in body and usually accompanied by his wife and children" [Colchester 1941]. Visions of male gender were informed by what women and men might do for men.


But only skilled workers or the clerks earned salaries that could pay the rent for a family house, or support a wife in town. Nevertheless, housing the African nuclear family was idealized after the war, despite its expense, because an "urban working class" required "the fundamental unit of association and community, the home...created in bricks and mortar" with kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms clearly laid out [Vasey 1946:11-12, 16]. Visions of gender were made concrete in the state's postwar housing estates: the presence or absence of a kitchen reflected not only colonial ideas about what working men were to spend their wages on, but ideas about appropriate male and female behaviour. Function and behaviour were to follow form; bricks and mortar could keep people out as well as keep them inside. In 1948 an estate was built with smaller rooms than originally planned, in an attempt to reduce crime by discouraging guests [Nairobi Municipality 1948:20-21]. But such solutions made African housing into aggregations of unskilled men, and made legal housing more unpopular than it already was, without the mediating influence of prostitute landlords. By 1950 it was hoped that marriage would do more than contain the husband, that the presence of such couples might contain the labour force around them: Edward Vasey proposed that "a more healthy moral situation is likely to develop with a system of one or two lodgers in a family house than under the present conditions" [Vasey 1950].


There had already been official proposals about a return to the private landlord system to alleviate the postwar housing shortage [Chief Native Commissioner 1948]. The proposal had been Tom Askwith's. But this did not mean that Vasey, the settler liberal, or Askwith, the liberal official, wanted a return to the unregulated family housing of the demolished Pangani: they wanted married quarters that were under the control of the state.


The idea of housing as both illness and cure was concretized in the colonial theories that were used to explain the Mau Mau revolt of the early 1950s. The first response was that of Louis Leakey, archaeologist, Kenyan, and self-proclaimed Kikuyu, who argued that urban housing was the problem, not the solution. Young couples' "work takes them out of reach of the family influence" where they frequently quarrelled and separated, and township houses "divided into rooms" did "not give the privacy that separate huts in a single homestead afforded," so that polygamous unions became tense and difficult [Leakey 1952:18, 75]. The settler and official responses reproduced official dogma: men living together bred revolt; men living with their wives were satisfied. The Nairobi Sunday Post was direct: "there is no better breeding ground for crime, no better forum on which real or imaginary grievances can be ventilated...than an overcrowded hovel of "bedspaces" dimly lit by a flickering oil tin with nothing to do in the early hours of the evening after work but grumble" [Stren 1978:208].


The semi-official The Psychology of Mau Mau suggested that male migrant labour caused men to "lose contact, physically and spiritually, with their wives and children," who remained tribal and traditional, while young boys "learned life's lessons from mother." This made them schizophrenic. If Africans were to develop, "they must be given the opportunity to live as families in stable homes." If African male children were to grow up secure, they should have "parents whose attitudes to life do not conflict unduly. This can hardly be achieved if the father is usually away and if, when he is at home, his ideology is at variance with his wife's" [Carothers 1953:9-10, 23-24].


Africans were to be encouraged to live like respectable English workers: one job, one house, one wife, no farm they actually worked on. The tension between those who wanted increased migrancy and decreased urbanization and those who wanted a stabilized urban work force was endemic to British post-war African policies: Africans were either to become more African than ever before, or just like residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb [Cooper 1987:121, 183-192]. The repression of Mau Mau, with its vision of remaking men, attempted to resolve this tension.


The man with no one to talk to, the man with too many male cohorts - the former was the educated version of the latter. They were separated by skill level and how much their employer might spend on their accommodation; they were united by fact that they could not live as families, and by the level of dissatisfaction that the absence of marital relationships engendered. Without specific policies to subsidize family housing, however, these groups were indistinguishable: they worked side by side, they lived side by side, they earned not wholly dissimilar wages. The state's attempts to cull a respectable working class from the labouring poor made distinctions in gender, in sexuality, in differential access to cohabitation. This amounted to the construction of two forms of manhood deployed in urban life, and it may be possible to speak of two male genders, whose literacy and skills informed the ways they conducted themselves as men.


Rebellious love


African paramilitary organizations have sometimes been able to restructure sexual life with great success [Guy 1979; Urdang 1979]. Private life and armed struggle were not separate spheres. In Western Europe, at least, nationalist ideologies - in the broadest possible definition -advocated respectable, adult behaviour; they argued for the control of sexuality and "provided the means through which changing sexual attitudes could be absorbed and tamed into respectability" [Mosse 1985:10].


In postwar Central Kenya the official debate about gender, sexuality, and the precise nature of companionate marriage - whether or not it calmed men out of protest - were taken over by Africans with passion, conviction, and substantially more dissent than had been seen in the colonial administration. Mau Mau issued many more statements about the nature and proper organization of marriage than it did about land or freedom. Later on, activists continued the debate in writing.


According to the autobiographies of participants, Mau Mau practice and organization in Nairobi involved married and bachelors' quarters, stabilization of the labour force, and the illusion of family life in ways undreamed of by postwar officialdom. For example, the Mau Mau Martial Court for Nairobi was held in the largest and oldest of uncontrolled squatter settlements, Mathare Valley, in a section popularly known as Married Quarters [Wachanga 1975:49].


Single men did not drive each other into activism by grumbling, but by trying to protect themselves and each other. The most apolitical roommates took oaths, willingly, so that no one could be accused of harbouring a loyalist [Kabiro 1973:54-55]. Family life, and its racial characteristics, figured only a little differently in illiterates' accounts of the same period. One Ganda prostitute regularly walked a few miles each day to Bahati, along with Makadara, the location into which all Kikuyu were placed after 1954, to look for men in the section where Mau Mau was said to be most active, [Mathu 1974:28-30; Wamweya 1971:124-125, 130] because "I had a small child I always carried around, I couldn't afford an ayah, and a white man couldn't stomach the idea of you coming to his house but the Africans were alright about it" [Masaba 1977].


But it was in the dense forest that separated the Kikuyu reserve from the settled areas of the Rift Valley that Mau Mau experimented with and reconstructed gender relations and the myths and rituals around them. Usually men went into the forest alone, but sometimes couples went together, and occasionally unmarried women went alone. It was said that 15,000 Kikuyu went into the forest, which they used as a staging ground for raids that were often ill-advised and, after mid-1953, were little more than attempts to secure food and ammunition. There is no narrative history of Mau Mau from 1952 to 1956, let alone one of the Operations in the forest. A political chronology might read: December 1952, leaders in the forest; June 1953, breakup of the joint leadership of Dedan Kimaathi and Stanley Mathenge; February 1954, Kenya Parliament and probably Kenya Riigi formed; February-March 1955, surrender negotiations; October 1956, Kimathi captured; December 1956, British Army withdrawn. I want to suggest another, gendered chronology: December 1952, leaders in the forest; July 1953, first conference called to insist on monogamous marriage; August 1953, women given warrior status; March 1954, Mathenge's Kenya Riigi banned sexual relations in the forest; March 1955, Dedan Kimaathi made prime minister of the East African Empire in a Kenya Parliament ceremony in which his lover, Wanjiru, was made his queen, "Knight Commander of Gikuyu and Mumbi" [Barnett and Njama 1966:449-458; Wachanga 1975:24-29, 35, 96-103].


Monogamy and companionate marriage were not the arrangements men and women took with them into the forest. According to no less an authority on Kikuyu customs than Jomo Kenyatta, polygyny proved a man's worth, "his capacity to look after the interests of the tribe," [Kenyatta 1937:169] but in the forest leaders and generals did not take more than one wife at a time. Starting in July 1953 the forest fighters split along the same lines that divided men in the wider society, or at least in Nairobi's labour markets: literacy, skill level, respect for rank and hierarchy, and differential access to cohabitation. Among the forces loyal to Kimathi, there was a new emphasis on monogamous marriage in which all women were to be married and live separately with their husbands. Some said women chose their mates [Barnett and Njama 1966:221-222, 227].


Literacy divided the forest fighters as no other issue did. A Mau Mau hymn attributed to Stanley Mathenge but probably written by someone else, published by Gakaara wa Wanjau in mid-1952, claimed that "If our fathers had had the education we have, then we... would not be living as the children of foreigners" [Ogot 1977:275-286].


But by late 1953 most of the considerable intelligence security forces had obtained came from the very bitter enmity between the literate and illiterate factions [Clayton 1976:34-35]. When that enmity became institutionalized, the Kenya Riigi claimed they represented the majority of Kenyans and that the literates' leadership in the Kenya Parliament was illegitimate and autocratic, that they were too Europeanized. The Kenya Parliament responded by accusing the illiterates of the same thing the state accused Mau Mau of - reliance on witchdoctors, magic, and regional loyalties [wa Kinyatti 1987:33, 113; Barnett and Njama 1966:335, 397-398; Wachanga, 1975:41-42].


Very little attention has been paid to Mau Mau's initial inability and subsequent failure to contain both its literate and oral factions, but it would seem that over the years the Kenya Parliament leadership came to be associated with written communications. Thirty years after his execution it was said that Dedan Kimaathi proposed to his wife - not Wanjiru - by writing her three letters. She could never understand why her neighbour could not "communicate his tender feelings by word of mouth rather than write love letters. But that was his way" [Mutahi 1986:15].


Among Kenya Parliament forces, marriage and hierarchy were intimately entwined. Kimathi's appointed commander Mau on Mt. Kenya, General China, had been a dormitory dweller all his working life, from the Railway to the Kings African Rifles. He had a wife with whom he had rarely lived until she joined him in restriction in Marsabit, but he demanded a fearsome monogamy among his soldiers starting early in 1954: all ranks had to make public contemplated adultery. More importantly, he conflated rank and gender and made courtship subject to rank: no officer could "play about with girls in front of his soldiers," nor could he "hunt for a girl but must meet her through our women commanders" [Itote 1967:288-300].


After mid-1953, the Kenya Parliament insisted on hierarchy and monogamous marriage, while the Mathenge forces practised no marriage at all. The Kenya Riigi spurned ranks altogether, they used the term 'big leader.' When Karari Njama, one of three men and two women in the forest with a secondary school education (although he was to become famous for claiming to be the only one) visited Mathenge as Kimathi's secretary, he chided him for not having his own kitchen; Mathenge replied that he liked to eat in the company of his soldiers [Barnett and Njama 1966:290]. A careful reading of Mau Mau memoirs indicates that Kenya Riigi men did have sexual relations with Kenya Riigi women, without the twenty-four lashes their rules demanded, [Gikoyo 1979:169; Barnett and Njama 1966:28, 292; Wachanga 1975] but those relations were never institutionalized in any way. Kenya Riigi men and women often fought side by side, but lived separately and never described themselves as couples; one such man referred to the woman he later married as his 'co-fighter' [Gikoyo 1979:244]. In postwar social engineering, families were a reward allocated by the state to a select few. Mau Mau, whatever else it did, took the allocation of family life out of colonial hands and put it under African control. The Kenya Riigi did not give themselves relationships; they consciously chose to do without the very thing the state had withheld from them in their working lives.


Kenya parliament marriages were monogamous, egalitarian, and contentious. Mau Mau had joint men and women's councils "where women's voices were heard" and the women, who fought in the forest claimed "there was no man or woman leader," as gender was immaterial [Kanogo 1987a:147]. Indeed, "killing people like Waruhiu was the work of women and girls" [Presley 1986a:255]. In the early days of the struggle men and women often performed each other's customary tasks: in the camps near Nairobi men brought water in automobiles; elsewhere, women who sometimes cooked went armed with men on raids. Men nurtured, "giving us strength to fight" [Presley 1986a:252-255; Presley, 1988:502-27]. But starting in mid-1954 the Kenya Parliament issued proclamations to correct deviations in the sexual division of labour, demanding that women cook and gather firewood for men, regardless of their rank. "It is wrong to send men to fetch water and gather firewood when there are women to do it" [wa Kinyatti 1987:34]. At about the same time, however, the Kenya Riigi insisted that men do women's work, and administered an oath asking forest fighters to abandon any leader who "did not participate in fetching food and firewood, building his own hut or carrying his own luggage" [Barnett and Njama 1966:479]. The struggles within Mau Mau were about housework.


It was not just marriage that was contested in Mau Mau; gender relations were part of the struggle to be sure, but so was the definition of gender. General China wrote that after the bloody and unpopular Lari Massacre the joint committee of Mt. Kenya and Nyandarua troops debated whether loyalist women and children should be killed. The debate centered on defining women, and establishing how they were different from men. Were they primarily mothers or companions? Some argued that since women socialized their children, a loyalist widow could turn her children against her husband's killers, but others said that women, who "work and think like a man" should be captured and reeducated. In late 1953 women argued for a gender specific notion of motherhood and equal rights with men: China's secretary, herself with a year or two of secondary schooling, claimed that while "we no longer live in the days when a woman could not eat meat before men," no woman, however militant, could let another woman's child "die of hunger when our own children are eating - in this way we are not at all like men. Even white women" fed hungry children. Others agreed, and told the story of the great famine in which only women survived, hid in the forest, and rebuilt the Kikuyu tribe by capturing men and forcing them to stay until they all became pregnant [Itote 1967:127-138]. The new comradeship in arms of Kikuyu men and women in the forest did not remove women from all domestic relationships, but it did infuse those relationships with new power [Smith-Rosenberg 1965:252-255].


There does not seem to have been much debate about the role of men in parenting after 1953, although an army of the Kenya Parliament suggested that they establish a fund to support orphans in 1954 [wa Kinyatti 1987:38; Presley 1986a:253]. Women provided childcare for very few children in the forest but for the most part, mothers lived as wives there. Where husbands and wives went on armed patrols together, their children lived with maternal or paternal grandparents in the reserve [Presley 1986a:250-1]. Wives could be warriors, but mothers could not: if a woman became pregnant in the forest, she "lost the rifle" while "her male partner was subjected to punitive chores" [Kanogo 1987a:149].


Companionate marriage had a vital meaning to men in the forest: a Mau Mau hymn insisted that men divorce their wives if their wives left the forest [wa Kinyatti 1980:94-5]. Like Carothers, Mau Mau held that couples should not disagree. But women in the forest seem to have valued their status as companions with identities separate from those of their spouses. When Kimathi's lover Wanjiru was captured in 1956, she raged against being called "Kimathi's woman" rather than by her own name [Henderson 1957:149-50].3 Indeed, the male, internal criticism levelled at Wambui, the executioner for Nakuru's Mau Mau Court, had nothing to do with her politics or her maternal skills, but that she refused to remarry, "she could not be ruled, she knew everything...she could easily kill a useless husband" [Kanogo 1987a:148; Kanogo 1987b:94].


Such contentions reflected the tensions and concerns of the rebels. It may be that these were not the social rearrangements of women and men in intense crisis, but that Mau Mau was the movement of women and men whose definitions of gender were in intense crisis. In such an atmosphere - one that we know about from sources written and sung by men - women were discussed almost abstractly, but for the men who were insurgents the debate about their own gender was internalized, complicated, and often painful. Men discussed how gender roles should be defined and how familial responsibilities were apportioned. Kiboi Murithi, who fought with General Tanganyika's forces vaguely affiliated with the Kenya Parliament, chided a fellow soldier for thinking of his family - "How can you be married if you never see your wife and totos?" - but admitted that he worried about his mother. His comrade rebuked him: "Shame! Mothers have daughters to look after them. The old wazee are always there to see if they're alright" [Murithi with Ndoria 1971:61].


The most detailed authority on forest life, Karari Njama, was himself somewhat stodgy on sexual matters and never got over his initial dislike of women in the forest. Yet he and others chronicle, in Njama's case in spite of himself, how men grappled with their own weakening self-image as providers for and protectors of women until it was discarded, by Kenya Riigi and Kenya Parliament alike, by late 1954. Shortly before the ceremony installing Kimathi and Wanjiru, Njama lamented that "we were starving of food and cold and had failed to support ourselves. How then could one support a family?" He had already written to his wife, sending some money and warning her "not to expect any sort of help from me for the next ten years take care of herself and our beloved daughter. I trained myself to think of the fight, and the African Government." The sense of women's autonomous sexuality and self-preservation was so strong in the forest that Wanjiru was installed in a ceremony which named her previous Mau Mau lovers, and praised how she had managed to run from bomber fire many times over [Barnett and Njama 1966:434-435, 450].


White skin, Black masks


Mau Mau, with its oaths, its killings, and its forest life, was an affront to the administration of Central Province. The insight of a former district officer was that "It was as if a half-century of administration and civilization had been wiped out" [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:292]. The key concept in the official studies of Mau Mau was dissolution - the dissolution of order, of Christianity, of personality. The boundaries that held an image of Africans still no longer worked. "A Kikuyu leading an apparently normal life would, in one moment, become a thing that was barely human" [Corfield 1960:9]. Settlers and officials loved to tell the story of the murder of the Ruck family, whose syce killed their six-year-old boy only days after he had carried him lovingly to the house after a riding accident; Mrs. Ruck, an MD, had a clinic for Africans, and provided Christmas toys for the children of their African employees [Majdalany 1963:124; Best 1979:180; Leigh 1954:76; Corfield 1960:9].


But if Mau Mau violated the boundaries between rulers and ruled, so did its repression. Settlers and soldiers alike were to boast that Mau Mau was defeated by white men who pretended to be black. White men donned old clothes and black face, yellowed their eyes with a diluted potassium solution and accompanied Kikuyu countergangs into the forest in broad daylight. It was said that the settlers in the Kenya Regiment did this best, since they could speak Swahili and perhaps some Kikuyu. The intimacy of counter insurgency enabled men to overcome the prohibitions of race, class, and even gender. So permeable were the boundaries between races and around genders that a widespread settler rumour had it that one British 'pseudo,'-as the whites in the counter-gangs called themselves adopted a Kikuyu baby orphaned in forest action and brought it up as his own child [Best 1979:192; Baldwin 1957:164-68; Henderson 1957:149-50; Kitson 1960:171; Jeffords 1989:55-59].


The outbreak of Mau Mau came shortly after the British in Kenya had attempted to dissolve the distinctions within their communities - settlers were taken into the colonial service, and senior officials were encouraged to retire in Kenya [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:323; Throup 1985:260-83] - and had tried to strengthen the distinctions between groups of Africans. 'Urban' had ceased to be a pejorative term for Africans, and classes, despised in the 1930s, were recognized and welcomed in the late 1940s. In its organization and in its repression, Mau Mau and the different European communities articulated these divisions in ways that neither Africans or Europeans had done before. Rebels became, according to their skills, the townsmen and 'boys' of postwar official rhetoric; their repression was authorized by members of official and unofficial white communities in ways that sought to level these distinctions. During Kenya's first crisis over gender issues, the female circumcision crisis of 1929, the state had abandoned the mission community, despite the murder of an elderly woman missionary [Strayer 1978:139-40]. But during Mau Mau the European communities worked together, despite well-documented dissent and disgust: the commander in chief of British forces called the cheerful adulterers of Happy Valley "middle class sluts" who were "not prepared to do anything to help themselves" [Blundell 1964:125-27; Clayton 1976:11n] settlers complained about "the rusty machinery of British Law" and misguided British liberalism [Lander 1957:185; Leigh 1954:175]. Indeed, during Mau Mau the European officials relied heavily on the expertise of members of the unofficial European communities, men who had the remarkable ability to not be white.


In the early days of Mau Mau, when it was estimated that 90 percent of the Kikuyu took the first Mau Mau oath, all Kikuyu were suspect. Indeed, all Kikuyu were formally interrogated, or screened. Starting in mid-1952, the only Kikuyu-speakers considered trustworthy enough for official translations were white. Two of these men, one the son of a settler and one the son of a missionary, had more to do with the construction and deconstruction of Mau Mau than anyone else. Ian Henderson was the son of a Scottish immigrant who had worked a variety of unsuccessful enterprises until he began cattle ranching in Nyeri, where his son grew up. At school the young Henderson was as undistinguished as Louis Leakey was distinguished: he was saved from a career as a Nairobi traffic cop when the Special Branch discovered he spoke Kikuyu fluently. He translated the Kenya African Union rally at Nyeri in 1952, much of which was used at Kenyatta's trial at Kapenguria. He interrogated General China after his capture. He translated at some of the negotiation meetings. He lead the 'hunt for Kimathi' in the Aberdares, sometimes in blackface. He had enough information about forest life to present Kimathi and Wanjiru as Hitler and Eva Braun - perverted, dependent, and pathologically jealous [Itote 1967:165-66; Henderson 1957:147]. He had so successfully created Kimathi as a villain that two months after Kimathi's capture British troops were withdrawn from the forest. Henderson provided much of the evidence for the origins of Mau Mau, its conduct, and for its demise. He was deported from Kenya on independence.


Louis Leakey was the son of a CMS missionary. Born and raised in Kiambu, he too was fluent in Kikuyu and titled his 1937 anecdotal autobiography White African, in which he announced, oddly and boldly for the son of a missionary, "In language and in mental outlook I was more Kikuyu than English, and it never occurred to me to act other than as a Kikuyu" [Leakey 1937:32]. He was a world-renowned archaeologist in the early 1950s and, within two months of the assassination of Chief Waruhiu, he became an explainer of Mau Mau to England, the colonial state and the British Army. He translated Kikuyu for the Kapenguria trial, at which knowledge of Kikuyu was such a key issue that a Luo politician was acquitted, not because he was innocent, but because he did not speak Kikuyu [Kaggia 1975:138]. With Tom Askwith, the liberal colonial official, Harry Thuku, by 1950 the collaborator, and J. C. Carothers, the psychiatrist, Leakey formed the Committee On Rehabilitation. He designed the Pipeline through which 80,000 Kikuyu passed from detention to stages of rehabilitation between 1953 and 1959. Leakey was never deported from Kenya, but his Kikuyuness was not lost on Mau Mau: in 1954 his elderly cousin, Gray Arundel Leakey was kidnapped and buried alive by forces loyal to Mathenge, a story of human sacrifice that settlers and rebels told with detailed self-righteousness. "One of the tremendous and marvellous things that brought great fame to Mau Mau was the raid on Mr. Gray Leakey's house..."[Wachanga 1975:43; Blundell 1964:111; Majdalany 1963:224].


The ease with which members of the unofficial white community appropriated Kikuyu identity and characteristics reflected the confusions about identity that whites living in Africa must have had. They overcame them, like Kipling's Kim, in disguise: there was no situation - or race, or class, or gender they could not master [Said 1987:57-60]. Starting in 1953 the official community attempted to appropriate Kikuyu culture. The government hired the only headmen it considered loyal to 'cleanse' or re-oath Mau Mau; these men were almost immediately called 'H. M. Witchdoctors.' They re-housed millions of rural Kikuyu in villages designed for defense, but also a fantasy of orderly rural life and African-ness that they had been unable to promote in the late 1940s; they put 80,000 'dangerous' Kikuyu in detention camps that were to remake their genders. At the same time, settlers, officials, and 10,000 British and African troops killed 10,000, convicted about 19,000 and executed 1300.


