Mau Mau and the Kikuyu

First published in 1952 at the precipice of the Mau Mau uprising, Mau Mau and the
Kikuyu is a short book by Louis Leakey, a Kenyan-born British paleoanthropologist. Intended for
a British audience, Leakey’s primary motive for penning the book stems from his desire to
inform British readers about important Kikuyu customs (given his experience growing up among
the Kikuyu and studying their traditions) and also to argue for how the introduction of British
colonialism upended these longstanding social customs, ultimately resulting in grievances that
brought about the Mau Mau uprising. In the first chapter, Leakey writes, “if we are to understand
the underlying causes which made it possible for the movement to come into being and to reach
the proportions which it has reached, we must know something of the history and customs of the
Kikuyu” (1). Throughout the book, Leakey explains how the social grievances underlining the
Mau Mau uprising stemmed from the breakdown of Kikuyu customs (such as those pertaining to
the Kikuyu system of clan-based authority and marriage) resulting from British colonization and
land dispossession. In contrast to A Grain of Wheat, which focuses on ties of Mau Mau to a
broader Kenyan identity, Mau Mau and the Kikuyu specifically focuses on the breakdown of
Kikuyu customs and identity as a result of colonization and as an impetus for Mau Mau.
However, the two sources are similar in that they identify the breakdown of local customs and
traditions stemming from European “modernization” and land dispossession as core grievances
stimulating the Mau Mau movement.

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