A Gikuyu nationalist song from Kenya, from the days of the Independence struggle. Karari Njama describes how these songs were sung in the forest:

After dinner, the whole camp rejoiced in songs of praise to the country and warriors’ leaders, songs of prayers, propagating the Movement, degrading and warning the Africans who helped the Government. The whole forest echoed in the dead night’s silence. It was a great entertain­ment which cast away all worries and increased courage.

from Mau Mau Within (1966), p. 178

A number of the songs were published in what became known as the Kikuyu Hymnbook. The central image of the poem, is from the New Testament account of Christ’s Transfiguration (Matthew 17, v.1-8). As with the hymns of Isaiah Shembe, the songs of Kenyan nationalism use Biblical images to express the struggle for liberation.

When our Kimathi ascended (1)
Into the mountain alone,
He asked for strength and courage
To defeat the white man.

He said that we should tread
The paths that he had trodden,
That we should follow his steps
And drink from his cup.

‘If you drink from the cup of courage,
The cup I have drunk from myself,
It is a cup of pain and sorrow,
A cup of tears and death!’

We are tormented because we are black,
We are not of the white community,
We do not share their blessings
But our own God is before us.

Do not fear to be exiled
Or detained in the camps,
Or to lose your belongings, or life,
For still our God is before us.

Even though our hearts are troubled,
Jomo will never desert us –
Just as he was never abandoned,
O God, at Kapenguria by Thee.

You must display his perseverance
In the face of trouble or death,
Knowing that you belong
To the Kingdom of Gikuyu and Mumbi. (2)

from Mau Mau Within (1966),
by Donald L. Barnett
Granada Publishing Ltd. & Monthly Review Press


Footnotes

  1. Dedan Kimathi, one of the principal Mau Mau generals, was killed by the British in 1956.
  2. Gikuyu and Mumbi are the ancestors of the Gikuyu people.