Episode 4

Radical Journalist

This is a story of two Kenyan journalists. Well, before they were journalists, they were boys. So really, this is the story of two boys. This is the story of two sons who, when we look at how they lived their lives so differently from their parents, we wonder, where did this even come from? These were two sons who loved their parents dearly—but did not follow in their path at all. 

The first boy was entranced by the magic of printed words—that one person could write something, and those same words could be repeated to—"read"—by tens of thousands of other people, in different places, in different times. But it was only through a new and foreign religion that one could access the power of the written word. And this was something that his parents did not trust. To learn the magic of printed words, the first boy had to join this religion, take on a new name, leave home.

This first boy was called Muoria. When Muoria was born, they prophesied that he would become a "mundu mayo," or a seer, a wise man. Muoria was born in 1914, in Kabete, just a few miles out of Nairobi.

His parents owned land, and his father worked with electrical installations for wazungu in Nairobi, returning home only on weekends. So Muoria was not among the poorest of those around him—but he was far from rich either. He spent his childhood herding his father's sheep and goats.

But this Muoria, his mind often wandered far. He often daydreamed. He had many questions. His mind was full of restless ideas. He always wondered why things are the way they are—and what it would be like if they were different. He thought farther into the future than those around him.

Anyways, when Muoria daydreamed, he often forgot about his sheep and goats and, when the animals would inevitably wander into neighbors' farms, they would get angry at him. He was not a good herder. Maybe he was a seer after all.

Muoria had a friend who was attending school. Back then, this idea of "school" was new. The only schools in Kenya were missionary schools, run by Christians. And these schools—this is where the written word came from. Kikuyus called these Christians "athomi," or readers. At that time, few Africans could read. They didn't need to read.

But when Muoria's friend was walking back from school, he'd pass by Muoria and his sheep and sometimes the two of them would sit on the grass. Muoria would pore over his friends' schoolbooks. (Again, forgetting the sheep and goats. Again, angry neighbors.) Muoria was fascinated. These tiny black symbols on the page carried the exact meaning that the author intended. You could print the same thing over and over and it was as if the author's voice was multiplied again and again.

He asked his mother if he too could learn to read. She said no. She and his father did not trust these new missionaries, and besides, the sheep needed to be herded.

But, when Muoria was twelve years old and his younger brother was old enough to watch the sheep, Muoria finally learned to read. He started evening classes at Kirangani, one of the missionary schools. He learned to read and write in Gikuyu first, then in English.

This was a time of great change. Muoria's age-set was called ndege, because it was around this time that the first aeroplane was seen flying over Central. When he was thirteen, Muoria was circumcised into the ndege age-set. But, Muoria chose not to participate in the full ritual, which included celebrations where the young men would be taught important elements of Kikuyu culture and where their parents would get to show them off and be proud. At that time, the Christians felt that Kikuyu customs were backwards. Muoria didn't participate.

When Muoria's father found out that his son was only going to quietly go through circumcision, he was furious. To him, this was cowardly. Unmanly. If you wanted to be a man, there were certain things you must go through. Everyone does them. What had he done to deserve a son who embarrassed him like this? Dishonored him in front of the whole community?

Anyways, Muoria soon realized that his parents would not support him to go to school, especially if he was going to be learning from these athomi to forsake important cultural customs. He moved into Nairobi to work as a manual laborer. But that didn't last long. One day, his Indian boss slapped him for making a small mistake. Muoria was humiliated and could not tolerate this kind of indignity. So he returned to his upcountry school and supported himself by selling vegetables on weekends at the Nairobi market.

Muoria soon took on the name Henry, after the dynasty of powerful English kings all with the same name. When he was sixteen, he was baptised. Henry Muoria Mwaniki.

Muoria loved his parents dearly. He respected his father. It wasn't that he disrespected Kikuyu culture. It was more that...he didn't believe that change was necessarily always a bad thing. So much was changing in Kenya. So many new things: written language, railroads, aeroplanes, electricity, wazungu. But Muoria believed—and this is important—Muoria believed that change brings opportunity.

Change brings opportunity. We'll talk about this more later.

When money ran out for schooling, Muoria went back to Nairobi to look for work. He eventually found a job working for the railroad as a railway guard.

