Mau Mau

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Mau Mau

(mou` mou'), secret insurgent organization in KenyaKenya
, officially Republic of Kenya, republic (2009 pop. 38,610,097), 224,960 sq mi (582,646 sq km), E Africa. Kenya is bordered by Somalia on the east, the Indian Ocean on the southeast, Tanzania on the south, Lake Victoria (Victoria Nyanza) on the southwest, Uganda on the
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, comprising mainly Kikuyu tribespeople. They were bound by oath to force the expulsion of white settlers from Kenya. In 1952 the Mau Mau began reprisals against the Europeans, especially in the "white highlands," claimed as Kikuyu lands. The settlers retaliated and non-participant Kikuyu were killed by the Mau Mau. Jomo KenyattaKenyatta, Jomo
, 1893?–1978, African political leader, first president of Kenya (1964–78). A Kikuyu, he was one of the earliest and best-known African nationalist leaders.
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 and other nationalist leaders were imprisoned. By 1956, however, British troops had hunted down the Mau Mau in the mountain forests. Most leaders were captured and executed. Later the entire Kikuyu tribe was resettled within a guarded area. The state of emergency decreed (1952) in Kenya was ended in 1960 and Kenyatta was released; he subsequently became prime minister (1963) upon independence, and president (1964) when the country became a republic.


See study by D. Branch (2009).

Mau Mau

Kikuyu dissidents in Kenya revived an ancient secret society to support their demands for independence from the British. Tragically, black magic rituals soon became transformed into bloody rites.

In 1948, police officials in the British colony of Kenya began to receive reports of midnight assemblies in the jungle, where the participants mocked Christian rites through bestial rituals that included the eating of human flesh and the drinking of blood. These strange accounts were soon followed by stories of native people being dragged from their beds at night, beaten, and forced to swear oaths of initiation to a secret society called the Mau Mau.

Experts on tribal culture thought that the Mau Mau was an ancient Kikuyu secret society that had been reactivated. The Kikuyu tribe was the most populous and best educated in Kenya, but their culture also permitted secret societies to flourish, and many such groups had existed since long before the Europeans came to Africa. The Mau Mau leaders invoked the old secret society in order to stir up the Kikuyu to support their demands for independence and for the return of the Kikuyu land that the whites had taken over the years.

The reactivated secret society had moved from practicing black magic and the administration of blood oaths into the most violent barbarism. The first man to die at the hands of the Mau Mau was a Kikuyu chief who spoke out against them. A state of emergency was declared in Kenya as the midnight rituals and beatings escalated into the murder of Kikuyu policemen, whose bodies were found mutilated and bound with wire, floating in rivers. White farmers discovered their cattle disemboweled and the tendons in the animals’ legs severed so they could not walk. In October 1952 a lone white settler was killed and disemboweled. An elderly farmer was found dead in November; in January 1953 two men who worked a farm as partners were discovered murdered by the Mau Mau.

The Mau Mau weapon of choice was the panga, a broad-bladed machete commonly used to hack a path through thick jungle vegetation. The society appeared to favor bloody and brutal attacks as a means of striking fear into the hearts and minds of all who might oppose them, but their choice of enemies often seemed difficult to understand.

A vicious attack on January 24, 1953, claimed the Rucks, a family of English heritage who had always been regarded as dealing with their black employees in a fair-minded and charitable manner, even to the extent of supporting a clinic at their own expense. What seemed particularly insidious to the white population was that employees who had been loyal to them for decades were suddenly rising up and butchering them without warning. Such unprovoked and bestial butchery as that exhibited toward the Rucks had the white farmers watching their employees apprehensively and preparing for another brutal attack on their isolated homes.

The next violent raid occurred on March 26, 1953, against the police station at Naivasha. The attackers overran the station and hauled away guns and ammunition in a truck. Later that same night, the Mau Mau bound the circular huts in the villages of Lari with cables so the doors could not be opened, poured gasoline over the thatched roofs, and set the homes on fire. Most of the men of the village were away serving in the Kikuyu Guard, an anti–Mau Mau force, so most of the ninety bodies found in the charred remains were those of women and children. In addition, the Mau Mau had mutilated over a thousand of the villagers’ cattle as further punishment for opposing them.

The ranks of the Mau Mau increased when they began to force many unwilling individuals from other tribes into participating in their blood oaths. The oathing ceremonies began with the new members taking a vow to honor the old religion of their tribal ancestors. There were at least seven stages of oath-taking, which might take several days or weeks to complete and which included the drinking of blood, eating portions of human flesh, having sex with animals, and ingesting bits of brains from disinterred corpses. After the seventh stage of the oath-taking had been reached, the members had to repeat the cycle and reinforce their vows by beginning again. No man or woman was exempt from this requirement, not even the leaders of the society.

The Mau Mau reign of terror was broken by small bands of white settlers who joined the auxiliary police, army units, and Kikuyus, who taught the whites how to move silently through the thick underbrush. In May 1956 a party of Kikuyu tribal police captured Dedan Kimathi, the militant head of the Mau Mau. The British executed Kimathi in 1957 for having ordered atrocities and murders.

By the time the Mau Mau were disbanded, they had slaughtered over two thousand African tribespeople and maimed many thousands more. Killings of white settlers attributed to the Mau Mau range from a minimum of thirty-two to nearly a hundred.

The Kikuyu Central Association, the political party that fronted for the secret activities of the Mau Mau, was headed by Johnstone Kamau, better known as Jomo Kenyatta (1892–1978). Under his leadership, Kenya gained independence in 1963.

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