Etnic Kikuyu man from Kenya in his traditional Kikuyu ancient warrior adornment, body painting and feathered head dress.The Kikuyu tribe, also spelled as Gikuyu, is the largest ethnic group in Kenya, making up about 22% of the countries total population.The Kikuyu came into Kenya during the Bantu migration and nowadays make up Kenya's most populous ethnic group (7.5 million).
Traditionally, the Kikuyu are farmers; their homelands in the foothills of Mount Kenya are some of the most intensively farmed areas of the country. Many of Kikuyu have also become involved in business and politics (the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, was actually a Kikuyu).
The ancestors of the Kikuyu can be said with some certainty to have come from the North, from the region beyond the Nyambene Hills to the northeast of Mount Kenya (Kirinyaga), which was the original if not exclusive homeland of all of central Kenya’s Bantu-speaking peoples, viz. the Meru, Embu, Chuka, Kamba and possibly Mbeere. The people are believed to have arrived in the hills as early as the 1200s.
From where they came, though, is a matter subject to a lot of controversy (ie. speculation based on few facts): one theory argues that they came from Axum(Ethiopia) migrating when the Aksumite Empire or Axumite Empire fell, another the mythical ‘Shungwaya’, presumably in Somalia, from which the nine tribes of the coastal Mijikenda also say they came. The other main theory posits that they came from the west, having split from the proto-Bantu of central Africa. Whatever their early origins, it is generally accepted that starting from around the 1500s, the ancestors of the Kikuyu, Meru (including the Igembe and Tigania), Kamba, Embu and Chuka, began moving south into the richer foothills of Mount Kenya. By the early 1600s, they were concentrated at Ithanga, 80km southeast of the mountain’s peaks at the confluence of the Thika and Sagana rivers.
As Ithanga’s population increased, oral traditions of all the tribes agree that the people began to fan out in different directions, eventually becoming the separate and independent tribes that exist today. The theory that the Chuka, Embu, Mbeere, Gicugu and Ndia ‘broke away’ from the main Kikuyu group before arriving at Ithanga is plausible, but is contradicted by the oral traditions of various tribes, many of which include Ithanga in their histories.The Kikuyu themselves moved west to a place near present-day Murang’a, from where the Kikuyu creation myth picks up the story.
The actual point at which the Kikuyu became a separate and independent people with their own and unique sense of identity is fairly clearly stated in oral tradition, which says that the founder of the Kikuyu was a man named Gikuyu.One day, Ngai (God) gave him a wife called Mumbi, and commanded them to build a homestead near Murang’a, to the southwest of Kirinyaga (Mount Kenya). Some versions of the myth say that Ngai first took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga to behold the land that he was giving them.[ *Please note that the Bantu,Cushites Nilotes & Semites worshiped the same God] Europeans by then where still worshiping idols]
The place that Gikuyu and Mumbi settled in was full of wild fig trees (sacred among many Kenyan peoples, not just Bantu), and was called Mukurue wa Gathanga, which loosely translated means ‘Tree of the Building Site’, and even more loosely ‘the Kikuyu Garden of Eden’. The location is still sacred, even though the fig tree – which was believed to have been as old as the Kikuyu themselves – disappeared a few decades ago.Mumbi bore nine daughters, who married and had families, and which eventually became clans. Ngai gave them the highly fertile lands to the southwest of the mountain to live in. These clans – the true ancestors of the Kikuyu – are actually called the ‘full nine’ or ‘nine fully’ (kenda muiyuru), for there also was a tenth daughter, who descended from an unmarried mother in one of the other nine clans (which suggests the later amalgamation of at least one other people into the Kikuyu). Until recently, it was a common taboo for anyone to give the exact number of their children; violating the taboo – any taboo – would portend a bad omen.Virtually every Kikuyu woman is named after one of the ‘nine’ daughters of Mumbi, and the creation myth – like many others among Bantu-speaking people – suggests that ancient Kikuyu society was originally matriarchal. According to some, the men grew tired of their treatment by the women and rebelled.
Making Muratina - Kikuyu traditional brew
The mythological origin of Kikuyus:
The Kikuyu is formed into nine clans. According to the tribe’s traditions, these clans are the descendants of each of Gikuyu’s nine daughters, reflecting a history where the tribe had always been matriarchal. But by the time, the colonialists installed Wangu Wa Makeri as location head in Weithaga Muranga the tribe had become patriarchal.
The fable goes that one day, Ngai called Gikuyu up to Kirinyaga the religious mountain and from that high point Ngai showed Gikuyu the beautiful earth he had created.“ I will give you whatever land you ask for...” Gikuyu picked an area that had many Mugumo (fig trees). So Ngai let him build his home there. He called the place where the Mugumo trees grew Mukurwe wa Gathanga. This translates loosely as 'Tree of the Building Site', or more loosely still as 'the Kikuyu Garden of Eden'.
The site still exists today, to the south-west of Mount Kenya, as the present day Murang’a town.
Then Ngai said: “You will at times be in need of my help, when the time arises, slaughter a goat for sacrifice, then raise your hands towards Kirinyaga. I Ngai will come to your help.” When Gikuyu went to the chosen spot, he found a beautiful woman whom he took as his wife. He named her Mumbi (Molder or Creator). Ngai gave them nine daughters.
Now Gikuyu went to Ngai seeking sons to marry his daughters. Ngai said: "Go, take a lamb and a kid. Kill these under the big Mugumo tree near the homestead and the blood and the fat pour them on the trunk of the tree. Let the family make a big fire under the tree. The meat will burn as a sacrifice to me. When you take your wife and daughters home, go back alone to the Mugumo tree. There you will find nine very handsome men who are willing to marry your daughters. Then your people will increase and multiply and fill all the land."
These nine daughters became the nine clans of the Kikuyu tribe. They were known as kenda muiyuru or the full nine. Legend goes that there was a tenth daughter who was born of an unmarried mother in one of the other nine clans. This tenth daughter is thought to have been the Kikuyu’s way of fusing another tribe into the fable, and their historical line. As a legend, it left behind it, a cultural twist too. The Kikuyu consider it a taboo and bad omen to tell anyone the exact number of children you have.
The matriarchal traditions of ancient Kikuyu society were history when Wangu wa Makeri a woman leader who was being overthrown by the men of the Kikuyu.
However, the daughters’ names live on, through every generation. The first-born daughter is named after the father’s mother. The second-born daughter is named after the mother’s mother.
The names of the nine daughters were Wangui, Wangari, Wambui, Waithira, Wanjiku, Waceera, Wanjiru, Wangeci and Wamuyu.
The Kikuyu clans are borrowed from these nine names, Angui, Angari, Aithera or aitherando, Anjiku, Aceera, Anjiru, Angeci, and Aicakamuyu.
Once a Kikuyu woman is married , she moves to her husband’s clan and all their children also belong to the same clan until they get married