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Mau Mau

This is the story of a few documents that tumbled out of the secret archives of the biggest empire the world has ever known, offering a glimpse of histories waiting to be rewritten.

Just down the road from a pub in rural Hanslope Park, England is a massive building — the secret archives of the biggest empire the world has ever known. This is the story of a few documents that tumbled out and offered a glimpse of histories waiting to be rewritten.

When professor Caroline Elkins came across a stray document left by the British colonial government in Nairobi, Kenya, she opened the door to a new reckoning with the history of one of Britain's colonial crown jewels, and the fearsome group of rebels known as the Mau Mau. We talk to historians, archivists, journalists and send our producer Jamie York to visit the Mau Mau. As the new history of Kenya is concealed and revealed, document by document, we wonder what else lies in wait among the miles of records hidden away in Hanslope Park.

Produced by Matt Kielty with reporting from Jamie York

Special thanks to:

Mattathias Schwartz for first bringing us this story. Martin Mavenjina and Faith Alubbe of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission

Nyakinyua Kenda for the use of their music, Rose Mutiso and Anne Moko for translation help, and Sruthi Pinnamaneni for production support.

Correction: An earlier version of this episode contained two errors, which we have corrected. 

The first was our mention of Israel as a former British colony where official documents were purged. In fact, Israel was a successor to the British mandated territory of Palestine, which we also listed, and so we removed the redundancy. 

The second was that we qualified our statement about Kikuyu support for the Mau Mau. Some listeners misinterpreted our claim that support for the Mau Mau cut across all demographics among the Kikuyu to mean that all Kikuyu supported the Mau Mau, which is untrue. We tempered the language in that spot.

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