This railroad took him to all different parts of the country. He got to see more of Kenya than he had ever before—and he did not like what he saw. He saw colonialism at work. He saw other Africans being treated poorly like he was when he worked for that Indian in Nairobi.

But, for Henry Muoria, the job offered one perfect opportunity. Sitting in the back of the train, he could read. And read. And read. And read. Muoria read Shakespeare and other English writers. But he also read the work of Jomo Kenyatta—and it was then that he realized that an African could write just as well as any mzungu.

So Muoria decided it was time for him to write something himself. Change brings opportunity. How does one take advantage of these opportunities? When the train had stopped in one of the hottest, hottest parts of the railway—in Magadi—Muoria wrote a 100-page pamphlet in Gikuyu, called "What should we do, our people?"

This pamphlet was perhaps one of the first self-help books in Kenya. It explained the virtues of progress, knowledge, and hard work. For example, in one section, he says that a lot of people pray to God for success and wealth, but then they just sit and wait for Him to deliver it to them. No, they should pray instead for God to give them the strength to work, so they can create that wealth with their own hands. The pamphlet also argued that Christianity did not necessarily compete with Kikuyu traditions, and that it could offer Africans important values.

The pamphlets were published and sold in missionary bookstores in Nairobi. Muoria made a bit of money from this. But what energized him more... was seeing his own work—his own writing—on the shelf in the bookstore.

The little shepherd boy had finally grasped the magic of the printed word. Those restless ideas of his, he could now put them onto ink and paper… and then hundreds, maybe thousands of people could read his thoughts, in exactly the same way he had thought them.

The magic of the printed word. Once he tasted it, he could not turn back.

Muoria made a bit of money selling these pamphlets. He used it to start a Kikuyu newspaper. It was called Mumenyeri, which means “The Guardian.” It would become one of the largest circulating, most popular, longest lasting vernacular newspapers at the time.

Yes, vernacular newspapers. And there were many. People often forget this part of the fight for independence. It wasn’t just guns and bombs. Before Mau Mau fighters started fighting from the forest, there was another very, very important war that needed to be won first.

The war for the hearts and minds of Africans. On one side, the British who controlled the colonial government. They wanted the Africans to be ok with the status quo, not stir the pot. On the other side were Africans who wanted to tell their own stories.

There was one issue of Mumenyeri printed this big headline at the top. It was a headline Muoria himself wrote, as editor. This is what that headline said: “The present battle is the brain battle.”

This was the sound of an information war. Yes, an information war. What is an information war? An information war is when battles are fought not over territory or resources but minds. Like Muoria said in that headline, an information war is a “brain battle.”

Maybe this sounds familiar. With social media today, we see information wars all the time. Whether it’s about COVID or election results, people put out information, misinformation, and disinformation to try to win over minds.

But this particular information war that Muoria was part of broke out in 1945, after the end of WWII. A time before there were even copy machines.

At a time in Kenya when official information was almost completely controlled by colonizers, some Africans were able to start up their own newspapers.

Think about it, this period of time, so much was changing, so fast. There were so many new ideas, discussions, debates that needed to happen between Africans. Like, can Christianity coexist with old cultural traditions? Were there customs, like those about marriage or FGM or land ownership or food, that needed to be reconsidered? Or maybe they should be preserved? Or left behind? What should Africans do about racial discrimination? About the theft of their land?

Not all of the papers had views that we would consider progressive today. For example, one editorial argued that Luos should stop bathing naked in public because it would embarrass the tribe. Others argued that Kenya didn’t need to become an independent country, only that maybe we needed a few more Africans to be in the colonial government.

But the important thing was that these vernacular papers created a lively, diverse space where these ideas could be spread, read, and discussed.

These vernacular papers would be printed and distributed. Often, they would be read out loud by those who could read to those who couldn’t. Parents would buy papers and then make their children, who had learned to read in school, read it out loud to them.

The vernacular papers created a space: like one big public square. A space where these discussions could happen. Africans speaking to one another, in their own languages.

This was the golden age of the vernacular paper. Kenya would never again have a diverse, grassroots-level journalism ecosystem like this again.

Between 1945 and 1952, there were over 40 newspapers owned by Africans. It may not sound like a lot now, but remember, at that time, the population of all of Kenya was about the same as the population of just Nairobi today.

