The elderly lady is reputed to have aided freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi’s guerillas to access Tanzania to escape the wrath of British forces.
Born on September 13, 1928, Loise Mpayiai, the first Maasai woman to go to school is now 91 years old and remembers every detail of her past life.
Mpayiai, who is only four years younger than the late former President Daniel arap Moi, walks around unaided without a walking stick — an indication she is physically strong despite her age.
There are only two Maasai women of her age, she can remember, who are still living — in Loitokitok and Tanzania.
She says that only one woman she knows, who was born in 1926, is still alive in her area.
Her history traces back to the emergency years in Kenya and reads like a James Hardly Chase novel. She is reputed to have aided freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi’s guerillas to access a safe route to Tanzania as they escaped the wrath of British forces during the emergency period.
“I gave them refuge at our Lol-Turesh home as they came through Loitokitok from Kiambu. Some were running away while others were going to buy weapons during the emergency war,” says Mpayiai.
At the time, she says, she had just been married when the British government declared a state of emergency in Kenya on October 20, 1952.
“That is the same day Jomo Kenyatta, president of the Kenya African Union Party, was arrested by British authorities. I can vividly remember, at the time, that I was actively involved in planning and even exchanging notes with Kimathi on how to counter the colonialists,” says Mpayiai.
She says there were no official roads from Nairobi to Loitokitok in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.
“Our people and Mau-Mau soldiers walked on footpaths from Kiambu to Loitokitok, which would even take two weeks on foot to arrive at the border of Kenya and Tanzania,” said Mpayiai.
Residents of Loitokitok, who wanted to travel to Nairobi, would walk to the Kamuanga area for 6 miles to get trucks that transported logs to Masimba, from where they took a train to Athi River.
Being the smartest of all the local girls, Mpayiai was picked to join the school at the Loitokitok DEB in January 1941.
“I was enrolled in Class A for the first year and later on moved to B and C before now joining Class 1 in the third year. I moved on to 2 and 3, which is today’s Class 6,” said Mpayiai.
Mpayiai could not proceed to Class 7 because the government of the day would not allow girls to go beyond that class.
Other than the British government requirement of not letting girls go beyond Class Six, there were no schools in Loitokitok that would offer Class 7 and 8 studies for pupils.
“Men who qualified to join Class 7 would travel to Narok, where there was a school for the entire Maasailand,” she says.
A white man approached Mpayiai soon after completing her Class Six.
The white man had got wind of her talent in sewing tablecloths.
He wanted to recruit her as a teacher for an embroidery institution in Narok, but she declined as she argued that rearing her father’s cows and goats were more important than seeking employment far away from home.
Two years later, after completing her studies in 1948, Mpayiai was married off to the son of a prominent chief in Loitokitok.
At the time, Mpayiai was the only educated girl and her father-in-law wanted to get the best for his equally educated son, the late Samuel Kulale Balosi (1920- 1998).
Balosi, her husband, also completed Class 6 and proceeded to Ngong, where he completed his Class 8 and later became a teacher in Tanzania.
While in Tanzania, Balosi’s students included Edward Moringe Sokoine, who later became Tanzania’s two-term Prime Minister during the late President Julius Nyerere’s tenure.
Sokoine served as Tanzania’s Prime Minister from February 13, 1977, to November 1980, and again from February 1983 to April 12, 1984.
Mpayiai was baptised in 1940 and became an active member of the African Inland Church until today.
“While I was serving as an active member of my church, there was this thing in my mind which I did not like — the British rule in Kenya. I was happy that I was serving the God the British introduced to us, but was not happy they were ruling us,” says Mpayiai.
Mau Mau Connection
This is the reason she went out of her way to join forces with freedom fighters like Kimathi in a bid to reclaim the country’s independence.
“My husband supported me as I was worked undercover to support freedom fighters. Because of my education, President Jomo Kenyatta would remember me during independence celebrations. I was the one taking a leading role in picking women and men who would travel to Nairobi to entertain the president during Madaraka and Jamhuri days,” says Mpayiai.
She supported and even took part in pre-independent politics as a member of the Kenya African Union and later Kenya African National Union, which was founded by the late president Kenyatta, Tom Mboya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and James Gichuru, among others.
But, as a strict disciplinarian and with a strong Christian lineage, Mpayiai never allowed her children to join politics.
“As a Christian, I would not allow my children to join politics because I have always associated politicians with lies, corruption and ungodly people. That is the last thing I can tell my child to do,” said the elderly woman.
This is the woman who received all the colonial district officers posted in Loitokitok, including their African counterparts after independence.
Like a shining star among the Loitokitok people at the time, administrators would seek her services during barazas in the rural areas in translating what the government through the district officers would want them to do.
She was also KANU’s point-person, and on many occasions, she wrote letters to party headquarters in Nairobi whenever there were issues of leadership in Loitokitok.
At her home in Kimana, Mpayiai now spends most of her time with her grandchildren and teaching them the word of God through bible reading.
Surprisingly, Mpayiai says she has all her teeth and does not use spectacles to read the bible in church or at home.
“I have loving grandchildren and great-grandchildren around me. They are my source of inspiration as they walk me around Kimana town when I am bored in the house,” says the octogenarian.
She said she has never fallen sick in her entire life, except for a fall recently that affected her knee.