For 70 years, Muthoni Wa Kirima has donned her dreadlocks with pride as a testimony to her participation in the struggle for Kenya’s independence against the colonialists. She spent seven years in the forest as a fighter on the frontline.
But on Saturday, the 92-year-old freedom fighter shaved her six-foot long dreadlocks in a ceremony that was witnessed by former first lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, who was her friend during their stay in the forest and jail term at Kamiti Prison.
Ms Muthoni played a key role in the struggle for Kenya’s independence and was the only female leader with the rank of Field Marshall during the liberation struggle since she actively participated in the fight. Other women were assigned spy roles or deliver food to the Mau Mau fighters.
During the shaving ceremony attended by other freedom fighters, Ms Muthoni said cutting her dreadlocks signified that her desires as a freedom fighter had been met by the government. But Ms Muthoni did not state which desires were met.
After a closed-door meeting at her home in Pembe Tatu estate, Kamakwa in Nyeri town, the former first lady performed the shaving ceremony.
Speaking during the event, Mama Ngina Kenyatta said she felt honoured to have been selected as the one to shave the freedom fighter’s hair.
She stated that keeping hair for such a long time signified a lot of perseverance that the freedom fighters underwent under the harsh colonial rule, thus it should be taken with the weight it deserves.
“Dreadlocks were the hairstyle that was associated with the Mau Mau while fighting in the forest as they barely had time to properly groom their hair, making it to lock,” she said.
The caretaker of the National Museums of Kenya, Mr Antony Maina, said that most of the freedom fighters cut off their hair immediately after coming out of the forest after Kenya attained independence.
“During that time, the act signified freedom which meant that by defeating the colonisers, they had finally achieved what they wanted,” he said.
Struggle for independence
Like most Mau Mau fighters, Ms Muthoni said she opted to keep her dreadlocks as proof of her role in the struggle for independence.
When Mama Ngina finished cutting the hair, she wrapped the dreadlocks with the Kenyan flag before placing them in a basket. She said it would be stored at a museum to signify its history.
The two urged leaders to educate the youth on the history of Kenya, saying the tribulations and struggles that they endured were being wished away by young people who lack in knowledge.
Ms Muthoni called for unity and peace among leaders and coexistence among Kenyans, saying she had already forgiven those she went to war with in 1952.
“As a united people, we will achieve more and succeed. I urge everyone to foster peace and unity for the sake of the nation,” she said.
The former first lady said the carelessness in words and actions that some of the youth and leaders have in the recent past engaged in were defeating the cause that gallant women and men undertook in the struggle for independence.
“We fought for our children’s sake and for the peace of the country and we shall not relent. We must keep on talking to them so that they can stop subscribing to the foul language they have been using which is shameful. We must not forget where we have come from as a country,” she said.
Bore the brunt of struggle
She further noted that though other communities participated in the struggle for independence, the people of Mt Kenya bore the brunt of the fight as many were killed, maimed and displaced. She pleaded with the youth to respect their forefathers who paid the price for the privileges they enjoy today.
She also called on the youth to shun the desire for freebies and handouts thrown their way with orders to insult other people, noting that the government had put aside funds to assist the youth in their ventures.
“The government is working effortlessly towards providing money to the youth so that they can venture into businesses to sustain themselves and so I want to urge them to shun the need for handouts. The little money should not make them insult and speak carelessly about other people,” Mama Ngina noted.