Mau Mau from Below

Mau Mau from Below

Mau Mau from Below

Mau Mau from Below


This is the oral evidence of the Kikuyu villagers with whom Greet Kershaw lived as an aid worker during the Mau Mau "Emergency" in the 1950s, and which is now totally irrecoverable in any form save in her own field notes.


John Lonsdale

Past conflict between social movements and ruling powers has always attracted historians, and not just because it makes for a good story. It creates an abundance of evidence, often about the sort of ordinary people on whom the past is normally silent; it stimulates questions about the nature of social order as much as disorder; and its supposed lessons may often inform -- or foreclose -- the decisions of today.

Whatever its outcome, whether legal suppression, political reform, crushed rebellion or successful revolution, conflict generates competing -- always partial, often mendacious -- arguments at the time and thus enticingly controversial evidence for scholars to pick over thereafter. Because, too, it obliges the leaders of different social groups to define their constituencies more explicitly in order to defend their interests at a moment of danger, conflict also poses sharper questions about the more silent changes in social relations and the continuities of moral assumptions within which ruling authorities and their subordinates conduct and contain their political differences or social inequalities under more 'normal' conditions. Finally, the heroic or cursed memory of conflict constantly changes its meaning in the minds of later generations as people ask new questions of the past, looking for inspiration or warning in their own changing times.

For all these three reasons -- its copious and contradictory evidence, its violent disclosure of colonial society's racial, ethnic and class hierarchies in the past and its contested memory in modern Kenya -- there is a large and growing literature on the Mau Mau rising of the early 1950s, when tens of thousands of Kikuyu people felt impelled, for reasons which remain hotly disputed, to organize and bind together their loyalties in order to undertake possible civil disobedience and even political murder.

Under growing pressure from a government which only began to fathom the angry depths of African grievance in 1952, Mau Mau activists . . .

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