All Things Kenyan

The Mau Mau – Kenya’s Freedom Fighters

Mau Mau (rhymes with cow) is a term used to describe the Kenyans who fought against British rule in the 1950s for land and political freedom.  No one really knows where the term Mau Mau came from.  It was possibly used by the British to describe dissenters before the Mau Mau become a true movement.  One thing I remember being told was that Mau Mau had no real meaning but essentially meant “Those people over there.”

The Mau Mau movement began in 1946 and was a rebellion of landless peasants and low paid laborers.  Did you know that a Kenyan laborer was paid approximately one fifth of what a British laborer made?

The movement was largely made up of Kikuyu tribe members.  The Mau Mau was a secret society and a fighting force.  One of their goals was to kill Europeans and the African collaborators.  They were able to get supplies from a few sources:  through popular support of the people, forcing people to contribute even though they didn’t support the cause, and theft.  The rebellion officially got underway in 1952 with a force numbering around 30,000 Kenyans.  Although, they didn’t have much in the way of weapons and little financial support it took four years for the British to put down the rebellion.

The British declared a state of emergency that lasted until 1960. Kenyans were gathered up into ‘protected villages’ surrounded barbed wire and booby trapped trenches.  They were not allowed to leave during the hours of darkness.  If they were caught out after curfew a Kenyan would run the risk of being shot.  The British employed 20,000 Kikuyu tribesmen as ‘home guards’ to help squash the Mau Mau rebellion.

A month after the Mau Mau rebellion began, Jomo Kenyatta along with close to 200 other Kenyans went on trial for being involved with the Mau Mau.  The case against Kenyatta was extremely weak.  Nevertheless, Kenyatta was sent to prison for seven years and was later released under house arrest in Lodwar – a very hot, dry, desert-like area of Kenya.

The Mau Mau hid in the forests of the Great Rift Valley where the British evidently had a hard time flushing them out. The rebellion was finally crushed in 1956.  It took 21,000 paramilitary police, thousands of armed loyalists (British supporting Kenyans), and a full division of British troops supported by the Royal Air Force with jets and bombers to accomplish Mau Mau defeat.

Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta
For more information concerning the Mau Mau rebellion read Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta


2 thoughts on “The Mau Mau – Kenya’s Freedom Fighters

  1. Jeanne Post author

    Previous Comments From Old ATK Site:

    Muruatetu said: There is a mass grave in nyeri i know, of the maumau yet to be established by the government . The gov’t should rehabilitate the place as a rememberance

    mugambi julius said: we salute the old gone generation becouse they did great to our nation KENYA.

    Anonymous said: to say that the mau mau was ‘finally crushed’ in i956 is an outright lie, perhaps you have never heard of Field Marshals: Mwarima and Baimunge. these are the leaders who took over the kenya land and freedom army leadership after the capture of Field Marshal Kimathi in October 1956.the fact is that the British , despite all their military power and their lust for blood to massacre all Kenyans failed miserably to crush kenyan nationalism, if they really won as they ignorantly claim to have done, why then did they leave kenya? they truth is that the British almost won the battle when they captured kimathi but miserably lost the war in the end. thank you for the informative article.

    kate said: the mau mau are the reason why we are free today. i also used this post for my summative it was awesome

    ikua said: a just resistance, a vocation for patriotism.

    master said: mau mau was kikuyu embu and meru tribs, other tribs was homeguard

    liz said: this are wat we call men who stand for their country

    love said: that was so brave what they do

    joni said: this is a very good peice of nformation but if you could try and describe how was people attitude towards the mau mau

    Anonymous said: The Mau mau were never officially defeated. However, the Mau Mau being defeated was what the colonialist wanted the people to believe.

    All Things Kenyan (mod) said: I’m glad you found the article helpful for your project!

    amanda said: i needed this for a history project…n it’s awesome….

  2. kawy

    uma in kikuyu means ‘get out’ when attacked by british they used to tell each other uma uma uma uma get out get out get out the british could not get word properly n could say mau mau mau….thats where the name mau mau originated……