It was the power of the printed word—now in the hands of Africans—which allowed ideas to spread. And spread. And spread.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote in his book Decolonizing the Mind, “Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control.”

And as these ideas spread through these vernacular papers, the British knew that they were losing mental control over the African population. They needed to stop this.

The British collected some of these vernacular newspapers. They translated them and sent clips back to London, asking, “What do we do about this?”

The colonizers thought, “Ok, maybe these Africans are just hungry for content, so let’s just feed them these safe, non-political, fluffy stories.”

So they created and sponsored newspapers in Swahili and English which were very moderate, not radical at all. They even gave them out for free. But Muoria knew that African news consumers were smarter than that: “Africans are wide awake. And will not buy papers which have no interesting news. People are not goats. They cannot buy a worthless thing.” Even if Africans were poor, they would find a way to pay for good content. Important content.

Mumenyeri was a paper with a lot of information about Kikuyu culture, like where you could get traditional food in Nairobi, and it was filled with Kikuyu sayings. It would even advertise certain places where people could take “chai”—code for oathing ceremonies.

In this way, even though Muoria embraced Christianity, he did not forsake his Kikuyu heritage. He just felt that we shouldn’t try to replicate history. Instead, we can use history however way we want, to inform how we live in the present.

And so that’s what he did. He used the wisdom, the values, some of the customs from traditional Kikuyu culture. Wrote about it. Published it in a way to help Africans in his time—in this fast-changing time—to help them understand their own power. Their cultural power. And their political power.

But it was nearly impossible to make lots of money by selling newspapers. Muoria subsidized the price of Mumenyeri with money he made while farming on the side. He was the first African to own his own printing press.

But, he was the exception. Most papers were printed by Indian printers. This is the part of the story where Asian-Kenyans came in. Because this golden age of vernacular papers—it would not have happened without Asians.

[April] Ah. Asians. So where do Asians come in?

[Stoneface] So it’s like this. Imagine you’re a guy in Mathare. You want to upload a music video, or maybe write out a message and post on social media. But you yourself don’t have a computer. So of course you go see your boy at the cyber. Maybe you pay, or maybe he does you a favor and let’s you off this time. Then you use his computer to do your thing, maybe post the video or put out some music, to the internet.

[April] Ok I see. So the Asians were like the cyber. They owned the printing press, where they did commercial printing jobs, but they would also let African publishers use them to print their own newspapers.

[Stoneface] Yeah. But it was hard to make any money selling newspapers, so sometimes the Africans would default on their payments, and the Indians would be like, “I’ll only help you ‘this one time,’ bro.” So this entire “world” of publishing was often just people going from one printer to the other, back and forth from printer to publisher, from editor to journalist, just people going round and round.

[April] Ah, I see. So it was quite….fluid? Quite collaborative.

Yes, a lot of collaboration and mixing. Plus, at that time, Indians were coming back and forth from India to Kenya a lot. They were bringing equipment, but they were also bringing “master printers,” who had a lot of expertise on the technology side of printing.

[April] It also seems kind of like...no one really owns anything? Like it wasn’t like today, where you have these few major media houses owned by nani or nani. You have lots of papers where it wasn’t even clear who “owned” it or who was working on it. The printers weren’t the same people as the editors. 

For example, there was a time that Mumenyeri was printed by a company owned by Oginga Odinga and Ramogi Achieng Oneko. They also printed Mwathia (Kikamba), Mulinavosi (Kimaragoli), Radioposta (Kiswahili), Mwalimu (Khamisi’s paper), and Uhuru wa Afrika (Ngei’s paper). Odinga and Oneko made no profit from these, but saw it as their “contribution to the cause of African independence”. But the flatbed printer that they were using was sold to them by the Daily Chronicle, the paper that Pinto wrote for.

[Stoneface] Yes, and that is exactly why it was difficult for the British to clamp down. Journalists, editors, printers—African and Asian—they would move around constantly. This made it hard to pin down. Plus, they’d write in so many different languages: English, Swahili, Gujarati, Kikuyu, Konkani, Kikamba, Dholuo, Kimeru, Maragoli, etc etc…

[April] Were all of these papers, like, radical?

