When the First World War ended in 1918, many Ameru fighters, who had been on the frontlines returned home empowered by new freedoms — exposure to foreign ideas and experiences — which they brought back with them when the Second World War broke out just a few decades later.
There was therefore a notable connection between the Ameru’s participation in the first and second world wars, and their involvement later in the Mau Mau movement.
The Miriti age-group which participated in the First World War (1914-1918) got radicalized as a result of their exposure to foreign experience and new ideas, which they brought back home after the war.
They were regarded as local celebrities and heroes whose bravery was often highlighted in songs during social functions and public ceremonies.
Their sons, the Mbaya (Mbae/Kibaya) age-group, fought in the Second World War (1939-1945), during which they served in different foreign countries including Ethiopia, Egypt, India and Burma as part of the British forces.
They interacted with other soldiers and people from different cultural backgrounds. They also had the opportunity to observe both the strengths and weaknesses of the white man in the battle field and concluded that he was not in any way superior to the black man, but an ordinary human being just like them.
This observation simply debunked the white man’s superiority myth previously created in the black man’s mind, by way of intimidation and oppressive practices. This was captured in a traditional song by warriors addressing Kiama Elders stating that “Kiama, Uchunku ti Ngai; Turakuamiira na ndirica ya nthi, meaning: “Elders, we have scrutinized through the underground window and confirmed that the white man is not a God”
The white ex-soldiers were paid generous pensions and assisted to acquire large farms in the White Highlands. African ex-soldiers, on the other hand, were given nothing, except the military uniform and a few other small worthless items that they were allowed to keep as souvenirs.
A few of them ended up working as laborers on the farms owned by the white ex-soldiers, their former colleagues during the war. The Ameru ex-soldiers found employment mainly in the European farms located in Timau, Nanyuki, Laikipia, Naivasha and Nakuru.
The ex-soldiers’ frustrations, together with the increasing political agitation, served as a catalyst and fertile ground for more radicalism and open defiance to the colonial rule, which was expressed in different ways.
One of those ways was the “Kamanda Dance” in the Meru region. “Kamanda” mainly performed by young men and women, was a hybrid of European and African styles. The wording combined Kimeru, Kikuyu, Kiswahili and English expressions.
It was through Kamanda dance that Mau Mau coded messages were effectively conveyed to the supporters of the movement during social occasions like public devices.
The brains behind the radical Kamanda Dance were the ex-soldiers, who also became some of the top leaders of the Mau Mau fighters in the forest. According to one theory, the word “Kamanda” is the Kimeru corruption of the English phrase “to command” meaning to give orders.
One who gives orders in the military formations is the “Commander”, hence the Kimeru version “Kamanda” or the one who is in control of others.
Adapted from Kaburu Ndūbai
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