The remains of legendary freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi may have been secretly cremated by colonial authorities, according to new documents detailing his trial.
While it is now clear that the Mau Mau leader was executed at Kamiti Prison in Nairobi, the execution order signed by Kenya’s Governor at the time, Sir Evelyn Baring, gave the hangman two options on how to dispose of Kimathi’s body.
“Now, therefore, I Evelyn Baring Knight Grand Cross … Governor of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya … do hereby order the said Dedan Kimathi, son of Wachiuri, shall be hanged by the neck till he is dead,” the warrant reads.
“I do hereby direct that the execution shall take place at such time as you shall appoint within 21 days of the receipt by you of this my warrant, and that the body of the said Dedan Kimathi, son of Wachiuri, shall be buried or cremated at such place as you shall appoint,” the execution order added.
So the big question remains: Was Kimathi buried or cremated?
Although the discovery of the trial proceedings has offered a glimmer of hope to the freedom fighter’s family that it may now be easier to trace his remains, the fact that the execution order gave an option of cremating the body throws a huge spanner into the works.
Various witness accounts and historians say that Kimathi was interred within Kamiti Prison and that he was buried with handcuffs on his hands.
Whilst 11 spots in the correctional facility have been identified as possible grave sites where Kimathi’s body could have been buried, none has produced any results.
It is also argued that Kimathi could have been buried in a mass grave together with other Mau Mau warriors who were also executed.
More than 1,000 Mau Mau fighters were executed by the British government during the independence struggle.
His burial could also have been a guarded secret as the colonial government did not want to make him a kind of a hero among the locals.
The British government has declined to divulge what exactly happened to his body once he was executed 59 years ago.
On Sunday, Mr Abdulqadir Nasser from the Mau Mau Research Centre in Nairobi told the Sunday Nation several witnesses and research give the possible burial as Kamiti.
He was, however, guarded in discussing a possible cremation, saying the British government should reveal what happened to Kimathi’s remains.
“Only the British government and probably the Kenyan government can sort out this issue definitely. We demand that the British government does its duty and the Kenya government helps it people bring closure to this issue,” said Mr Nasser.
“We are not going to engage in any conjecture right now because the British government knows where he is buried,” the researcher added.
He also said the head of the research centre, Professor Maina Kinyatti, was working on a book on the life and times of the Mau Mau struggle, which he would launch next year during the 60th anniversary of Kimathi’s death.
Mr Nasser said the book could answer some of the questions including how and where Kimathi was possibly buried.
“He is the only one who can actually give the information that he has and I would not want to preempt that research,” Mr Nasser told this writer over the phone.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, while handing over the Kimathi trial file to the freedom fighter’s family on Thursday last week, said the Government of Kenya and that of the United Kingdom should cooperate and reveal his grave so that he can be given a befitting burial.
“They (British) kept very articulate records and they must have records indicating where Kimathi was buried,” said Dr Mutunga.
“One year is enough for them to trace his remains so that he can be given a decent send-off,” said the CJ.
The documents, which have now been made public detailing the trial of Dedan Kimathi, were retrieved from the Senate House Library of the University of London in the United Kingdom.
The file had been handed to the library as a donation from the private collection of Kimathi’s defence lawyer Ralph Millner, who is now deceased.
The trial file revealed a man who was under great pain during the court proceedings as he had been shot and badly injured during his arrest on Sunday, October 21, 1956.
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After his execution, a medical officer identified as a Mr K.E. Robertson was also at hand to confirm that he was clinically dead and even filed a report to that effect.
“I hereby certify that I was present at the execution of Dedan Kimathi son of Wachiuri at about 6 am this morning and, after execution, I examined the body of the deceased man and found life to be extinct. Death was caused by hanging and was instantaneous,” said Mr Robertson.
The freedom fighter’s widow, Mrs Mukami Kimathi, said she is losing her eyesight and there was urgent need to excavate the various points where the hero is suspected to have been interred 59 years ago.
“I was very happy when I heard the file was found, now I ask the government to help trace his remains so that we give him a befitting burial.”
“President Uhuru (Kenyatta), Chief Justice (Willy) Mutunga and the entire government, help us trace his remains, he deserves a heroic burial,” she added.
Simon Maina, a son of the freedom hero, said: “We thank the government for having us see this file but the government should make efforts and trace his remains.”
“We believe the government can find the remains the same way they found his file," he said, adding that the family was still living in poverty despite his father having lost his life for the sake of the country.
Kimathi’s last-born daughter, Ms Evelyn Wanjugu, also asked the government to help retrieve his father’s remains.