A human rights activist, leader, and prominent female diviner,  Ciokaraine M’Barungu, was born in 1909 in Gauki village, Igembe region in Meru. She and her siblings were orphaned early and, were, therefore, raised by their grandfather, Kiabira wa Mwichuria, a prominent mugo (medicine man). Among the grandchildren, Ciokaraine was his grandfathers favourite. She often followed him everywhere on his healing rounds, thus exposing her to many forms of illnesses and treatment methods, mostly involving mothers and their children, at a tender age.

At 15 years, Ciokaraine was given a new name, Kanyiri (meaning one who stands out from the rest), by her age mates after an initiation ceremony held at Gakuo playground. The choice of the name was because she had shown great leadership qualities while still young, and her age mates often involved her in mediating their conflicts as she was fair and just.

During the resistance to the colonial settlers in early 1954, a member of the Njuri Ncheke (council of elders of the Ameru), Kibuti, was dragged out of his home and killed by Mau Mau rebels during the Mau Mau Uprising. 

The colonial administration accused the residents of Gauki of maintaining food supply to the Mau Mau fighters and were forced to take action against them. They planned on moving them to Kiegoi to make sure that they could not support the rebels. 

The patriarchal Njuri Ncheke and senior chief of Igembe, M'Mruaa, ordered residents of Ithima and Akachiu to gather near the town of Maua and bring sacks and baskets with them. The incident happened after a public announcement from the colonial government that the people were to uproot their yams, bananas and all edible food from their farms. 

Ciokaraine stood up to him and fearlessly told the people not to do so. The Senior chief, displeased with her disobedience, summoned her before the Njuri Ncheke to explain herself. Her response left them tongue-tied! 

She fiercely responded that instead of destroying the crops and potentially causing famine, the colonial government and the elders must guard the crops and stop the Mau Mau from killing any more residents.

She was even ready to sacrifice her son if that meant the killings would stop. Such a passionate woman to her community!

Her bravery changed the colonial government’s action and the attitude of the elders, leading to the starting of “shamba-squatting” where the colonialists occupied all farms near the forests to prevent the Mau Mau from stealing the crops.

In April 1954, following a recommendation by senior chief M'Muraa, Ciokaraine was appointed to the position of assistant chief, a position she held until her retirement in 1959 after being involved in a car accident while on official duty. However, she remained active in her community even after this.

Additional Resources

Rebeka Njau, Gideon Mulaki (1984). Kenya Women Heroes and Their Mystical Power. Nairobi: East Africa Publishing Bureau.

"Ciokaraine: The Story of the Female Meru Diviner". Google Arts & Culture. Retrieved 2021-09-14.

Robertson, C. C. (1997). Gender and Trade Relations in Central Kenya in the Late Nineteenth Century. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 30(1), 23–47. https://doi.org/10.2307/221545