Muthoni wa Kirima was born in Central Province in 1931.
Being born in the colonial era meant Muthoni, as a young girl, saw the injustices committed against native Africans by the colonialists. Having never had a formal education, to date Muthoni speaks neither English nor good Kiswahili because when others were in school, she was in the forest fighting.
At the age of about 20 years, she became a spy for the Mau Mau fighters who had camped in the forest in 1952. She had barely stayed with her husband, General Mutungi, for a year when they joined the Mau Mau freedom struggle in the early 1960s and went their different ways into the forests of Mt Kenya.
Gen Mutungi died in 1965 — two years after the end of the freedom struggle — taking with him to the grave the only hope of Muthoni settling down again to start a family.
She never had children of her own, she says Kirinyaga (Kenya) is her only child.
For Muthoni, spying and bringing food was not enough, she wanted to fight. She wanted to be right where the action was.
Muthoni convinced Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi to allow her into the forest as a fighter and proved a gallant soldier. Fighting next to Dedan Kimathi and proving she was a valuable soldier, Muthoni was promoted to Field Marshal and became the only woman to have ever reached that status.
She became the most senior woman within the Mau Mau ranks.
The liberation movement had only four Field Marshals – Dedan Kimathi, Baimungi Marete, Muthoni Wa Kirima and Musa Mwariama. Rising to such a position was not a joke.
In the forest, Muthoni led the hunt for elephants, walked hundreds of kilometres to pick up weapons from Ethiopia without being caught and only came out of the forest after independence. Field Marshal Muthoni was trapping wildlife to cook.
Coming out of the forest after a decade of rebellion, she was poorer than when she joined the rebellion. She was in despair and after trying her hand in business she approached Mzee Kenyatta and convinced him to grant her a license to trade in ivory, saying she used to kill elephants for food and hide the ivory, and knew where they had buried tusks.
But unlike the Arabs, she was unable to export the trophies. She sold them to the Museums of Kenya for about Sh.22 per kilogram. Her permission to collect and sell “wild” ivory ended in 1976 when trade in ivory was banned.
Today, Field Marshal Muthoni has kept her dreadlocks to remind her that she is still fighting for a better life for herself and the children of fellow fallen freedom heroes who knew no home except the brutal, dense forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.
Muthoni still has a bullet lodged in her hand, after independence, had to go for a medical operation to save her right eye from the effects of another one that had glazed the protective bone around it during the war. There is a demand for a statue to be erected in the honor of the only female Field Marshal.