Muthoni Wa Nyanjiru

Featured Issue

Only years after establishing the Kenya colony, the British colonial government started clamping down on political dissent. Among those targeted were trade unionists who were already demanding fair treatment of Africans.

Harry Thuku was one of the freedom proponents, and when news of his arrest, alongside George Mugekenyi and Waiganjo wa Ndotono reached the Africans in Nairobi, many headed for the Kingsway Police Station (present-day Central Police Station) where they were being held to protest.

In the front row was Mary Muthoni wa Nyanjiru. Prof Maina wa Kinyatti, writing in Agikuyu: 1890 to 1965 quotes the heroine taunting the men: “What type of men are you? Your cowardice knows no bounds! How can you just stand there doing nothing when our leaders are locked up here? Surrender your trousers to us and we will give you our skirts!”

This subversion of gender roles intimates that women had long challenged patriarchy that dominated traditional society.

Muthoni’s challenge to menfolk changed the course of Kenya’s history, for as soon as she threw her taunt, the crowd charged towards the gates until the police bayonets were touching the throats of the protesters.

Nyanjiru was among the first to die in a day of senseless colonial brutality that left some 250 people dead. White settlers at the nearby Norfolk Hotel reportedly joined in the massacre.

Today, the Harry Thuku Road stands as monument to that day of pain, but the person most vividly remembered is Nyanjiru’s selfless act of courage, and her sacrifice for her country.