The Journal of African History

Research Article



a1 University of Cambridge


This article illuminates the creative intellectual and social projects in which Mau Mau detainees were engaged. It draws on the private papers of Gakaara wa Wanjau, a Gikuyu writer who during his eight years of detention composed several plays, wrote ethnography and poetry, and carried on an extensive correspondence with his family. Gakaara and other detainees were doing more than defending a Mau Mau ideology. They were opening up new ways of doing Gikuyu culture, holding wives and children accountable, and representing themselves to a British public that could, they hoped, be brought round to their side.

Key Words:

  • Kenya;
  • intellectual;
  • family;
  • prison


* References to archives are abbreviated as follows: KNA: Kenya National Archives, Nairobi; GW: Gakaara wa Wanjau papers, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut; RH: Rhodes House Library, Oxford; Bristol: Imperial and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol; PRO: Public Records Office, Kew (now the National Archive); PCEA: Presbyterian Church of East Africa archives, Nairobi; ACK: Anglican Church of Kenya archives, Nairobi; EUL: Edinburgh University Library; CBMS: Conference of British Missionary Societies archive, School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Research for this article was conducted with the assistance of the British Academy and the Smuts Fund at the University of Cambridge. Gakaara wa Wanjau's papers were seen at Yale University Library courtesy of Dorothy Woodson and Ann Biersteker. Joseph Kariuki translated much of Gakaara's Gikuyu-language correspondence.