Living Memories is a depiction of British colonialism captured from the varied and often disturbing experiences of 13 Kenyans. Many of the stories provide a poignant and dramatic indictment of the cruelty that the British colonialists inflicted on their subjects through such atrocities as beatings, rape, infanticide, dispossession of land, mass murder, incarcerations. In the face of these atrocities, Al Kags provides a different perspective on the eight-year Mau Mau revolt – the indigenous uprising that paved the way for the eventual granting of independence to Kenya.
The first narration is that of Sifa Zaida Ahmadi. At the age of 12 she is rescued by a Missionary from being married to a native doctor. Several times she becomes the victim of sexual exploitation by Indians and white men.
At about the age of 30, her unsavory life takes an upward turn when she meets Tom Mboya, and is sent to England to get educated. After many years in England, she returns to Kenya a widow and a retired roving professor.
Udi Waithaka was born around 1930. The property and daughter of Udi Waithaka’s peasant father are expropriated. With victory in sight, the Mau Mau seek some locals to be sent to mission schools to be trained to run the country after the struggle. Thus it is that Udi Waithaka is sent to the USA for training and he ends up as an administrator.
Abdulrazak M. Maulid is a half-caste. In 1949 he goes to live with his uncle in Nairobi. Because he is half-caste, he has to live in an African reserve. In Nairobi he becomes a victim of racial discrimination and taunting. Over time, Abdulrazak becomes inured to racial discrimination but, unfortunately, develops a sort of racial prejudice that makes him tolerate injustice by a black person more than he does the same injustice from a white person. Finally he comes to learn that to have racial integration one has to keep one’s prejudices to one’s self and encourage inter-racial marriages as he has done for his children and grandchildren.
One day in 1933, Muiwa Ole Ntutu returns to his home, which is located within a shamba, a white settler’s plantation, expropriated from his grandfather. he finds that all the white people and servants on the farm have been massacred by Masai warriors. His father is arrested by the colonial police on suspicion and tortured to near-death. From then onwards, he becomes a conspirator for the Mau Mau.
Fourteen years later he is stopped by two colonial administration police men. They demand to see his identity papers and then question him for an hour seeking names of Mau Mau conspirators. In the process a lady comes hurrying past and is stopped, briefly questioned and shot on the spot for breaking the curfew. He gets infuriated and lunges at them. But he is overpowered, severely beaten and left to die.
As Muiwa lies there dying slowly, he resolves not to go to school again but to kill the colonialists. After the torture he is taken to Ziwani to his late uncle’s family. His aunt is raped and beaten for haboring a ‘gangster’. When he feels better he decides to relocate but his aunt declines to follow him and remains behind. She has a hidden agenda: revenge. She and two colleagues entice a few home guards to her home with the promise of having some drink and a good time. But she laces the drinks with poison and kills everyone.
Kipserem Arap Kimoi’s father has three wives and 39 children and they live in Baringo. Soon after his death, Maasai Morans raid their home, steal their cattle and abduct his sisters. This prompts his elder brother, Cheserem, to take them to live with him in Nanyuki where he works for the Cotts in their kitchen. One cold evening, a group of Mau Mau warriors descend upon them and kill the whole Cotts family and his elder brother, Cheserem.
The next morning they are arrested by the colonial authorities and taken away for questioning and torturing. His 16-year old sister is raped and she dies the same night. He and his younger brother, Kibet are arraigned in court, found guilty and imprisoned.
Forty-eight years later, he is again terrified and disappointed to relive the situation of terror when a group of young people go on the rampage killing and maiming their fellow Kenyans.
Ahmadi Mwiko Kizembe comes from a background where the children often move about naked.
Ahmadi gets the opportunity to go abroad but hesitates until he has married his childhood girl-friend, Espete. After the wedding he goes to the USA for further studies. After four years he returns to Kenya and works as a Literacy Officer with the Ministry of Education. But he regrets that the plan for adult education that they worked with, and whose objectives should have been all achieved by 1974 has been abandoned, and Kenya is pursuing a different adult education village program or Ngumbaro.
Said Ongwen Olaga’s father goes to Kisumu on a fact-finding mission. In Kisumu he enters into an argument and eventually a fight with a white man and his friends. Said’s father is beaten to death. His two sons intervene but they are shot to death.
Said has to fend for himself and goes to Kisumu where he obtains employment as a kitchen boy for a mzungu called Wilkins. When Wilkins is killed by a lion he becomes homeless but finds employment at Treetops Hotel, again as a Kitchen boy. In February 1952 the hotel staff receives an important guest, and when Said has to serve the important guest game meat, he spits into the bowl of food as revenge! Some months later, he learns that the white lady has been crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
Okumu Kodhek’s narration is about tribal bias. Tom Mboya is assassinated by a Gikuyu but a Gikuyu expresses support for the assassin. This prompts his boss, Raj Singh, to leave Kenya, bequeathing his company to Okumu. Race issues marred and scarred Okumu’s generation but resurged in 2008.
Mwanaisha Hamisi climbs the educational ladder thanks to her father’s liberality, the exertions of her sharp brains, and her obstinacy and refusal to curtail higher education because of marriage.
These are just some of the stories told by the subjects interviewed. Reading this book, one can hear the mournful cries of domestic animals and screams of children and women as they ran higgledy-piggledy in an attempt to escape from the torturous white man and his local collaborators. One can see the sky turn both yellow and red, and plumes of smoke rise heavenward, as the crops and huts go up in flames; smell burning matter and choke in its smoke; hear gun shots aimed at fellow human beings as though they were game; hear the moans and grunts of the rapist drowning the woeful pleas of the raped; and hear the staunch resistance of the Mau Mau rolling down the mountains and roaring through the jungle to stay the hand of the oppressor in the villages and towns. And finally, one can hear the triumphant cry of a people that refuse to be crushed, and who eventually are able to win their freedom.
This book was first published in July 2009 as a Storymoja imprint by No Boundaries Ltd., Nairobi, Kenya. Its ISBN is 978-9966-001-03-0.