Field-Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima, born in 1931 in Nairutia, Kenya, was a trailblazing figure in the history of Kenya’s struggle for independence. Her legacy as the only woman to attain the Mau Mau rank of field-marshal is a testament to her extraordinary courage and dedication to the cause.

Early Life

Muthoni Kirima, initially known as Muthoni Whihuini, grew up in Karing’u after her family relocated in search of a better life. This journey was no easy feat for the young Muthoni, involving a 15-kilometer trek, part of which she traversed on a donkey without a saddle. Her introduction to Christianity as a child left a lasting impact, fostering her deep devotion to the church.

Unfortunately, her early years were marred by witnessing racial violence inflicted upon her fellow Kikuyu people by Kenyan settlers. These experiences ignited her resolve to fight for independence. In 1948, she met her husband, Mutungi Gichuhi, while working on a settler’s farm, and they later started a life together in Nyeri town.

In the Mau Mau Uprising

Muthoni Kirima’s journey into the Mau Mau uprising began in 1952 when she took the Mau Mau oath. Balancing her revolutionary activities with family responsibilities was a challenging task. Initially, she used her role as a trader to gather crucial information about the Mau Mau in the forest and organized oaths for others. However, this put her at odds with her husband, who hadn’t taken the oath.

In 1953, Mutungi Gichuhi decided to join the Mau Mau, leading to a separation of 11 years. This decision also marked a turning point for Muthoni, who, after a brutal beating by colonial authorities, chose to become a forest fighter. She embarked on a journey to find the Mau Mau fighters, eventually becoming a combatant herself.

Muthoni initially served as a non-combatant, cooking and caring for the soldiers while procuring ammunition and grenades from the market. However, her exceptional shooting skills and quick thinking soon earned her respect among her comrades. She broke gender norms by leading her own platoons and swiftly rose through the ranks, becoming one of the female leaders of the movement.

Her promotions weren’t solely based on combat achievements; Muthoni’s contributions included sourcing food during shortages and providing medical care to the injured. These efforts led to her ultimate achievement of the rank of field marshal.

Trading in Ivory

In 1966, Field Marshal Muthoni obtained a license to trade in ivory, recovering tusks buried around Mount Kenya by the Mau Maus during the uprising. They had hunted elephants for both food and ivory. However, her permission to collect and sell “wild” ivory came to an end in 1976 when the trade in ivory was banned.

Later Life

After the Mau Mau uprising ended in 1956, Muthoni and other fighters faced challenges reintegrating into society. They were often viewed as radicals and faced detention and beatings. Despite their pivotal role in securing Kenya’s independence, they received few benefits from the new government and struggled to make ends meet.

Muthoni’s determination led her to approach the Mayor of Nairobi for assistance, resulting in her finding a place to live in Nyeri. She continues to reside there to this day, occasionally receiving visitors interested in hearing her remarkable story.

In 1990, she served as a nominated councilor in Nyeri County Council, and her contributions were recognized when President Daniel arap Moi awarded her a medal for distinguished service in 1998. In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta awarded her the Head of State Commendation.

Muthoni wa Kirima’s unwavering commitment to Kenya’s independence is a testament to her resilience and bravery. Her legacy lives on as an inspiration to future generations.


Field-Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima passed away on September 5, 2023, at the age of 92, while receiving treatment at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. Her contributions to Kenya’s fight for freedom will forever be remembered, and her impact on the nation’s history is immeasurable.