This overkill - as the British left called it, to the soldiers' and settlers' disgust [Baldwin 1957:46; Kitson 1960:6; Blundell 1964:111-12, 177-78] was much more than was needed to end a revolt that by insurgents' own accounts was petering out by 1955 [Barnett and Njama 1966:440-41; Wamweya 1971:170]. Countergangs may have been reassuring to the practice of colonial counter-insurgency, but the blackface, the government witchdoctors, the complete rehousing of an ethnic group, the detentions lasting years after Harold Macmillan's 'winds of change' speech - these may have indicated that something else was going on. These lapses in racial identity, these confusions of boundaries may begin to make sense if we see Mau Mau and its expression as a specific dialectical debate about the very issues that were galvanizing the rest of the continent - the nature of manhood, the role of wives, the meaning of marriage -the extent to which an African labour force could or should be stabilized. If a labour force was to be stabilized, it would have urban families, responsible husbands, dependent wives, and a sexual division of labour specific to their relationship.


Perhaps because it addressed these issues actively, Mau Mau horrified the British. Colonial officials provided the fantasies that made the revolt, which was unlikely to attract much metropolitan support in any case, appear more brutal, more bloodthirsty, more frightening than it actually was. The propaganda campaign was at least as intense as the military one, and stood in imaginative contrast to the settlers' eyewitness accounts which portrayed Kikuyu as vain, sadistic children [Maughan-Brown 1985:77-92]. Officials' boyish fantasies of African sexuality added menstrual blood called 'monthlies' in official dogma [Kanogo 1987b:86] - and severed members to the Mau Mau oaths, which, a medical doctor told a Parliamentary Delegation in 1954, drove Kikuyu mad: "they just kill on being instructed to kill - their own mother, their own baby" [Majdalany 1963:166-67; Corfield 1960:163-70; Blundell 1964:171].


The repression of Mau Mau was so extraordinary because it was a complicated, deliberate attempt to dismantle a vision of gender so lovingly engineered by colonial officials. Settlers and soldiers claimed that the former forest fighters who helped them defeat Mau Mau were cowardly, soft, and fickle - in a word, unmanly: "They had surrendered because they could not take it" [Henderson 1957:37; Kitson 1960:125; Baldwin 1957:174-75; Stoneham 1955:129]. The repression of Mau Mau confused racial boundaries precisely because it was confusing to attack a gender that had been constructed in a benevolent self-image; this confusion was expressed by white men appropriating the identity and characteristics of black men. The story about the British pseudo adopting a Kikuyu orphan may have been apocryphal, but very specialized Europeans sought to supplant Kikuyu parenting - contested terrain itself in the mid-1950s -throughout the Emergency. The problem of orphaned Kikuyu children regularly made headlines in the East African Standard and figured in official reports and historiography. Convoluted statistics estimated that over 4,000 children were orphaned by Mau Mau. In 1954 some 300 Kikuyu children were placed in an 'orphan village,' another 300 were in detention with their mothers, but it was said that there were over 1,000 still homeless in Nairobi. In 1959, shortly after the last detention camp was closed, two white policemen, Robert Griffiths of the General Service Unit and Patrick Shaw of the Special Branch (in which he was to remain well into the 1980s) founded Starehe Boys Centre to raise and educate Nairobi's vagrant boys [Iliffe 1987:187]. In 1939 Brooke-Popham had put raising children in the same category as cooking, the humdrum of women's work; twenty years later it was taken away from African women, a reprimand to their gender.


Making men: the art of detention


Families had backfired. Not only did wives not tranquillize their husbands, they seemed to have made them more rebellious, a fact on which right wing settlers and liberal officials agreed [Stoneham 1955:133; Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:338]. Although Askwith believed that women raised their children "to follow the Mau Mau creed" and suggested that women be rehabilitated "if the next generation is to be saved," the considerable efforts of the colonial state went to rehabilitate men. Askwith was sent to study rehabilitation in Malaya, but a former DO saw the real model in administrators' own school days: detention camps emphasizing "hard work, washing, discipline, and games" [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:338; Presley 1988:503-04; Stoneham 1955:88; Said 1987:32]. These ideas had a certain charm as a way to deal with people who were said to be willing to kill their own children on command, but as important as the ideology was the scale on which it was carried out. In all there were 56 camps, for screening, detention, and works; they were firmly under the control of the Ministry for Community Development.


Rehabilitation was to do through detention camps what colonial capitalism had prevented male migrant labour from doing for itself: removing men from their families, socializing them in new norms, and returning them to family life as a reward for their hard work and new discipline. It was a vision of gender without class divisions. In the late 1930s the state's paltry attempts to house and make permanent skilled workers began the construction of two male genders - one more skilled, richer, healthier, and presumably happier - the other tolerably weak in body and spirit, with a sordid social life. Rebels had taken these constructions to heart: skilled literate men had stable, companionate marriages and illiterates had no wives and communal kitchens. In the forest, literates and illiterates - the 'boys' of the state's bedspaces - had separate and distinct social lives and separate and distinct ideologies. The cure for Mau Mau was to dissolve the two genders.


Detention attempted to reconstruct Kikuyu manhood as a progression: men would pass from black (Mau Mau) status to greyness to white, in which state they could be returned home or, if a chief or headman objected to that, their families were brought to live with them. Dormitory life was the punishment, marriage was the reward earned by hard work, but this time the reward for all men. But the 'normalcy' to which men were returned reflected the state's ideas about African family life - conducted in fortified villages - and not those of the forest fighters. Indeed, in the camps activist men resisted and continued to regulate their sexual lives. This made them an even more specialized gender, vulnerable to the camps' interventions. Once in the camps, political detainees -including Mathenge's champions of the unranked - took great pains to separate themselves from the criminals held there, who were called carrion crows "because they could steal and quarrel and commit sodomy with each other; they had no discipline" [Kariuki 1963:172; Muchai 1973 43-44; Wachanga 1975:159; Gikoyo 1979:132].


As a system for manufacturing a certain kind of African man, the camps worked well. All detainees were to receive a "moral and political re-education" to counteract the Mau Mau oath; the loyalist 'H. M. Witchdoctors' gave new anti-Mau Mau oaths to help make them sane. In theory the unjustly accused and the rehabilitated were sent home. A Pipeline grading a hard core of black (men who refused to cooperate or confess at all) to intermediate grey to white was developed. Most detainees commented on the symbolism of the color codes [Kariuki 1963:89; Muchai 1973:55]. Detainees were often first taken to screening camps where their degree of involvement was ascertained by less than voluntary methods [Blundell 1964:198-99; Mathu 1974:62-64]. At the screening camp at Bahati several men were castrated [Kariuki 1963:63; Clayton 1976:49n]. The holding camps, located outside Central Province in Manyani and Mackinnon Road and the islands of Lake Victoria, held the hard core. Without formal charges, men had to confess, at least to taking one of the first Mau Mau oaths, so that their cure could begin. If men confessed, and the greatest care and determination was taken to see that they did, they were moved to special detention camps where their re-education began in earnest: they learned crafts and heard lectures by loyalists and former Mau Mau. Under government grant, the Christian Council of Kenya and the Roman Catholic Church operated chaplaincies and a system of public confessions; Christian living had never had so much state support. Detainees put on plays frequently [Kariuki 1963:161, 193; Mathu 1974:72; wa Wanjau 1988:188-92].


Cooperative detainees could go on to work camps, where discipline and re-education continued - in fact, the camps in Kenyatta's heartland were considered especially brutal - but where they could receive visits from their families [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:334-342; Clayton 1976:16-17, 49-52]. And by then, a great many men had been changed. They resented or were saddened by their wives' independence in the intervening years, and the visits broke many detainees faster than years of beatings had done: "The visits from relatives demoralized many detainees: it left them feeling that they had been cheated; that they had wasted the best years of their lives." Most painful of all were the children their wives had while they were in the forest or in detention. In confessing adultery, wives often made themselves secondary to other familial ties: "In many such cases wives let their mothers-in-laws see their sons first so they could break the horrible news" [Wamweya 1971:196-97]. Detainees' ideals about gender and family were different than those that had obtained in the forest. One Mathenge supporter told the woman who had fought alongside him in the forest what to say in her confession [Gikoyo 1979:225-26].


Other activist men worried about their wives in new ways: Mohammed Mathu, easily the most adventurist Mau Mau in Nairobi, used the money he earned in detention to send to his wife, relieved at "finally being able to help her a little" [Mathu 1974:76]. Kahinga Wachanga, Mathenge's well educated secretary, hid money in his shoe to give to his wife when she visited [Wachanga 1975:147]. Single men were grateful for their mothers' attentions: Murithi supplemented his rations with those brought to the work camp by his "thoughtful mother" [Murithi 1971:124].


Still other men changed in unexpected ways. Educated detainees taught illiterates to read in the camps: Manyani "was one big literacy class," as was Hola, and Lodwar; Kariuki ran a huge primary school at Saiyusi in Lake Victoria. Those who could read and write Kikuyu and Swahili were taught to read English [Kariuki 1973:141; Wamweya 1971:185; Muchai 1973:60; Wachanga 1975:143; wa Wanjau 1988:161-67]. New bonds were created according to who taught whom English [Itote 1967:212-217]. The greatest division within Mau Mau was levelled in detention. Kahinga Wachanga cooperated in 1959 and was made a supervisor of a works project at Hola Open Camp. Sounding very much like a community development officer himself, Wachanga boasted about his supervisory position, his salary, and the crops grown in the Irrigation Scheme, and noted that the new processes of accumulation favoured the married, not necessarily the skilled and literate. Four acres of land were given to detainees who brought their families to the Open Camp, and two acres were given to detainees who did not [Wachanga 1975:152; Mwanamwende n.d., but probably 1985:18-19]. Unskilled and semi skilled detainees earned two-thirds to one-third less than supervisors and built the family housing for the camp [Muchai 1973:70-71]. The new men were given every opportunity to flourish.


Detention was a violent, expensive version of everyday life. Kariuki, who took 2,800 shillings into detention with him, described the severity of the beatings, how goods were bought and sold, how information was presented and evaluated. What made detention different from everyday life was that men did women's work - the very labour that some men had struggled valiantly against in the forest. The state did not provide laundresses, or cooks, or cleaners; detainees did those tasks. Money was not the object; detainees were paid more (sometimes in tokens and sometimes in cash) than women employees would have earned, if the wages paid women cleaners in the Nairobi City Council or World War II KAR camps were anything to go by [Clayton 1976:15-16; White 1986:268-70]. All Mau Mau memoirs remark on the ironies of men's detention camp labours. At Lokitaung, Jomo Kenyatta, who was held by many to be responsible for Mau Mau [Leigh 1954:133-52; Clayton 1976:7; Throup 1985:232-33] was declared "unfit for hard labour" and given the task of cooking for the others in detention [Kaggia 1975:139]. At Athii River, cleaning and cooking duties were rotated through the four hard core compounds [Mathu 1974:67]. Cooking and gathering firewood were required of the hard core an Manda Island [wa Wanjau 1988:45]. At the work camps in Kiambu men carried water cans, which, according to a man who had not been in the forest, "men, in all the history of our tribe, had never learned" [Mwanamwende 1985?:28], In Manyani in 1954, cooking was a punishment for the hard core; at first, men who had never cooked before took hours to prepare dinner [Kariuki 1963:95; Wamweya 1971:84; wa Wanjau 1988:8].


By 1956, when there were about 20,000 men still in detention and a coherent policy to accelerate confessions with "compelling force" [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:341-43], women's work was sought after by even the most uncooperative detainees. The hard core at Manda had to be weaned from kitchen work with reduced pay [wa Wanjau 1988:167]. At Manyani in that same year detainees were elected to the cooking staff, as candidates from their district: "kitchen work was the one duty in Manyani every detainee had his eye on." Men accused of any loyalist activity could not get elected. It had become so important that it was "the one place where one could win popularity or dislike for himself." Joram Wamweya, during his second, more cooperative stay at Manyani starting in 1956, took pride in his skills as a soup server and knew that others appreciated his impartiality. He wrote about the care he took to fill each cup measure full, about his scalded fingers, about how he "graduated in soup serving" [Wamweya 1971:181-83].


This was not simply a man in a specific context performing women's work with dignity and self-confidence; it was the transformation of women's work from punishment into a way men could serve other men, through hard work and discipline. Dormitory life blurred any gender specific concept of domesticity - a position that had itself been severely contested in the forest. In detention, men performed women's work with pride and discipline in order to calm and to please and to silence other men, the very thing women had failed to do a few years before. Here was detention at work.


Wamweya escaped from Manyani in 1954, and did not return to detention until his surrender late in 1955. But other Mau Mau memoirs contain numerous examples of detainees making homes for themselves - sharing cooking tasks, sewing, cleaning cells, kitchens, and offices of the staff that ordered their beatings [Kariuki 1963:96-7; Muchai 1973]. By 1956 or 1957, by which time many of the hard core had been in detention for years, they worked hard at making themselves and their fellows comfortable, without overt cooperation, confession, or ever thinking of themselves as anything but hard core [Kariuki 1963:164-65; Muchai 1973:64; Mathu 1974:77-78; wa Wanjau 1988:76, 154-160].


Nowhere were the contradictions of gender reconstruction clearer than in the various Mau Mau descriptions of Kamiti Prison Camp, where more than 3,000 women were detained. Mothering became a central theme in many accounts of women's detention. Mathenge supporters claimed that perhaps the greatest victims of the Emergency were the women who became barren because of the "evil tortures" inflicted upon them at Kamiti. Men's bones would heal, but women unable to bear children would "suffer for the rest of their lives" [Wachanga 1975:163], able only to be lovers and wives. According to a detention song of Dedan Kimaathi's uncooperative supporters, the greatest horror of Kamiti was the "medicines and injections" that killed the children there [wa Kinyatti 1987:65]. But former women prisoners interviewed by Cora Presley in the late 1970s boasted that they had maintained a nursery at Kamiti, and some women had their children brought there. Paternity was not an issue at Kamiti, mothering was: "if a woman became pregnant while in detention...we would know who from," but the child was raised together with those conceived in the forest. What women complained about was that they had been forced to do men's work at Kamiti: road building and quarrying [Presley 1986a:256-57; Presley 1986b:54-67; Presley 1988:511-14]. But the wife of the publisher Gakaara wa Wanjau - who, like her husband, had never been in the forest - reported on how the new gender relations of armed struggle inverted the sexual division of labour. Some women "would insist that their husbands, who had already confessed, should only talk about domestic affairs and should by no means discuss matters relating to detention." She also noted that the hard core cells were called the "hyenas' block" - in wartime Kikuyu slang, at least, "hyena" was a metaphor for unrestrained sexuality - while the women who confessed lived in the cells named for the most domestic of animals, "cows' block" [wa Wanjau 1988:193-94; White 1986:270]. When a woman confessed, "her work was only to cook and eat" [Gachika 1979].4


Not all the reconstruction of African genders took place in barbed wire enclosures. The Maendaleo ya Wanawake (Progress for Women) Movement, the construction of specific but not altogether realistic housewives for African farms, began in the late 1940s but its membership was insignificant until the early 1950s. In interviews, however, its founders could not give an exact date for its beginnings, so that its origins were subtly linked to women's militancy in Kenya. Indeed, in the year of independence, the fate of Mrs. Ruck was forgotten and in its place a new bowdlerized history of inter-racial and intra-gender cooperation emerged. According to one European woman, Maendaleo ya Wanawake began with 'the informal groups' settlers' wives started to teach African women how to sew "in the early fifties." Later, European women, "mostly volunteers and novices," helped African women improve their farms by demonstrating the terraces that Kikuyu women had bitterly opposed a few years before [Wipper 1975-76:206-07; Throup 1987:140-57].


The Department of Community Development knew better, however. They claimed in 1954 that Maendaleo was "an effective instrument against subversive elements" and in 1955 "The women realized that the ideals of Maendaleo and Mau Mau were incompatible and that they would have to choose between them" [CDD, AR 1954 and 1955].


Maendaleo ya Wanawake taught the values of homecraft for Kikuyu homemakers; their weekly meetings had a fifteen-item agenda, with how to bathe a baby first and the organization of literacy classes last [Wipper 1975:100]. But Maendaleo ya Wanawake mothered years before white policemen did: it ran day nurseries, cooked and supervised the distribution of soup to hungry children, and cared for "children whose parents were missing or dead" [CDD, AR 1955]. lndeed, in 1955 its founders complained that the work allocation in the fortified villages interfered with proper motherhood: "the excessive use of communal labour for women...leaves them too little time for the care of homes and children." Loyal Kikuyu women were to be mothers first and wives second; in 1955 Askwith praised the organization for helping to "reconstruct the country" by "integrating the detainees back into the community" [Wipper 1975-76:199-203]. To many officials Maendaleo was maintained as the opposite of detention; the Department of Community Development measured its success by club membership [Presley 1988:520]. Early in 1959, when only one detention camp remained in use, European women withdrew somewhat and Maendaleo received a UNICEF grant of $88,500 for "sewing machines, cooking and sewing kits and...refresher courses" and funds to Africanise its teaching staff [Wipper 1975:102]. The social and demographic upheavals of Kenya's State of Emergency transformed Kikuyu women's work within families; this brought new responsibilities and opportunities, and new, vigorous constraints [Smith-Rosenberg 1965:143-44].





The strange savagery of Mau Mau, in which men and women combined forces in a visionary citizenship of hearth and home was matched by the much stranger savagery of British policy and Mau Mau, the discourse of modernization and the counter-discourse of the Mau Mau oaths [Cooper 1988:219-20], and the counter-counter discourse of sophisticated land reforms, [Lonsdale 1986:170] began long before the State of Emergency was declared. As the state attempted to manufacture class and kinship out of the grim dormitories of their urban work force - Africans themselves began to rethink and restructure the gender categories so designed. The skilled men of family housing and the unskilled men of official bedspaces joined ranks, but they retained the distinctions between them. The revolt of these men and women articulated and debated the nature of that distinction, their revolt was about marriage, about the allocation of domestic chores. This did not make their revolt any less political, but it situated those politics in everyday private life. In this way Mau Mau contested all aspects of birth, life, and death: the British built a gallows on the ruins of Kenyatta's Githunguri Kenya Teachers College, and women prisoners at Kamiti buried the men hanged there with their heads facing Mount Kenya [Wachanga 1975:20; wa Wanjau 1988:194]. The complicated and seemingly inappropriate nature of the British 'cure' for Mau Mau had little do with resuscitating colonial values, as the cynical memoirs of detainees make clear, but with reconstructing men and women, through the process of domestic work, for a social order created and compromised by a British vision of calm and productive African families.




1. A possible exception, which I do not discuss here, is Muthoni Likimani, Passbook Number F.47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya London: 1985. The nine fictionalized chapters of which are based on the observations of Likimani's sister and the story of her former housemaid.


2. Henderson assumed this was because she had immediately shifted her loyalties from Kimathi to her captors.


3. I am grateful to Dr. Presley for generously allowing me to use her interview material.






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Kikuyu women and the politics of protest: Mau Mau


Tabitha Kanogo


This study aims to examine the roles and images of women in the Mau Mau war of liberation in Kenya. It is hoped to depict the prevailing male stereotypes of women; how men manipulated these; and the way in which women conformed to - and in some cases overcame - such stereotypes by creating new female images and by adopting new roles during the struggle.


Since the Second World War, Mau Mau has been the only major war that the British had to fight in Africa. In its open form, this conflict largely took place in the Mount Kenya and Aberdare Forests and lasted from 1952 to 1957 [Clayton 1976]. There were thousands of forest guerrillas, most of them Kikuyu. Significantly, up to about 5 per cent of the guerrillas were women; by joining the men in warfare they subverted their traditional role-status and challenged formal and traditional political authority in Kikuyu society where political power and decision-making were customarily dominated by men [Kenyatta 1953:194-5].


The transition from being the guardians of the domestic front to becoming partners in a political and military struggle was a slow and painful process for the women involved. Kikuyu men resented and strongly opposed the presence of women in the forest and initially relegated them to familiar domestic chores [Barnett and Njama 1966:226]. The forest women objected to this assignment and proved themselves capable of executing 'male' tasks.


Meanwhile, thousands of women who did not go into the forest comprised the vital civilian wing of the struggle, the lifeline without which the forest guerrillas would not have survived for as long as they did.1 These women also took up new roles, modified the old ones, and grappled with extensive social reorganisation to accommodate their new dual politico-domestic identity. This study seeks to portray the conflicts and contradictions that characterised the male-female "alliance" in the liberation struggle as women were co-opted to such roles as warrior, political decision-maker and judge. Because the cases of women's protest and participation examined in this study took place in a colonial past riddled with tradition, women are depicted as struggling against traditional socio-political structures and stereotypes on the one hand, and colonialism on the other.


Kikuyu women before Mau Mau


The colonial background


The Mau Mau war was a nationalist struggle born of the agrarian and political frustrations of Kenyan peasants, the urban proletariat and squatter labourers in the White Highlands [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:234-319]. The decision to base the economy of the country on an alien European settler community created a racially structured society in which the Europeans occupied a dominant and privileged position.


As well as reserving about seven million acres of the most fertile land for European agriculture, the government concentrated infrastructure, capital, agricultural and veterinary services in the settler sector [Brett 1973:Chapters 1-6]. The government also enacted a whole range of legislation, both financial and political, to coerce the reluctant Africans into the labour market, since settlers needed cheap and abundant labour. Taxation (Hut and Poll Tax, 1901 and 1911 respectively), the Masters and Servants Ordinance (1906, 1924), and the infamous kipande - a pass registration certificate (similar to one in use in South Africa) - were among measures introduced to force Africans into the labour market and to curb desertion [Rosberg and Nottingham, 1966:45-6]. To ensure that Africans did not become self-sufficient and so avoid wage labour they were denied the right to grow cash-crops, and wages were kept low for the benefit of the settlers.


In urban areas living conditions were particularly poor and social services, especially education, were extremely inadequate. In the African reserves, especially among the Kikuyu, land shortage was rife and over-grazing and over-cultivation resulted in soil erosion. The Africans had no electoral rights and their interests were represented by various Europeans in the Legislative Council. The colonial period was thus characterised by a deep sense of grievance among the Africans. However, between 1920 and 1946 many political parties were founded, which sought reforms within the colonial state by constitutional means. These included the Young Kikuyu Association (YKA), the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) and the Kenya African Union (KAU).


By the late 1940s people were becoming impatient with the constitutional approach to the problems of the day. This was particularly evident among the young members of KCA which in the late 1940s launched an oath-based membership drive committing the partakers to the campaign for the recovery of the 'stolen lands' through an armed struggle. By 1949 the oaths sworn by the KCA and KAU membership had come to have much in common. The practice, traditionally used as a tool of unity, was radicalised to include and unite most Kikuyu, regardless of sex or age, against colonialism. By 1951 a Batuni (platoon) oath2 was being administered symbolising the anticipation of a military confrontation [RH Mss Afr. S. 424, 1954:343]. Acts of intimidation and violence against Kikuyu opposed to the oaths, and against settlers who reported subversive Kikuyu or who had weapons that the Kikuyu needed, became widespread on settler farms, in urban areas and in the Central Province, the Kikuyu homeland. By 1950 the term 'Mau Mau' had gained currency and the escalating breakdown in law and order forced the colonial government to declare a state of emergency on 20 December 1952. In the ensuing months thousands of men and women fled to the forests from where they waged attacks against British and loyalist troops, settlers and uncooperative Africans.