Definitely not. For example, the Indian-owned papers were quite divided on the issue of race. Some supported racial segregation. As tensions were rising and change was in the air, this was a time when the Indian community was having to decide where they would stand on the issue of African nationalism. Most, especially those in the leadership at the Indian Congress, were very conservative. They did not want drastic change, and they certainly did not support independence. But other young, militant Indian-Kenyans stood in solidarity with—and we should talk more about this word “solidarity” later in the episode—Others stood in solidarity with Africans.

One of these papers was called the Colonial Times. It claimed to be “Africa’s largest selling Indian weekly,” with a circulation of 10,000 papers per week. It was started in 1933 by an Indian-Kenyan called Vidyarthi. (Later, Pinto would also write for them.) The Colonial Times was written in Gujarati and English. And it was very radical.

In fact, it was so radical that the British wrote that Indian papers like the Colonial Times were “egging on” Africans to participate in dangerous activities like Mau Mau. The British called these papers “irresponsible publications.”

In 1947, the government arrested Vidyarthi and convicted him of sedition. The Colonial Times was handed over to his brother, but his brother was much more moderate, more conservative, and the whole spirit of the paper changed. So Pinto partnered with Harun and others to start their own paper, called the Daily Chronicle.

Pinto resigned his job at the East African Indian National Congress to become editor of the Daily Chronicle.

But even while he was working at the East African Indian National Congress, Pinto was already actively involved in helping other African newspapers.

It’s important to understand that not all African-owned papers were the same.  Besides bigger papers like the Colonial Times or Mumenyeri, there were many, many small newspapers that were for the everyday man, the poorest and for the landless ahoi that we mentioned in the last episode. Most of these papers were in Kikuyu.

These were much more radical. They incited people to action. They even invited people to violence. They encouraged people to join Mau Mau. Many of these weren’t even written by educated people. Some were written by  fundis. They also weren’t always necessarily true, definitely not fact-checked.

At the time, Pinto was at East African Indian National Congress office which had a cyclostyle (old duplicating machine). He’d type up these small radical papers and copied them on the hand-turned cyclostyle.

The British would target these small broadsheets, the radical ones, and ban them. But then two weeks later, you’d see the same paper but under a different name. Copied copied copied. Banned. Pop up. Copied copied copied. Banned again. Pop up. Then copied copied copied.

You remember, in Episode 2, when we talked about the gruesome murders carried out by the Mau Mau? Especially when white settlers were the victims. Well, the British realized that it wouldn’t be enough to keep playing this cat-and-mouse game with all the small papers. Ban, pop up. Ban, pop up. The British realized that they were losing the information war.

The British knew the power of media. Pinto also tried to start his own printing press, one that didn’t have to make money but was dedicated to amplifying the voice of Africans who could not afford to print their own papers. We have a document where one of Pinto’s applications for a printing license was rejected by the government, saying it was clear that he was going to use it for subversive purposes.

In 1952, When the State of Emergency was declared, the government decided it could not control these papers anymore. They banned all the newspapers. Only a couple exceptions. The golden age of the vernacular paper in Kenya was over. It would never be the same again.

Right before the state of emergency, Muoria had just happened to have travelled to London. At this time, they were really targeting journalists, editors, publishers. Fighters of the information war. Muoria knew that if he were to remain in Kenya, he would most certainly be imprisoned, detained, and quite possibly killed. He would end up living almost his entire life living in exile, returning to Kenya only once before he died.

Pinto, however, was still in Nairobi, when he was helping Mau Mau, advocating for land reform, printing all of these illegal papers. And, of course, we know that Pinto was arrested, jailed, and taken to Manda Island.

In the beginning of this episode, we said we would talk about two journalists, who started out as two boys. We spoke about Muoria. But now it’s time to talk about the other one. That was, of course, Pio Gama Pinto.

If you go to Manda Island today, you’ll see giant wave-breakers by the water. These huge, huge boulders of coral that have been moved to the edge of the water. They were all carried by hand by Mau Mau detainees.

In those four years at Manda, Pio suffered. Once you reached the detention centre, you did not know if you would leave on your feet or inside a coffin. Or maybe you would never leave. Maybe you would be buried in a pit in the sand, a shallow grave—which is what the guards often threatened to do.

