Emma Gama Pinto Remembers

Volume 12, Issue 1  | 
Published 01/07/2015
Cyprian Fernandes

VETERAN Kenya-born journalist *Cyprian Fernandes celebrates the life of Pio Gama Pinto, Kenya’s fi rst political martyr who was assassinated 50 years ago on February 24, 1965. A front-line journalist, Fernandes has worked in Kenya, Europe and Australia, where he now lives. You can read more at his blog

Website: cyprianfernandes.blogspot.com.au



(Minor editorial licence has been taken to ensure clarity for the reader)

Emma’s birth date is July 24, 1928 - her ancestral home is Borda in Margao

Pio’s birth date is March 27, 1927 - he came from, Carem in Pouvorim

Emma arrived in Kenya, September 1953

Emma and Pio married January 9 1954

Pio detained June 19 1954


After setting out the story line and reassuring Emma, Benegal begins by asking:

How are you Emma, healthwise?

I am fine, considering my age and my handicaps. I have one seeing eye and it is losing power. I can’t recognise people if they more than four feet away. I also have two artificial ribs.

I had told my daughters that I never babysit their children. Linda has a boy and a girl, Malusha has two girls and a boy and I live with Tereshka in Otawa. He has no kids and keeps an eye on me.

I lost sight in one eye within three years of our arrival in Canada.

You have three loving daughters… yes they are very attentive.

After I finished working, Tereshka suggested that I write my autobiography. She said just spend 10 minutes a day doing it after had been to the gym. She also wanted me to write about her dad. I have written the biography and I did it in two months. I had nothing to do and wanted to write about my life story, hoping that Pio would come into it as I progressed.

I have memory blockages, dates, and times, I missed.

Of course, it is important to record or you will start forgetting things:

Yes I used the mental block as a mechanism to save my own mind. I say mental block because once I wrote it, I did not want to read it again … my emotions, you know?

During the first four years of my life “with” Pio, while he was in detention, I read a lot to try and understand why he was in politics for a country that was not his. It was just six months after we got married in January 1954, when Pio was sent to Nairobi Prison. Fitz de Souza took me to see him there. Soon after, Pio was moved to Fort Jesus and then to Manda Island in Lamu.

The children were no yet born?

No they weren’t born. Thank goodness.

What was Pio like as a husband?

He was hardly ever there. Within the first six months, he told me “you can’t stay at home”. Intelligent women don’t stay home, he said. Take a secretarial course and find a job, he said. And take Greggs shorthand (as opposed to the more popular Pitman’s shorthand). Pio did Greggs shorthand and he said: “One day you will able to read my shorthand if I need you to read back my notes.”

So I enrolled at Pioneer (did she mean Premier ) College and started learning Greggs.

I had hardly finished the course and had to go work because I didn’t realise that he wasn’t earning anything.

He would come home at seven or eight in the evening. I would be quite annoyed because we had no phone and his parents were in Nairobi at the time. Pio and I lived in the servants’ quarters of Fitz’s house and Fitz’s parents were staying the main house. (Fitz was in England studying, hence was not able to be at the wedding)

Pio had arranged a room for himself another for Rosario, his wife, and his mother-in-law.

We went on a short honeymoon to Jinja where one of Pio’s uncles lived. My parents and brother who had come for the wedding had left for India. Pio’s parents who had come from Nyeri (his father worked in the District Commissioner’s office) also returned home.

Pio and I moved into that room in which he had lived as a bachelor.

For the reception, Pio’s brother had arranged everything and the whole house was involved in the preparation of food and stuff.

At the time of the wedding, Joe Murumbi’ s first wife Cecilia and their son Jojo were staying with us. Cecilia was probably Somali because after finishing his schooling India, Joe went straight to Somalia. She was the daughter of a chief but that could be just hearsay. (Fitz de Souza told Cyprian Fernandes in 2014 that he arranged for Cecilia to divorce Murumbi. Sheila, the second wife (bigamy in any language) was uncomfortable with Cecilia around. Fitz gave some money and she returned to Somalia where her family was supposed well off.)

Joe Murumbi could not come to the wedding because Pio, fearing for Joe’s safety following the detention of important elements of the Kenya African Union, sent Joe to London. Joe was the KAU vice-president.

Did you know Pio as a political activist, supporter of the Mau Mau?

No. I didn’t know the name, Mau Mau. (Elsewhere she says that Pio never spoke to her about politics, it was his way of shielding her). I knew he worked for the Indian National Congress in the Desai Memorial Building. I was not aware he was actively involved in the African political movement.

He told me only that he worked at the Indian Congress office.

(It is easy to the see the courage of Emma Gamma Pinto in what turned out to be a terrifying and horrific situation. As this part of the interview reveals, Emma continues to remain calm, pretty much in control until she is in complete shock when the full realisation of her loss finally hits.)