Women's traditional roles


Among the Kikuyu, women were primarily perceived as the custodians of the domestic welfare of the community. They were responsible for reproduction and production, ensuring that there was adequate food for the family and extra for the various social functions on which the status of the homestead depended [Kenyatta 1953:63]. Men broke the land, and women planted, weeded, harvested and oversaw the disposal of the food-crops. To cope with these tasks women evolved the ngwatio system under which members' farms were worked in rotation. An ngwatio was comprised of women married to men of the same lineage.


There were several women's councils which dictated behaviour patterns for their members and enforced sanctions as necessary. Although these councils could be said to have provided women with a forum for participating in socio-economic matters which could challenge male authority, they were restricted to matters pertaining to domestic affairs, agricultural matters (but not the ownership of land), discipline [Lambert 1956:95-6] and the regulation of the social life of girls and women.


Formal political power was invested in exclusively male councils [Lambert 1956:100]. Because women could not affect the wider political decision-making process, they were perceived as subordinate members of the community; a viewpoint which the colonial government strengthened by excluding women from any alliances or consultation. However, all this did not prevent women from protesting. Prior to the Mau Mau war, there were a few cases of women's revolts, two cases of which are examined below.


Women's protest


The Harry Thuku riot: 1922


Harry Thuku was a young Kikuyu proto-elite who co-founded the East African Association [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:36]. This party championed various African grievances including increased taxation, the Kipande, the lack of title deeds for African lands and forced labour. Thuku, among others, was opposed to the forcible removal of young girls for employment in settler plantations. Some of these women underwent all manner of sexual harassment including sexual abuse [Ross 1968:225-6]. To curb Thuku's increasing support, the colonial government arrested him on 14 March 1922. A crowd of between 7,000 and 8,000 people, including 150 women, gathered outside the police station where Thuku was held to demand his release [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:51]. Negotiations between the Colonial Secretary and some African male leaders were not successful and the latters' attempt to disperse the crowd proved futile.


The women were enraged by this male compromise, they jeered at the men and taunted them. To emphasise the extent of female displeasure with male leadership, one of the women, Mary Nyanjiru, resorted to a traditional insult, guturama [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:51-2]. This act, which entailed the exposure of a women's genitals to an offending party, was the ultimate recourse of those consumed by feelings of anger, frustration, humiliation or revenge.3 Here, it symbolised the strongest challenge the women could put to the men. Nyanjiru rebuked the men thus: "You take my dress and give me your trousers. You men are cowards. What are you waiting for? Our leader is in there, let us get him [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:51].


By challenging men to give her their trousers - a symbol of manhood - Nyanjiru implied that men had proved incapable of dealing with the situation, and so women would take over and free Thuku. As a result of their action, leadership for the next few moments passed to the women. Nyanjiru's challenge and the sound of the women's ululations in her support stopped the crowd from dispersing. In the ensuing agitation, the crowd lunged forward, the police opened fire and 21 people, four of them women, were killed, and many people were injured.


Although short lived and not successful in releasing Thuku, this incident was a strong testimony to the hidden political dynamism of women. They had used a ritual practice to score a political point. An exclusively female institution had challenged both the traditional male monopoly of political power, and the colonial authority. The bravery and ingenuity of these women was enshrined in the Kanyegenyuri song that inspired later female militancy.


The revolts of 1947, 1948 and 1951


By the mid-1930s land in Central Province was badly eroded [Sorrenson 1967:3-96]. The colonial government enforced soil conservation measures including terracing, intercropping and the planting of trees on steep slopes, all of which increased the work load [Kitching 1980:101-4]. It also enforced measures to improve stock by vaccination and culling. Because up to 50 per cent of Kikuyu men were short-term migrant labourers, and so not always available to work on family plots, the bulk of the additional labour fell on women, and women's labour hours were dramatically increased [KNA:DC/FHI/26, 1947:1]. Since the women were not allowed to grow cash crops, they had no inducement for the additional work which was to be performed under the very harsh local Native Authority regulations [KNA:MAA/2/3/16/iv, 1948]. They also resented the authority of the chiefs and agricultural officers who constantly interrupted their work. By July 1947, about 2,400 acres had been terraced in Murang'a. Women were breaking their backs trying to combine their domestic and 'official' duties. Following a KAU meeting on 20 July 1947, where it was decided that women should abandon terracing work, they began to defy agricultural regulations. On 14 April 1948, "2,500 [women] arrived in the station from Chief Paterson's location and danced and sang and informed everyone that they would not take part in soil conservation measures mainly because they felt they had enough work to do at home [KNA:DC/FHI/ 27/1948:1].


Attempts to incorporate women into the colonial structure had not paid due regard to their reproductive and productive labour and this elicited strong objections from the women. Their defiance, however, was seen as a direct and personal attack on the colonial chiefs and the colonial administrators feared that this might cause "a landslide in government authority" [KNA:DC FHI/27/1948:1]. The women had also defied traditional authority as embodied in clan heads, to whom government had given the power to fine any women who did not complete their tasks.


While the District Commissioner sympathised with the burdens the women had to shoulder, he retorted that "the soil could not wait for a few men to terrace it" [KNA:DC/FHI/27/1948:1]. However, the women did not take up their tools and on 4 May 1948 the DC ordered the arrest of these recalcitrant women. However, they "were quickly released by a large crowd of their own sex brandishing sticks and shouting Amazonian war-cries" [KNA:DC/FHI/27/1948:2]. The emulation of a battle scene, although it did not escalate to actual fighting, was indicative of the extent of the women's anger and their determination to fight the system. In this protest, women symbolically threatened to engage men in a fight, thus challenging traditional male authority. Because the men involved represented the colonial government too, the action also threatened the latter.


The DC served all the women with summonses to appear before the Native Tribunal in Fort Hall on 7 May for hearing on 8 May. To forestall further disruption, the DC warned the sympathizers not to go to the station or create disturbances. A fine of ten shillings was imposed on each arrested woman and no sooner had this been made known than "a large crowd of angry females descended on the offices" [KNA:DC/FHI/27].


The DC grew impatient with what (quoting from John Knox) he called "the monstrous regiment of women" and ordered the police to drive the women out of the towns. Although the women did not succeed in achieving a complete change of the colonial government's agricultural policy, the revolt was referred to as "probably the event of importance during the year" [KNA:DC/FHI/27]. The women managed to wrest some concessions, such as individual as opposed to communal terracing, but more importantly they demonstrated that they would challenge the abrogation of their rights.


In adjacent Kiambu District, women's protest took a different

form. Here, in October 1947, women stopped picking coffee in the areas between rivers Chania and Ndarugu because they wanted the prices per measure (the debbe) to be put up by 50 cents. Roads were picketed and a number of the leaders were apprehended for questioning. To ensure solidarity amongst the women, their leaders threatened to apply a traditional sanction of "putting a curse on anyone going to pick coffee" [KNA:MAA/2/3/16/iv, 1947:3].


Female rebellion took a more violent turn in Murang'a in 1951. To control rinderpest the government had ordered wholesale inoculation of animals in the area. At the same time, the cattle began to die en masse and anti-inoculation demonstrations followed. Hundreds of women from Murang'a "stormed the inoculation centres - they burned down the cattle crushes and pens and chased away the inoculation inspectors." Over 500 women were arrested while others were injured in the scuffle and needed medical treatment. The women's view of this riot is well captured in the following song:


We women of Murang'a were arrested for refusing

To have our cattle poisoned. And because we

Rejected such colonial laws we were thrown into

Prison cells and our children were wailing because

They had no milk to drink.




We beseech you, our Ngai [God]

Take us away from this slavery


We were taken to Nairobi after being finger-printed

And on our way they kept asking us,

Do you belong to this conspiracy,

Fighting for Liberation?

And our children continued wailing because

They had no milk to drink.

[Maina-wa-Kinyatti 1980:60]


A seemingly innocent colonial regulation had interfered with the domestic and productive domains of women - the children had no milk to drink - and women could not sit back as the government 'destroyed' their cattle. The DC's observation that the year 1947 "came like a lamb but went out like a lion" [KNA:MAA/2/3/16/iv,1947:3], could well symbolise the changes evident in women as they emerged from their domestic cloisters and entered 'a world of men': the political arena. Women had awakened to the fact that they could use their collective labour power as a pawn in the shifting socio-economic relations. The use of ritualistic threats ensured some degree of unity among the women as they challenged male political authority both in its traditional and colonial forms. However, it was in the Mau Mau war of liberation that women made their greatest impact.


Mau Mau women: the oath


Mau Mau was preceded by an intensive campaign of oath-taking to ensure unity among the Kikuyu [RH.Mss.Afr.S.424, 1954]. Although there were no female oath administrators, women were highly involved in oath-taking ceremonies and performed such tasks as arranging candidates by sex, and beating and intimidating them to ensure that they did not betray the struggle [Nyamarutu 1984].


All of the oaths incorporated features relating to female sexuality, and women were required for the performance of the rites. Menstrual blood was an ingredient in some oath concoctions, and various higher oaths included sexual acts, such as placing a dog's or ram's penis into the woman's vulva, and/or the initiate inserting his penis into the woman's vulva for a specified number of times. Such higher oaths bound the partakers to greater violence, more secrecy, and deeper commitment to the struggle. The following is a description, by a male initiate, of the ceremony for the fourth oath:


I found a circle of banana leaves, potatoes [sic] and sugar cane leaves and sorghum leaves...The whole front of the ram had been cut off including the penis; I was made to squat on the ground in the circle. The meat was placed on my penis and chest, I held it in place and ate one end of the meat. The girl stood on one side, the meat and the penis of the ram were then placed in her vagina, who was at that time having her "monthlies." It was given back to me and I was made to eat parts of it, including the penis and the testicles ...The girl's name is Waithera. I hear she has taken five oaths. She was not a whore, but she is one [sic]. There are ten girls, and they are used when they have their "monthlies" if the fourth oath is given. This is part of their job [RH. Mss. Afr. S. 424, 1954].


To have taken five oaths, Waithera must have been a staunch supporter of the movement, and like other Mau Mau women she only allowed herself to be subjected to unnatural sexual acts, which were a breach of all normal Kikuyu sexual mores, for the sake of the movement. The reason for such an inversion of the traditional sexual code is difficult to determine, and I can only suggest that the Mau Mau leaders believed that the bizarre nature of the rites would invoke a greater sense of commitment and dissuade initiates from divulging details of the oath. It is notable that in the quote, the informant alludes to prostitution. Prostitutes were involved in the struggle in various ways, but their contribution was nearly always denigrated by being portrayed in the context of their sexual flexibility rather than their political commitment. There is evidence, however, to suggest that their image was unfair and that prostitutes made an active political contribution.4


Women of the forest


While some women went to the forest voluntarily to join other freedom fighters, some did so to escape harassment and torture by loyalists and British troops [Wachira 1984; Gitahi 1984]. Those who went to the forest were generally young and single or otherwise free from domestic duties (e.g., widows or women with older children). However, a married woman who supported Mau Mau activities in the village, in urban areas, or on settler farms, could flee to the forest if she learnt, or suspected, that the government was after her [Gitahi, 1984]. After a while, a forest council would meet and free such women from their forest duties so that they could rejoin their families and continue to support the movement from the homestead. Some women, especially younger ones, were abducted to the forest as porters or as 'wives' of freedom fighters [Barnett and Njama 1966:243].


As noted above, men initially resisted the entry of women into the forest on various grounds. They argued that women could neither withstand the harsh forest conditions of torrential rains and bitter cold, nor could they defend themselves against enemies. As well as being a security risk, women would be extra mouths to feed, but would do nothing useful in return [Barnett and Njama 1966:226]. It was also feared that women could cause tension and conflict among male guerillas as the men competed for sexual favours from the small number of women. Although sex was historically taboo for active warriors, the protraction of the Mau Mau war resulted in the violation of the taboo and the establishment of forest liaisons [Barnett and Njama 1966].


Roles and stereotypes


Since traditionally women did not participate in warfare, their status and roles in the forest were initially "highly ambiguous and tended to shift as the battle lengthened" [Barnett and Njania 1966]. At the beginning, they were allocated domestic chores including fetching firewood, cooking, washing, and cleaning. In certain camps, male leaders were each allowed to choose a woman, derogatorily referred to as Kabatuni (literally meaning a small platoon to be commanded by the man), who as well as seeing to the other needs of the leader was also expected to meet his sexual needs [Barnett and Njama, 1966:242]. Women were induced to fulfil such 'tasks' 'for the good of the cause' as can be seen from the following comment by one involved:


Generally, I would think of sleeping with a man as an individual concern. Here, it seems to me that the leaders consider this as part of the women's duty in the society [Mau Mau]. I believe that since I could not do any other better service to my people, I would then willingly accept it as my contribution to the society. [Barnett and Njama, 1966:243]


These forests liaisons were contrary to Kikuyu customs, and by the end of 1953 it was ruled that they should be declared and publicised as marriages.


Women warriors


Some women combined domestic tasks with minor military duties like cleaning guns and helping in the making of weapons and ammunition, while others became fully-fledged warriors fighting alongside men. In August 1953 a meeting of all the Aberdare forest leaders decided that women would be commissioned up to the rank of 'Colonel,' depending on military competence [Barnett and Njama 1966:227].


However, if such a woman soldier fell pregnant, she would "lose the rifle" that is: lose her honour and position in the army, while the man involved would be subjected to punitive chores [Ndungi, 1984]. An expectant woman was generally escorted to the nearest government post for safe return to the village, though if security militated against this, she would be attended to by a nurse or 'doctor' resident in the forest. Gakonyo Ndungi was one such forest 'doctor' during her two and a half years stay in the forest [Ndungi 1984].


Political roles


As noted earlier, Kikuyu political institutions were exclusively male. The same was initially true of guerilla councils, but as women continued to prove themselves trustworthy and capable of executing Mau Mau tasks, some of them were co-opted into the political arena through the creation of dual-sex councils. As Ruth Gathoni, a former freedom fighter, said: "Mau Mau created joint men and women councils. Women's voices were heard during Mau Mau. Earlier women only heard what had been decided. They did not help to make decisions [Gitahi 1984].


Leadership ceased to be a male preserve and there was seen to be "no difference between a male or female leader and Mau Mau would not oppose a woman leader" [Gitahi 1984]. Women's political abilities were recognised, and some women - for example Muthoni Ngatha - even rose to the senior position of Field Marshal. A symbolic acknowledgement by men of female political competence was the crowning of Wagiri Njoroge in June 1953 as the Queen of Mau Mau. This was a symbolic counterpart to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. According to, The Courier of 2 February, 1954, "Wagiri 'ruled' for seven months in the Thompson's Falls District, an area rife with Mau Mau activities including some bizarre murders of Europeans."


Mau Mau women on the domestic front


Operating from villages, urban townships and European settler farms, thousands of women played diverse and vital roles in their support of the struggle. The authorities allowed women greater freedom of movement than men during the emergency and they were subjected to less harassment by the security forces [RH Mss Afr.S.596 Box 38A, 1953]. They acted as go-betweens and carriers of food and firearms, and generally provided a system of intelligence [RH Mss Afr.S.596 Box 38(A), 1953].


Provision of food


The government considered that if it could "weaken the morale and resistance of gangs by a complete denial of food" [RH Mss Afr.S1676, 1953-1963, 32], then a major part of the battle against forest fighters would have been won. The government therefore imposed measures to ensure that all livestock and grain were to be enclosed and guarded while rations to labourers on settler farms were to be issued "frequently in limited amounts and not in bulk" [RH Mss Afr.S1676, 1953-1963]. Also, all Kikuyu, Embu and Meru labourers were to be concentrated in labour camps which were to be inspected regularly for strangers. Despite these restrictions, women utilised firewood gathering sessions as opportunities for passing vital information, food and other supplies to freedom fighters. Once this tactic became known to the authorities, settlers were urged to ensure that the collection of firewood was confined to certain days "when farm guards can accompany the wood gatherers and keep them under observation" [RH Mss Afr.S1676, 1953-1963]. In the reserves, people were concentrated in villages and at the height of the emergency women were allowed to go to their gardens for only one hour, and that was under the supervision of loyalist guards [Mbutu 1984].


The collection of food and its delivery to freedom fighters was a major logistical operation necessitating centralised organisation. A woman leader would gather information about the guerillas' requirements either directly from the guerillas at pre-arranged meetings [Mbutu 1984; Nyamarutu 1984; Gitahi 1984] or from her `field workers'. With the help of assistants, the leader would mobilise women, who had taken the oath to collect food. Uninitiated women did not participate and "did not know that this was happening" [Gitahi 1984]. After preparation, the food would be put in Kikuyu baskets (Ciondo) and water pots (Ndigithu) and despatched at prearranged times by appointed women. The delivery trip to the forest edges, or to other venues such as river banks or garden plots, required each woman to avoid being suspected by loyalist Home guards: "One would conceal the food by covering it with goat manure. On your way back you would bring vegetables - a little amount - to create the impression that you had been to pick vegetables" [Mbutu 1984].


Talking of the dilemmas involved, one woman said: "It was difficult. If you were found by the government giving them (guerillas) food, you would be beaten and taken to detention. You could not avoid feeding the Mau Mau either because the Mau Mau would beat you and half-throttle you and let you loose again" [Mbutu 1984].




Women also contributed the services of their children. From the age of ten children took the oath, while younger ones were "sealed" with the sign of the cross dedicating them to the struggle. For the most part unsuspected, the children acted as members of vigilante committees, errand boys and girls and informers. As Gakonyo remembered, "If you saw my young son Hinga on the road with his toy-wheel - mubara - you would think he was playing. But he was really on duty... (children) knew what to do" [Ndungi 1984].


Some of these children were killed in the struggle and the news was broken to their parents with great mockery by the loyalist soldiers, "Come and see your child who has independence in the shamba" [Ndungi 1984]. To identify a corpse of one killed in Mau Mau action was dangerous, hence Mau Mau supporters were expected to exercise great restraint. For women who had lost their children in the struggle the experience was horrendous.


New Roles for Women


Domestic strife and social reorganisation


The Mau Mau movement often instigated cold war in the home. this was particularly acute where only one of the spouses supported Mau Mau, as an initiate was expected to execute Mau Mau tasks with out informing or consulting their spouse. Even money was considered unclean if it had come from somebody who had not taken the oath [Gitahi 1984].


Where a woman had risen to such a position of authority that the movement's activities interfered with her domestic duties, or where a mother had fled to the forest, other Mau Mau women would help in her home as much as possible, beyond which her husband had to cope as best he could. If a man objected to his wife's involvement, he risked being regarded as an enemy of the movement, a crime which carried a death penalty [Gitahi 1984; Wachira 1984]. In this regard, it could be argued that female membership of Mau Mau to some extent resulted in the subordination of domestic subservience to the liberation struggle.


The demands of the movement entailed extensive social reorganisation: women had to adopt new roles, form new social networks and develop new bases of group control as dictated by the movement. The collective care of the homesteads of women who had fled to the forest was one new feature, and it was said that, "if you were a Mau Mau woman going for Mau Mau journeys other women would dig your shamba co-operatively" [Ndungi 1984]. The Mau Mau woman in the villages would perform all the necessary tasks and where necessary raise money to keep the family well supplied. A homestead would only "get lost" if it belonged to an anti-Mau Mau woman who had died at the hands of Mau Mau or was unable to cope with the tasks because of illness or some other reason [Gitahi 1984]. During the liberation struggle this exclusive Mau Mau women's collective replaced the traditional Ngwatio system.


Mau Mau imposed a new social code for all its adherents. Women were forbidden from getting involved with non-Kikuyu men, Nduriri, or with unsworn Kikuyu who were considered enemies of the struggle [Gichure 1984].5 However, women were allowed to (and might even be asked to) flirt with "enemies" to gather vital information, weapons and other resources. For example, in Gakenia's village in Nanyuki, four girls lured four loyalist African soldiers to Kaarage Forest where the soldiers were killed and their rifles taken. On learning about the disappearance of the four soldiers, the government ransacked the farm, confiscated livestock and sought to arrest all the youths that were present, though 130 young people including Gakenia and 25 young women managed to flee to the forest [Wachira 1984; Itote 1967:149].


An evaluation of women's involvement in Mau Mau political militancy: the case of Wanjiru Nyamarutu


A brief examination of Wanjiru Nyamaratu's contribution to Mau Mau will illustrate how important and extensive women's participation in the struggle could be.6 An active member of the KAU in the 1940s, Wanjiru's political career predated Mau Mau. As treasurer of the party's local branch in the Njoro, she collected money to be relayed to the party's headquarters in Githunguri. During the 1940-50 Olenguruone crisis, in which residents of the Olenguruone scheme rose in defiance against agriculturalist regulations, Wanjiru oversaw the administration of the Olenguruone oath in 1947-8 to squatter labourers in Njoro and Nakuru. Here, thousands of Kikuyu took the oath (1947-9) against "the slavery of the White Highlands" [Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:248-59; Kanogo 1977:245].


Wanjiru belonged to a militant category of freedom fighters who discarded "western clothes" and wore stitched pieces of cloth wrapped in the traditional Kikuyu style. As a symbolic way of demonstrating allegiance to Mau Mau, young and newly married initiates might have their upper ear lobes pierced, Gukaywo Nyori, and their heads shaved clean as a sign of being pure Kikuyu.


For a long period Wanjiru was responsible for the collection and dispatch of food to guerillas in the Ndothua, Nessuit, Gichobo and Menegai hill forests in Njoro and Nakuru areas and for her services she was accorded the rank of Genero-wa-Rigu - General-in-Charge-of-Food. With the help of female and male supporters she raised money and collected clothes, medicine, scrap metal for making rifles, and bottles for making ammunition. Trench coats, rifles and ammunition were solicited from sympathetic auxiliary staff at Nakuru District Hospital. While delivering the consignments, the Mau Mau women would also pass important logistical data about the movement of government troops, official raids, and the whereabouts of possible informers, to help the freedom fighters map out their next move.


Because of her extensive involvement in militant politics, Wanjiru was forced to flee from Njoro to Nakuru. Here she continued to oversee the administration of the oath, however, and remained very active helping to recruit and dispatch new guerillas to the various regiments where additional manpower was needed. As the moving spirit behind the team undertaking this task, Wanjiru became known as Nyina-wa-Anake - the Mother of Senior Warriors.


Women and killing


Even the colonial government acknowledged that many women held "influential positions" in the Mau Mau cells [RH Mss Afr.S. 1676, 1953-1963]. Wanjiru was appointed judge in Nakuru's Mau Mau Courts which passed sentences on anti-Mau Mau crimes, some of which carried death sentences. Mau Mau rule No. 19 stated that women should not be informed about killings, though Wanjiru's position as judge indicates that with the changing roles of women this was no longer strictly observed, thus illustrating a shift in the male perspective of women.