When Pio first arrived at Manda, he saw that the conditions at the camp were so inhumane that, he staged a hunger strike. Refused to eat—in protest. One day, two days, three days. Nothing happened. Four days. Five days. The authorities didn’t even seem to notice. Six days. Seven days. Eight days. Nine days, still without food. It was only on the ninth day that Pio realized the authorities didn’t care if even he starved himself to death. Nothing was going to change.

Pio’s family would send him some small money for cigarettes, but he would always give it all away. The “special rations” he received because he was an Asian—he gave away, whenever he had the chance. Even the letters that his wife wrote to him; he shared those too. He shared everything.

Ramogi Achieng Oneko was a good friend of Pio. Oneko was one of the Kapenguria Six who was detained with Pio in Manda. Oneko says that he chose to be “Treasurer” for Pio’s cigarette money, in order to stop Pio from quickly giving away everything he received. He was only half-joking: Pio really did give away everything he had. That was just who he was.

On the day that Pio was released from Manda, he surprised everyone by walking out barefoot. Kumbe he had already given his shoes away to someone who was released earlier. Pio tried on Oneko’s shoes but decided against taking them, saying “You see, Ramogi, no one will notice my bare feet, whereas you would shock so many if you were released today without shoes!” That was just Pio.

While at Manda, Pio was given an office job working for the Officer in Charge, since, as a journalist, he had secretarial and clerical skills. At first, other detainees thought that Pio would use this privilege to cooperate with the authorities and get an early release. Many other detainees had done just that. But not Pio. Even when the Special Security teams interrogated him to confess, using forms of psychological torture… even when they offered him an early release or a one-way ticket to India… he did not bend. He did not forsake his comrades.

While Pio was in detention at Manda Island, his father fell ill in Nairobi. Pio begged the authorities for the chance to go and see him. After all, his father had worked loyally for the colonial government for thirty years. But the authorities refused. Pio’s father died in Nairobi in 1957.

When Pio received the news, he sobbed and cried. Oneko said it was the only time he ever saw Pio completely break down.

[April] Stoneface, there’s one word I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. A word which you mentioned earlier in this episode. Solidarity.

[Stoneface] Solidarity… Yes I’d mentioned that there were certain Asians like Pinto who were “in solidarity” with Africans when Africans were oppressed. So let’s break down what this word means.

[April] So in this word solidarity, you have the word solid. If you have many individuals, we are weaker when we’re separate. But when we come together to form a solid community—to solidify—then we are hard to break.

[Stoneface] But I think what’s more important is that it’s not about being in a group where everyone is the same, and everyone has the same interests. It’s about standing with someone else when they are hurting, even if you are not. You stand with them in solidarity simply because they are your brother or sister—not because it helps you personally. For example, me I am an able-bodied person. I do not have physical disabilities. But we have brothers and sisters who do. To be in solidarity with them means to back them up, stand alongside themstand with them. So when they have something to say, their message is louder because many, many are standing with them, as one single solid unit.

[April] I think if there’s one word that gets to the heart of Pio and what he believed, it is solidarity.

What’s in it for him? He’s an educated, privileged Indian. At a time when it was so difficult for anyone to go to school. What good did it do him to spend all those nights late at the office copying these small kikuyu papers? It didn’t do him any good. But he could see that his brothers and sisters were not free. So he felt that he was not free.

[Stoneface] Until everyone is free, no one is free. That is solidarity.

But, that’s the thing. Where did this come from? Why was he like this even? This is something that his wife had a lot of time to wonder about. When he was at Manda. Because they had just gotten married a few months before he was detained. Emma. Let’s give her a bit of an intro first.

The year was 1953. September. Jacaranda season in Nairobi. It was Emma’s first time in Kenya. She had flown over from India to visit her twin sister Joyce, who had just married a Goan man working in the Kenyan civil service.

Emma was beautiful, with strong, straight brows and a gentle smile. She had a good head on her shoulders. She was whip-smart, and stood her ground. You know the story—a beautiful, intelligent, single woman arriving in Kenya? Of course Goan families had to start making “inquiries.”

Pio’s father was eager for the two to meet. He was getting worried about Pio’s political activities and thought that marriage would “settle” him. So Pio’s brother Rosario contacted the husband of Emma’s sister Joyce—and the two arranged to meet.