In his own quiet and concerned manner Benegal raises the difficult and sensitive question. He is always aware that he should not be party to cause Emma any hurt, pain or anguish. He asks her:

It is now 48 years since that particular day. What do you remember of it?

On that particular day – we were living at No.6 Lower Kabete Road at the time. The house had been donated to Pio. He had bought me a little car so that I could have some independence as far as transport is concerned.

The new government was now nearly 14 months old and they had decided to get rid of all the English secretaries and Pio told me: You are going to be the secretary to Achieng Oneko, the Minister for Information, Broadcasting and Tourism.

Pio had dropped me off at my office in Jogoo House and had returned home to collect his Parliamentary papers.

About an hour later, I was in Achieng’s office, around 9 o’clock when my mother called me on the phone. She had just returned from India after taking my eldest daughter Linda there for six months.

My mother phone to say that Pio had been attacked and she was hysterical and I said: I will be home soon. I am coming home right away.

But I am a very , very calm person in any emergency.

So I immediately phoned the Minister for Defence, Dr Njoroge Mungai, and told his office that Pio had been attacked and said please send the police there (to their home).

Then I picked up the phone and rang Joe Murumbi because he would not have left the office because Parliament does not start until 11 am. He was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He and his wife Sheila lived five minutes away from us. I said to him: Joe Pio has been attacked, please go to our house.

Next, I ran into Achieng’s office and said: Can I have your car. He said his car was in the garage for repairs or a service.

Then I rang Oginga Odinga’s office and spoke to an American girl, Caroline Odongo, Odinga’s secretary and said to her: Caroline, Caroline, can I get a car to take me home? Pio has been attacked. She said she would call me back immediately. She did. She told me Odinga’s spare car was being sent round to the front of Jogoo House and would be waiting for me. Odinga was the first Vice-President of the country.

All the time, I assumed that Pio had been attacked and that he had been injured and I assume … inaudible.

As I got to the gate of our house, I saw our car had been parked at the gate and as I got out of Odinga’s care, I saw Murumbi arriving in his car.

As we walked past the car and into our home to find about Pio, my mother said: He is still in the car, he been killed. That was the first time I had heard that Pio had been killed. So we both dashed out to the car and saw that Pio’s body had been covered in a pink blanket. My mother had asked our house servant, a nice young man called Waweru, to cover Pio.

Pio usually gave our 18-month old daughter Tereshka a ride from the back of the house to the gate from where she would be collected by the maid and walked home. When the maid got to the back of the car, she heard shots and she ran back to the house to get Waweru. She really did not see too much because she was terrified. By the time Waweru got to the car, Pio had already been shot.

Were there any eye witnesses? A woman saw two African men, one on either side of the car. At the trial of the man charged with the murder (but released as innocent 35 years later) they said there were two assailants.

Are you still angry?

No. Because of my reading of political matters I am aware that politicians lead very dicey lives. They are walking a tightrope. So when Pio was assassinated I assumed it was part of the politician’s life.

It was shocking for me, a new immigrant to Kenya that he was shot so soon. He had already been in detention for four years. It was tragic.

Did you feel cheated?

Well I felt disappointed that someone who had worked so hard for freedom …in my readings, I read that bitterness is like a fire in the corner of a house which will eventually consume the whole house. So I was cognisant of the fact that I should never be bitter of the whole situation. It was a fact of life. Mahatma Gandhi was murdered ….

Did you get much support from family and friends?

My twin sister Joyce lived just down the road from me. The people at the first private British company I worked for (International Aeradio Limited, engineers), I don’t think they were sympathetic to Pio, but they were sympathetic to a widow.

Joe and Sheila Murumbi took me to their home for two days. My mother stayed with the girls at our house. Our friend Dr Eraj gave me a sedative because I was in severe shock.

When we saw Pio’s body in the car, Joe said let’s get Pio inside the house. Because I was in shock I have no clear memory of the people there.

Waweru and Joe’s driver put Pio’s body in the pink blanket and carried his body, not like a sack of potatoes, but like something, into the living room.

Fitz de Souza (MP and Deputy Speaker) arrived at one point. I had not phoned Fitz. I don’t know at what point Fitz was involved. Perhaps he found out from Parliament which had been informed. (Fitz a barrister heard while attending the Kenya High Court.)

Fitz was there when Pio’s body was brought into the living room. I remember I sat down and they put the blanket down and I could see that little hole under his ribs. I was sitting with Joe and Fitz, and I said: Gosh, Pio looks so pale.”

And Fitz said: Get out of there, get out of the room.

So that was my one and only view of Pio when he was brought into the home.

After nearly 50 years, do you feel that Kenyans have served Pio’s memory well?

I think they are doing quite a bit to keep his memory alive. They have named a street after him and they also included his image in a commemorative stamp which: Heroes of Kenya and included: Tom Mboya (a rising political star, also assassinated), Ronald Ngala (leader of people from the Kenya coast) and Oginga Odinga (fellow socialist, some would say communist, first vice president of Kenya and later the opposition leader).