These changes are graphically illustrated by the emergence of a small number of women who acted as executioners. Those women, such as Wambui (referred to as Kamuirigo), were seen to represent a new category of women who having undergone the worst of the hair-raising ordeals of Mau Mau could not revert to domestic subservience. Wambui had been an ardent forest guerilla and when her husband was killed she refused to remarry. I was told, "She could not be ruled. She knew everything. Her hands had become very light and she could easily kill a useless husband" [Gitahi, 1984].


Continuing the struggle


With each Mau Mau errand, supporters at worst risked being killed by the government troops, or, if they escaped death, being arrested and detained or repatriated. Neither were they safe from Mau Mau if they contravened any of the many regulations. Wanjiru for example, was repatriated to Muguga (her parents' place of origin). This did not kill her spirit however, and she joined the local Mau Mau support groups which recruited new guerillas for the Ndeiya Forest.


Although by 1956 the freedom fighters had been militarily defeated, they were undaunted in their quest for independence. At the end of the Emergency (1960) Wanjiru returned to Nakuru and took a new oath, the Kenya Land Freedom Army (KLFA) oath. KLFA was an exclusive vigilante organisation consisting of Mau Mau diehards in the White Highlands and the Central Province [Tamarkin 1973; Kanogo 1980:392-423], who swore to revive the forest struggle should the decolonisation process undermine Mau Mau ideals. They were especially concerned with the retrieval of the stolen lands which they hoped to redistribute to ex-freedom fighters, ex-squatters and other landless people.


While keeping a close watch on political developments, KLFA continued to conduct selective oath ceremonies and to accumulate more rifles and ammunition. Wanjiru was in charge of the safekeeping of some of these weapons and ammunition, though once again she was caught and this time she was detained in Lamu, a far-off island where dangerous political prisoners were held. Wanjiru's contribution to the struggle was outstanding, but other women also sacrificed long hours and suffered extreme hardship in the struggle for the country's liberation. Many were killed, others maimed and families were neglected while women performed the movement's work.


Examined against the background of the traditional status-roles of women, the above cases reveal the evolution of women as they moved from their exclusively domestic and subordinate positions to the forefront of political bargaining. This development involved the contravention of established societal patterns of behaviour and male-supported stereotypes of female roles. Women seized the opportunity to fight both their own traditions and colonialism, forces which hitherto relegated them to an inferior and exploited position. Using traditional symbolic rituals coupled with sheer determination and commitment, women made a breakthrough in the political arena. Although elements of historical stereotypes remained strong, in some areas women made drastic breaks with tradition, especially in their military participation. As forest guerillas and as civilian supporters of Mau Mau, women proved to be dedicated and competent, and men were obliged to acknowledge the contribution of women in the liberation struggle. What, then, is the significance of all this to the Kenyan woman today? Does she seek to emulate the female guerillas, does the spirit of the Mau Mau women inspire her?


The impact of Mau Mau on the Kenyan woman today


Because Mau Mau was largely a grass roots Kikuyu movement that drew its supporters from poor peasants, urban proletarians, squatters and the unemployed, its achievements seem to be more widely acknowledged among the same category of people. The bravery of the Mau Mau women, idealised and eulogised in the various Mau Mau songs [Maina-wa-Kinyatti 1980], is a great inspiration to village women and the struggling urban poor, especially among those Kikuyu who lived through the Mau Mau ordeal. Various women's organizations - especially those involving self-help, business or financial projects - are inspired by the tenacity of the Mau Mau women. Wanjiru is a leader among the Nyakinyua women's group which plays a political-cum-commercial role in Nakuru, influencing the purchase of land and the acquisition of property among its members.


Although the modern woman struggles to combine her domestic tasks with formal employment, it is evident that she models herself especially her aspirations - on the Western woman. Her inspiration is to a large extent an emulation of the achievements of the latter, especially in the academic, career, and (to some limited extent) business worlds. The achievements of the Mau Mau women are dwarfed by the contemporary strides of the Western women on whom the educated Kenyans model themselves. However, the Kenyan educated woman is in the minority. On a general level, the extent of the ordinary woman's entry into traditionally male roles as heads of families, business women, political brokers and other roles are testimony to the landmark of Mau Mau women.





1. As go-betweens, these women delivered food, medicine, weapons and ammunition, clothing and logistic information to the guerillas. (Women's participation in Mau Mau is also described in Muthoni Likimani's collection of short stories Passbook Number F. 47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya (1985). The stories convey the impact of Mau Mau and the Emergency on women's daily lives; and also - particularly in the story "Unforgotten Flames" - depict women's participation in the fight for freedom (Eds).)


2. The Batuni oath committed the initiates to greater violence and included swearing to kill one's father, mother, brother or sister should they "refuse Mau Mau in any way." See RH Mss Afr.S.424, 1954, p. 3430.


3. See also Arderner [1975] for comparison and general remarks on sexual insults. Audrey Wipper's study, which examines three incidents of female militancy in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon, provides an insight into common themes characteristic of the three incidents. See Wipper, A. [1982].


4. Mau Mau leaders had ambivalent attitudes towards prostitutes involved in the struggle. Male members were barred from socialising with prostitutes who on the one hand were seen as prospective informers since they had liaisons with enemies. On the other hand, Mau Mau leaders did not hesitate to 'use' prostitutes to get information and other resources from enemies. The prostitutes were seen in the context of their sexual flexibility and not political commitment. There is evidence to prove that this male stereotype of the prostitute was ill-informed and biased. Some prostitutes were committed to the cause [Kanyoi Muita 1984]. They were not always apolitical. A colonial administrator observed that, "Many prostitutes incite their clients and even withhold their favours until action (for Mau Mau) has been taken" [RH Mss Afr.S.596 Box 38(A) 1953].


In the same manner, an ex-guerilla observed, "We had convinced some prostitutes so that if a man went to a prostitute he would be distracted by her when he was at his house because he had the gun around. The prostitute would hide a Mau Mau man who would steal that gun and kill that man or he would leave them but take the gun with him" [Kanyoi Muita 1984]. If on trial by a Mau Mau High Court, a woman was found to be "friendly with an enemy," the penalty was death [RH Mss Afr.Sl676, 1953-1963:17].


6. The reconstruction of Wanjiru's political career is largely based on interviews conducted by the author with Wanjiru on 11 November 1976, 18 December 1976, 15 and 16 January 1984 and supplemented by data from other interviewees who worked with, or in the same area as, Wanjiru during Mau Mau.





Ardener, S., 1975. "Sexual Insult and Female Militancy," in S. Ardener (ed.), Perceiving Women, London: J. M. Dent.


Barnett, D., and Njama, K., 1966. Mau Mau from Within, London: MacGibbon and Kee.


Brett. E. A., 1973. The Politics of Economic Change, 1919-1939 London: Heinemann.


Clayton, A., 1976. Counter-Insurgency in Kenya, 1952-1960, Nairobi: Trans Africa Publishers.


Dilley, M. R., 1966. British Policy in Kenya Colony, (1st ed 1937) New York: Cass.


Gichure, S., lnterview, 6 January 1984.


Gitahi, R. G., Interviews, 21 January and 29 January 1984.


Itote, W., 1967. Mau Mau General, Nairobi: East African Publishing House.

Kanogo, T.M.J., 1977. "Rift Valley Squatters and Mau Mau," in J. Karim and W. R. Ochieng (eds), Kenya Historical Review, 5, 2 Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau.


Kanogo, T.M.J., 1980. The Historical Process of Kikuyu Movement into the Nakuru District of the Kenya White Highlands: 1900-1963, Ph.D. thesis, University of Nairobi.


Kanogo, T.M.J., 1987. Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-1963, London: James Currey.


Kenyatta, J., 1953. Facing Mount Kenya.- The Tribal Life of the Kikuyu (1st ed 1938), London: Secker and Warburg.


Ketching, G., 1980. Class and Economic Change in Kenya.- The Making of an African Petite Bourgeoisie, London: Yale University Press.


KNA (Kenya National Archives) DC/FHI/26 (1947) Fort Hall Annual Report.


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KNA:MAA/2/3/16/iv (1948) Intelligence Report for Fort Hall, April.


Lambert, H.E. 1956 Kikuyu Social and Political Institutions, London: Oxford University Press.


Likimani, M., 1985. Passbook Number F.47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya, London: Macmillan Education.


Maina-wa-Kinyatti, 1980. Thunder from the Mountains: Mau Mau Patriotic Songs, London: Zed Press.


Mathu, D., 1973. The Urban Guerilla: The story of Mohammed Mathu,

Richmond, Canada: LSM Information Centre, Life Histories from the Revolution series.


Mbutu, W., Interview, November 1984, Granada Copyright.


Mwangi-wa-Githumo, 1981. Land and Nationalism: The Impact of Land Appropriation and Land Grievances upon the Rise and Development of Nationalist Movements in Kenya, 1895-1939, Washington D.C.: University Press of America.


Ndungi, G., Interview, 2 January 1984.


Nyamarutu, W., Interview, 11 January and 18 December 1976.


Nyamarutu, Interview, 15 and 16 January 1984.


RH (Rhodes House) Mss Afr. S.424 (1954) "Mau Mau Oaths and

Ceremonies As Described by Participants."


RH Mss-Afr. S.596 Box 38(A) (1953) "A Review of the Present Emergency in Kenya, August."


RH Mss-Afr. S.1676 (1953-1963) "Mau Mau Miscellaneous Reports, Emergency Controls, etc."


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Sorrenson, M. P. K., 1967. Land Reform in Kikuyu Country, Nairobi: Oxford University Press.


Sorrenson, M. P. K., 1968. Origins of European Settlement in Kenya Nairobi: Oxford University Press.


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Wachira, G., Interview, 21 and 26 January 1984.


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Nyabingi, Mau Mau and Rastafari: Gender and Internationalism in Twentieth Century Movements for a New Society


Terisa E. Turner



"Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment." Karl Marx


"...the real fundamental human difference is not between white and Black, it is between man and woman." C.L.R. James, 1981, reviewing Morrison's Sula.


"You who know what the past has been, you who work in the present tense, you who see through to the future, come mek we work together. Come sit here with me, a mek we drink tea, a make we talk, a mek we analyze. You have been burned by vandalism, come mek we he a likkle nurturing. Come sit awhile, a mek we drink tea, a mek we talk, a mek we strategize." Lillian Allen, 1986, Revolutionary Tea Party.



Introduction: Rastafari, old and new


"Having survived fifty years of social and religious intolerance, discrimination and harassment, the Rastafari movement is poised between becoming a part of world history, contributing to a universal culture, and being a passing phenomenon of the 20th century" [Campbell 1987:234].


The perspective here is that the place of Rastafari in a universal culture, a new society, depends not only on it becoming more informed by class analysis, as Campbell contends, but also on the nurturing of the feminist ferment which here is called 'the new Rastafari.' Original Rastafari is uncompromising in its commitment to 'chant down Babylon,' the capitalist system. However, it is bound by the 'capitalist male deal.' Sexism is the key defining feature distinguishing the old Rasta from the new. And it is also a fetter limiting the old Rasta to a black nationalist accommodation with capitalism. In contrast, the defining feature of new Rastafari is the affirmation that class consciousness cannot exist without gender consciousness.


This study considers gender and class relations in Caribbean and East African popular struggles during three crises of capitalism in the 20th century. It argues that with the growing internationalization of the world market, capital has sought to develop through establishing class alignments characterized by specific gender relations. Using the concept of the 'male deal' to examine gender dynamics during each crisis, the study concludes that the 'new Rastafari' is part of an international social movement of resistance to structural adjustment and affirmation of a new society which transcends the limitations of the male deal.


Rastafari, organically rooted in the overthrow of slavery, crystallized as a Caribbean movement in 1930 when Haile Selassie was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia. In 1964 C.L.R. James wrote that Rastafari is "the sect of Jamaican Negroes who reject the bastardised version of British society which official and educated Jamaica seeks to foist upon them. They have created for themselves a new world, in which the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is God on earth. His kingdom in Africa is the promised Heaven to which all the Rastafari elect will go, not when they die but when they can raise the money for the passage" [James 1984:163].


James emphasized that the importance of Rastafari was not only their rejection of official society but their creation of a new one. This comes, he says, from their being West Indians, a "new people [who] came into existence only three hundred years ago...." Hence, "their world is just beginning. They do not suffer from any form of defeat. That is not in their history" [1984:163-164]. C.L.R. James has underlined the special international force which Caribbean history has bestowed upon its accomplished sistren and brethren. He pointed out in 1975 that the "Africans transported to the West Indies had to develop or improvise a culture suitable to their new environment because the chief industry which necessitated their arrival in the Caribbean was systemised agriculture. ... The concentration of labourers on the plantation was combined with the ability to work in the factory process which transformed the cane into material which could ultimately be refined. ... The sugar industry in the Caribbean was one of the most developed industries of its time. The very food which the slaves ate was imported and, at that early date, it was impressed upon them that what they produced was sent abroad. Thus, as far back as the seventeenth century, they were at the centre of a great international industry. ... [And for the slaves so organized] The primary effort was a struggle for freedom" [James 1984:218-219].


The creativity of new world slave societies can be appreciated only after a rejection of that omnipresent theme in development theory, both Weberian and Marxist, that everywhere tradition or precapitalist social relations exist and act as a fetter. In 1852 Marx introduced The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte with his now famous observation that people "make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living" [Marx 1963:15]. But this is not the case in the New World. Because the Caribbean peoples were ripped from their motherland, transported and assembled by merchants and planters for the sole purpose of sugar manufacture, they were relatively free of the fetters of tradition. At the same time those cultural retentions of use to enslaved Africans and sustainable under sugar factory production, were kept alive; usually in a syncretic blend with European forms.


The creative power of Rastafari and political reggae music derives from the unique sociology of New World slave society. On the one hand is the ultra modernity of Caribbean peoples, unburdened by the dead weight of the past. On the other hand is the society's beginnings in slavery and hence its focus on the fight for freedom. Especially for African women, the focus included a fight for freedom from sexual enslavement [Beckles 1989, Bush 1990, Turner 1982]. The focus on the fight for freedom is lucidly presented in C.L.R. James' 1960 independence lectures in Port of Spain, Trinidad [James 1960]. With an exhilarating historical sweep, James tells a popular audience of the successive leaps forward in the social organization of the fight for freedom. One leap was taken by early Christianity. James treats St. John of Revelations, in the manner of Rastafari, as a great anti-imperialist predicting the battle of Armageddon when Babylon (Rome) would fall: St. John "had a sense of historical development. ...the fifth monarchy would be the Kingdom of God on earth. ...there would be a new world after the Romans had been defeated, and everybody would be happy. ...the lion and the lamb would lie down in peace. ...St. John was dominated by the vision of a peaceful and harmonious society" [James 1960:7-8]. More recently the Jamaican historian, Orlando Patterson has traced the history of freedom from the 5th century BC to the Middle Ages in an account which elaborates the work of James and is consistent with Rastafari historiography [Patterson 1991]. In the Caribbean the imperative of a highly modern people to fight for freedom by abolishing private property in people has generated astonishing creativity, not least in the sphere of gender relations.


The plantation organization of capitalist agriculture empowered New World slaves to spearhead the overthrow of slavery. C.L.R. James centralized the orthodox marxist perspective that "the working class is united, it is disciplined and it is organized by the very mechanism of capitalist production itself; and the more progressive capitalist production is, the more it unites those who are destined to be its grave-diggers" [James (1960) 1973:53]. But the new system of wage slavery and the exploitation of vast multitudes of unwaged gave rise to a more international organization of capital and with it a more globalized drive to democracy. In 1985 James drew attention to the objective, physical capacity of capitalist technology to unite people: "The means of communication, means of information today are such that it is impossible to believe that as time goes on it does not mean greater and greater communication between people, which means, ultimately, a democratic system of some sort. ... I'm speaking in particular about the objective materials, physical means of living, means of communication, means of spreading information. That is going on every day. That's what I look at and say the tendency towards a democratic relation between people is bound to follow. I believe that's what Marx and Engels meant ... There is an absolutely remorseless movement towards democratic relations between people. That I learned early, and I've never seen anything to make me change it. Television, in my opinion, is one of the greatest strengths of democracy, because the people who are working for television think of the whole public; that is what they have to [do]" [James 1986:26,29]. The communications revolution is central to the emergence of the new society. Among the more dramatic examples of this is in the rapid spread of Rastafari. And reggae music was its harbinger, riding the wave of technological globalization.


A decade before Bob Marley made reggae a powerful weapon for revolution, James pointed to the future in the present. He saw that the rejection of capitalist mainstream relations by Black Muslims, Rasta, Africa's Mau Mau and white proto hippies or beatniks constituted a global watershed from which would emerge a new global society. In the early 1990s with Spike Lee's release of the film Malcolm X, popular culture expressed a link between Malcolm X and Rastafari through music, colours, clothes and publications. This resurgence of revolutionary black counter culture from the 1960s among a new generation in the very different context of the 1990s was presaged by James. In the early 1960s while reviewing Patterson's Children of Sisyphus, he argued that Rastafari expressed "a universal feature of contemporary life. The Rastafari are one example of the contemporary rejection of the life to which we are all submitted. The Mau Mau of Kenya do the same. The Black Muslims of the United States are of the same brand. And for the time being we need go no further than the beatniks of the most advanced countries of Western civilisation. "Anywhere, anywhere out of the world, the world that they know" [1984:164]. James recognized that Rasta was part of the new world society emerging from the disarray of the old [James 1984:73-84]. And he linked Rastafari with other expressions of the "universal" new society: Mau Mau, black power and the revolt of white youth.


Twenty years later Honor Ford-Smith of Sistren, the Jamaican feminist theatre collective, pointed to the emergence of a secular, new Rastafari. "The culture has influenced many who are not believers in Selassie to adopt elements of the way of life such as vegetarianism, locksed hair (as is worn by the Maasai warriors of Kenya), and the use of words developed within the group e.g. 'irie' - all right" [Ford-Smith 1987:314]. The tremendous expansion of Rastafari as a secular movement in the 1970s was impelled by the teachings of C.L.R. James [James 1984, Grimshaw 1991], Walter Rodney [1969, 1972] and especially by Bob Marley who "used his music as a vehicle of mobilisation" [Campbell 1987:143]. Campbell's unparalleled treatment, Rasta and resistance: from Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney, retells the history of world revolution in the twentieth century from the perspective of black men. Campbell places Rastafari in the mainstream of this trajectory. While he is virtually silent on gender and the new Rastafari, the Jamaican historian does organize invaluable material on the old Rastafari, including a treatment of Bob Marley and reggae. Marley's 1979 album Survival "linked Rastafari to the advanced struggle for liberation at the frontline of racism and imperialism with its songs Wake up and live, Africa unite, So much trouble, Babylon system, and especially Africans a liberate Zimbabwe.... African guerillas who were in the bush fighting Ian Smith heard this reggae song and claimed it as their own. ... Countless reggae singers had linked the struggles of the African peoples to their own plight, but Marley's song actually intervened in an ongoing struggle against technological inhumanity, atomic misphilosophy, [insisting that] we are the survivors" [Campbell 1987:144]. Through their lyrics, Marley, the Wailers and the I-Threes dissected and analyzed the barbarity of late capitalism. They affirmed the vitality, health and power of a new society of fighting survivors. Marley "centralised the idea of armed struggle as his view of Rastafari." As for Nigeria's Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, for Marley, "the music is the weapon." In introducing Campbell's book, Kwayana states that "such is the power of art that Bob Marley's music has done more to popularise the real issues of the African liberation movement than several decades of backbreaking work of Pan-Africanists and international revolutionaries" [Kwayana 1982 in Campbell 1987:xii]. Reggae is a weapon of revolution because of the power of art but also because of the power of capitalist communication technology. Reggae cannot be banned, censored or repressed because audio cassettes and duplication are available to everyone. The severe repression of third world military cabals in the post independence period cannot silence the analysis and upliftment contained in political reggae and in 'world music' of the 1990s. The 1991 police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles was videoed, aired by US television and employed by Dread Sister Souljah as the music video accompanying her rap song which encouraged people to resist police brutality. This popular appropriation of capital's global communication technology was a vital input to the April-May 1992 Los Angeles riots and complementary upheavals in dozens of other cities. Marley sang freedom songs as did Paul Robeson in the 1940s, but to hundreds of millions of people, amplified by computer technology and the super villagization of the globe.


Rastafari is a political, cultural and social movement. It is not being treated here as a millenarian or religious phenomenon [Bakan 1990:16, Campbell 1987:3, Post 1978] but rather as way of life which emerged when peasants were faced with land seizures and forced into cities, especially in Jamaica in the period since 1930, but also in Africa since the turn of the century. Far from being a millenarian flash in the pan, Rasta has grown exponentially in the last half of the 20th century. George Lamming states that Rastafari has extended into "a dominant force which influences all levels of [Jamaican] national life" [1980 in Campbell 1987:1]. In Kwayana's view, "Rastafari culture is perhaps the most influential cultural movement in the Caribbean today.... " [1982 in Campbell 1987:xii]. And Campbell points to the "massive spread of the culture inside Jamaica, in the English-speaking Caribbean, and ultimately as the most dynamic force, among the children of black immigrants in the United Kingdom" [1987:4]. Today Rasta is one of many expressions of indigenous people fighting for their rights. It unites first nations peoples with those of the African diaspora, including exiles, migrants, refugees and their children. New Rastafari is a global cultural practice, an expression in particular of black people and especially of black women, but one which is also inclusive of revolutionary white women and men.


New Rastafari came from the old male-identified Rastafari and its antecedents in the jubilee of emancipation from slavery. It came from radical religious movements in Jamaica in the 1800s, from Ethiopianism, Garveyism, pan-Africanism, struggles of 'the sufferers,' and from nationalist insurgency in Africa and Caribbean. It has emerged from but also against these antecedents. The new Rastafari has come from a global fightback against IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs (SAP) especially by women because SAP hits women and children so hard [Antrobus 1989:26, 1991:3, Beneria and Feldman 1992, Elson 1992, Sparr 1993]. It has come from media globalism and the music so purveyed; and from international feminisms, including the excavation of the history of women's militancy and centrality to each phase of capitalist expansion and to the struggles characteristic of that phase [Silvera 1983, Mohanty et al 1991]. New Rasta has come from the recognition that central to the struggle for women's rights is the resistance of black women, North and South, against "the gendered, racial and racially-gendered hierarchies" of slavery, colonialism and today's super-exploitation [Brand 1987:29, Young and Dickerson 1993]. In sum, new forces have adapted and transformed Rastafari into a different and even more potent world social movement.


