On December 12, 1963 President Jomo Kenyatta sent a car to pick up a Mau Mau fighter from the forest to take part in a ceremony where freedom fighters would lay down their weapons.
She refused, not convinced the war was over, and demanded instead to first see the Kenyan flag.
President Kenyatta had a lot of convincing to do before the woman agreed to lead other fighters in the ceremony marking Kenya’s full independence at Nyeri’s Ruringu Stadium in December 1963.
Today, Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima, previously known for her air of authority and rebellious streak, lives with her grandchildren at her home in a Nyeri suburb.
Last year, President Mwai Kibaki invited her to State House Nairobi. They had earlier met in May 2009 during the burial of Mishek Wachiuri, the Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi’s son, in Nyeri.
“I arrived shortly after seven in the morning and I was denied entry and told to get an appointment letter. I left after five in the evening,” she told the Nation by telephone.
Being asked to write a letter was too insulting for the senior most women within the Mau Mau ranks.
“I know neither English nor good Kiswahili because when others were in school, I was in the forest fighting,” she said in February during the 54th anniversary of the execution of Dedan Kimathi in Nyeri.
Field Marshal Muthoni was one of the very few women to become active fighters in the liberation movement. Most other women only worked as carriers of information or supplies, as she also did at the start.
The liberation movement had only four Field Marshals — Kimathi, Baimungi Marete, Muthoni and Musa Mwariama — and rising to such a position was no easy task.
The only surviving Field Marshal is one of a kind. Muthoni wa Kirima showed great courage even as a young girl when she killed a rhinoceros to save her father’s goats.
Later she followed her husband into Nyandarua Forest to join the Mau Mau freedom fighters. Dedan Kimathi named her Weaver Bird because of her ability to weave brilliant strategies in the struggle for Kenya’s independence.
Although her parents worked on a European farm, after her marriage, she moved to a village “reserve” for Africans in Nyeri before joining the Mau Mau as a married woman.
She led the hunt for elephants, walked hundreds of kilometres among other fighters to pick up weapons from Ethiopia and was among the fighters who were never caught, only came out of the forest after independence.
“Field Marshal Muthoni was trapping wildlife to cook. She went to fight alongside famous warriors of the forest like Dedan Kimathi Waciuri,” the book Mau Mau Women notes about her.
Even when death stared at the fighters, she found a humorous and satirical way to keep their spirits high.
Another book, Field Marshal Muthoni Kirima — Warrior Woman quotes her speaking about her first bombing experience:
“We saw the bottom of the bomber open and then something drop. Some of us said: ‘Well, so they (whites) also go to the toilet.’”
After independence, Field Marshal Muthoni convinced Mzee Kenyatta to get her a licence to trade in ivory, saying she used to kill elephants for food and hide the ivory, and knew where they had buried tusks.
Her permission to collect and sell “wild” ivory ended in 1976 when trade in ivory was banned.
She then moved to transporting farm produce to sell in Nairobi before the Moi government helped her set up a security firm in Nyeri that she runs up to today.
She says she did not attract much attention after independence since she got clean and adopted modern clothes, unlike a number of Mau Mau fighters who continued wearing dreadlocks and animal skin clothes.
Today, Field Marshal Muthoni is still concerned about land being sold to foreigners instead of being rented out on short leases to such outsiders.
Alternatively, she says, the government should use the land itself to address lack of jobs for the youth, and settle IDPs and the landless freedom fighters.
But she also has praise for what has been happening, including the free primary school education, recognition of the heroes and the removal of the Mau Mau from the terrorist list.
“As the only female Field Marshal, we are demanding that a statue be elected in her honour when she is alive. It’s wrong for the county to only keep honouring the dead,” activist Benedict Wachira says.