Kariithi, P. M.
Kaburu Bila Msalaba
A Grave without a Cross
Illustrated by Terri Hirst. Nairobi, Kenya: Phoenix Publishers, 1990. 128 p. ISBN 9966-47-251-7. Ages 12 and up.
Publisher: Phoenix Publishers Ltd.
This historical novel provides a background to the resistance against British rule in Kenya. Racial discrimination by the colonial administration was the main cause of the uprising. During World War II, Kenyans did not experience any kind of discrimination while fighting in Burma and Sri Lanka, where many died on the battlefield. All soldiers fought, ate, and slept together regardless of race or colour. However, after demobilization in 1948, Kenyan soldiers were extremely surprised to be segregated upon returning home. While their European colleagues who served in Burma were allocated large farms in Kenya, with grants from London for development, they were not only denied jobs but also free movement within the country to look for employment. Hence, they organised themselves into a group called Mau Mau and recruited followers to fight for Kenya’s independence.
The novel describes the experiences of the freedom fighters, especially how the chief assists the colonial administration and mistreats his fellow Kikuyus. The story focuses on Mumbi, who was arrested and detained by the chief on several occasions for denying that she had taken the Mau Mau oath. She later dies on the way to the hospital after being trapped, raped, and impregnated by the chief. Similarly, her boyfriend, Maina Maciira, who administered the Mau Mau oath to Mumbi and several others, dies in action.
Based on a true story about the activities of the Mau Mau recruits (the names used in the story are fictitious) prior to Kenya’s independence, this is one of the few books on Kenya’s history recommended by the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) for children in Standard 7 (twelve years). The title indicates that although all the Mau Mau activists who died in action were buried, their graves cannot be identified individually. The novel will interest readers who wish to learn about the course of the Mau Mau uprising, the cruelty to which Mau Mau prisoners were subjected, and the general atmosphere during the struggle for independence. The novel also brings out the evils of racial discrimination and how it destroyed the relationships amongst a peaceful people.