Africa’s unsung heroes and heroines part 1

CIOKARAINE – THE BRAVE MERU WARRIOR

Ciokaraine M’Barungu was a prominent female diviner, leader and human rights activist.

She was born in 1909 in Gauki, Igembe location of Meru County. She and her siblings were orphans, raised by their grandfather Kiabira wa Mwichuria a famous medicine man.

Ciokaraine was her grandfather’s favorite grandchild and often followed him everywhere he went on his duties of treating people, most of whom were children. From a young age, she was exposed to many forms of illnesses and how they were treated.

At age 15, after an initiation ceremony held at Gakuo, Ciokaraine was nicknamed _Kanyiri_ by her agemates which is a name that means ‘one who stands out from the rest’.

This name was chosen to be given to Ciokaraine because she showed exceptional leadership qualities and her agemates often involved her in mediating their conflicts because she was fair and just.

During the resistance to colonial rule, the MauMau were accused of killing a man called Kibuti who was a member of the Meru Council of Elders, Njuri Ncheke. The Colonial government took advantage of the situation to relocate the people of Gauki to Kiegoi. The colonialists did this to prevent the people of Gauki from providing food to the MauMau soldiers.

When the senior chief himself, a member of the Njuri Ncheke seemed to be in agreement with the colonial government’s position Ciokaraine stood up to him and rallied the people against him during a public event.

She rallied her people along with the people of Ithima and Akachiu to gather near what is today known as Maua Town. They protested while carrying baskets and sacks in a bid to resist the colonial government’s instructions that everyone should uproot their yams, bananas and all food crops from their farms. Ciokaraine was fearless and had many followers.

When the Njuri Ncheke summoned her for a hearing to explain why she had defied the colonial government’s instructions and the orders from the male leaders of the community, her response stopped them dead in their tracks. She asked why people were being asked to uproot their crops knowing very well that that would cause famine. She told the Njuri Ncheke that it was their responsibility to guard the people and stop the killings.

Ciokaraine was unchangeable in her resolve, saying that she was even willing to sacrifice her own son if that’s what it would take. Her bravery changed the colonial government’s stance and the people were no longer forcefully relocated.

A few weeks after the meeting with the Njuri Ncheke elders, the senior chief recommended that Ciokaraine be appointed an assistant chief. She was appointed the assistant chief in April 1954 and served in the role until 1959 when she retired after being involved in a car accident while on official duty.

Ciokaraine remained active in her community and her legacy lives on.

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