This paper argues that a new society is emerging from the grassroots of international capitalism. At the forefront are black women and their allies who, by pursuing their social aspirations, embrace those of more powerful echelons of what is here called the 'hierarchy of labour power,' which includes white women, black men and white men from the exploited classes. By embracing the interests of all the exploited, black women's revolutionary practice articulates for the first time what Marx called 'the general class interest.' Such an articulation is the precondition for unity across race and gender lines, of the exploited class worldwide. It is a unity based on structural links between the strata of exploited with the interests and initiatives of black and third world women at the forefront. The argument then is that the new society of which the new Rasta is only one element, has the practical potential to supplant and transform the contemporary world order. Other elements of this new society include the many types of social movements focused for instance on such issues as indigenous land rights, ecology, peace and human rights [Eckstein 1989, Escobar and Alvarez 1992]. New Rasta's prominence derives in part from its capacity to express the individual's historical connection to other social forces (class, race, gender) locally and internationally. In this way, new Rasta is an influence for the transformation of elements of the existing global 'class in itself' into a 'class for itself.'


A methodology which is adequate to the task of tracing the emergence of the new society has to have an international scope. It has to embrace the links between the various actors while being sensitive to gender relations as they undergo change in the process of class formation. This analysis attempts to employ such a methodology in understanding the international emergence of a particular social movement, Rastafari. A small school of contemporary feminist scholars including Mies and Reddock, have begun to recast in an internationalized and gendered mode, the historiography of the slave period, the triangular trade among Europe, Africa and the New World, the social transformations attendant upon the rise of capitalism in Europe and the process of colonization. The methodology employed here is patterned after that used by such scholars and it is applied to the twentieth century.


A full historical analysis of the rise of Rasta feminism would be global and would include pre-capitalist social relations in Africa and elsewhere. Such an historical methodology I call gendered political economy and define as the analysis of the formation and interaction of social classes historically and on a world scale [Turner 1976:64-70; 1980:202-208; 1989:61]. Class formation and struggle are fundamentally gendered and race specific. A pathbreaking global analysis of this type is Maria Mies' study, Patriarchy and accumulation on a world scale: women in the international division of labour [1986]. Another is Martha Mamozai's 1982 study of the impact of German colonialism on African women which includes the effect of this process on gender relations in Europe [Mamozai 1982]. A global analysis is essential in order to "perceive more fully the double-faced process of colonization and housewifization" [Mies 1986:97]. These links are traced in Reddock's study of gender under Caribbean slavery and into the 20th century [Reddock 1984]. A brief review of Reddock's analysis will both illustrate the methodology and provide an historical foundation for understanding the global emergence of Rastafari in the 20th century.


Reddock points out that by the 1700s, "Africa was incorporated in the capitalist world economy only as a producer of human labour" [Reddock 1984:18], and Caribbean slaves were actively discouraged from having children. Rather, planters worked them to death in an average of seven years and purchased new slaves from Africa. Mies points out that "These more than a hundred years that 'slave women in the Caribbean were neither wives nor mothers' were exactly the same period that women of the European bourgeoisie were domesticated and ideologically manipulated into wifehood and motherhood as their 'natural' vocation. While one set of women was treated as pure labour force, a source of energy, the other set of women was treated as 'non-productive' breeders only" [Mies 1987:92 citing Reddock 1984:18 and Badinter 1980]. In West Africa a third set of women, those in the grip of 18th century African merchant princes, produced people for export as slaves to the New World, thereby relieving capital of the cost of producing labour power [Dike 1956:153-165; Rodney 1972].


However, in the late 1700 and into the mid 1800s, bonded labourers and slaves revolted in West Africa, while in the Caribbean enslaved African women refused the new demands of metropolitan governments and plantation owners that they reproduce the labour force on site [Reddock 1985:70-74]. There is evidence that during this period of rising global opposition to slavery, "women resisted having children and did not regard motherhood as an instinctive or automatically natural role" [Ellis 1985:28]. Despite inducements such as those legislated in 1798 in Tobago, that payment of $1.00 be made to a midwife for "every child which she delivers alive," and that "mothers of six or more children be granted a total exemption of all labour;" [Williams 1964:60-62 cited in Reddock 1985:71] slave women remained "hardened in their anti-breeding attitudes with the result that most of the schemes for increasing the population by greater reproduction failed" [Patterson 1967:112]. Patterson quotes Sabina Park, an enslaved woman in Jamaica who killed her three year old child, as defending herself in Slave Court, by asserting that "she had worked enough for bukra (master) already and that she would not be plagued to raise the work for white people" [1967:106 cited in Reddock 1985:73].


This study of Rastafari employs a methodology in opposition to that method which divides up poles of exploitative relations to present them as separate entities without visible structural connections. It follows Mies who tries "to trace the 'underground connections' that link the processes by which nature was exploited and put under man's domination to the processes by which women in Europe were subordinated, and examine the processes by which these two were linked to the conquest and colonization of other lands and people" [Mies 1986:77]. This integrative methodology links the historical emergence of European science and technology, and its mastery over nature, to the European witch killings and the attendant deskilling and economic marginalization of women. And both the persecution of the witches and the rise of modern science are linked to European slave based triangular trade and the destruction of self sufficient, autonomous economies in Africa and the New World. As capitalism developed in the 20th century, and especially after WWII with the more pronounced unification of the world market, first world women were concentrated in the work of reproduction and consumption. At the same time, third world women were forced to produce cheap export and wage goods, according to specific demands of colonial and imperial capital.


Documentation of the emergence of the new Rastafari needs to be informed by a deep history of capital's differential shaping of genders in all the regions of the world simultaneously. However, the present treatment is limited to three periods: the early 20th century, the period of the 1930s through to the nationalist struggles to the 1960s, and finally the current period since 1980 of struggles around the implementation of structural adjustment programs. Because the crises of these three junctures were global, a more complete treatment would draw from all regions of the world. While the dynamics of global power establish the context for this discussion, the actual analysis concentrates on gender in class struggles in East Africa and the Caribbean. The discussion begins with the crisis of capitalism at the turn of the 20th century when East Africa's women-centred Nyabingi movement rose against colonial occupation and local male collaboration. At the same time in Jamaica, ex-slaves who had formed a free peasantry developed further a pre-existing pan-Africanism [Thomas 1988:72-81] and the Garvey back-to-Africa movement. These two regions were central to the rise of Rastafari. They also provide two distinct cases of the operation of the 'male deal.' East Africans were organized by pre-capitalist male deals to which reactionary male-led political movements hark back when challenging European male imposition [Presley 1992, White 1990, Murray 1974]. And the Caribbean, in the absence of an indigenous traditional culture, is without precapitalist male deals. Consequently the cases drawn from the Caribbean reveal struggles around the creation of a dynamic between men and women which is radically modern, global and new.


This study seeks to trace some of the ways in which capital, in the throes of three crises, organizes exploited peoples to resist. The emphasis then is on both the relations of exploitation and the relations of liberation. This follows C.L.R. James' insistence on Marx's originality residing in his perception that capitalism organizes a successor society. While Mies' 1986 study emphasized on patriarchy as essential to exploitation, this study emphasizes feminisms' centrality to the transcendence of capitalism. Fundamental is the perspective that the working class is organized, disciplined and united by the process of production itself. However, the prevailing notion of who constitutes the working class and what is encompassed by the production process are much too narrow. It is necessary to act on C.L.R. James' urging to "extend Marx" [James 1989] to embrace the fightback against intensified exploitation of 'nature' or the earthly commons and of women, North and South. I try to show that this fightback, while global, has for at least this century been spearheaded by third world women. And out of resistance and fightback is maturing a new society, the 'future in the present.' The unprecedented globalism of transformational initiatives is strengthened by open economy free trade policies in structural adjustment programs, the 'new enclosures' by contemporary capital which threaten the last remaining scraps of terrain from which resistance may be mounted [Midnight Notes 1990, Sparr 1993].


Capital depends for the exploitation of women on the male deal. It is posited here that each arrangement among classes entails a particular form of 'the male deal.' Dauda defines the male deal as an arrangement typical of pre-capitalist societies, or those with many pre-capitalist kinship remnants, in which men agree to a kind of joint solidarity around the exchange of women. The male deal ensures access for all men to fertile women [Rubin 1975, Dauda 1992:20]. Dauda's analysis may be extended to conceptualize a capitalist male deal. A product of rigorous socialization, the capitalist male deal is a tacit, assumed, 'natural' agreement that all men will have a specific type of power in relationship to women. In general this takes the form of patriarch in a nuclear family in which men are the heads of household.


The centrality of the male deal to profit making requires an appreciation of the revolution in Marxist theory achieved in the mid-1960s by Dalla Costa, James [1972] and Federici [1973]. They developed the insight that labour power is the strategically most crucial commodity under capitalism and that this is the special product of women. Organized under male discipline in the nuclear family, women are socialized and forced to produce and service, without pay, this precious commodity the character of which changes with capital's changing needs. Mies summarized Dalla Costa's analysis: "The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation. With the help of the state and its legal machinery women have been shut up in the isolated nuclear family, whereby their work there was made socially invisible, and was hence defined - by Marxist and non-Marxist theoreticians - as 'non-productive'. It appeared under the form of love, care, emotionality, motherhood and wifehood. Dalla Costa challenged the orthodox left notion, first spelt out by Engels, but then dogmatized and codified by all communist parties, and still upheld today, that women had to leave the 'private' household and enter 'social production' as wage-workers along with the men if they wanted to create the preconditions for their emancipation. Contrary to this position, Dalla Costa identified the strategic link created by capital and state between the unpaid housework of women and the paid wage-work of men. Capital is able to hide behind the figure of the husband, called 'breadwinner', with whom the woman, called 'housewife', has to deal directly and for whom she is supposed to work out of 'love' not for a wage. 'The wage commands more work than what collective bargaining in the factories shows us. Women's work appears as personal service outside of capital'" [Mies, 1986:31-32 citing Dalla Costa 1972:34].


Women are exploited by capital in other ways, but in the production of people as labour power, they are irreplaceable. This strategic power gives women revolutionary capacities, but the full potential of these are blunted by the equation of 'manhood' under capitalism with control over women, with disciplining a wife. Profit making depends on the male deal in two essential ways. Solidarity among men through the male deal is vital to capital first, because "all modern means of production, all classes of societies depend, for the supply of labour power, on the domestic community ... and on its modern transformation, the family, which still maintains its reproductive function although deprived of its productive ones" [Meillassoux 1975:81]. Second, capital needs a male deal because it mediates class struggle by reassuring men that they have a stake in power relationships through their continued subordination of women [Dauda 1992:144].


A thorough political economy analysis would address at least the following questions with regard to the capitalist male deal: What is the content of the male deal? How does this content define men-women relations in specific periods? How does this form of the male deal condition and promote capitalist strategies at the particular historical juncture globally? How do exploited men, by conforming to the male deal's terms, avoid confronting their real class enemies while venting their frustration downward against those weaker than themselves? How does the male deal not only foster capitalist exploitation, but protect capital from challenge? How does conscious adherence to the male deal compare with unconscious adherence? How do women resist the male deal or seek to position themselves to be a part of it, seeking 'protected woman' status? And finally, how do some men exempt themselves from and resist the deal usually as part of a struggle against capital? In the present treatment of the new Rastafari, only some of these questions are addressed. The capitalist male deal is useful in this analysis because it conceptualizes the class specific dynamics which capital sought to create among men, among women and between men and women at each historical juncture in the three periods under examination.


The early 20th century


East African Nyabingi

Europe and North America at the turn of the century were marked by competition among national capitals, expressed in part through the scramble for Africa and its formal parcelling out to European powers in 1885. This competition and globalization of industry spurred infrastructural investments in the third world, notably ports and railroads. The capitalist crisis of the late 19th century generated serious pressures from the European working class which could only be solved by massive emigration. In East Africa, the construction of a railroad, beginning in the 1890s from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to Kampala inland on the shore of Lake Victoria was designed to hold the territories for British settlement. Africans responded to European contact and overrule by attacking British officials and their indigenous allies. Nyabingi was a women-centred popular movement in Uganda which led this resistance at the turn of the century [Hopkins 1970:258-336].


The Nyabingi movement, influential in southwestern Uganda from 1850 to 1950, was centred around a woman healer, Muhumusa, who was possessed by the spirit of Nyabingi, a legendary 'Amazon Queen.' Muhumusa organized armed resistance against German colonialists and was subsequently detained by the British in Kampala, Uganda from 1913 to her death in 1945. The spirit of Nyabingi possessed mostly women, but also men, who led uprisings against the British in 1916, 1919 and 1928 among the Kiga in Kigezi, along Uganda's borders with Congo and Ruanda. British occupation involved imposing foreign African Ganda intermediaries on the egalitarian, patrilocal Kiga agriculturalists. The Ganda's exactions of land, labour, food and money for poll tax galvanized the Nyabingi movement to rebel both against European and Ganda men and win major concessions. Nyabingi was a woman-led movement against oppression of all the community but specifically of women who did the farming and food preparation and hence were directly affected by colonial demands.


British efforts to crush Nyabingi involved criminalizing it as witchcraft through the Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912, promoting Christianity and encouraging other indigenous anti-Nyabingi cults. In labelling Nyabingi 'witchcraft' the British were resuscitating the witch burnings of 1500-1650 that were central in the move from pre-capitalist to capitalist relations in Europe. In this move, the power of women, especially over reproductive sciences, had to be crushed [Federici 1988]. Christianity produced Kiga men who replaced Ganda Agents as British intermediaries by the 1930s and who enforced colonial exactions from Kiga women and men. A capitalist male deal was struck between Christianized Kiga men and British colonialists for their mutual aggrandizement. This rise of the male deal was effective in forcing the woman-centred Nyabingi movement underground and depriving Kiga and other African peoples of their autonomy and wealth. With the emergence of colonial class relations, women suffered disempowerment to a much greater degree than men. Land loss reduced women's food self-sufficiency and trading capacities while the anti witchcraft campaign delegitimized Nyabingi women's work as healers and seers. Ironically, out of the colonial schools and churches rose male African nationalists who through a campaign against racism, challenged not the system of capitalist exploitation but the European men's exclusive privileges within it. In the Kigezi area of Uganda, church schools produced the 'Twice Born,' who like Nyabingi were proscribed as seditious by the British and led two revolts in the 1940s. Ultimately the nationalist men formalized a class arrangement with the departing British which included a capitalist male deal giving land ownership to men, not women and which centralized political power in the hands of men. Nyabingi remained powerful in Kigezi, Uganda throughout the 1930s, where resistance involved arson. In Jamaica in 1937 it was reported that the Nyabingi spirit moved on to Ethiopia and possessed Haile Selassie who fought Mussolini's fascist invasion.


Jamaican roots of Rastafari

In tracing the roots of Rastafari, the resistance of captured slaves in Africa must be a starting point. The social relations from whence they came are the sources of the resistance's early tenacity. African class and gender relations were developed for some 350 years around the European slave trade [Dike 1956:1-46]. The treachery of what was one of the earliest male deals is remembered by Guyanese poet Grace Nichols [1983:19] in her poem Taint.


But I was stolen by men

the colour of my own skin

borne away by men whose heels

had become hoofs

whose hands had turned talcons

bearing me down

to the trail

of darkness


But I was traded by men

the colour of my own skin

traded like a fowl like a goat

like a sack of kernels I was


for beads for pans

for trinkets?


No it isn't easy to forget

what we refuse to remember


Daily I rinse the taint

of treachery from my mouth


Malcolm X recalls the toll of the middle passage. "I know you don't realize the enormity, the horrors, of the so-called Christian white man's crime...One hundred million of us black people! Your grandparents! Mine! Murdered by this white man. To get fifteen million of us here to make us his slaves, on the way he murdered one hundred million! I wish it was possible for me to show you the sea bottom in those days - the black bodies, the blood, the bones broken by boots and clubs! The pregnant black women who were thrown overboard if they got too sick! Thrown overboard to the sharks that had learned that following these slave ships was the way to grow fat! Why, the white man's raping of the black race's women began right on those slave ships!" [Malcolm X 1965:311 quoted in Sparerib May 1992:30]. And from the time the first African slave set foot on land in the New World, rebellion was on the agenda. In 1503, only eleven years after Columbus' voyage, a complaint was sent back to Spain by the governor of Hispaniola (Haiti and San Domingo), Ovando. Basil Davidson reports that Ovando "told the Crown that fugitive 'Negro' slaves were teaching disobedience to the 'Indians', and could not be recaptured. It would, therefore, be wise for the Crown to desist from sending African captives: they would only add to troubles already great enough. But the Crown, naturally, did no such thing. Even by now, there was too much money at stake" [Davidson 1992:18]. Women fought rape. Native American women, "part of the bounty due the conquering Europeans [Sale 1990:141]," like their African sisters, "were victims of sexual terrorism as part of the larger scenario of conquest and colonisation" [Ransby 1992:84]. A sailor in Columbus' crew, recorded his exploits on landing at Santa Cruz island: "I captured a very beautiful Carib woman whom the Lord Admiral [Columbus] gave me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure [rape her]. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun...I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears" [Sale 1990:140 cited in Ransby 1992:84]. European invaders projected their inhumanity onto indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans. It was the depiction of Africans as inhuman, as 'heathen' which rationalized for the Spanish, the vicious trade and genocide in the Americas. Just months before Columbus sailed, the Spanish expelled Islamic Africans and Jews from Spain and used their property to finance conquest. In 1550 the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas argued that before the arrival of the Christian Spanish, the New World people "were involved in every kind of intemperance and wicked lust" [Berkhofer 1979:12 cited in Stevenson 1992:30]. Amerigo Vespucci averred that "The women...are very libidinous...When they have the opportunity of copulating with Christians, urged by excessive lust, they defiled and prostituted themselves" [Berkhofer 1979:9 in Stevenson 1992:31]. Indigenous and imported women, the victims of rape, the survivors of slave hunt and middle passage, were labelled licentious and therefore, in the European slaveowners' lexicon, legitimately enslaved.


Slavery existed before Columbus but the mass commodification of people that the Atlantic trade and plantation slavery entailed provoked horror and resistance in Europe. It's pursuit required what Basil Davidson calls "an ideological transition." He reports that "the first auction of African captives imported into Portugal in the 1440s 'was interrupted by the common folk, who were enraged at seeing the separation of families of slaves'" [Davidson 1992:22 citing Saunders 1982:35]. The Catholic Spanish and Portuguese justified chattel enslavement as "the means of Salvation to pagans otherwise condemned, ineluctably, to the fires of Hell." But this was "meagre stuff at the best, and almost from the start it was seen that something more was needed if the slave trade were not to be threatened by abolition" [Davidson 1992:22-23]. The racism of superstition and deviance became transformed into the racism of hard cash. Captives "were fitted for enslavement because they lacked the capacities to know and use freedom: they belonged in truth to an inferior sort of humanity; in short, they were 'primitives' whom it was practically a mercy to baptise and enslave" [Davidson 1992:23]. The 'scientific' and religious rationalization for slavery expanded in the measure that the 'curse of Columbus' grew. The ideology of racism "was enlarged again when the overseas slave trade, in itself the product of a proto-colonial relationship between Europe and Africa, was transformed into the imperialism of the nineteenth century. Racism had been useful to the justification of mass enslavement. It was to be still more useful to the justification of invading and dispossessing Africans in their own lands, Africans at home, at a time when invading and dispossessing Europeans in their own lands, Europeans at home, was stridently deplored as an act of barbarism" [Davidson 1992:23].


Between 1700 and 1830 British merchants and planters made tremendous profits from industrialized sugar plantations in Jamaica. African slaves provided the labour which financed British capital's leap from mercantile to industrial capitalism [Williams 1944]. While slaves such as the woman warrior Ni in Jamaica fought for territory under Maroon control, European rural populations fought land enclosures through the late 18th century. Slaves and the new European working class challenged capital through the French and Haitian revolutions at the end of the 1700s and brought forth the era of free trade and free wage labour. In this context of world ferment, Jamaican slaves negotiated more time and more land under their own control for provision grounds and 'higglering' or the marketing of their own production. In Jamaica, African women controlled much of free Maroon agriculture. Slave women were very much in charge of both independent agriculture and, possibly before but "definitely" after emancipation, in internal marketing or 'higglering' [Mintz 1974:216-217, cited in Reddock 1985:76]. With the Sam Sharpe slave uprising and the overthrow of slavery in the 1830s women and men established a revolutionary peasantry of "Free Villages." Labour short plantations went bankrupt and were absorbed by land invasions into the revolutionary peasantry.


Fierce defense of land and other resources so seized was articulated through a militant quasi-religious 'Ethiopianism' which included Baptist sects in which women were in the majority. In the 30 years after abolition remnants of the old planter slaveholder class were joined by local merchants, in recapitalizing plantation agriculture for export crops (bananas, pimentos or allspice, coffee). From the outset women, who constituted 70 per cent of the cane cutting gang in post-emancipation Jamaica, were paid one half as much as men for equivalent work [Craton 1978:287]. Some free peasants also produced cane, bananas and other export crops profitably. As a result, by the 1860s resurgent agro-industrial capitalists were joined by some richer peasants to confront the poorer independent peasantry and a large class of unemployed and landless people. This was also a gender division as men gained access to capital and market outlets for cash crops while women were pushed off the land and denied waged work (locally and abroad) in favour of men. New technology such as the plow also displaced women agricultural wage workers. The planters and colonial state viewed the African ex-slave woman, not as the producer of commodities for exchange on the world market, but as producer of the labour force, which formerly was the concern of the slave plantation owner [Reddock 1985:76; Augier et al. 1961:188]. In 1865 Paul Bogle led the Morant Bay peasant uprising for land around the Africanist slogan "cleve to the black!" From its repression grew an even stronger Ethiopianism around Bedward (1859-1930) who in 1895 told the black poor that "Hell will be your portion if you do not rise up and crush the white men" [Napier 1957:14]. Beward's movement constituted the vital link between the Morant war and the powerful Back to Africa mobilization of Marcus Garvey during WWI. In 1902 the early black feminist, Mrs. James McKenzie, served as secretary of the Kingston Branch of the Pan African Association. Through these movements 'the sufferers' and rural women in particular, elaborated the culture of the Free Villages.


The struggle for land and economic independence was fuelled by the rise of Garveyism coinciding with the relative power of the Jamaican poor during the commodity boom of WWI. Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) a printer and journalist, promoted race pride, African unity and political independence through armed struggle. Pledging "One God, One Aim, One Destiny!" and "Africa for the Africans," hundreds of thousands joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which became the 'largest mass movement among black people this century, with 996 branches in 43 countries and over five million members" [Campbell 1987:54]. Amy Ashwood-Garvey, an early black feminist, co-founded the UNIA and organized women within it from the beginning [Ford-Smith 1987:11]. The full story of the Garvey movement, and especially of women's mobilization and of gender relations, has only begun to be told.


The weakness of Garveyism was its all-class nationalism which focused exclusively on race. In Jamaica in August 1929 Garvey held a convention of UNIA where he countered a revolutionary class analysis by black communist, Otto Huiswoud with Garveyite pro-capitalist black nationalism and its attendant male deal. For Garvey, the "fundamental issue of life was the appeal of tribe to tribe, of observing the rule that self preservation was the first law of nature." These were the fundamental divisions of humanity, not that between capital and labour, for the latter could not exist without the former. "There was an appeal closer to man than the appeal of labour. It was the appeal of one unto his own family and clan" [Daily Gleaner 19 August 1929:17 cited in Post 1987:3].