At the time, Pio was 26 years old. He was cut like an athlete (she said “he liked to keep his muscles”), and he was indeed an accomplished runner, at one point chosen to represent Kenya at the Commonwealth Games. But Emma found him...unlike other Goan men. He was sharp; at the time, he was a journalist, writing about social change for a radical newspaper. He was driven. Hardworking. Humble. And he was invariably kind, so generous, with an easy laugh.

Emma had been told by whispering Goans that Pio was “politically active” and a “communist”—all meant to be bad things. Even while they were courting, he made it clear where his heart and mind truly lay: to help the Kenyan people. “Pio was honest in a funny way,” Emma said. “He told me he did not make much to support me and I should therefore start thinking about getting a job myself!” It was clear to her that he “was not a marrying-kind.” Later, she would often wonder what made him decide to marry after all, when it was so clear that his first love was his “cause.”

Still, despite these very honest “terms and conditions,” Emma was dazzled by Pio. And besides, she felt that, if they married, perhaps she might “bring him back to the church.” The two agreed to marry.

And that was that. They were engaged in October, and within the three months that Emma had on her visitors visa, she was married. They honeymooned in Jinja.

Once they returned to Nairobi, Emma realized that Pio would remain true to his word. Their life was not comfortable. They stayed in a 1-room bedsitter at Fitz de Souza’s house (Fitz’s parents stayed in the main house). The 4-ft by 4-ft kitchen had only a single-burner stove. The toilet was a hole in the ground.

Emma’s parents flew in from India to visit the newlywed couple. When they saw the conditions in which their newlywed daughter was living, they were shocked. Had they given their daughter over to a life of poverty? They gifted the young couple a car, a washing machine, and some cash.

Later, Pio sadly confessed that he used some of that money to make a down-payment on a printing press. Hardly any printing presses then were owned by Africans, and Pio wanted to operate one as “the voice of the people.” Emma knew then that she would be sharing her husband with the entire country.

Even in those early months, he was like a flitting shadow, always moving, always working. He was barely ever in their tiny little bedsitter. He barely slept.

Pio separated his life into compartments and kept them sealed. He told Emma very little about his “political work.” He kept the two worlds apart, made sure they did not touch.

But his work would do more than just touch Emma. It would change her life, shape her life.

Only a few months after Pio and Emma were married, Pio was arrested. They held Pio at Nairobi Prison for a brief period. Pio’s friend Fitz de Souza took Emma to see Pio there.

After that day, she did not know when she would see her husband again. So this was the life she had married into. From Nairobi, Pinto was transferred to Fort Jesus in Mombasa, and then to Manda Island. Manda Island, where the “active terrorists” were held. Maybe she would never see Pio again.

The printing press, which Pio painstakingly bought with their wedding money, was lost after his arrest.

Not even one full year had passed since Emma arrived in Kenya for the first time. And now she was alone in Nairobi. She wasn’t prepared to, and didn’t have any way to, make an income. She lived with Pio's parents, who were not well off and stayed in a one-room building. For Emma, those years were hard.

During those first four years of her marriage to Pio, while he was in detention, Emma spent a lot of time reading. She wanted to understand why he was in politics for a country that was not his.

[April] Emma spent a lot of time thinking about, where did this come from? Why was he like this? Many other Indian kenyans at the time were not in solidarity with Africans. Even other Africans weren’t in solidarity with Africans fighting for freedom. So what happened in the childhood of Pio that he became this way?

So I was actually able to reach out to Linda Gama Pinto, who is Pio’s eldest daughter. She lives in Canada, which is where the family moved to after Pio was assassinated. Linda was only six when her father died, so she doesn’t have very many memories of him, but she also has had an entire lifetime to wonder the same questions: why her father was this way?

So I asked her this question. Where does this come from?

She said, that is the great mystery.

His father and mother were very, very bourgeois, I would say, in their attitudes, in their ambitions. They were really the epitome of bourgeois in the most classical sense. Of shallow. Of appearances. Of status. Of ancestry. He loved them dearly, but everything that I’ve heard about them from people is that they were really not people of grand vision. Not people of great compassion. No. So where does it come from? I have no idea.

