In 1934, the government took land from Gikuyu in the Tigoni-Limuru area, Kiambu District and sold it to settlers. The Gikuyu were told to move from this area by the government but many people refused. The leaders of this resistance were reported to the government by Luka Kahangara. Eventually, all of the people were forcibly removed and Luka was resettled in Lari with his goods and livestock. Later he was further rewarded when the government made him a chief.
About ten thousand other Gikuyu were rounded up and taken to a place called Olenguruone after the government had destroyed their crops and burned their huts. They stayed at Olenguruone for a period of ten years. They prospered during those years in spite of hardships. They had much livestock and good crops. The government became jealous of their prosperity and began disturbing them. The government decided it had made a mistake in allotting such a fertile soil to the Gikuyu. The area was looked upon as part of the White Highlands, and the government wanted to reclaim it for European settlement. Once again, the people’s livestock and harvests were confiscated by the government. The people of Olenguruone searched for some way to stop such actions by the government.
We had not used our battle oaths since the British stopped the inter-tribal warfare around the turn of the century. When the Gikuyu and Maasai stopped raiding each other there was no need for battle oaths. We had, however, continued to use some of the other oaths. The people of Olenguruone were desperate as they returned to taking the oath, but they rediscovered a unity which had almost been forgotten.
The oaths united them from child to elder and everyone took the oath except the chiefs and headmen. We called this oath the Oath of Unity and it was much stronger than the previous oath taken during the late 20’s and early 30’s.. We believed that if we failed to keep our promises, i.e., not to sell land to white men or co-operate in any way with the white men, we would be punished by God. We knew that even if God did not punish us immediately, our leaders would. There were many members of K.C.A. at Olenguruone who administered the oath. The Oath of Unity was not confined to the Olenguruone area alone. It was being taken throughout many Gikuyu districts. This was the beginning, therefore, of the later oaths known as Mau Mau oaths.
The chiefs and headmen were not included because they were considered to be traitors. They ignored the needs of our people and worked to strengthen the position of the colonial government. In return, the government rewarded them with land and power.
Traditionally there was no provision for chiefs or headmen, but rather a Council of Elders. These elders were our respected leaders who made all the important decisions concerning our tribe. When the British came they by-passed our elders and appointed people of their own choosing to act as our chiefs and headmen. These people did not command our respect and were only obeyed out of fear.
The people of Olenguruone elected their own spokesmen to represent their grievances to the government. On one occasion they sent these representatives to the chief. They requested that he speak to the D.O. and tell him of their suffering. They asked to be returned to their former lands in Kiambu. The chief did as the people bid him. When the D.O. heard that, he instructed the chief to tell the people he would speak to them the next day. The following morning the D.O. and his Tribal Police arrived. They rounded up the community and kept them in the school ground. The D.O. then spoke words to this effect to the gathering:
I have heard through the chief that you want to return to your shambas in Kiambu. I don’t want to hear it again, because you do not own farms in Kiambu. Kiambu is a place for European settlement only. If you behave stupidly once more you will be quickly expelled from here. Mark you, the District Commissioner at Kiambu said you were expelled from there and not given land, but the D.C. of Nakuru sympathized with you. The D.C. of Kiambu also said you were to be pushed from the Reserves to the forest because Africans don’t own the land and are a kind of wild animals—-like monkeys. The only difference is that monkeys have tails which were not cut off by their mothers at birth. Otherwise, they would look just like Africans.
From that time onwards, the Gikuyu knew that the colonialist government thought of them as wild animals. They resolved to make Gikuyu know their enemy and to fight to the last man, like the warriors of Sparta. They recalled the deep forests of Mount Kenya and of the Aberdares and knew they could enter and fight from there.
In 1946, the colonialist informers reported the extent of oath-taking to the D.O. but the government merely increased its harrasment of the Olenguruone people until finally their livestock and harvests were confiscated and many of their leaders arrested. Finally, poor, hungry and very angry, they were deported to Yatta.
I saw many of these people on their way to Yatta in the year 1947. Many of them were sent to the Remand Home in Nairobi while their deportation orders were being processed and signed. The rest were jailed. Several of the Forty Group visited the Remand Home. The people there were cooking their own food and using their own utensils, as nothing was provided by the government. There were flies everywhere; dirty rubbish covered the ground and the stench was unbearable. Men, women and children were kept all together. They were forced to work at cleaning the compound, even the lavatories. The prison warders who guarded them abused them with curses and beatings. They had to answer the warders wapandi, bwana, even during beatings. During this time, those people wrote songs of their misery. One went like this:
The great sadness occurred in Olenguruone,
Children and livestock were weeping in the heavy rain and bitter cold
Because their homes were destroyed and burned.
The children of Olenguruone saw with their own eyes
Goats, sheep and cattle slaughtered in their bomas.
The Catholic Priest was a witness when Olenguruone was destroyed,
All their food, savings and properties destroyed.
Because their homes were destroyed and burned.
Do not accept any advice while you are on the way;
Do not even sign any agreement,
Some of them were taken to Yatta and others to prison in Nakuru.
A teacher, Koirugo, was arrested.
He told the police,
“I cannot leave the students like orphans.
If you want to arrest me, then come and collect me at the school,
Arrest me and the students.”
When our maize was cut down,
Our God saw and witnessed.
He blessed strawberries and wild animals
And told us to use them as our daily bread.
Wachanga, The Swords of Kirinyaga, 1975.