The Garveyist male deal derived from a colonial idealization of the family promoted during the abolition of slavery in order to increase birth rates in the Caribbean, but re-emphasized in the early twentieth century when capital was drawing male workers out of Jamaica. Women were supposed to stay at home and promote 'proper family life' while the "ideal of the male breadwinner justified male migration, which also acted as a brake on male unemployment locally" [Ford-Smith 1987:5]. British constructions of manhood may be illustrated by a doctor's definition of a likely opium addict as a man who "fails to identify with normal adult goals such as financial independence, stable employment and the establishment of his own home and family" [Uglow 1992:30].


As in East Africa where by the 1930s, British Christianity produced African men who forced the Nyabingi women's defence of peasant freedom underground; Garveyism forged a link between capitalist men, black and white, at the expense of black women's historical solidarity with black men in the Free Village movement against white capital. The male deal in both East Africa and the Caribbean emphasized race consciousness but the anti-racism insisted on a place for black men alongside white men in the capitalist system. It promised black men new precedence over women whose consequent subordination was essential to the preservation of capital's ascendency. The rise of a black nationalist male deal set the stage for struggles emanating from the global crisis of capitalism in the 1930s.


Rastafari and Mau Mau: 1930s-1960s


Rastafari in Jamaica

In the 1930s social conditions led some of the rural poor to reject British overlordship by identifying positively with the Ethiopian monarch, Haile Selassie. Rastafari, and others in the Caribbean and worldwide supported Ethiopian resistance to the Italian invasion of 1935. Leonard Howell developed Rastafari through the Ethiopian World Federation's paper, the Voice of Ethiopia. Rastafari contributed to the organization and consciousness of the 1938 Jamaica labour rebellion.


Jamaica's leftist paper Plain Talk, in February 1937, reprinted a pro-racist article which claimed that "the blacks are flocking to the standard of an organisation which dwarfs all similar federations." The organization was 'Nya-Binghi,' led by Emperor Haile Selassie [Post 1978:173]. Thereafter some Rasta began to call themselves Nyabingi or 'Nya-men,' while Rasta forums of solidarity and the drums played at them were also called Nyabingi [Campbell 1987:160]. Jamaican Rasta may have believed that the spirit of Nyabingi possessed Selassie and strengthened his fight against the Babylon of Mussolini's fascism. But the women-centred character of Nyabingi in East Africa was lost in its transfer to the new world. At Nyabingi gatherings in Jamaica, women were marginalized and subordinated, at least since the 1960s. Rasta 'queens' could not cook if menstruating, women could not 'reason' with the 'kingmen' nor partake of the chalice (smoke marijuana). Biblical support was found for limiting Rasta women's access to knowledge except through the guidance of their 'kingmen' [Ilaloo 1981:6; Makeda 1982:15; Silvera 1983, Yawney 1983, 1987, 1989]. What interventions transformed the independent Jamaican woman of the Free Villages into a domesticated and idealized queen? The explanation suggested here is that some Rasta men were inducted into a colonial male deal which privileged men at the expense of subordinated women.

Thousands of men returned to Jamaica in the 1930s when the recession ended migrant work. They demanded jobs and land from the major agricultural estates. In 1938 a rebellion started in the countryside with women and men demanding "land for the landless," and striking for higher wages in agricultural work. Police fired on the rioters, and a few days later the uprising reached Kingston. The Jamaica rebellion was part of a massive global uprising in the late 1930s which swept through the British and French empires. While little is known about gender relations in this international mobilization which was arrested by the launching of WWII in 1939, we know that in the case of Trinidad, "a strong following of predominantly lower-middle and working-class women was the base of support of both the [1920s] Cipriani and [1930s] Butler movements" [Reddock 1988:496]. To buy social peace, women in Jamaica were pushed out of agricultural jobs and into domestic work. Although women such at Satira Earle and Adina Spencer worked to organize women in the early labour movement, the numbers of women in waged jobs outside the household were rapidly shrinking under the boot of the male deal [Ford-Smith 1987:11]. Between 1921 and 1943 the number of women agricultural workers fell by almost two-thirds. At the same time the number of domestic workers, including maids and garment homeworkers, increased more than fourfold [French 1987:21].


The colonial government's strategy for containment centred on women who, according to French [1987:9] were to "(1) Marry a man to mind them. That way one wage would have to stretch for two or more, and jobs would not have to be found for women. (2) Stay at home to rear and service more workers for the big men to exploit - at no cost to them. (3) Accept that men should get first choice in paid work, and that women should be dependent. (4) Work for little or nothing to make big profits for the big man, since work for women was regarded as a 'privilege' not a 'right.' Yet women were forced to work because their man's wage was usually too small to 'stretch.'" In the competition for wages, men "came to see women more and more as a threat to "their" jobs. Many joined the big men in fighting against women's right to wages" [French 1987:9].


Throughout the British Empire, colonial policy during the 1939-1945 war years repressed dissent through imprisonment and exile, while war demand generated unprecedented income for the poor and especially for women. But with the demobilization of soldiers, colonial authorities launched a drive to push women out of remunerative work through the Women's Institute movement which was developed as part of the British social welfare policy for women in the colonies [Reddock 1988:496]. The Jamaica Federation of Women with a membership of 30,000 in the 1940s, was "a structure designed to contain women's resistance and control the poor Black population as a whole" [French 1987:Introduction]. Through the Federation middle and upper class women organised 150 mass weddings. These echo 1915 state policy in Britain which urged men "to forego no opportunity of paternity," and pressed women into "hasty mass marriages with iron wedding rings to soldiers leaving for the front" [Royden and Wentworth Craig 1915 cited in Kamester and Vellacott 1987:33 citing]. In Jamaica, wedding rings, acquired in bulk, were sold for ten shillings "to bring them within the reach of the ordinary people" [French 1987:29]. Through the churches, media and national and local organisations, a propaganda campaign encouraged poor women "to accept the 'dignity' of marriage as a solution to their economic problems" [French 1987:29]. However, during the 1940s militant women collected the 'mass' wedding rings and sold them to support women workers on strike for a democratic union [French and Ford-Smith 1987].


There was a resurgence of Rastafari in the 1950s with the bauxite enclosures. After the war US and Canadian capital eclipsed British capital. Alcan, Reynolds, Kaiser Bauxite, Alpart, Revere and Alcoa made Jamaica the world's largest producer of bauxite. The bauxite industry displaced thousands from rural areas and intensified unemployment. "Most of the land was purchased from small farmers, to the point where the activities of the transnationals displaced 560,000 rural Jamaicans from the countryside between 1943 and 1970" [NACLA Jan-Feb. 1981:2-8 cited in Campbell 1987:86]. Some 163,000 Jamaicans migrated to the UK and an equal number to the US and Canada between 1950 and 1968. While men went from the Caribbean abroad, women went from the countryside to the city. Jamaican rural women brought the core ideas of Rastafari with them to the urban slums. The Rasta upsurge, in addition to being a grassroots male class expression, was a women's rural survival network built on the organizations of Ethiopianism, Bedward and Garvey. The beginnings of the new Rastafari was a woman-identified, revolutionary peasant ideology shaped to serve new urban demands.


In the 1953 Kenya's Mau Mau revolt was covered in the world media with newsreels showing dreadlocked forest fighters. Jamaican Rasta adopted dreadlocks. In 1954 the main Rasta paper, African Opinion (New York) carried stories of the Mau Mau struggle, Burning Spear (Kenyatta) and Dedan Kimaathi Waciuri. By 1963 Jamaican Rasta were under serious attack with eight being killed by police in the Coral Gardens rebellion. Militant reggae music and Rasta art fostered anti-imperialism and solidarity with liberation struggles. Rastafari, through Bob Marley's reggae, was poised to explode onto the world stage. Just as in the 1920s the British colonial state banned Garvey's UNIA paper, Negro World, because of its incendiary international affirmation of black independence, in the 1970s reggae and Rasta were targeted for repression. British counterinsurgency against Nyabingi in the 1920s included the encouragement of anti-nya movements in Uganda. The same policy was applied in Kenya in the 1950s when British intelligence formed Mau Mau 'pseudos.' In the 1970s this timeworn tactic was aimed at Rastafari: the CIA organized a pseudo Rasta body, the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, to divide the Rasta culture through drug deals and thuggery [Campbell 1987:116].


Mau Mau women

Kenyan women's involvement in the Mau Mau revolt of the 1950s is an important heritage of contemporary Rastafari. Essentially the struggle was for land which had been seized by white settlers on the completion in 1903 of the railroad through the rich highlands of the Rift Valley to Uganda. Here, largely with African women's labour, coffee, tea and pyrethrum produced profits for British multinationals and white settlers. By the end of WWII Africans 'squatters' lived on European farms providing wage labour while women cultivated small land allotments for food to feed their families and sell in the local markets [Kanogo 1987a]. Other Africans had been removed by the British to reserves where they were prevented by law from producing coffee or tea in competition with the whites. On the reserves, African men who had acted as proxies for British power owned large farms. A growing African and Indian working class had unionized in Mombasa, Nairobi and other cities. Its move to link up with agricultural workers on European farms was feared by whites whose profits depended on paying very low wages or obtaining labour in exchange for allowing 'squatters' to carry on their own cultivation [Singh 1969, Stichter 1982]. In urban areas women practised prostitution and marketed farm produce [White 1990]. A large contingent of demobilized African soldiers were unemployed, landless, militarily experienced and influenced by radical black US and Caribbean soldiers alongside whom Kenyans had fought in WWII [Shiroya 1985:164-177].


Mau Mau started in 1948 when women at Olenguruone agricultural settlement scheme went on strike. African women refused to participate in this terracing of the land to prevent erosion unless they first received title to the land. Their strike galvanized urban support from unions. Colonial reactions included repression which escalated until in 1952 the British imposed a state of emergency and launched the anti-Mau Mau war [Kanogo 1987a:105-120]. Women fought for land in many capacities within Mau Mau. Freedom fighters in the forests included women. Typically a woman 'Seer' of the future worked directly with platoon commanders. Kimathi, the forest fighters' general, recommended the admission of literate women into the forest fighting force [Kimathi in Kinyatti 1986:76]. Other women joined Mau Mau fighters to avoid being sold off by their fathers as wives to pro-British 'home guards' or 'loyalists.' Women in squatter villages on European estates provided intelligence, runners, food, refuge, medical supplies and care, and at crucial seasons, refused to pick tea and coffee. Furedi reports that "During the years 1952-56, European farmers were faced with a serious shortage of agricultural labour. In 1955, where was a shortage of 10,000 agricultural workers in Nakuru and Naivasha alone. The Labour Commissioner noted that 'the difficulty in obtaining labour, coupled with a general dissatisfaction over its quality, resulted in a growing demand for the return of Kikuyu workers'" [Labour Department Annual Report, 1955:5 cited in Furedi 1969:156]. Women on the 'native reserves' were an integral part of the Mau Mau military wing. In the cities prostitutes used their establishments as safe houses, and provided the Mau Mau Land Freedom Army with money, intelligence and arms. Women traders used the railroad and markets as networks of communication.


The British, recognizing that success in counterinsurgency depended on cutting the link between villages and forest fighters, razed hundreds of communities and imprisoned women with their children in concentration camps. In Githunguri, the most repressive prison, women were divided into four categories depending on their degree of defiance. Most militant were the 'hardcore' women who were detailed to bury the bodies of freedom fighters hung by the British [Gakaara 1988]. Women in concentration camps were pressed into forced labour gangs. The British introduced a women's organization to counter the influence of Mau Mau: women who joined could be excused from forced labour. This women's organization was run by middle and upper class European women committed to enforcing Christian nuclear family values and practices on Kikuyu and other African women. Called Maendeleo ya Wanawake (progress among women) it was a vital agency in the British counterrevolution, and was fostered after independence in 1963 as the state party's semi-official and official woman's organ [Wipper 1975:330].


The Mau Mau armed phase of Kenyans' struggle for land and freedom was crushed by massive military repression in the late 1950s, although the struggle for land continued actively until October 1969 when Kenyatta banned the radical Kenya People's Union: "its demise marks the end of the era initiated by the Mau Mau revolt" [Furedi 1989:152]. While Kimathi and other men in Mau Mau worked for egalitarian gender relations, the force was weakened by sexism [White 1990a]. This polarization among men within Mau Mau divided those aspirant exploiters who sought to control women's labour from other men who affirmed women's autonomy. Decolonization was organized so as to entrench capitalist production relations and British allies to enforce them. Loyalist torturers in the concentration or 'screening' camps were made into chiefs and by April 1956 six Nakuru camps had become Chief's Centres [Furedi 1989:156]. In May 1960 a labour officer reported that agricultural workers in Eldoret and Nakuru had organized, listed grievances and "as a result are extremely truculent when returning to their employers and very often refuse to leave the farms" [NLO, C21, Labour Unrest, no. 13, SLO.RVP to Labour Commissioner, 13 May 1960 cited in Furedi 1989:164]. Women persisted throughout the 1960s in seizing land, especially from farms formerly owned by white settlers. Furedi reported that in 1960, "a number of farmers, especially those from the Afrikaner community, decided to abandon their farms and leave Kenya. A special committee on this matter received information to the effect that by November 1960, 38 farmers in the Uasin Gishu, 28 in Trans Nzoia and 20 in the Ol Kalou area "were either intending to leave after harvesting or had already left'" [Furedi 1989:166].


On the farms, the Kikuyu women and their families sought to re-establish the way of life that they had known before the Emergency. Many ex-squatters returned to the areas in which they had resided before they were evicted from the Highlands. Many unemployed, landless Kikuyu, were taken in and assisted by their ex-neighbours and relatives. The senior labour officer, in his report for 1960 noted that "the unemployment situation in the Province would have been more serious but for the custom of the African in providing hospitality to unemployed friends and relatives" [Furedi 1989:166]. Women organized the provision of hospitality and efforts to re-establish the way of life which Kikuyu had known before the armed Mau Mau phase.


Grassroots women and youth organized in affiliation with KANU which at this point "managed to convey the impression that it stood for free land for all" [Furedi 1989:168]. Meetings would be held outside the towns, and singing would take place. The administration delayed licenses for such meetings and for collecting money. Police who were stoned, raided a social dance of the Women and Youth League in November 1960, maintaining that "political singing took place without a licence." The other side of this mobilization was land seizure. As workers were given notice they told white farmers that "This will be our land soon and we will not go" [Furedi 1989:169]. The Labour Commissioner informed the Council of Ministers that in 1960 there were 171 cases of mass illegal squatting in the White Highlands" [KNA, Lab 9/305, Resident Labourers. General Correspondence, no. 104, Senior Labour Officer, RVP to Labour Commissioner, 18 December 1960 cited in Furedi 1989:169].


The British envisaged allowing only a token few "exceptional non-European farmers" such as "Harry Thuku in the Kiambu district" to own land in the Rift Valley. A deal was struck to exclude women, children and men who had lived as squatters in the valley and who actually did the farming. By October 1959 a few African politicians, British colonial officials and white settlers introduced an ordinance removing racial barriers to land ownership in the White Highlands. 'Good husbandry' was the only criterion a new Land Control Board would recognize for inter-racial land transfers [Furedi 1989:163]. All but the very rich Africans were excluded. The male deal which accompanied this neocolonial class arrangement focused on the domestication of women. Maendeleo promoted dependence of women on husbands whom they were pressured to marry in church. It established a network of women's groups ostensibly for education in home economics and money-making craft work. But in practice Mandeleo extolled Christian virtues pertaining to the nuclear family and the subordination of wives to their husbands. Only through marriage could women get access to land which was registered in the names of men. Formal politics, though including token women locally, was an arena for men as was the protection of the judicial system. Medical, curative and spiritual activities of women were discredited and in some instances outlawed [Davison 1989:141-170]. In the face of this tremendous setback, Mau Mau women went underground. They kept alive their knowledge, networks and claim to the commons through indigenous women's groups, story telling and songs [Macgoye 1986, 1987]. As landlessness increased, many women were unable to find husbands through whom they could get access to land, and they migrated to the cities to work as domestics and within the expanding 'unrecorded economy.' Through selling food, domestic services, sex, changa (alcohol) and ganga the Mau Mau women bided their time and struggled to educate their children.


New Rastafari and the struggle against structural adjustment: 1980-2000


In the 1970s the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank began to impose a package of policies called structural adjustment on the third world. Structural adjustment programs may be understood as part of capital's response to the breakdown of three post war 'class deals' [Midnight Notes 1990:1-9]. Social-democratic capital at the end of WWII offered a variety of slogans to the world proletariat. These ranged from collective bargaining and racial integration in the US, to the family social wage in the USSR and eastern bloc, to colonial emancipation in Asia and Africa. A struggle ensued to determine the content of these slogans. But between 1965 and 1975, "proletarian initiatives transcended the limits of capital's historic possibilities..." [Midnight Notes 1990:3]. Profits plummeted and capital went on the attack by attempting to expand through structural adjustment programs. The debt crisis is being used in an attempt to resolve capital's productivity crisis [Federici 1990:11]. The contemporary attack involves ending communal control over the means of subsistence, seizing land for debt, weakening labour by forcing it to be more mobile, opening up the former eastern bloc and thereby intensifying competition among workers and finally, attacking reproduction through a destruction of the earthly commons. The imposition of structural adjustment programs in the third world since the 1970s has been characterized as a war against the poor, a process of recolonization involving the enclosure of remaining commons by capital [Federici 1990, Adams 1991, George 1992, Elson 1992].


Structural adjustment is an international attempt by capital to replace the three collapsed class deals of the post WWII period with a more effective one. The third world bourgeoisie and state are enjoined to restructure economies to export cash crops, use the foreign exchange to pay debts; and give foreign capital renewed access to local resources. In this process the mechanisms of capitalist command are reorganized, beginning with the unification of metropolitan and peripheral capital. Federici argued with reference to Africa, that national and international capital together seek to implement "a wide-ranging reorganization of class relations, aimed at cheapening the cost of labour, raising social productivity, reversing 'social expectations' and opening the continent to a fuller penetration of capitalist relations, having the capitalist use of the land as its basis" [Federici 1990, 12, 14]. Central to this strategy for jump starting global accumulation is land seizure or the enclosure of the commons, especially in Africa. In 1986 The Economist pointed out that with the exception of the white settler societies of Africa such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, "customary land-use laws prevail, which recognize ancient, communal rights to the land." These are the targets of structural adjustment. The Economist concludes that Africa's land "must be enclosed, and traditional rights of use, access and grazing extinguished," for everywhere "it is private ownership of the land that has made capital work" [The Economist May 3, 1986 cited in Federici 1990:11]. The same theme is expressed in Hardin's mainstream ideology of 'the tragedy of the commons' which advocates enclosure on the inaccurate presumption that socially held resources are not subject to indigenous custom and rules. Land rights and squatter entitlements are the terrain of struggle.


Despite the IMF's neoliberal rhetoric about debt reduction, with structural adjustment the debt of most third world countries has increased. The deepening of the relationship of unequal exchange is fundamentally an attack on impoverished women who are being made to do more unpaid labour, the costs of which are revealed in statistics on the deteriorating health and nutritional status of such women [Elson 1989:68; 1992]. Structural adjustment seeks to make of women a 'fourth world' whose heightened exploitation is intended to subsidize the greater efficiency of capital and thereby its recovery from the current crisis of accumulation [Mies 1988]. Capital cannot expand without severing the link between people and the land. In the face of this drive toward capitalist agriculture and the universalization of a wage-dependent workforce is a growing fightback centrered around the production of life and of the conditions of subsistence based on a defence of the earthly commons. The focus of structural adjustment on "the annihilation of the old African system of reproduction of labor power and struggle based upon the village and its tenure of the commons" means that women are the strategy's central target. This is part of the explanation for the prominence of women in resistance. The sexist backlash that women are experiencing worldwide is part of the male deal to aid capital in implementing its 'women as the last colony' strategy. The struggles of the poor, and in particular of women, at the end of the 20th century have been struggles against the class and male deals encompassed by structural adjustment [Trager and Osinulu 1991]. Popular movements including the new Rasta may be understood in part as organizational responses to structural adjustment.


Kenya: new Rasta and the democracy movement


Wanoi, a Mutira Mau Mau woman and oath administrator, reported that "When we finally got our freedom, we had something to rejoice about. There was much happiness and singing. I can remember one of the songs we were singing that day" [Davison 1989:161]:


Home guards, be praying to God

When the British go back home

you will be fed as meat to the vultures.


In 1978 a Kenyan peasant who had fought with Mau Mau observed that "The land, which we expected to be distributed free to the poor and landless, was grabbed by the former home guards and the big politicians. ...most of the beneficiaries from our glorious struggle are the former collaborators, and not the legitimate freedom fighters. ...if the situation continues to worsen, our children will be forced to fight - to fight for the same things we fought for" [Mau Mau peasant, Nakuru District, Kenya, 5 September 1978 in Kinyatti 1986:131]. In the post independence period initial economic growth and the unusual persistence of a non-military government in power, made Kenya the showcase of capitalist success and Nairobi the preferred African headquarters for multinational corporations. But the positive climate for foreign capital and local collaborators changed in the 1980s beginning with a coup attempt in 1982. In 1987, the leading corporate political risk analysts, Frost & Sullivan, reported that while the IMF in 1985 "expressed satisfaction with Kenya's economic performance, as did the World Bank to a lesser extent, ...perhaps a greater threat [than drought] in the long term is the continuing decline in confidence of the foreign business community, which is showing signs of steady disinvestment" [Frost & Sullivan April 1987:3-A]. In summarizing the future prognosis for profit making, the political risk analysts concluded that "While under no immediate threat of political upheaval, despite frequent rumours of an impending coup, by the 1990s Kenya will experience more public protests and substantial guerrilla action stemming from Moi's preferential treatment of his Kalenjin tribe and his lack of concern for such problems as the high rates of urban and overall population growth" [Frost & Sullivan July 1986:U-1].


The children of Mau Mau freedom fighters have been carrying on a silent class struggle. Survival strategies of women are ingenious and sometimes heroic, as in the Nairobi Muoroto squatters' fight against removal in May 1990. Indigenous women's groups are used as a defence against the exploitative 'women and development' programs which SAP seeks to implement through Maendeleo. Their collectivity is founded on the continuity of the fundamental survival and resistance networks created by Mau Mau women from earlier forms during the 1950s. In the late 1980s when Maendeleo was officially incorporated into the ruling party, women voted massively with their feet. Evidence of an autonomous rising of women began to appear. Early in 1990 throughout Kenya rural women defied the law by uprooting coffee trees. Coffee, after tourism, is Kenya's major source of foreign exchange. Structural adjustment seeks to expand production and export despite a global glut and falling prices. But women who do the work have responded to the corrupt state buying monopoly's refusal to pay by destroying valuable trees. In the place of coffee, they plant maize, a basic food crop and an immediate means through which to keep their children alive.