[April] Pio is the second boy in today’s story. Pio was born in Nairobi, but when he was 8, he was sent to India. Until he was 16. He was alone.

[Linda] I don’t know what that does to a human being. To be dislocated for such a long time from your blood relatives, from your family. Maybe when he was young he spent time, like Muoria, gazing at the sky, wondering what makes a place home? What makes someone your brother or sister? 

[April] Maybe it had something to do with, that when young Pio was sent away, from everyone and everything that he knew. To India, a place where he looked like everyone else, but felt he was a stranger.

Like Muoria, Pinto grew up during a time of big change. Maybe being in India alone made it so that he was not an extension of his parents, but rather, able to form his own thoughts. To chase his own big ideas.

Maybe he was like young Muoria in that sense. It wasn’t as if he hated his parents. But he was always looking forward. He was always thinking about, like Muoria when he was sitting there on the grass, not herding the sheep…. Why are things the way they are? Could they be different?

What must happen to make sure that my brothers and sisters can be as free as I am? How we can all be freer, together?  

[Linda] My father was not a reminiscer. I think he was somebody who was always looking forward. What's the next plan? Next activity? How do we resolve this problem or that problem, or identifying the problem? he was always driving somewhere to do something, not sitting, talking about anything about the good ol’ days. There were no good ol’ days for him.

[April] We don’t know much about Pio’s inner thoughts during that time. Like Linda said, Pio never dwelled on the past. He didn’t talk much about his past.

But maybe Pio’s turning point has to do with one man Pio met when he had just returned to Nairobi. Another Indian-Kenyan, like him. A man who brought together Asian and African workers—in solidarity—to raise their fists against not only their bosses but the colonizers.

For one important week in May 1950, these workers—the poor, the unemployed, the criminals, all of those who live in Eastlands—joined together and shut down the entire city of Nairobi. It was something unlike anything that had ever happened before. Pinto saw that. Maybe that was the moment he knew that there were only two choices. Stand in solidarity with your comrades. Or stand by and watch.

We know what he chose, and we knew that he never, ever turned back.

[April] Last year, in 2020, Emma Gama Pinto and the families of her three daughters Linda, Malusha, and Tereshka celebrated the 33rd anniversary of landing on the docks of Montreal. They set up a Zoom call with all three families and sang rounds of “CA-NA-DA,” the Centennial Song. 

Because of the pandemic, Emma was moved from an assisted living residence to the home of her eldest daughter, Linda, which turned out to be a true blessing. Emma’s 2020 was spent enjoying almost daily video calls with her daughters and her grandchildren, all in different time zones.

On 28 October, 2020, Emma Gama Pinto died peacefully at the age of 92 in Ottawa, surrounded by her loved ones.

Though I could not imagine a more beautiful way for her to spend her final days, the news of her death broke our hearts. Stoneface and I had been looking forward to sending Emma photos and notes from listeners who will have been deeply impacted by her husband’s work.

But, unfortunately, it was not to be.

But then again, I also suppose Emma Gama Pinto is really the last person to whom any explanation of the huge difference Pio made in this country needs to be made. Although we would have loved for her to hear the voices of those “thousand beacons that arise from the spark he bore”—that’s the epitaph engraved on Pio’s headstone—we know that Emma understands, more than anyone else in this world, how the price which both of them paid for a better Kenya will lead to the continuation of the fight for freedom.

In our correpondence, Linda Gama Pinto wrote this to me: “Mum was a powerful match to my father. Her strength, independence, non-conformist tendencies, and intelligence freed Pio to pursue his vocation: justice for the Kenyan people. Without self-pity, she was proud of his work and his sacrifice. To those who did not know her, she was ‘the wife of....’ But to those who did know her, she was Emma! Fearless!”


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Episode 1. Wapi Uhuru?
Episode 2. Mau Mau Ally
Episode 3. Land Justice Advocate

Episode 4. Radical Journalist
Episode 5. Trade Unionist
Episode 6. Political Mastermind

Episode 7. Martyr

“Kenya’s uhuru must not be transformed into freedom to exploit, or freedom to be hungry and live in ignorance. Uhuru must be uhuru for the masses—uhuru from exploitation, from ignorance, disease and poverty.”

Pio Gama Pinto