Kitchen Toto (1988)




Director:    Harry Hook

Starring:    Edwin Mahinda (Mwangi), Bob Peck (John Graham, chief of police), Phyllis Logan (Janet Graham), Nicholas Charles (Mugo), Ronald Pirie (Edward Graham), Robert Urguhart (D.C. McKinnon), Kirsten Hughes (Mary McKinnon).

A film dealing with the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule (1952-1959).  A young boy working in the home of the Chief of Police is torn between loyalties and suffers extreme hardships. 



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1950.  The British Kenya Colony.  A movement has begun among the Kikuyu tribe to reclaim their land and achieve independence from the British. 

Members of the Mau-Mau pay a visit to the local preacher.  They want him to speak to his congregation about the fact that the British have all the best land in Kenya.  The preacher tells them that he will not tell his congregation to take their Thenge oath.  The Mau-Mau tell him to think about it and then leave.  When the preacher speaks before his congregation, he asks those who have taken the Mau-Mau Thenge oath to renounce the oath in church.  Someone in the congregation gets disgusted and leaves the church. At night the Mau-Mau machete the preacher to death and take his wife away with them.  The preacher's son, Mwangi, and the rest of his children run into the forest.

Mwangi runs to the police station.  The white chief of police, John Graham, drives Mwangi back to his house.  There they find his mother hung upside-down.  But she is still alive.  Graham finds the preacher dead in his room.  Mwangi tells the chief of police that he does not know the names of the Mau-Mau attackers. 

Mwangi's mother brings her family to see the chief of police and give him a gift.  Since the death of her husband has left the family without much income, she asks Graham to find a job for her son.  Mugo, in charge of the kitchen, says they need a kitchen toto (i.e., an assistant to the chef in the home of another person).  Graham says it's a possibility, but that he will have to speak with his wife.

Mwangi, obviously, is still suffering from the loss of his father and is somewhat depressed.  He usually remains relatively quiet   Mrs. Graham does not help matters as she is very impatient and curt with her black servants.  Her older son is also pretty cruel, making Mwangi run so he can shoot the kitchen toto in the back with an air rifle. 

The cruelty of the whites is matched by the cruelty of the Mau-Mau.  They use force and intimidation to force the black servants to assist them in their bloody deeds of revenge and terror.  While Mwangi is very cautious around the whites, he does not hate them.  But he is terrified by the Mau-Mau, who sadistically keep the kitchen toto in a state of fear. 

Guests arrive at the Graham house.  D. C. McKennon and his pretty blond niece Mary visit the Grahams.  Mwangi and Edmund go out into hunt in the woods.  A white neighbor hears the firing and comes to investigate.  He sees Mwangi with a bird in his hand and stops him.  The man tells him he does not want any Kefirs (Dutch word for the English N word) or any poachers on his land.  The neighbor ties Mwangi to a tree and leaves him out in the jungle all night (until he was set free by a Mau-Mau).  Edmund ran home, but said absolutely nothing to anyone about Mwangi's fate. 

One day Mwagmi discovers Mr. Graham and Mary having sex on the back seat of his car. 

The Mau-Mau pay a visit to Mogu.  They get him to give them some of the food from the Graham's kitchen.  They then give Mogu a machete and tell him to kill the Grahams.  Mwangi is afraid of what might happen and he runs to his room and hides under his bed.  The next morning, Mogu's body is found hanging from a rafter in the kitchen.  (He had decided not to kill anyone and was killed himself.)  Graham questions Mwangi about what happened but he tells the chief of police that he knows nothing.  Chief Graham dismisses all the policemen who are of the Kikuyu tribe and replaces them with Masai warriors.  They get police uniforms and a lot of rifle practice. 

While the chief is away from the house with Mary, the Mau-Mau attack the Graham residence.  They grab Mrs. Graham and her infant boy.  Mwangi tells Edward about the attack and Edward gets his father's revolver.  With the pistol, Edmund kills one of the Mau-Mau terrorists.  He then starts firing at the men dragging his mother away into the jungle.  But Edward misses the men and kills his mother instead. 

Mwangi runs to fetch Chief Graham and Mary.  All three return to the Graham residence.  Graham knows that Mwangi knows more than he is telling, so he employs the water torture (repeatedly dunking a person's head into a bucket full of water) to force Mwangi to tell him where the Mau-Mau went.  Mwangi, after some resistance, agrees to show them the way to the Mau-Mau.   The young boy leads the police to the home of one of the Mau-Mau leaders, but the leader is not there.  The chief of police decides to set a trap for the Mau-Mau at the Graham residence.  At night the Mau-Mau return to the Graham home and a fire fight breaks out between the police and the Mau-Mau.  A couple of the Mau-Mau are killed, while others are able to get away.  The surviving Mau-Mau take Mwangi along with them.  One of the leaders slits Mwangi's ear and then all the Mau-Maus run off to avoid the police.  Left alone, Mwangi hears the Graham infant crying.  He picks up the boy and starts on the journey back to the Graham residence. 

On his way back, Mwangi starts to cross the bridge over the creek, when he hears Mr. Graham shout at him not to move.  But Mwangi gets scared, puts the infant boy on the ground and starts to run away.  One of the Masai policemen shoots the fleeing Mwangi in the back, killing him. 

 1952  --  a State of Emergency declared in Kenya.  In the conflict 80 Europeans and 14,000 Africans were killed.

1963  --  Kenya achieved independence.


Pretty good movie.  One feels very sorry for poor Mwangi, who fears both the whites and the blacks.  He is caught in the middle of these two groups and just wants to survive the conflict.  Knowing that the movie deals with the Mau-Mau, the viewer has a sense of  impending mutilation and/or death that keeps up the tension in the movie until its end.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See Something of Value (1957)


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