In December 1991 the Group of Seven met in Paris to organize a freeze on the disbursement of development aid funds to the Kenyan government pending improvements in payment practices by the coffee authority. As early as 1987 foreign investors were avoiding Kenya because of the misallocation of funds. Frost & Sullivan reported that "Governmental corruption and ambivalent policies toward international business remain at the core of an indifferent business climate" [April 1987:1-ex]. By 1992 the repressive single party political system was judged to be thoroughly corrupt and human rights abuses, according to OECD, had gotten out of hand. Ajulu contrasted this remedial, conservative intervention by capital to popular objectives: "It must also be recognised that the unmitigated looting of Kenya's resources, and the unbridled corruption, which are the hallmarks of this [embryonic bourgeois] class, has done irreparable damage to the image of capitalism as a system of production. Imperialism is therefore looking for a more respectable way of managing capitalism. Thus, the two issues: the peoples' cry for democracy, and imperialism's support for political pluralism, must not be confused; they are not the same thing. While the people seek an alternative, imperialism seeks to manage the crisis" [Ajulu 1992:84].


The attack by rural Kenyan women on the state's source of foreign exchange from coffee is only the most recent in a long series of direct actions which women have taken against efforts to subject them to husbands' discipline to grow cash crops rather than food. In 1980 Rogers reported that "economically successful production of pyrethrum, a women's crop, was halted because of the formation of a co-operative to market the crop to which only men could belong. The women simply lost their incentive to produce, and started to withdraw their labour" [Rogers 1980:181 citing Apthorpe 1970]. More research is needed to compare the social relations giving rise to the crucial pyrethrum strike of Bahati women in 1963 and this pyrethrum boycott of the late 1970s.


In another case in Nyanza Province, a colonial cotton project was stillborn because it required women's labour at the same point in time when women had to attend to food crops. "Women gave precedence to spending their time on their families' subsistence needs, and the cotton crop failed" [Rogers 1980:183 citing Fearn 1961]. The Mwea land settlement scheme is one of capitalist agricultural planning's best documented disasters for rural families [Hanger and Moris 1973, Rogers 1980:183-185, Wisner 1982, Lewis 1984:181-182, Agarwal 1985:102-105, Stamp 1986, 1989:64-67]. During the Mau Mau struggle Kikuyu who were destined to be settled in Mwea grew maize and beans for food and sale on women's plots, and coffee on men's plots (but mainly with women's labour). The colonial government dispossessed these Kikuyu of their land. In the neo-colonial government's rush to pre-empt land invasions during the early 1960s, the Mwea Settlement scheme gave title to over 3000 men who, with their families, moved onto 1.6 ha plots with irrigation for commercial rice but with no land allocated for food crops. Women insisted on growing food and at the crucial maize planting season refused to weed the rice. Only their husbands could sell rice to the government monopoly buyer. The money was essential for food, fuel and household necessities. But women could get access to the money only by successfully begging it from their husbands. Instead women harvested rice and sold it directly onto the black market, or they allocated their labour time to wage work and kept the money. Whereas women previously had controlled their own allocation of labour time, within guidelines established by the kin group, now husbands directly controlled wives' daily use of time. Tensions abounded, nutrition deteriorated between 1966 and 1976 and a third of children under five were 20 percent underweight.


Identifying a long standing pattern and one which has only been intensified by structural adjustment programmes, Stamp argues "that women and families are subsidizing the monocropping of rice in Mwea economically, socially, and with their health" [1989:66]. Women worked harder, produced less, had less control over their own labour process and less control over family decisions. Profits which the state capitalist National Irrigation Board continued to reap through 1982, are a measure of the degree to which Kenyan men were able to impose the gender ideology of the capitalist male deal. Lewis concluded that schemes such as Mwea "are predicated on a given level of profit in a given form, obtained through a hierarchy of state, scheme management, and male household heads: women's labor is assumed to be an asset of the male head of household" [1984:182].


This capitalist hierarchy in which is embedded the capitalist male deal replaces and opposes the organizational bases of popular power during the Mau Mau struggle: indigenous women's work collectives as well as community councils for decision making. Among the many forms of women's resistance were refusal to work on rice paddies and flight. Women who "found Mwea an intolerable place to live," left altogether, disrupting families and reducing the project's labour force. Reports of family breakup and women killing their children increased in the Kenyan press in 1990. A sensitive investigation of the social relations into which women were incorporated when they killed their children and fled would illuminate the extent to which such desperate actions were forms of resistance to the Mwea type of super exploitation. Some male title holders to Mwea land could not succeed in finding women willing to marry into such an exploitative political economy" [Hanger and Moris 1973:244]. "Not surprisingly," reports Agarwal, "cases of women deserting their husbands and returning to the old settlements were not infrequent" [1985:104].


Kenyan women are increasingly self-reliant. The Mutira Mau Mau fighter, Wanoi produces most of the food her family eats and sells any excess in the local market. She and her children harvest coffee but "it is her husband who receives the proceeds, which he may or may not share with Wanoi." In 1985 Wanoi described her self-sufficiency to Jean Davison: "Like the granary I'm adding here at the homestead, I will not ask my husband for a cent, even though he got his coffee harvest money just the other day. If I rely on him to give me money, the day he misses I will have a problem" [Davison 1989:208]. And what is the point in working on a husband's coffee crop if a woman has taken steps to be self-reliant? An element of rebellion against husbands' labour discipline may inform the social situation in which women felt compelled to destroy coffee trees.


There is a strong thread of continuity running through twentieth century peasant women's struggles in Kenya. Women's consistent offensive to reclaim the commons is the historical context out of which arose the resurgence in the 1990s of the feminist attack on coffee capital. The actions of peasant women in ripping out coffee trees and thereby undermining an important element in the success of structural adjustment programmes, met with almost immediate response at the international level. This is a victory which builds upon earlier gains of popular resistance to IMF 'economic recovery' measures. The 1989 OECD Paris summit's decision to cancel a part of the African debt for those countries that implemented structural adjustment is a recognition of the power not only of uprisings and insurrections, but also of the "daily warfare" against IMF policies and their results [Federici 1990:17; Afshar and Dennis 1992; Elson 1991].


In cutting off external funds to the Kenya government, the Group of Seven gave a major boost to the multiclass pro-democracy mobilization. It includes a broad front of women, 3,000 of whom held a conference in Nairobi in February 1992 to plan strategies. On that day the fence enclosing a proposed construction site on Uhuru Park in the city centre was torn down, signalling the victory of the Greenbelt Movement in blocking KANU plans to build a skyscraper. The Greenbelt Movement is an internationalist, grassroots network of women which includes people described here as the new Rastafari. It brings together women in several African countries not only to plant trees but to defend the land on which they grow. Led by Kenyan feminist and professor of anatomy, Dr. Wangari Matu Maathai, the movement carries forward the ecology politics of Olenguruone women who, in the 1940s, insisted on title to land before they would reclaim it. The women, men and children of the Greenbelt Movement elaborate the stance of Bahati Transit Farm women who in 1963 refused to work for white settlers and carried out a land invasion. In the manner of a Nyabingi medium or a Mau Mau seer, Wangari Maathai invokes the ecological wisdom of African foremothers and forefathers. Direct action such as uprooting coffee trees, combines with an indigenous philosophy to make the Greenbelt Movement a vehicle for women's, men's and children's defence of the environment and their rights to resources. As such it constitutes one of the more startling responses to the dislocations of SAP. As part of the pro-democracy mobilization in Kenya it mounted fundamental challenges to the capitalist class deal and the KANU regime in 1992.


The new Rasta of East Africa consists of dozens of autonomous groups which above all provide for survival. They combine study, artistic creation, childcare, economic activities, community service and politics. These are part of a larger and older Rasta network with links to London, Lagos, Caribbean and elsewhere. In Nairobi feminist Rasta women work as maids, vegetable sellers, traders, seamstresses and prostitutes. They are influenced by Christianity, Islam, indigenous religions and many strands of spiritualism. Political reggae is of central importance. Marley's lyrics and those of other artists are studied carefully in Saturday afternoon 'reasonings' in slum yards. Marley's teachings are virtual primers for those seeking to develop their capacity to speak English. While extreme repression discourages the display of any Rasta symbolism or the Garveyite colours of red, gold and green; phrases such as "beat down babylon ghetto child," may be seen traced in the dust on a city bus. Since 1982 Kenyan Rasta have been commemorating Bob Marley each year. In 1991 the tenth anniversary of Marley's death was celebrated by an array of events in Kenya's clubs, bars, parks and other meeting places. Marley's power, one Ruandese dread disc jockey explained, is proportionate to political repression: "Marley says for us what we can't say." Concert videos of Marley and other reggae performers are accompanied by DJ narrations in Kiswahili, Kikuyu and other languages for the benefit of those who don't 'hear' Patwah or English. The tremendous popularity of Tracy Chapman is based on the revolutionary clarity of her lyrics, but also on the fact that, as in Nyabingi, she is said to be "Bob Marley come back from the dead."

In February 1992 Kenyan women demonstrated against the imprisonment of their menfolk. On their fifth day of a hunger strike to release 52 political prisoners, the women were attacked "with tear gas and gunfire and savagely beaten by baton-charging police. Several women, many of whom were mothers of the detainees, were knocked down unconscious in pools of blood" [Dadiran 1992:43-44]. One of the victims of this unprovoked attack was Wangari Maathai. In response to the police attack, several country women threw off their clothes in outrage. This traditional sexual insult, Guturama, which "entailed the exposure of a women's genitals to an offending party, was the ultimate recourse of those consumed by feelings of anger, frustration, humiliation or revenge" [Kanogo 1987b:82]. Despite strict censorship, the government press published photographs of the protesting women. These photos galvanized the society. They evoked memories of the 1922 insurrection when, in an attempt to release the imprisoned nationalist, Harry Thuku, women charged armed police, exposing their bodies, and Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru and 55 others were shot dead [Muchuchu 1964 cited in Rosberg and Nottingham 1966:51-52, Mugo 1978:213]. The 1992 photographs evoked the courage of women under Mau Mau who stripped naked, thereby damning the police with "the worst curse one can expect" [Likimani 1985:71, Ardener 1975, Wipper 1982, Turner 1991]. In 1992 Nairobi women responded to police attacks with another hunger strike, demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to one party rule.


The new Rastafari culture has merged with the rising of Kenyan women and poor men which is the popular democratic movement of the 1990s. Kenyan women are unearthing the tactics of their Mau Mau mothers and Nyabingi grandmothers. Allied with them are Rastafari, marginalized and organized by structural adjustment programs. Together they constitute the new Rasta which nevertheless is opposed by sexist, fundamentalist elements within such groups as the Tent of the Living God. This movement's leader lays at the feet of women most of the ills of society. Using Mau Mau and indigenous Kikuyu imagery, and wearing dreadlocks, he advocates the reintroduction of clitoridectomy as a means of reimposing the pre-capitalist male deal [Turner August 1991, Dawit 1993]. Imbued with an ideological mix of Mau Mau, Marley, Chapman, anti-apartheid and environmentalism; Kenya's new Rastafari are contending with these contradictions.


Like the democracy movements elsewhere, including in the former eastern bloc, the Kenya pro-democracy movement is multi-class, bringing together those who want merely political change with those who aspire to social transformation. In August 1991 Kenya's Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was launched to embrace "the classes of property and capital, the professional classes, and sectons of the clergy...[who] have won popular acceptance in the urban and rural areas, and above all, have convinced the working class and the peasantry that they are the champions of their democratic aspirations. ... Under the banner of multi-party democracy, this class hopes to mobilise the urban working class and rural peasantry against Moi's dictatorial regime and establish its own class rule" [Ajulu 1992:86]. Marx made clear the classical pattern of bourgeois betrayal in multiclass mobilizations: "It is self-evident that in the impending bloody conflicts, as in all earlier ones, it is the workers who, in the main will have to win the victory by their courage, determination and self-sacrifice. As previously so also in this struggle, the mass of the petty bourgeois will as long as possible remain hesitant, undecided and inactive, and then, as soon as the issue has been decided, will seize the victory for themselves, will call upon the workers to maintain tranquillity and return to their work, will guard against so-called excesses and bar the proletariat from the fruits of victory [Marx and Engels 1978:282]. This pattern was played out in the Kenyan decolonization process in the 1950s and 1960s. The British shaped the neo-colonial ruling party, KANU. It embraced loyalists in an imperial male deal which, in particular, deprived peasant women of land. The post-colonial economic restructuring of Kenya gave rise to a massive unrecorded economy and a more proletarianized agricultural workforce, both dominated by women who are most directly targeted by structural adjustment. These women are at the core and forefront of the exercise of social power which has halted Kenyan economic transactions and drawn world attention to the pro-democracy movement. As is the Mau Mau mobilization, the mobilization of the 1990s in Kenya encompasses two classes and within each, both genders. It embraces the bourgeoisie and the exploited classes. It also embraces women's and men's initiatives based on gender-specific histories, motivations and methods of struggle. Country women and city women initiated the contemporary uprising, drawing on deep historical and organization roots. They are sustaining it, through refusal to produce for export and through control of the 'informal' economy especially with regard to food supply to the cities. New Rasta daughters of Mau Mau are demanding not the impotence of a vote by queuing every five years but 'land and freedom,' to control the means of production necessary to sustain life. Against these feminist politics of transformation are negotiations between international and Kenyan businessmen to update the capitalist male deal the terms of which are detailed in SAP's conditionalities.


New Rasta: from the Caribbean to the world


Third world feminisms have emerged from the simultaneous limitations of male controlled state policy and liberation movement policy on the one hand, and expanding internationalism on the other. This historical trajectory roots women's movements of today in Nyabingi and Mau Mau, and it traces the trans-globalization of Rastafari.


This internationalization was fostered by women reggae artists especially after Bob Marley's death in 1981 and the continuation of his work by members of the I-Threes, Marcia Griffith, Judy Mowatt (Black Woman) and Rita Marley. By the late 1980s, feminist reggae was exploding forth from third world capitals and from the metropoles to be joined by a veritable flood of black feminist expression in the full range of media. The magnitude of this power is illustrated by the April 1990 Mandela concert broadcast live from Wembley in London by CNN. The largest ever television audience encompassing fully one third of humanity saw Tracy Chapman in dreads singing "Let us all be free! Poor people gonna rise up and take their share, Talkin' 'bout a revolution." In seeking to explain Chapman's popularity, Brownhill observed that because she is a black woman, "at the bottom of the worldwide hierarchy of power," Chapman speaks for all exploited people: "She is the oppressed singing about oppression. She is poor singing about poverty, she is black singing about racism, she is a woman singing about battering, she is a lesbian singing about love, and most poignant, she is an ordinary person singing about revolution. ...And herein lies the unprecedented revolutionary popularity of Tracy Chapman" [Brownhill 1989:36, 44].

In 1992 Chapman told Sparerib that "So many people feel like they don't count. They feel frustrated that their needs aren't being considered, and certainly aren't being met by a government that is supposed to be accountable to them. I think one of the things stopping us from getting together and challenging all this is that we are very afraid of difference. And we allow that to affect the way we live and the way we treat other people. It's a matter of being able to respect each other, of losing some of the fear that we have and realising that despite our differences, there are so many ways in which we're very similar. We need to realise that we're not benefitting anyone, not even ourselves, by holding on to this fear, hatred and anger, and by misdirecting our anger and our energies towards each other instead of towards the people who have the power. Of course, the powers that be encourage us to fight amongst ourselves, so that we forget to focus on them and their actions. Sometimes it seems like such a simple thing, to try and get people to realise that there's the possibility for consensus and for community; to realise the power we have in numbers to make changes; to realise that by working together, by putting ourselves on the line, by making our opinions known, we can actually challenge what's happening" [Chapman 1992:8-9].


Transformational women's networks which gathered strength in the 1980s include WAND (Women and Development Unit of the Extra-Mural Department, University of the West Indies), the Arab Women's Solidarity Association in Cairo, DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), the Greenbelt Movement in Africa [Sen and Grown 1984, Antrobus 1989, 1991]; the Self-Employed Women's Movement (SEWA)and the Chipko movement in India, along with similar initiatives in virtually every region [Shiva 1987, 1991, Elson 1992, Braidotte et al 1993, Kelkar 1992]. Women are defending the environment and their lives by saying no to ecological destruction by capitalist firms locked into a 'grow or die' dynamic. The fissures enforced by capital between first world women breeders and consumers and third world women 'informal sector' unwaged producers are being bridged by the insistence on women as conscious, diverse human actors, and not the natural resources of others. Mies suggests that if this insistence on the human essence of women is recognized as the deepest dimension and motive force of struggles against intensified exploitation of women, neo-colonies and nature, then " would no longer be possible for one exploited and oppressed group to expect its 'humanization' at the expense of another exploited and oppressed group, class or people. For instance, white women could not expect their humanization or liberation at the expense of black men and women; oppressed First and Third World middle-class women at the expense of poor rural and urban women, oppressed men (black or white workers and peasants) at the expense of 'their' women. The struggle for the human essence, for human dignity, cannot be divided and cannot be won unless all these colonizing divisions, created by patriarchy and capitalism, are rejected and transcended" [1986:230].


Transformational feminist movements are by no means limited to Rastafari. But the new Rasta includes detailed philosophies and practices founded in the defense of land, self-sufficiency, markets and women's autonomy. It transcends capital's definitions of the protected, domesticated woman, the dependent 'housewife,' whether she be in the first or the third world. This history catapults the new Rasta to the forefront to today's global resource defence movements. The material basis for true global solidarity among women is approximated in the actual processes of daily life as lived by the new Rastafari. The growing internationalist practice of the new Rasta is akin to Mies' imaginative perspective on how real solidarity among women worldwide might be forged: "If women are ready to transcend the boundaries set by the international and sexual division of labour, and by commodity production and marketing, both in the overdeveloped and underdeveloped worlds; if they accept the principles of a self-sufficient, more or less autarkic, economy; if they are ready, in Third World countries, to replace export-oriented production by production for the needs of the people, then it will be possible to combine women's struggles at both ends of the globe in such a way that the victory of one group of women will not be the defeat of another group of women. This could happen, for instance, if the struggle of Third World women for the control over their own land and their subsistence production - often fought against the combined interests of international or national corporations and of their own men - was supported by a consumer boycott in the overdeveloped countries" [1986:232-233]. We see this prescription played out by new Rastafari. While Kenyan women are ripping out coffee trees and planting maize, first world women are refusing to consume caffeine which is widely recognized by I-tal (healthy food) conscious Rastafari as an addictive and dangerous drug.


Gender relations, as they have been shaped by the struggles against the new international division of labour that is structural adjustment, are most obviously marked by women's efforts to establish economic autonomy. Mies suggests that "if we no longer accept the capitalist separation between 'productive' and 'non-productive' work, we will see that, in fact, more men depend on women's work than do women on a male 'breadwinner'" [1986:160]. The struggle for economic autonomy involves women seeking their own form of financial independence instead of seeking to construct themselves so as to be well placed in a competition with other women for marriage and the 'protection' of a man. A Jamaican woman in Sistren says "I want to be free to have di relaxation I missed as a child.... I don't want to have anodder struggle again fi get dat freedom at home. Das why I stay a single woman" [Sistren 1987:128]. Another member of the theatre group reports that "Me never waan live wid no man. Mama used to warm me seh me no fi live wid no man. She used to be concerned bout how man ill-treat woman. Me used to see plenty example round di place and me never used to like it" [1987:182]. A third Sistren actor's mother made her own money but was brutalized by a rum-drinking, whoring husband: "From me know Mama she a work. She never depend pon no man. ... Mama always say, 'Yuh see how me batter? If me never married to yuh faada, me wouldn't haffi batter so. Is a mistake ah mek and tie up meself. Else ah could a look anodder man.' A mama first change me mind from marriage" [1987:221-222]. British artist Carmen Tunde is concerned with "the re-emergence" of Black women's "ancient, woman- and earth-centred spiritualities." In her poem "Dreadlocks Lesbian," Tunde writes of teaching Rasta men [1987:206]:


Dreadlocks lesbian

is a powerful woman

because she listen to reason

no matter where it come from

and she no need

to preach 'pon you

Yet she will teach dreadlocks man

a thing or two

coz him still a fight

and show off

like cockatoo

But she know sistalove

from time

And peace is not a sign

of weakness

I tell you

dreadlocks lesbian

is one powerful woman


In Trinidad and Tobago, East Indian women are transforming stereotypes of domestication: "Thus subservience becomes discipline, submissiveness passion and sacrifice diligence. ... Several [of the people interviewed] felt that the phenomenon of a relatively large proportion of professional Indian women who were unmarried today was a result of their increasing outspokenness and assertiveness" [Mohammed 1988:395-396]. Trinidadian women "of all age groups, ethnic origins and religious persuasions," succeeded in July 1986 in partially reinstating a clause in the Sexual Offenses Bill which recognized marital rape as a crime for the first time. Women's groups and Trinidad's National Commission on the Status of Women had demanded improved legislation against sexual abuse and sexual violence. Their success against "the negative reactions of men in general including men in the governing and opposing political parties," was "the result of the united action of women of this country of an unprecedented scale. ...It marked the recognition by the majority of women that marriage did not make them the property of their men and that their personal autonomy should never be surrendered" [1988:501].


In East Africa, as in the Caribbean, women and especially Rasta women, are avoiding marriage in order to channel into their own and their mother's families the fruits of their labour [Wairimu 1991, Berman and Lonsdale 1992:462]]. According to one Kikuyu country woman, "most women do not rely on their husbands today. They try to get money for themselves selling vegetables, clothes, or making handicrafts and selling them. They have an obligation to make sure that children do not sleep hungry or go without clothes" [Kariuki 1985:224 cited in Davison 1989:208-209]. According to Davison this woman speaks for "an increasing number of Gikuyu women who find their husbands coming and going as wage earners, but whose husbands' physical and economic presence in terms of labor and income are unpredictable" [1989:209]. Women want children but not live-in husbands who rarely can offer any access to farm land yet are more driven to domestic violence by the crisis of manhood precipitated by landlessness and no income. Women's tendency to refuse the 'housewife' relationship in Kenya is paralleled by a rejection of clitoridectomy which prospective Kikuyu husbands used to require of wives "in order to channel our sexual energies into agricultural labour where we were little more than slaves" [Wairimu 1991, Hosken 1980, Dualeh Abdalla 1982]. New Rasta's economic autonomy for women also involves the refusal by women to be coerced into supporting men [Sistren 1987:296]. For example, among new Rasta women are those 'baby mothers' who, though under threat of violence, resist pressures to support their children's fathers financially and through the provision of domestic and sexual services. Contemporary reggae and calypso include lyrics which celebrate women's insistence on such autonomy. This change undermines capital's male deal in favour of egalitarian relations among women and men.


