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|6,623,000 Gĩkũyũ people in Kenya|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Gĩkũyũ, Swahili, English|
|Christianity, African Traditional Religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Embu, Meru, Mbeere, Kamba, other Bantu peoples|
|6,623,000 Gĩkũyũ people in Kenya|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Gĩkũyũ, Swahili, English|
|Christianity, African Traditional Religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Embu, Meru, Mbeere, Kamba, other Bantu peoples|
The Kikuyu are a group of Bantu people inhabiting Southeast Africa. They are the largest ethnic group in Kenya and speak the Bantu Kikuyu language as a mother tongue. The term Kikuyu is the Swahili form of the proper name and pronunciation of Kikuyu, although group members refer to themselves as the Agĩkũyũ.
The Kikuyu are of Bantu origin. They constitute the single largest ethnic group in Kenya, and are concentrated in the vicinity of Mount Kenya. The exact place that the Kikuyu's ancestors migrated from after the initial Bantu expansion from West Africa is uncertain. Some authorities suggest that they arrived in their present Mount Kenya area of in habitation from earlier settlements further to the north and east, while others argue that the Kikuyu, along with their closely related Eastern Bantu neighbors the Embu, Meru, Mbeere and Kamba moved into Kenya from points further south.
For many generations past, accident, geographic and political had until the coming of the European preserved the Agikuyu from the access of almost any external influence or rule and hence had never been subdued. The Agikuyu used from time to time to imprint a lesson on raiders that was not forgotten. Just before the arrival of the English people, Arabs were involved in slave trade and their caravans passed at the southern edges of the Agikuyu nation. Slavery as an institution did not exist amongst the Agikuyu, nor did they make raids for the capture of slaves. The Arab and slave raiders who tried to venture into Agikuyu country met instant death. Relying on a combination of land purchases, blood-brotherhood (partnerships), intermarriage with other people, and their adoption and absorption, the Agikuyu had been and were in a constant state of territorial expansion. Economically, the Agikuyu were great farmers-because there is a strong evidence that everybody knew that the Agikuyu country was full of food - and shrewd business men. Besides farming and business, the Agikuyu were involved in small scale industries with professions such as bridge building, string making, Wire drawing, iron chain making and medicine. In disposition the Agikuyu were naturally cheerful: merry, loquacious and laughter-loving. They also had a great sense of justice (kihooto).
The Agikuyu nation was divided into ten clans. The members of each clan had a blood tie in common, but were not restricted to any particular geographical area, they lived side by side. Some clans had a recognised leader, others did not. However, in either case, real political power was excised by the ruling council of elders, lead by a headman.
The Gĩkũyũ were – and still are – monotheists believing in a unique and omnipotent god whom they refer to as Ngai. Both the Gĩkũyũ, Embu and Kamba use this name. This god was also known as Murungu by the Meru and Embu tribes, or Mulungu (a variant of a word meaning God which is found as far south as the Zambezi of Zambia). The title Mwathani or Mwathi (the greatest ruler) which comes from the word gwatha meaning to rule or reign with authority was-and- is also used.All sacrifices to God were performed under sycamore(Mũkũyũ) tree and if a sycamore tree is not available,a fig(Mũgumo) tree would be used.The olive(Mũtamaiyũ) tree was a sacred tree for women.
