Sites of the Emergency
Historians estimate that there were more than 100 detention camps, works camps and emergency villages set up and operated by the British Colonial Government during the State of Emergency from 1952 – 1960. The British Colonial Government used this network of camps – referred to as the ‘pipeline’ – to detain and torture hundreds of thousands of Kenyans with the aim of extracting confessions of allegiance to the Mau Mau independence movement.
From the coastal towns of Lamu to the northern areas of Lodwar the presence of these centers could be found all over the country. Yet 55 years after independence, knowledge and memory of these camps has been almost entirely wiped out of national memory in both Kenya and the UK. Comprehensive and easily accessible information in the public domain is also hard to find. See the relevant wikipedia page of British Detention Centres During the Mau Mau Emergency if you don’t believe us! Over 50 sites listed, with nothing much written about any of them.
To locate, access and retrieve information on these sites therefore requires extensive and laborious research. As a result, the vast majority of people do not know where they were, what they looked like or – for some generations – that they even ever existed. We believe the absence of easily accessible information on these camps has led to a troubling erasure of history, the repercussions of which are felt keenly in both the UK and Kenya.
As a team, we have already undertaken significant preliminary research to unearth details of these sites. This page provides resources on each site visited to date, with background information, field work videos and – where applicable – digital reconstructions.
In the longer term, we aim to develop an application that layers the images, audio, video and 3D reconstructions on as digital map so interested individuals anywhere can gain access to this information.
We call this work restorative history.
AGUTHI WORKS CAMP
Aguthi Works Camp, once a Mau Mau detention centre, is now the location of Kangubiri High School, its confinement cells, torture rooms, and officers’ quarters having been repurposed into school storage rooms. Works camps were erected throughout the the early 1950s to ‘sift’ the population for all who had pledged allegiance to the Mau Mau. As the name implies, works camps were dedicated to labour. But many, Aguthi included, were also renowned for intense overcrowding and brutal physical treatment.
Our team visited the former site of Aguthi, now Kangubiri, in November 2018 and many times since. Below you can see a field work video from our first trip, as well as the beginnings of some digital reconstructions that will form a core part of our work.
Digital Reconstruction of Aguthi Watchtower, Trench and Entrance: Press play to explore
Digital Reconstruction of Solitary Cells at Aguthi Works Camp: Press play to explore
Aguthi Field Work Diary: Press play to watch
MWERU WORKS CAMP
Mweru High School, much like Aguthi Works Camp, was once a Mau Mau camp but was converted into a high school after the conflict; the confinement cells, torture rooms, and officers’ quarters were repurposed for storage and dormitories. Still surviving at the site is a brick kiln, where detainees were forced to make bricks used to build the camp structures. These bricks are still visible in the school’s buildings, stamped with ‘MWC’.
Our team visited the former site of Mweru, now Mweru High School, in November 2018 and many times since. Below you can see a field work video from our first trip, as well as the beginnings of some digital reconstructions that will form a core part of our work.
Digital Reconstruction of Solidarity Torture Chamber at Mweru: Press play to explore
Digital Reconstruction of Mass Cells At Mweru Works Camp: Press play to Explore
Mweru Works Camp Field Diary: Press Play to WatcH
Chinga Dam was constructed in the 1950s for a British colonial officer who wanted a lake on which to sail and fish. Suspected Mau Mau prisoners from Othaya Works Camp were forced to build the dam, destroying land belonging to local farmers who received no compensation.
Today however, the lake has become a resource for the local community, where they can fish and rent out boats to tourists.
DEDAN KIMATHI MEMORIAL, NYERI
On 21st October 1956, in the forests of Tetu, Nyeri, Dedan Kimathi was shot and captured. Four months later, on 18th February 1957, Kimathi was executed and buried in an unmarked grave.
Today, a memorial stands at the site where Kimathi was shot; the location of his burial still unknown, this memorial is considered by some to be his grave. For many Mau Mau veterans, family members, local communities and political figures, Kimathi’s memorial site has become an important area to pay respects to the struggle fought for land and freedom.
Follow the Museum of British Colonialism YouTube channel for further videos.
Filming done by Hellen Masido, Kenya. See Hellen’s website for more details.