"In the eyes of the Kikuyu people, the submission to a despotic rule of any particular man or a group, white or black, is the greatest humiliation to mankind.”
In the living room of every Kikuyu man of a certain age, a portrait of the Muthamaki. And with every portrait you see, Jommo Kenyatta, the man turns into God. A man who in real life is not imposing in stature turns into a giant killer in the ubiquity of his image- larger than the family portrait- that dominates every wall shrine from Kabete to Ruguru, Ruare to Warubaga.
Kenyatta is resplendent in leather jacket- a status symbol among the Kikuyu of that era- and the ceremonial monkey skins of authority. He stares out the future, nobility perched on his brow, with dignity. The fly-whisk in his hand, a freeze framing of autocratic grace punctuates the caption: Mutongoria Njamba/ hero and leader.
Sometimes when you have visited enough homes, you begin to encounter, rather sporadically, another photo. It is always a small one, often times seen in a butchery or hoteli owned by an angry old man who wears the same great coat every day and talks of old wars in foreign lands. This photo has no caption. It is a photo that seems to have lost the fight to stay relevant yet it still clings tenaciously to what space is left, after Kenyatta is done, in the gallery of Kikuyu pride. But in a society where folk lore speaks more than a thousand pictures, every one knows the name of the man in the untitled photo. The man whose name is only mentioned in whispers. Kimathi. Dedan Kimathi Waciuri.
Kimathi's photo looks grainier than a Chinese DVD. Kimathi is lying on the ground his hair in matted locks and his lean frame emphasised by the blanket wrapped around him. He is in handcuffs.
A few years later, I join school. In my history text book, Kimathi is still in handcuffs.
My history textbook dedicates an entire chapter to Jommo Kenyatta and one paragraph to Kimathi Waciuri. Kimathi Waciuri was a Mau Mau; Jommo Kenyatta, as he wrote (or another mzungu wrote for him, again) in Suffering Without Bitterness, was not. In this Kenya of today; a Kenya premised on Uhuru na Kazi, there can be no place for terrorist elements. As Kenyatta was quick to remind us, at the birthing of our republic,(or did we just overhear a private conversation between him and the settlers?), Mau was a disease that had been eradicated.
As I grew older, the image of Kimathi in shackles began to haunt me. Then the haunting turned into a deep seated pain that was constantly awakened by a modern Kikuyu saying: Nairobi (Kenya, really) was shared out when people were sleeping.
That saying and the photos of the two independence heroes coalesced into a kind of metaphor for this nation in my mind: Some Kenyans had inherited the monkey skin- control over the means of production- while others had inherited the shackles- cursed to forever feed at the foot of Dives table. Slaves in their own land. The homeland that was shared out while they were out fighting for it.
The Mau Mau war, my grandparents told me was about land and freedom. Half a century later, tens of thousands of Kikuyus roam this country with no land, no Uhuru and no Kazi. About ten Kikuyu families own land the size of a province and control all the free and foul enterprise of the Kikuyu nation and beyond.
The new picture on Kikuyu walls is that of Mwai Kibaki. Don't you wish to hear him remind the Kikuyu, the Economy, anyone, that the disease has been eradicated?
There is only one picture on Kikuyu walls yet, once again, just like in the colonial days, the Kikuyus are being hounded out of their homes. Is there a new picture of a Kikuyu man in shackles? Is there a new name whispered?
The saga continues....
*Post to be reviewed in 30 mins for footnoting and disclaimer