If a single word could be said to sum up the life of Jomeo Kenyatta, it would be "harambee" the Swahili for "Let's pull together."

That hoarse cry rang out across Kenya as he led a nation to independence in 1963, and for 15 years, Kenyatta used it to hold rival tribes together in a new country.

He died yesterday having given kenya at least a start in life free of the coups, tribal wars, and disasters that have befallen so many other young African nations. To grateful kenyans, he was known simply by the Swahili term of respect and endearment accorded to wise, elderly men - "Mace."

Nobody knew his age. It was estimated that he was in his 80s when he died yesterday, but even Kenyaha had been unsure of his exact age. He said he had been born sometime between 1890 and 1895.

He began his life devoting his time to the aspirations of his Kikiyu tribe and ended as a continental figure of African nationalism.

He was one of the last of the generation of towering Third World figures who led their countries out of colonialism into the uncertain future.

Kenyatta began his public carrer in the 1920s as a spokesman for the kikuyu, then the most politically aware tribe in Kenya, on the question of land taken over by whites. It was the land question that latter spawned the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s.

The Whites blamed Kenyatta for the Mau Mau. He became a symbol of all they feared.

By the time Kenya received its independence in December 1963, he had become their chief guarantor of a fair deal in making the best of what both whites and blacks loved: the land in Kenya.

He was a man who coupled a love of the land and a respect for tradition with an insistence on social justice.

The uneasy question in the minds of Kenya's friends now is how much of what he built will survive him.

During the last year of Kenyatta's life, the government began forcing some whites - even those who had become Kenyan citizens - to sell their farms.

The tribal unity that Kenyatta forged also seems to groam at times under the weight of political strains. Perhaps the best argument that it will survive is that it has survived so long.

Under Kenyatta, Africans rose to run the government that whites had once assured would fall over without colonial guidance. Mary Africans rose to run the government that whites had once assured would fall over without colonial guidance. Many Africans went on to become wealthy under the brand of free enterprise Kenyatta encouraged.

Others, discouraged by what they charged was a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, broke with Kenyatta's Kenya African National Union. But none of the breaks was permanent.

Even Oginga Odinga, the former vice president whose bitter break with kenyatta in 1967 led to the formation of the Kenya Peoples Union, returned to Kenyatta's party ultimately. But Kenyatta demanded more than repentance. The breach of loyalty cost Odinga any chance of ever again playing a meaningful role in Kenyan politics.

While other African leaders talked of Pan-Africanism. Kenyatta built a viable economy for Kenya. He saw in foreign investment a friend, not an enemy, and invited the likes of General Mocors and Union Carbide to open plants in his country.

He gave Kenya a variety of what he called "African socialism," a concept developed by his close aide Tom Mboya. It left a lot of room for private investment and was based on the theory that government should save its energies and capital for areas where private investment was not already involved.

He was born a Kikuyu in Ichaweri in Kiambu district, and friends said they recalled now, as a child, Kenyatta watched the Kikuyu adults congregate at the only sacred tree left in the district after British settlers cut the others down to clear land for farms.

The Kikuyu would lament that they were "no longer where they used to be," the friends recall, and the young Kenyatta would run from the pasture in anger, demanding to know how long Ngai, the traditional spirit said to live on Mount Kenya, would allow the Whites to intrude on his homeland.

Educated in a mission school near Muranga, he became a Christian and was baptized in 1914 as Johnstone jaman.

After leaving school, Kenyatta went to Nairobi, where he worked as a kikuyu-English translator in the Supreme Court before joining the City Council Water Department in 1921.

In 1922, he began his political career by joining the Kikuyu Youth Association founded by Harry Thunku, an early tribal leader in the fight for Kikuyu rights.

Thuku was detained and by 1928, Kenyatta had emerged as the leading Kikuyu spokesman, becoming general secretary of the kikuyu Central Association. Kenya's first African nationalist group.

In 1929, Kenyatta traveled to England to speak against white encroachment on Kikuyu land and to demand African representation on the Kenya legislation council.

He was finally at least in part by Kenyan Asians with communist connections, and made a brief trip to Moscow, returning to England through Germany, where he attended one of Adolf Hitler's early meetings.

In 1931 he began a 16-year stay in Europe that included another four-month visit to Moscow and a stint in Paris, where he typed out the manuscript to "Facing Mount Kenya," his thesis at the London School of Economics.

As an anthropological look at Kikuyu life, it was an assault on colonial thinking and became an inspiration to other African nationalists.

In 1946, he ended his long exile, returning to kenya, where he eventually married his fourth wife, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, by whom he had three sons and a daughter. Mama Ngina was Kenya's first Lady until his death.

On his return to Kenya, Kenyatta became head of the New Kenya African Union, seeking voting rights for all Africans. By now, the nationalism movement had spread from the Kikuyu roots to other tribes.

While Kenyatta spoke of constitutional advances for the black man, many of his supporters and sympathizers began organizing violent campaigns to drive out the white man.

The terror was attributed by whites to an organization called the Mau Mau to kenyatta, despite his frequent pronouncements against violence.

When the British called in troops from Suez in October of 1952 and declared an emergency in Kenya, they detained kenyatta along with nearly 100 other nationalists.

Although one key prosecution witness later recanted his testimony Kenyatta was given seven years in prison at a terrorism trail.

After serving that term, he was ordered detained for life. By the time Kenyatta was freed at the insistence of his supporters in 1961, the Mau Mau period had ended, and Africans were represented in the colonial legislature.

Independence was not far away. Harold MacMillan, the former British prime minister was speaking of "the winds of change" that were signaling the end of to colonial rule throughout the world.

Kenyatta's followers founded the Kenya African National Union, which won a majority of seats in the new legislature in January 1962.

When independence was granted in December 1963, Kenyatta became prime minister. He persuaded the rival Kenya African Democratic Union, made up largely of members of minority tribes, to join his party. A year after independence, Kenya became a republic, with Kenyatta as president.

Several times after that, disunity threatened.

First there was Odinga's challenge in 1967. Odinga's new party was banned, however, and many of its members were won back into the Kenyatta fold. Those who weren't were detained, in the manner the British had used against kenyatta.

Then, in 1969, Tom Mboya, regarded as a clear successor to kenyatta, was killed by a Kikuyu man.

Some have said Mboya was killed because he was a member of the rival Luo tribe, and there have been allegations that the assassination could not have taken place with Kenyatta's knowledge.

An old friend, however, says the only time Kenyatta is known to have wept is when learned of Mlboya's death.

In 1975, J. M. Kariuki, a member of parliament who had become outspoken in his criticism of the government, was killed. A parliament report later implicated high kenya police officials, but no action was ever taken.

More recently, several members of parliament who have spoken out against the government's leaders have been detained. There have been allegations that Kenyatta, in his old age, was being manipulated by a small group of Kikuyus who surround him.

But right to the end, he still attended rallies and performances by visiting dance troops, and still led his countrymen in cheers of harambee.

Last week, he held a family reunion in Mombasa, a fairly unusual gathering in its sudden timing and scope. Yesterday, Kenyans recalled a Kikuyu tradition.

Before a man dies, he calls his family together.