True believers or traitors?
Although she’s 75, Teresa Wangui vividly recalls the events of March 16, 1954. It was the day her mother, Fakunda Nyandia, was brutally killed by Mau Mau freedom fighters.
Wangui, a mother of two, was at their home in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County, when a group of unfamiliar visitors came in the evening and asked where her mother was. The visitors all had dreadlocks and were armed with machetes and guns.
“Just by looking at their eyes I could tell that they were here to kill,” she interjects.
When she told them her mother was at the farm, they asked Wangui to go and call Nyandia.
A short while later, she returned with her mother. Then rather unexpectedly, one of the visitors sent her to a certain home to fetch a rooster, which he said they intended to have for supper.
“Since Agikuyu customs stipulate that a young person must go when sent by an older person, I immediately set off for that home,” recalls Wangui.
Since the home she had been sent to was quite far from theirs, it took her quite a while to get back.
After she had left to fetch the rooster, the visitors, who were Mau Mau fighters, began torturing Nyandia, telling her to denounce Catholicism and take their oath.
The Standard Four drop-out says her mother was among the few people who had undergone catechism and been converted to Catholicism by Sr Irene Stefani, and when she was told to denounce her faith, she refused.
BURIED IN A LATRINE
Because she refused, the freedom fighters threw her into a pit latrine that was almost full, with the promise that they would be back the following morning to save her – just in case she changed her mind.
When Wangui came back, she found the home deserted, so she rushed to the farm to see whether her mother had gone back there, but she hadn’t. Wangui sensed something amiss and felt a cold chill down her spine.
“I went to the home of one of our neighbour’s which she used to frequent but she wasn’t there either. So I had to spend the night alone in our home before I could start looking for her again the following morning,” she says.
While she was away looking for her mother the next day, the same group of young armed men came back and headed straight to the pit latrine where they had thrown Nyandia.
According to the chairman of Gikondi Parish, Francis Ngura, they called out her name and she responded with a faint voice.
They asked her, “Have you changed your stand?”
“No!” she responded immediately and asked them to do their worst quickly since she wasn’t ready to give up her faith.
Enraged, the Mau Mau fighters demolished the toilet and buried her alive.
When Wangui came back home exhausted, she found their mud-walled toilet demolished and almost filled with soil.
As she stood shocked, one of the neighbours who had witnessed the whole scene came and told her what had happened.
“I could not even utter a word but just stood there, trying to understand what had happened to my mother,” she says.
Ngura says that at no time did Nyandia scream for help. Throughout her ordeal, she remained in the pit latrine reciting her rosary.
“She was a staunch Catholic, courageous and ready to face death. Even after being confronted with pangas and guns by the Mau Mau, she remained true to her faith,” notes Ngura, who was a member of a team that investigated and compiled a report on the 75 faithful the Nyeri Archdiocese now wants to be honoured as martyrs come next year.
The report, along with that of the successful beatification of Sr Irene, was taken to the Vatican on June 12 by Fr Peter Githinji, the postulator of the Nyeri Arch-diocese.
Today Wangui, who dropped out of school in Standard Four, lives with her husband, Thomas Maina in Gikondi, Mukurwe-ini, where they practise subsistence farming.
But Wangui’s story is not unique in the area. Just a few kilometres from her home in Karuthi Village, is Simon Waweru Mariano, whose parents were also murdered by the same group for refusing to denounce their faith.
Waweru, 75, recalls how his father, Mariano Wachira, was brutally killed with two of his colleagues.
Wachira, who was a catechist at the time, was lured by the Mau Mau using a fake letter supposedly from the area district commissioner.
The letter said Wachira and his two colleagues, Domenic Nyota, 46, and Joseph Gacheru,60, should report to the DC’s office in Othaya early in the morning on December 9, 1952.
Being a law abiding man, Waachira informed his colleagues that they were required to report to the DC’s office in Othaya town, a few kilometres away.
“When they reached the DC’s office on the fateful day, they were shocked to be told the DC had not summoned them, and that the letter was a fake,” recalls Waweru who spoke to DN2 at his home.
The father of two, who was then working at the government printer’s in Nairobi, says that it was on the three men’s journey back home that they were ambushed by a group of armed Mau Mau fighters along the banks of Gikira River, which separates Mukurwe-ini and Othaya.
They confronted Wachira first and asked him to renounce his Christian faith but he categorically refused.
He was hacked to pieces as his two colleagues watched in shock and disbelief before his body parts were put in a sack to which a huge boulder was attached and thrown into the river.
They set on him and hacked him as his colleagues watched in shock and disbelief, intending to frighten them, and probably force them, to take renounce their faith and take the Mau Mau oath, says Kagiri Githinji, a catechist at the Karuthi Catholic Parish, and one of the compilers of the report.
But even after watching their colleague die such a gruesome death, Nyota and Gacheru stood firm and refused to take the Mau Mau oath. As a result, they were given the same treatment, and their bodies ended up in River Gikira.
Githinji says the Mau Mau resorted to using the fake letter summoning the three to the DC’s office so that they could get a chance to either kill them all at once, or force them to join the freedom fighters.
The catechist notes that the freedom fighters had tried to kill the three separately in their homes but their plans had been thwarted, forcing them to adopt a strategy that would enable them to get Wachira, Nyota and Gacheru together.
“Wachira, the founder of Karuthi Catholic Church, was the most wanted since he had converted many local people to Catholicism, and the Mau Mau believed he was betraying them by giving the colonialists information on their whereabouts,” he offers.
News of the three men’s death spread like bush fire, forcing many from Karuthi Village to flee to neighbouring villages.
After several days, the police and priests, with the help of some local residents, retrieved the bodies of Nyota and Gacheru, but could not find Wachira’s.
“More surprising is that despite their having been killed and their bodies thrown into River Gikira, fresh blood was still oozing when they were retrieved,” notes Githinji.
The two were buried at the Gikondi Catholic Cemetery as the search for Wachira’s body continued. However, a space was left for his grave between this two colleagues’ graves – just in case his body was found.
According to Mr Githinji, the colonial government managed to arrest one of the Mau Mau fighters who had participated in killing the three and forced him to show them the point from which they had thrown Wachira’s body; it was eventually found and buried in the space reserved for it between his colleagues’ graves.
A year later, the same group returned for Wachira’s Wife, Natalina Wangui, 58, whom they lured from a home with the help of her friend, also called Wangui.
According to Waweru, his mother’s friend asked her to accompany her to a farm some distance away to help her till it.
Having no reason to suspect her friend, Natalina agreed. But it was while working on the farm that they were ambushed by young, armed men who told her to either take their oath, or face a painful death.
“My mother immediately reached for her rosary, which she always wore around her neck, and refused. Incensed, the Mau Mau began chopping off her fingers one by one as they tried to force her to renounce her faith.
“When she still refused, they beheaded her,” he says.
Wangui and and Waweru pray that when Pope Francis comes to Kenya in November, he will declare their parents martyrs.
“We have people who were similarly killed for their faith in Uganda and were later declared martyrs; why not these ones?” asks Waweru.
The four are among the 75 people whom the Nyeri Archdiocese want be declared martyrs.
According to Fr Githinji, the postulator of the Nyeri Arcdiocese, no miracle is needed to declare the 75 martyrs; all that is required is proof that they were killed because they refused to renounce their faith.
Initial reports indicated that 112 people were killed but after investigations, 35 cases were found not to be genuine, so the church dropped them.