The street in which we lived, Kabete Road, has been name after Pio. All the houses have been demolished, including ours and the whole area has been redeveloped. A large shopping mall has been erected.

What was Pio like as a Member of Parliament?

As you may have realised, I was more or less the breadwinner and Pio and I never checked our bank balance. I did not know how much we had until he was assassinated and when I went to the bank to get the money to pay our rent which was in arears. There was nothing. And I had to pay Cecilia’s rent as well …

I am a little confused, Joe Murumbi had two wives?

Yes. When he came back from England, he brought Sheila with him. As I said before, just after 1954, Pio sent Joe Murumbi to the UK escape arrest. Pio was sending him information about the situation in Kenya, the Mau Mau, the detainees … so that Joe could advise the British members of Parliament who were sympathetic to Kenya.

Did you know India’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Apa Pant, who said that it was Pio who introduced him to Kenyatta, Koinange and brought him into the enclaves of the Mau Mau. Did Pio mention him to you?

Pio kept his political work completely secret from me.

Several attempts have been made to write Pio’s story. Most, if not all, have fallen short. What is the hold-up in writing the complete story?

In order to write someone’s story, one has to have written facts but when Pio was shot his two friends, Pran Lal Sheth (Pranlal, a journalist, barrister and a businessman. He was also an outstanding fighter of freedom both in Kenya and India. Soon after Pio’s death he was deported and went to continue his battles for people in the UK) and Sarjit Singh Heyer (an economist and a confidante of Pio) burnt all his books, papers and other material (Pran Lal told me this many, many years later when I visited him in England.) Pranlal had insisted Pio’s papers be burnt and I remember seeing a bonfire that night after Pio was shot.

Pio had his own office in the house and they took Pio’s books, papers and everything and they burnt them. They didn’t even ask me.

They could have hidden them or taken them somewhere.

Sheila Murumbi told me later that she would have taken the books and papers but they did not even ask her. I think Pranlal and Sarjit were there but I can’t really recall because I was still in shock. All I remember is when I looked at the back door I saw the big bonfire.

Do you think they did it to protect the family?

No. Pio did not write about the family.

So why did they burn …

We have to speculate because Pranlal said that Pio was not only involved in Kenyan politics but also in African politics… countries that were just emerging. I guess they were concerned that Pio might have mentioned names and they were protecting these people, the politicians, dignitaries, that Pio had come into contact with.

I had no idea who they were because Pio never told me what he was involved in or the personalities. Pio used have people from foreign countries come to the house and have meetings in his office but I was never involved. He never asked me to make tea or provide refreshments.

I just did not want anyone living in our home, even though we had a spare room. I told Pio we should protect our family. I said we had daughters and we must protect them.

How long did you remain in Kenya after the assassination?

I remained in Kenya for two years. I was waiting for the tombstone which I was told was coming from Italy.

Pio is buried in Nairobi’s City Park cemetery, is it protected?

Not really.

Was he buried in the City Park cemetery for any reason … most Goans were buried in the Langata cemetery?

All the arrangements were made by Joe Murumbi and Fitz de Souza. Fitz left Kenya soon after the assassination because he was afraid, he told me so in London not so long ago. He realised he might have been in danger. I think he was there for the funeral.

You visited Kenya twice …?

The first time Fitz invited the whole family and my mum too. We stayed with them in their Muthaiga home.

The second time was when Achieng Oneko’s son came to Canada and asked if he could do anything for us. He was the Minister for Tourism or was in Tourism. My daughter Linda, husband and I took him up on the offer and he made all the arrangements for the safari.

I know you went to meet Achieng in his ancestral home …?

I went to his home and he had retired from work. In our honour he had a goat slaughtered for a barbecue. He said to me: Emma this is specially done because it our tradition.

Linda and her husband stayed with his daughter 200 yards away. I stayed with Achieng and his wife Lois. We spent two nights there. On day at breakfast, Lois point to a room and said that was Achieng’s office.

I asked Achieng what he did in his office. He said: Oh, nothing it is all locked up.

I asked: All locked up? Do you have papers in there? You must let me have some of the papers Pio wrote to you.

He said: No, no, I am not opening that door. So I said: Please, Please.

So he went in brought out one file folder and as I leafed through I recognised a letter in Pio’s handwriting. And I said, Achieng, give me this letter.

He said: I am not going to give it to you.

I said: Make a copy for heaven’s sake.

He thought about it and said: We have no photocopier here.

I said: Well I am going to Nairobi for a meeting and I will send you a copy.

We left without the letter. A day or two later, I got a call from him saying come and have a coffee with him at his motel. When I got there, Pio’s letter and a copy of it were there.

I said: you are not going to give me the copy? I want the original.

He said: Why?

I said: It is my husband’s letter.

He took the letter and wrote: “Given to Emma” and signed his name.

I was so taken up and excited with finding one letter that I forgot to through the rest of folder.

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2015 22:15

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