Gĩkũyũ nation, being of Bantu family held a believe in the interconnection of everything in the universe.To the Gĩkũyũ people,everything we see had an inner spiritual force and the most sacred though unspoken ontology was being is force. This spiritual vital force originated from God,who had the power to create or destroy that life force.To the Gĩkũyũ people,God was the supreme being in the universe and the giver(Mũgai/Ngai) of this life force to everything that exists.Gĩkũyũ people also believed that everything God created had a vital inner force and a connection bond to Him by the mere fact that he created that thing and gave it that inner force that makes it be and be manifested physically. To the Agĩkũyũ,God had this life force within himself hence He was the ultimate owner and ruler of everything in the universe.The latter was the ultimate conception of God among the Gĩkũyũ people hence the name Mũgai/Ngai. To the Gĩkũyũ people,those who possessed the greatest life force,those closest to God were the first parents created by God because God directly gave them the vital living force.These first parents were so respected to be treated almost like God himself.These were followed by the ancestors of the people who inherited life force from the first parents,then followed by the immediate dead and finally the eldest in the community.Hence when people wanted to offer sacrifices,the eldest in the community would perform the rites.Children in the community had a link to God through their parents and that chain would move upwards to parent parents,ancestors,first created parents until it reaches God Himself. The Gĩkũyũ people believed the departed spirits of the ancestors can be reborn again in this world when children are being born,hence the rites performed during the child naming ceremonies. The Gĩkũyũ people believed the vital life force or soul of a person can be increased or diminished,thereby affecting the person's health.They also believed that some people possessed power to manipulate the inner force in all things.These people who increased the well being of a person spirit were called medicine-men(Mũgo) while those who diminished the person's life force were called witchdoctors(Mũrogi).They also believed that ordinary items can have their spiritual powers increased such that they protect a person against those bent on diminishing a person vital life force.Such an item with such powers was called gĩthitũ. Thus,the philosophy of the Gĩkũyũ religion and life in general was anchored on the understanding that everything in the universe has an inner interlinked force that we do not see. God among the Gĩkũyũ people was understood hence to be the owner and distributor(Mũgai) of this inner life force in all things and He was worshiped and praised to either increase the life force of all things(farm produce,cattle,children) the Gĩkũyũ people possessed and minimize events that led to catastrophes that would diminish the life force of the people or lead to death.The leader of the Gĩkũyũ people was the person who was thought to possess the greatest life force among the people or the person who had demonstrated the greatest life force in taking care of the people,their families,their farm produce,their cattle and their land. This person was hence thought to be closer to God than anybody else living in that nation.The said person also had to demonstrate and practice the highest levels of truth(maa) and justice(kihooto),just like the supreme God of the Gĩkũyũ people would do.
Ngai or mwene-nyaga is the creator and giver of all things, "the Divider of the Universe and Lord of Nature". He (Ngai) created the human community. It is also believed that He created the first Gĩkũyũ communities, and provided them with all the resources necessary for life: land, rain, plants and animals. He cannot be seen but is manifest in the sun, moon, stars, comets and meteors, thunder and lightning, rain, in rainbows and in the great fig trees (Mugumo). These trees served as places of worship and sacrifice and marked the spot at Mũkũrũe wa Gathanga where Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi – the ancestors of the Gĩkũyũ in the oral legend – first settled.
Yet he was not a distant God (as known in the West). He has human characteristics, and although some say that He lives in the sky or in the clouds, Gĩkũyũ lore also says that he comes to earth from time to time to inspect it, bestow blessings and mete out punishment (similar to God's visit of Abraham before destroying Sodom). When he comes He rests on Mount Kenya and kĩrĩma kĩa njahĩ (Kilimambogo). Thunder is interpreted to be the movement of Ngai and lightning is the weapon used by Ngai to clear the way when moving from one sacred place to another. Some people believe that Ngai’s abode is on Mount Kenya, or else ‘beyond’ its peaks. Ngai, one legend says, made the mountain his resting place while on an inspection tour of earth. In the account Ngai then took the first man, Gikuyu, to the top to point out the beauty of the land he was giving him.
The Agĩkũyũ had four seasons and two harvests in one year.
Further, time was recorded through the initiation. Each initiation group was given special name. According to Professor Godfrey Mũriũki, the individual initiation sets are then grouped into a regiment every nine calendar years. Before a regiment or army was set, there was a period in which no initiation of boys took place. This period lasted a total of four and a half calendar years (nine seasons in Gĩkũyũ land, each season referred to as imera) and is referred to as mũhingo, with initiation taking place at the start of the fifth year and going on annually for the next nine calendar years. This was the system adopted in Metumi Mũrang’a. The regiment or army sets also get special names, some of which seem to have ended up as popular male names. In Gaki Nyeri the system was inversed with initiation taking place annually for four calendar years, which would be followed by a period of nine calendar years in which no initiation of boys took place (mũhingo). Girls on the other hand were initiated every year. Several regiments then make up a ruling generation. It was estimated that Ruling generations lasted an average of 35 years. The names of the initiation and regiment sets vary within Gĩkũyũ land. The ruling generations are however uniform and provide very important chronological data. On top of that, the initiation sets were a way of documenting events within the Gĩkũyũ nation, so, for example, were the occurrence of small pox and syphilis recorded. Girls’ initiation sets were also accorded special names, although there has been little research in this area. Mũriũki only unearths three sets, whose names are, Rũharo , Kibiri/Ndũrĩrĩ , Kagica , Ndutu/Nuthi . All these names are taken from Metumi (Mũrang’a) and Kabete Kĩambu. It is strange that professor Mũriũki didn’t do more research in this area because he states that the girls’ initiation took place annually.
