The Mau Mau rebellion is one of the historical events that have always mesmerized scholars and writers. One of these scholars is Caroline Elkins who discusses the issue of the Mau Mau in her paperback, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain Gulag in Kenya. The Mau Mau uprising was an armed resistance initiated by the Agikuyu community in Kenya against British rule. This movement launched numerous attacks on the British government officials and their fellow Africans who collaborated with the British government. As a result of the activities of the Mau Mau, the British colonial government portrayed them as a plunge into savagery. Their actions display violence. This paper looks at the topic of violence about the period of colonialism in Kenya. The focus is on the Mau Mau movement.
Violence refers to the behavior where an individual uses physical force with an intention to cause physical and bodily harm. In most cases, it always results in the killing of someone or a large number of people. Violence is an external form of aggression that involves an assault, murder of people or even rape. Many actors cause violence, and according to psychologists, these include frustration, stress, violent media exposure, domestic violence and quarrels at home among other numerous causes. Violence culminates itself in forms of gun violence, abuse of women with disabilities, youth violence, political violence that can always lead to civil wars among other types. Ethnic and racial violence has contributed to the worlds' worst massacres. The widely known is the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Failure to solve issues on time leads to violence. It explains why violence emerged in African colonies during the imperialism period.
Elkins began the book with a revelation of how the British intimidated the Mau Mau in Kenya. It took place in the 1950's. Just like the allied forces, a large number of Kenyans took part in the Second World War alongside the British soldiers. The British government rewarded only their counterparts. The British government also took the Africans' land from them. A deep conflict was breeding between the colonial administration and the natives. The land issue was the major cause of conflict, and this led to the Mau Mau deciding to fight for a course that they believed was their right. The British government ended up detaining nearly the entire population of Kenya's largest minority ethnic group, the Agikuyu.
The violent actions of the Mau Mau led to a declaration of a state of emergency in Kenya in 1954. Sir Evelyn Baring was the British governor of Kenya at the time. At the beginning of the war, the impact of the Mau Mau actions started spreading widely among the white settlers and colonial administrators in the colony. The white settlers saw them as a group of people who were anti-Christian and anti-European. The colonial government saw the group as a sect. Few people, including the colonial administration, did not take the demands of the Mau Mau seriously.
The violent reaction by the Mau Mau was a response to numerous grievances such as the widespread stealing of their lands by the colonial administration. The white settlers secured an allocation of these lands. They grew settler cash crops that were meant for exports to feed the industries in Europe. The book traces the British aim to develop a vast cash crop export farm. These were to be facilitated by the railway line. The railway played the function of transporting the military and goods. The military fulfilled the local need of security officers.
The British colonial government had launched an 8-year campaign against the Kikuyu community. Punitive measures were used by the British administration to divide and rule the society. They exerted too much force on the local rebel members of the Mau Mau by the use of the military. The administration took the military to the forests, and the battled involved guerilla warfare. It was the advantage of the Mau Mau rebels because they were well familiar with the mountainous terrains and the forests of their regions. It was an intense battle that took the British administration over two years to subdue the rebels. The British used air force and over 20,000 militaries. Despite the superior weapons used by the British soldiers, the insurgents used local homemade weapons against the British troops. They also applied tactics of attacking the British colonial base and stealing weaponry.
The Mau Mau had taken strong oaths to actively fight the army to reclaim back their lands which were adopted. They had been reduced to squatters and were living in the reserves which in most cases were characterized by congestion. The aim of the administration of the oaths in the forests was to unite the fighters together. The oath also meant to discipline and foster political consciousness among the Agikuyu. The pledge involved pricking of bodies, cutting of skins to draw blood, eating of raw meat, pricking the eyes seven times, bending the fingers of a dead person seven times, drinking menstrual blood, drinking of urine among other filthy acts. On the same note, the forest oath required the group to kill a man or a boy. The mixed the head and the blood with that of the oath takers. They also performed other filthy acts and recited the words of the oath. The nature of the oath-taking and administration was very severe, and this explains why the group actively took up arms against the British military. According to Elkins, between 160,000 and 320,000 members of the Kikuyu tribe were detained. The females and young children were victims of this violence who faced imprisonment in camps which were enclosed villages with sparked wires.
During the violent uprising, the Kikuyu suffered and endured at the hands of the British military, colonialists, and loyalists. Such suffering was very rampant in the detention camps. They raped and killed the women and the children. The women aided the Mau Mau by supplying food for the rebels in the forests. Women also administered oaths in the forests while others such as Wambui Otieno actively took part in the fight. The women also took care of their families while their husbands were actively fighting in the forests.
The British devised methods of obtaining information from the arrested Mau Mau rebels. Elkins writes that these methods involved the use of beatings, cigarette burns, the use of electric shock, the use of wrecked bottles, knife, venomous snakes, thrusting scorching eggs into men's rectums and women's vaginas. They used gun barrels. To be released, one had to confess. The principal purpose of this detention was to obtain information from the detainees, though a rigorous punishment routine that involved forced labor and military brutality. The Kikuyu were tortured, deprived of food and were forced to confess.
On the same note, the British brutality and terror did not stop. The hardcore Mau Mau men who facilitated much violence found it very rough. The extent of this brutality was castration. Elkins explains the content of the letters that she discovered during her research. These letters described what these men were going through in prisons. For instance, they described the pliers that the military used to crush the testicles before ripping them off. On the same regard, the women considered tough, and hardcore also went through a lot of brutalities. They endured whippings, frequent beatings and sexual assault such as rape. Those who lived in the detention camps also experienced routine sexual assaults. Elkins observes that in most cases, the soldiers slept with daughters and their mothers on the same hut. It, therefore, means that this violence affected the victims physically and psychologically.
In conclusion, Elkins' book of Imperial reckoning clearly illustrates acts of violence that rocked Kenya during the colonial period. The author focuses much on the Mau Mau uprising. However, there are also other communities in Kenya where violence rocked in an attempt to struggle for independence. The topic of violence, therefore, covers many parts of Elkins' book. The Mau Mau uprising was, therefore, a story of intense, systematic violence characterized by high-level cover-ups by the British Authority. As a result of this violence, many African Kenyan leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta, Kungu Karumba, Achieng' Oneko, Bildad Khagia, Dedan Kimathi among others were arrested during the state of emergency and detained. Kenyans saw Kenyatta as the great defender of Kenyan citizens and African cultures. The British government accused him of leading the uprising. However, he played little part in the rebellion, but the colonial government imprisoned him for nine years. Kenya got its independence in 1963. Jomo Kenyatta becomes the first leader in 1964.
Carotenuto, Matthew, and Brett Shadle. "Introduction: Toward a History of Violence in Colonial Kenya." The International Journal of African Historical Studies 45, no. 1 (2012): 1-7.
Elkins, Caroline. "Looking beyond Mau Mau: Archiving Violence in the Era of Decolonization." The American Historical Review 120, no. 3 (2015): 852-868.
Elkins, Caroline. Imperial reckoning: The untold story of Britain's gulag in Kenya. Macmillan, 2005.
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