The land issue was a key factor in the Mau Mau struggle, as appropriately captured in many of the Mau Mau songs, some of which were in Kikuyu and others a combination of both Kikuyu and Kimeru languages.
One of the songs stated as follows:
“Wiyathi na Ithaka,
Wiyathi bururi wa Kirinyaga, Bururi wa gikeno,
Uri utuamba na mititu,
Kenya ni bururi wa Andu Airu.
“We demand freedom and land,
Freedom in the land of Mt. Kenya,
Land of happiness,
Endowed with fertile valleys and forests,
Kenya is the Black Man’s Land.”
Before the introduction of colonial rule, Meru land extended to the North – Western slopes of Mt. Kenya to include Timau, Nanyuki and parts of Naro Moru, all the way to Naro Moru River, at a place known as “Kieni gia M’Nyaange” in the present day Kieni East in Nyeri County.
M’Nyaange was a prominent Meru livestock keeper in the area and that is how this particular place was named “M’Nyaange’s Field” in his honour. This expansive grazing area was known as Buuri, where Meru people used to graze their livestock freely before the white man’s arrival.
Another prominent Meru livestock keeper of the time, known as Baicigiria, controlled huge chunks of land in the Timau area where a swampy lake was named after him, “Iriaa ria Baicigiria”.
With the introduction of the British colonial administration, this land was forcefully alienated eastwards all the way to River Rugusu (Maranya East) beyond Subuigaa.
According to the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1915, it was stated that: “All land previously occupied by native people becomes the property of the Crown, and the Africans or natives living thereon become tenants at the will of the Crown.”
In view of the forceful acquisition of their traditional land in Naro Moru, Nanyuki and Timau grazing areas, the Meru people had a legitimate reason for fighting to regain their lost land.
The Ameru have always been very conscious about their land and ready to defend it against any interference with it by anybody. In the Meru District Annual Reports of 1939-40, this is described as Meru’s “land consciousness” and “keep off our land” attitude.
By the end of 1939, thirty (30) Kikuyus had been served with notices to leave Meru district. On 18th January 1940, twenty four (24) of them were convicted of failure to comply with the Provincial Commissioner’s order.
They were each fined shs. 10/= and, in default, serve 14 days hard labour. On February 6th 1940, twenty-two (22) of their huts were destroyed and the remaining two on April 6th the same year.
However, the anti-Kikuyu attitude gradually changed and the Meru became friendlier in the late 1940s allowing more of them to work and settle in Meru.
Kenyatta’s visit to Meru in August 1948 played a significant part in this process following his meeting with Meru leaders at Kibirichia.
With increased Kikuyu presence influenced further by the ex-soldiers political radicalism, the Meru people’s focus shifted to the growing anticolonial rule movement leading to the declaration of the State of Emergency in 1952.
Adapted from Kaburu Ndubai
Meru Daily News is your one-stop trusted source for the latest News updates from Meru County, Tharaka Nithi and the larger Mt. Kenya region. Follow our Social Media Pages for real-time News Bytes.