Mathew Njoroge Kabetũs list reads, Tene, Kĩyĩ, Aagu, Ciĩra, Mathathi, Ndemi, Iregi, Maina (Ngotho), Mwangi. Gakaara wa Wanjaũs list reads Tene, Nemathĩ, Kariraũ, Aagu, Tiru, Cuma, Ciira, Ndemi, Mathathi, Iregi, Maina, Mwangi, Irũngũ, Mwangi wa Mandũti. The last two generations came after 1900. One of the earliest recorded lists by McGregor reads (list taken from a history of unchanged) Manjiri, Mandoti, Chiera, Masai, Mathathi, Ndemi, Iregi, Maina, Mwangi, Muirungu. According to Hobley (a historian) each initiation generation, riika, extended over two years. The ruling generation at the arrival of the Europeans was called Maina. It is said that Maina handed over to Mwangi in 1898. Hobley asserts that the following sets were grouped under Maina – Kĩnũthia, Karanja, Njũgũna, Kĩnyanjui, Gathuru and Ng’ang’a. Professor Mũriũki however puts these sets much earlier, namely Karanja and Kĩnũthia belong to the Ciira ruling generation which ruled from the year 1722 to 1756, give or take 25 years, according to Mũriũki. Njũgũna, Kĩnyanjui, Ng’ang’a belong to the Mathathi ruling generation that ruled from 1757 to 1791, give or take 20 years, according to Mũriũki.
Professor Mũriũkis list must be given precedence in this area as he conducted extensive research in this area starting 1969, and had the benefit of all earlier literature on the subject as well as doing extensive field work in the areas of Gaki (Nyeri), Metumi (Mũrang’a) and Kabete (Kĩambu). On top of the ruling generations, he also gives names of the regiments or army sets from 1659 [within a margin of error] and the names of annual initiation sets beginning 1864. The list from Metumi (Mũrang’a) is most complete and differentiated.
Mũriũkis is also the most systematically defined list, so far. Suffice to say that most of the most popular male names in Gĩkũyũ land were names of riikas (initiation sets).
Here is Mũriũkis list of the names of regiment sets in Metumi (Mũrang’a).
These include Kiariĩ (1665–1673), Cege (1678–1678), Kamau (1704–1712), Kĩmani (1717–1725), Karanja (1730–1738), Kĩnũthia (1743–1751), Njũgũna (1756–1764), Kĩnyanjui (1769–1777), Ng’ang’a (1781–1789), Njoroge (1794–1802), Wainaina (1807–1815), Kang’ethe (1820–1828) Mbugua (1859–1867), Njenga or Mbira Itimu (872–880), Mutung’u or Mburu (1885–1893).
H.E. Lambert who dealt with the riikas extensively has the following list of regiment sets from Gichũgũ and Ndia. It should be remembered that this names were unlike ruling generations not uniform in Gĩkũyũ land. It should also be noted that Ndia and Gachũgũ followed a system where initiation took place every annually for four years and then a period of nine calendar years followed where no initiation of boys took place. This period was referred to as mũhingo.
Karanja (1759–1762), Kĩnũthia (1772–1775), Ndũrĩrĩ (1785–1788), Mũgacho (1798–1801), Njoroge (1811–1814), Kang’ethe (1824–1827), Gitaũ (1837–1840), Manyaki (1850–1853), Kiambuthi (1863–1866), Watuke (1876–1879), Ngũgĩ (1889–1892), Wakanene (1902–1905).
The remarkable thing in this list in comparison to the Metumi one is how some of the same names are used, if a bit offset. Ndia and Gachũgũ are extremely far from Metumi. Gaki on the other hand, as far as my geographical understanding of Gĩkũyũ land is concerned should be much closer to Metumi, yet virtually no names of regiment sets are shared. It should however be noted that Gaki had a strong connection to the Maasai living nearby.
The ruling generation names of Maina and Mwangi are also very popular male Gĩkũyũ names. The theory is also that Waciira is also derived from ciira (case), which is also a very popular masculine name among the Agĩkũyũ. This would call into question, when it was exactly that children started being named after the parents of one parents. Had that system, of naming one's children after one's parents been there from the beginning, there would be very few male names in circulation. This is however not the case, as there are very many Gĩkũyũ male names. My theory is though that the female names are much less, with the names of the full-nine daughters of Mũmbi being most prevalent.