Of utmost importance is the fact that in the Caribbean and other ex-slave societies of the new world, indigenous male deals did not exist because the total population was uprooted from their indigenous traditional political economies. The experience of slavery further broke up the functioning of old world precapitalist male deals. The newness of Caribbean society has fostered that region's tremendous creativity. Many elements of social relations had to be created anew from the ultra-advanced capitalist factory system, the sugar plantation and the sharp black-white division between the classes of African slave and European master. Much has been written about how this history gave rise to the new world's creativity with regard to class struggle [James 1984:218]. The astonishing universalism of the Caribbean's contributions to art and to resolving race and class contradictions is rooted in the absence of indigenous pre-capitalist social relations in a highly modern region. We are only now beginning to appreciate the implications of the absence of pre-capitalist male deals for gender relations. Among these are the relative autonomy of Caribbean women and the evolution of a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist male deal which we see now in the new Rasta.




The new capitalist deal embodied in structural adjustment programs requires a new male deal whereby men agree to extract more unpaid work from women under conditions less costly to capital. The difficulty faced by capital is that the prerequisites required by exploited men in order to realize this male deal - jobs, a 'family wage,' a positive future for their children, a liveable environment - are not there. They cannot be delivered as is demonstrated by the breakdown of the post WWII capitalist deals. Consequently, the male deal is based increasingly on rhetoric and symbolism which construct manhood on models akin to the machine, especially the war machine, devoid of human feeling and expressing unprecedented misogyny, racism and competitive violence. This symbolic male deal tends toward ever greater extremes of racism, sexism and the dehumanization of women.


The state in both the first world and the third in the central instrument in enforcing this dispensation. In January 1992 Canadian Labour Congress president Shirley Carr said that "racial and sexual discrimination have increased in the workplace...[and yet governments and employers] use the recession to quash the push for human rights" [Toronto Globe & Mail, 25 January 1992]. In the late 1980s Reddock criticized the Trinidadian government for privatizing social services under pressure from the IMF just as it had become apparent that the demand for the services of rape crisis centres surpassed the capacities of voluntary women's organisations and urgently required financial support from the state [Reddock 1988:502]. According to Mies, "It is now known that violence against women is increasing in the West" as well as in the third world and the former eastern bloc [1986:159]. One expression of this is sex tourism and the flesh trade of third world women to industrialized countries which is expanding as are "the more open sexist, racist and sadistic tendencies in this market" [Mies 1986:141]. In West Germany in the mid-1980s fully 52 percent of the home video market consisted of horror, war and pornography films. "Violence against women itself becomes a new commodity" and firms trafficking in women openly advertise 'submissive, non-emancipated, docile' Asian women as wives for European men [Mies 1986:139,137; Truong 1990].


Pornography and militarism have contributed to deracinating a generation of lumpen male youth. But they have also provoked a search for alternative constructions of manhood [Kimmel 1991, Davies 1993]. This search by men is motivated, in part "by the desire to restore to themselves a sense of human dignity and respect" [Mies 1986:223]. Dauda argues that analyses and practices which leave out gender relations in fact analyze and pursue the struggle between male collectives. "It is also evident that without gender consciousness, class consciousness remains an illusion. Rather than being informed by a genuine class consciousness, men and women are too often organized only by the dynamics of the sex/gender system; men struggle for their share of the male deal while women are lost in the struggle for or against protection" [Dauda 1992:144]. New rasta involves women who accept neither but rather seek their own independence. New rasta includes a information contingent of men who have 'committed gender suicide,' and rejected the capitalist male deal in favour of feminist solidarity and transformational, egalitarian women-men relations.


The male deal is no longer universal. Independent men are breaking away and expressing solidarity with women's struggles against the new capitalist deal that is structural adjustment. There have always been individual men acting in solidarity with women. But now there is a groundswell of mobilization. In a movement which is growing with astonishing rapidity, men are consciously deciding to "forego building up their ego and identity on the exploitation and violent subordination of women, and to accept their share of the unpaid work for the creation and preservation of life...." [Mies 1986:223]. This fissure in the cross-class, cross-race male alliance plus the objective impossibility of realizing the SAP-linked male deal constitute a serious crisis for capital. How, other than through the sexist discipline of men, can structural adjustment programs extract more profits from women? As some men in the exploited classes refuse to strike downward at women, substituting power over women for power over their own lives, the beliefs and behaviours of other men caught up in the male deal come under sharper scrutiny. Capital's monolithic definition of manhood is fractured. The protection which capital has hitherto enjoyed is dissolving. With this continuing dissolution of the male deal, the unity of exploited women and men of all races can only increase at the expense of the power of capital. Sharper polarization between the exploited, so united, and the exploiters must characterize the emergence of the new society of which the new Rastafari is but one expression.


The new Rastafari has emerged through a process whereby black feminisms have garnered the weight and media access necessary to enable them to appropriate Rastafari and redefine its content. This has also been a process of rediscovery of the history of women in struggle and an excavation of global gender, class and race relations. While the theories and practices of struggle for the new society are much broader than the new Rastafari, and exist separate from it, they are to a remarkable extent expressed globally through the cultural movement of Rasta, making it a fertile social force for the 21st century.




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Chapter Nine

The fight for fertility:

Mau Mau as gendered class struggle

Terisa E. Turner, Teena J. Neal, and Leigh S. Brownhill




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White, Luise, 1990. The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



Glossary of Kikuyu and Kiswahili Terms



askari - guard, soldier


ayah - domestic maid or nanny


baraza - public gathering


cuka - peice of cloth wrapped around the body and tied at one shoulder


gakonia - a bag made of course cloth which home guards used to cover their faces while interrogating suspected Mau Mau.


githeri - cooked beans and maize


guturama - curse or strike initiated by the exposure of the genitals to the offending party


Hika Hika - female Home guards


ibanga - machetes


irio - food; food crops, a Kikuyu dish made of maize, beans, peas and cowpeas mashed with green vegetables and bananas or potatoes.


itara - platform built high over a fire place in a hut, used for keeping and drying firewood


Jamhuri - independence


jembe - a hoe


kiam kia atumia - council of women


kibanga - machete


kiondo - carrying basket


kipande - piece of paper, refers to labour registration card carried by all Africans


muiratu - young circumcised woman


mukwa - tumpline rope


mzee - a respectful name for an an old man


mzungu - a white person


ndoma - arrowroot


ngemi - high pitched cry


ngwatio - communal, indigenous work group


panga - a sword, machete


Riigi - foot soldiers in Land Freedom Army


rungu - club, war club, mace


shamba - farm


simi - a sword


ugali/uji - boiled ground maize meal


Wangu - women's support group for the freedom fighters in the forest




African Affairs Department 82,84, 95, 105

agriculture iv, 88, 104, 133, 134,168, 171, 192, 193, 206, 216, 238

Allen 58, 60, 72, 76, 164, 190,232, 235

Anlu Uprising 25, 58, 60, 67, 72

Askwith 144, 154, 156, 161

Bob Marley 193, 194, 222, 239

Bogle 207, 237

boys iii, 61, 82, 116, 128, 129,137, 145, 155, 181, 239

bridewealth 63, 82

British v, 1, 4, 6, 21, 25, 33, 35,48, 49, 56, 58, 60, 61, 66, 67, 72, 75, 76, 78-82, 84, 92, 94,97, 98, 100, 104, 107, 108, 110-112, 114-117, 119, 120,123, 125, 126, 129, 130, 134, 145, 147, 152-155, 162, 165,166, 170, 172, 178, 187, 191, 202, 203, 206, 208-214, 217,223, 227

Brownhill iii, iv, 7, 224, 233, 242

Cameroon 25, 58, 72, 75, 187

Campbell 191, 194, 195, 211,233

capital 109, 131, 132, 171, 191,193, 198-202, 206-208, 210, 215-218, 221, 223, 225, 229,231, 233, 234, 239, 327

Caribbean v, 76, 103, 134, 166,191-193, 195-199, 208, 211, 212, 222, 224, 228, 229, 233-235, 237, 238

Chapman 222-225

chief 24, 28, 30-33, 41, 42, 53, 61,68, 69, 72, 97, 100, 111, 120, 127, 132, 153, 156, 163, 174,192

chiefs 11, 28, 30-36, 40-43, 47,51, 59, 61, 65, 68-70, 72, 76, 107, 111, 112, 127, 174, 175,213

children iv, 1, 3, 13, 15, 16, 19,21-24, 28, 31, 35-41, 52, 60, 62, 66, 81, 87, 90, 91, 93, 95,96, 108, 110, 114, 116, 118-122, 130, 144, 145, 148,150, 152, 155, 155, 158, 160, 161, 176, 178, 181, 181, 194,196, 198, 213-215, 217-221, 228, 229, 237

Churchill 31, 41, 47, 70

circumcision 51, 57, 75, 80, 82,83, 100, 103, 152, 233

class v, 3, 34, 74, 76, 78, 79, 103,130, 134, 137-140, 144, 146, 152-154, 156, 158, 162, 166,168, 188, 191, 193, 196, 197, 199-203, 206, 207, 209-218,221, 223, 226, 229-233, 239, 242

class struggle v, 168, 201, 218,229, 233, 242

CLR James 235

coffee 32, 35-38, 43, 69, 82, 83,109, 176, 206, 211, 212, 218-221, 226

colonial vi, 8, 25, 27, 29-32, 35,37, 40, 43, 46-49, 52, 54, 56, 60, 60, 63, 65, 69, 71-74, 76-80, 82-84, 88, 99, 101-104, 107, 108, 110-112, 114, 118,129, 132, 133, 135, 140, 142-146, 149, 152-156, 162,164, 167, 168, 171-177, 184, 187, 199, 203, 206-212, 214,215, 219, 224, 327

commons 40, 67, 70, 92, 200,215, 216, 221

compulsory labour 29, 31, 36,39, 41, 42

curfew 2, 10, 12, 14, 19, 22, 24,93, 96, 97, 111, 112, 119

demonstration 43, 49-52, 54, 60,61

demonstrations 25, 27, 54, 57,64, 71, 72, 176

Department of Community Development 161, 162

detention 1, 28, 32-34, 42, 72, 85-94, 104, 110, 125, 134, 154-162, 166, 168, 181, 239

EAA 29, 33, 43, 46, 47, 49-51, 53,59, 66

emancipation 196, 201, 206, 215

Embu 32, 85, 94, 95, 108, 110,127, 136, 180

emergency 10, 14, 16, 39, 80-84,87, 88, 92-96, 101, 103, 110, 111, 119, 122, 132, 136, 155,160, 162, 165, 172, 180, 181, 185, 186, 189, 212, 214

enclosures 161, 206, 210, 234,236

environment 35, 192, 221, 225,229, 232

Ethiopia 1, 130, 191, 203, 208

Ethiopianism 196, 207, 211

famine 97, 101, 150

Federici 200, 216, 233, 234

fertility 242

food iv, 1, 2, 5, 8, 11, 13, 18, 19,24, 39, 42, 56, 56, 60, 62, 72, 74, 79, 80, 84-86, 89-91, 93-95, 97, 109, 110, 112-115, 117, 119, 121-123, 125, 126,129-131, 143, 147, 149, 151, 172, 180, 181, 183, 186, 192,202, 203, 212, 215, 218-220, 224, 226, 328

forced labour 27, 27, 31, 32, 40,41, 69, 89, 108, 111-113, 118, 132, 173, 213

Ford-Smith 194, 210, 234, 238

Fort Hall 27, 30, 46, 51, 54-56,70-72, 74, 83, 96, 107, 175, 188

fortified village 118

free villages 206, 207, 209

freedom fighters 6, 8, 9, 11, 17,19, 20, 22, 94, 107, 108, 111, 113, 115-119, 121-126, 128,178, 181, 183-185, 212, 213, 217, 218, 329

Garvey 194, 199, 207, 208, 211,233

gender iii-v, 74, 84, 91, 128, 129,131-133, 137-140, 144, 146-152, 154-158, 160-162,164, 166, 167, 190, 191, 193, 194, 196, 197, 199, 203, 207,209, 213, 220, 224, 227, 229-233, 235, 239

girls 10, 28-32, 38, 40-42, 56, 57,66, 67, 69, 82, 87, 90, 92, 107-109, 115, 116, 118, 120-126, 128, 129, 132, 148, 149, 173, 177, 181, 183

government 1, 3-5, 8, 27-33, 35-47, 54, 57, 58, 60, 60, 65, 66, 70-72, 74-76, 78, 80, 82-84, 87, 88, 91-93, 96, 98-100, 102, 104, 110, 114,115, 119-121, 127, 128, 132, 133, 135, 136, 151, 154, 157,171-181, 183-184, 217-219, 221, 222, 225, 230

guerillas 178, 181, 183-185, 194

guturama 173, 222, 328

hardcore 134, 166

hawkers 142

headman 18, 28, 31, 36, 120, 121,156

hika hika 328

homeguard 8, 11, 12, 16-23, 93-95, 98

housewife 200

housewifization 197

housewives 161

housework 149, 201, 233, 234

hunger 13, 91, 128, 150, 222,223

IMF 196, 215, 217, 221, 230

India 67, 225, 235, 236

International Monetary Fund 215

Jamaica 191, 195, 196, 198, 199,203, 206-211, 232, 234, 236, 237, 239

James iii-v, 27, 31, 49, 133, 188,190-194, 200, 207, 233-235

Kamiti 88-92, 160, 162

Kamiti prison 88, 92, 160

Kanogo iii, iv, 73, 79, 102, 107,122, 133, 139, 151, 165, 170, 183, 185, 188, 235

KANU 86, 214, 221, 224

Kenya iii-vi, 1-5, 25, 29, 31, 31,34, 35, 38, 43, 43, 47, 49, 54, 59, 61, 66, 69-71, 73-78, 81,83, 84, 86, 89, 92, 94, 98-105, 107-110, 112, 115, 128-134,136, 137, 138, 140, 142, 143, 146-154, 157, 161-168, 170,172, 185-188, 194, 211, 213, 216-218, 221, 223, 224, 228,235, 236, 238, 239, 327

Kenya Land Freedom Army 185

Kenya Parliament 138, 147-151

Kenyatta 3, 50, 51, 56, 68, 74, 85-87, 90, 109, 134, 143, 147, 159, 188, 211, 213

Kiambu 27, 31, 37, 38, 69, 72, 80,84, 93, 94, 96, 97, 100, 102, 105-107, 109, 111, 114, 117,153, 159, 164, 176, 214

Kikuyu iii, v, 1, 2, 13, 25, 27-35,37-39, 44, 46, 50-51, 54-63, 65, 67-76, 78-87, 92-94, 96-98,100-104, 108, 110, 112, 132-134, 145, 147, 150, 152-156, 158, 161, 162, 165-166, 170-174, 177-180,182, 186, 188, 189, 212-214, 219, 222, 223, 228, 235, 237,327, 328

Kimathi 134, 147, 151, 153, 163,164, 166, 168, 212, 213

Kinyanjui 33, 38

kipande 28, 29, 68, 171, 173, 328

KLFA 185

landlords 142-144

Lari Massacre 81, 150

lesbian 225, 227, 228

Likimani iii-v, 6, 8, 107, 122,134, 163, 165, 188, 235

literacy 4, 139, 146-148, 158, 161,163

livestock 56, 133, 180, 183

loyalist 4, 8, 11, 22, 81, 97, 98,107, 108, 111, 112, 123, 124, 126, 127, 146, 150, 157, 159,172, 181-183, 213

Maathai iii, 5, 221, 222

Maendeleo 4, 95-98, 100, 104,135, 168, 213, 214, 218, 239

Malcolm X 194, 204

male deal 191, 200-203, 208, 209,214, 217, 220, 223, 224, 229-231, 233

manhood 58, 146, 154, 156, 174,208, 228-231

Marley 193-195, 222-224, 239

maroon 206

marriage 33, 35, 56, 80, 123, 140,144, 146-150, 154, 156, 162, 210, 215, 227, 228

Marx 190, 192, 193, 196, 200,223, 236

Marxist 192, 193, 200, 201

Masai 75, 104

masculinity 139

Masters and Servants Ordinance 171

Mau Mau iii-v, 1-6, 11, 12, 15,17, 21-24, 39, 49, 71, 76, 78-100, 102-108, 110-117, 119,121-127, 133, 134, 138-141, 143, 145-168, 170, 171, 173,177, 178, 180-190, 194, 208, 211-215, 217-224, 234, 235,237, 239, 242, 327, 328

Meru 55, 81, 102, 180

Mies 197, 198, 200, 225, 227, 230,236

migrants 137, 143, 196

missionaries 28, 30, 37, 39, 40,47, 66, 67, 82, 89, 140, 238

missionary 27, 34, 40, 68, 75, 82,103, 152, 153

monogamy 147, 148

Mount Kenya 74, 112, 129, 134,162, 170, 188

Murang'a 107, 109, 132, 174,176

Nairobi iv, vi, 3, 27, 28, 38, 43,44, 46, 50-53, 55, 62, 70, 74, 76, 77, 80, 81, 92, 96, 102, 103,107, 112, 134-136, 139, 141-146, 149, 153, 155, 158,159, 163-168, 176, 187, 189, 212, 217, 218, 221-223, 234-236, 238, 239, 327

Neal iii, v, 6, 7, 242

new society 190, 191, 193-197,200, 231, 235, 238

ngwatio 172, 182, 329

Nigeria v, 25, 58, 72, 73, 75, 76,187, 233, 238

Nyabingi 190, 199, 202, 203, 208,209, 211, 221-224, 234

Nyanjiru 2, 46-49, 51, 60, 65, 70,173, 173, 222

oath 4, 11, 12, 15, 49, 50, 71, 81,84, 85, 87, 94, 100, 107, 113, 115, 149, 153, 154, 157, 172,177, 178, 181-185, 186, 217

Olenguruone 183, 212, 221

pimp 142

plantation 10, 11, 37, 67, 192,193, 198, 205-207, 229

poll tax 66, 67, 171, 202

precolonial 25, 60, 62, 79, 82,133

Presley v, 37, 39, 68, 71, 76, 78,82, 89, 99, 100, 103, 106, 107, 117, 122, 134, 149, 150, 156,160, 163, 164, 166, 166, 237

prisoners 88-90, 92, 100, 112,160, 162, 185, 222, 223

prostitutes 8, 50, 52, 53, 62, 71,80-82, 130, 141-143, 178, 187, 212, 222

prostitution v, 52, 53, 77, 81,168, 178, 212, 238, 327

protest iii, vi, 26, 27, 35, 40, 43,48, 55, 57, 60, 62, 65, 71, 72, 74, 83, 99, 103, 116, 146, 165,168-171, 173, 175, 176, 234, 235

protests 27, 29, 47, 55, 64, 66, 99,217

rape 2, 11, 29, 39, 205, 228, 230

Rasta 191, 194-197, 209, 211, 217,221-224, 226-231, 233

Rastafari 190-199, 202, 203, 208,210, 211, 215, 221, 223, 224, 226, 231, 234, 238, 239

reggae 192-195, 211, 222, 224,229

rehabilitation 4, 89, 95, 96, 100,154, 156

reproduction 142, 172, 198, 199,215, 216

reserves 56, 111, 116, 133, 171,181, 212

revolt 74, 83, 84, 98, 102-104,133, 140, 145, 154, 155, 162, 165, 175, 194, 211, 213, 327

revolts 173, 174, 203

Rift Valley 79, 93, 102, 147, 188,211, 214

Riigi 140, 147-149, 151, 329

riot 43, 47-51, 60, 67, 70, 100,173, 176, 189, 239

riots 26, 48, 61, 62, 63, 72, 195

Rodney 194, 195, 198, 233, 237

Ross 28, 41, 42, 45, 48, 52, 63,68-70, 72, 75, 76, 189

sap 196, 218, 221, 231

scholarship vi, 78, 79, 138

seer 221

seers 203

Selassie 191, 194, 203, 208, 209

Selma James 233

settler 27, 28, 82, 93, 140, 141,144, 145, 152, 153, 165, 171-173, 178, 180, 216

sexism 130, 191, 213, 229

sexual abuse 173, 228

Singh 238, 327

Sistren 191, 194, 227, 234, 238,239

slave 129, 168, 192, 197-199, 203-207, 229, 233, 238

slave trade 203, 205, 206

slavery 38, 40, 168, 176, 183,191-193, 196-198, 205, 206, 208, 229, 237, 239

soldiers 35, 47, 82, 84, 86, 112,126, 127, 133, 141, 148, 149, 152, 155, 182, 183, 210, 212,329

solidarity 4, 63, 63, 176, 200,201, 208, 209, 211, 225, 226, 230, 231

song 32, 49, 65, 68, 115-117, 160,174, 176, 194, 195

songs 32, 58, 61, 68, 72, 168, 186,188, 194, 195, 215, 217

squatter 146, 171, 183, 212, 216

squatters iv, 79, 93, 102, 133,165, 185, 186, 188, 214, 235

strike 43, 51, 57, 210, 212, 219,222, 223, 231, 328

strikes 55, 64, 71, 83, 130, 131,143

structural adjustment 191, 196,199, 200, 215-219, 221, 223, 224, 227, 229-231, 233, 238,239

sugar 177, 192, 206, 229

tea 41, 90, 109, 124, 190, 211,212, 232

Tent of the Living God 223, 239

terracing 55, 72, 99, 174, 175,212

terrorism iii, 137, 205, 239

Thuku iii, 2, 25-35, 37-39, 43, 46-48, 51, 52-55, 57, 59, 61, 67-70, 72, 73, 76, 100, 104,154, 173, 174, 214, 222

Thuku riot 100, 173

Tobago v, 198, 228, 236, 237,240

trade v, 2, 64, 71, 76, 78, 79,103, 197, 199, 200, 203, 205, 206, 230, 238, 327

transformational 200, 225, 226,230

Trinidad v, 192, 209, 228, 236,237, 240

Turner v, 6, 7, 76, 190, 192, 223,233, 238, 239, 242

Uganda 39, 202, 203, 211, 234

UNIA 207, 211

wangu 329

warriors 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 65, 123,127, 131, 150, 178, 179, 184, 194

White v, 2, 3, 27, 32, 52, 68, 77,102, 137, 140-142, 147, 150-157, 159, 161, 165, 168,171, 183, 185, 188, 190, 194, 196, 198, 199, 204, 207, 208,211, 213, 214, 216, 221, 226, 229, 239, 327, 329

White Highlands 102, 171, 183,185, 188, 214

Wipper vi, 57, 74, 76, 77, 99-100,104, 114, 135, 168, 187, 189, 223, 239

witch 199, 203, 234

witchcraft 203

women iii-vi, 1-6, 8-10, 16, 21, 25-41, 43-100, 103, 104, 106-114, 116-118, 121-123,125-135, 137, 140-144, 147-151, 156, 159-189, 192,196-239, 328

women's council 57, 131

women's councils 149, 172

women's groups 4, 35, 54, 57,131, 214, 215, 218, 228

women's struggles 221, 226, 230

Women's war 25, 27, 58-60, 62-64, 67, 72, 73

World Bank 196, 215, 217

World War II 130, 141, 159, 168

Young Kikuyu Association 27-29, 46, 67, 69, 172



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