BY: MARY BETH KOETH
Among the most fertile land in Kenya lives a 92-year old man named Japhlet Thambu, whose tea farmhouse doors face towards the sacred Mount Kenya. Among these hills he is known as “The General” and from 1952 to 1960 he helped lead an uprising against British Colonial rule that came to be known as the Mau Mau Rebellion.
Mau Mau was a derogatory term used by the British to discredit the Kenya Land And Freedom Army, but in response the KLFA adopted this acronym, replacing its meaning with the words “Mzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru”. This translates into English as “Let the foreigner go back abroad, let the African regain independence”.
The British interest in Kenya lay primarily with land, described as some of the richest soils in the world due to elevation and climate. Kenyan opposition to British Colonialism was present upon landing, but the Mau Mau rebellion helped revitalize the strong back of African Nationalism. Though the British won the conflict through their superior weaponry, the Nationalist stubbornness that was born from the rebellion rendered official plans for British political development irrelevant. After the mid-1950s British policy increasingly accepted African nationalism and forced British leadership into collaboration with Kenyan Officials. It has been argued that the conflict helped set the stage for Kenyan independence in December 1963.
Mary Beth Koeth documented the General’s home and tea farm in Meru, Kenya and found her experience did not conform to the portrayal of Africa she had seen in Western media. In her photos the landscape is lush, wet, and colorful; the people are vibrant, intelligent, and passionate. This photo series adds a true human layer in the international dialogue surrounding Africa and unflinchingly challenges the still prevalent notions of Western cultural imperialism that weave through media to this day.