Gakaara wa Wanjaũ supports this view when he writes in his book, Mĩhĩrĩga ya Aagĩkũyũ.
Hingo ĩyo ciana cia arũme ciatuagwo marĩĩtwa ma mariika ta Watene, Cuma, Iregi kana Ciira. Nao airĩĩtu magatuuo marĩĩtwa ma mĩhĩrĩga tauria hagwetetwo nah au kabere, o nginya hingo iria maundu maatabariirwo thuuthaini ati ciana ituagwo aciari a mwanake na a muirĩĩtu.
Freely translated it means "In those days the male children were given the names of the riika (initiation set) like Watene, Cuma, Iregi or Ciira. Girls were on the other hand named after the clans that were named earlier until such a time as it was decided to name the children after the parents of the man and the woman." From this statement it is not clear whether the girls were named ad hoc after any clan, no matter what clan the parents belonged to. Naming them after the specific clan that the parents belonged to would have severely restricted naming options.
This would strangely mean that the female names are the oldest in Gĩkũyũ land, further confirming its matrilineal descent. As far as male names are concerned, there is of course the chicken and the egg question, of when a name specifically appeared but some names are tied to events that happened during the initiation. For example Wainaina refers to those who shivered during circumcision. Kũinaina (to shake or to shiver).
There was a very important ceremony known as Ituĩka in which the old guard would hand over the reigns of government to the next generation. This was to avoid dictatorship. Kenyatta relates of how once in the land of the Agĩkũyũ, there ruled a despotic King called Gĩkũyũ, grandson of the elder daughter (Wanjirũ according to Leakey) of the original Gĩkũyũ of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi fame. After he was deposed of, it was decided that the government should be democratic, which is how the Ituĩka came to be. This legend of course calls into question when it was exactly that the matrilineal rule set in. The last Ituĩka ceremony where the riika of Maina handed over power to the Mwangi generation, took place in 1898-9. The next one was supposed to be held in 1925–1928 [Kenyatta] but was thwarted by the colonial imperialist government. And one by one Gĩkũyũ institutions crumbled
The ruling generations, the rĩĩka system can be traced back to the year 1500 AD or there abouts. These were:
The last Ituĩka ceremony where the rĩĩka of Maina handed over power to the Mwangi generation, took place in 1898-1899 The next one was supposed to be held in 1925–1928 but was thwarted by the colonial government.The traditional symbols of power among the Agikuyu nation is the Muthĩgi(stick) which signifies power to lead and the itimũ(Spear) signifying power to call people to a war.
The traditional way of life of Agikuyu was disrupted when they came into contact with British people around 1888. The aim of these Europeans was to subdue the local population, colonise and take over their rich agricultural land. The colonial takeover was met with strong local resistance: Waiyaki Wa Hinga, a leader of the southern Agikuyu, who ruled Dagoretti who had signed a treaty with Frederick Lugard of the British East Africa Company (BEAC), having been subject to considerable harassment, burned down Lugard's fort in 1890. Waiyaki was abducted two years later by the British and killed.
Following severe financial difficulties of the British East Africa Company, the British government on 1 July 1895 established direct rule, by force, through the East African Protectorate, subsequently opening (1902) the fertile highlands to British settlers. The Agikuyu simply killed almost any member of the Agikuyu nation that helped the British to subdue the Agikuyu. In response the British employed crude methods to reiterate. Failing compliance in such a case, some five hundred of the Masai tribe, the hereditary enemies of the Akikuyu, would then be summoned, and with the addition of some regular local conscripted troops and police the country would be scoured. The men were killed, and the women, children, and herds taken captive until such time as, experience having been dearly bought, another meeting procured the requisite submission. Having tried to violently resist British occupation and colonisation by force and failed between 1895–1920, the Agikuyu people resulted to political means of resistance.
Kenya became a military base for the British in the First World War (1914–1918), as efforts to subdue the German colony to the south were frustrated. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the governors of British East Africa (as the Protectorate was generally known) and German East Africa agreed a truce in an attempt to keep the young colonies out of direct hostilities. However Lt Col Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck took command of the German military forces, determined to tie down as many British resources as possible. Completely cut off from Germany, von Lettow conducted an effective guerilla warfare campaign, living off the land, capturing British supplies, and remaining undefeated. He eventually surrendered in Zambia eleven days after the Armistice was signed in 1918. To chase von Lettow the British deployed Indian Army troops from India and then needed large numbers of porters to overcome the formidable logistics of transporting supplies far into the interior by foot. The Carrier Corps was formed and ultimately mobilised over 400,000 Africans, contributing to their long-term politicisation.
The experiences gained by Africans in the war, coupled with the creation of the white-settler-dominated Kenya Crown Colony, gave rise to considerable political activity in the 1920s which culminated in Archdeacon Owen's "Piny Owacho" (Voice of the People) movement and the "Young Kikuyu Association" (renamed the "East African Association") started in 1921 by Harry Thuku (1895–1970), which gave a sense of nationalism to many Kikuyu and advocated civil disobedience. From the 1920s, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) focused on unifying the Kikuyu into one geographic polity, but its project was undermined by controversies over ritual tribute, land allocation, the ban on female circumcision, and support for Thuku.
By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in Agikuyu country and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy. The area was already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu nation, most of whom had been deprived of their land by the European settlers, and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax, and the landless were granted less and less land in exchange for their labour. A massive exodus to the cities ensued as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled.
In the Second World War (1939–45) Kenya became an important British military base. For the Agikuyu soldiers who took part in the war as part of the King's African Rifles (KAR), the war stimulated African nationalism and exposed the weakness of the Europeans who were oppressing them at home. Meanwhile, on the political front, in 1944 Thuku founded and was first chairman of the multi-ethnic Kenya African Study Union (KASU).
In 1946 KASU became the Kenya African Union (KAU). It was a nationalist organisation that demanded access to white-owned land. KAU acted as a constituency association for the first black member of Kenya's legislative council, Eliud Mathu, who had been nominated in 1944 by the governor after consulting with the local Bantu/Nilotic elite. The KAU remained dominated by the Kikuyu ethnic group. In 1947 Jomo Kenyatta, the former president of the moderate Kikuyu Central Association, became president of the more aggressive KAU to demand a greater political voice for the native inhabitants. The failure of the KAU to attain any significant reforms or redress of grievances from the colonial authorities shifted the political initiative to younger and more militant figures within the African trade union movement, among the squatters on the settler estates in the Rift Valley and in KAU branches in Nairobi and the Kikuyu districts of central province
By 1952, under Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (Mau Mau) launched a full military conflict on the British military, settlers and their native allies. By this time the Mau Mau was fighting for total independence of Kenya. The war is considered by some the gravest crisis of Britain's African colonies The capture of rebel leader Dedan Kimathi on 21 October 1956 signalled the ultimate defeat of the Mau Mau Uprising, and essentially ended the British military campaign. The conflict arguably set the stage for Kenyan independence in December 1963.
Since the proclamation of the Republic of Kenya, after the British colony of Kenya came to an end in 1963, the Agikuyu now form an integral part of the Kenyan nation. They continue to play their part as citizens of Kenya, helping to build their country. However, some Kenyans resent their incorrectly perceived superior economic status, a resentment sometimes vented through political violence, as happened in 1992, 1997 and 2007 Kenyan elections.
According to a Y-Chromosome DNA study by Wood et al. (2005), about 73% of Gĩkũyũs and their Bantu kinsmen the Kamba belong to the common Sub-Saharan paternal haplogroup E1b1a. The remainder carry other clades: 19% E1b1b, 2% A, and 2% B.
In terms of maternal lineages, Gĩkũyũs closely cluster with other Eastern Bantu groups like the Sukuma. Most belong to various Sub-Saharan mtDNA L haplogroups such as L0f, L3x, L4g and L5 per Castrì et al. (2009). According to Salas et al. (2002), other Gĩkũyũs largely carry the L1a clade, which is a signature of the Bantu expansion from West Africa.
Gĩkũyũs speak the Gĩkũyũ language as their native tongue, which is a member of the Bantu subgroup of the Niger–Congo language family. Additionally, many speak Swahili and English as lingua franca, the two official languages of Kenya.
The Gĩkũyũ are closely related to the Embu, Meru, Mbeere, and Kamba people who also live around Mt. Kenya. Members of the Gĩkũyũ family from the greater Kiambu (commonly referred to as the Kabete) and Nyeri districts are closely related to the Maasai people due to intermarriage prior to colonisation. The Gĩkũyũ people between Thika and Mbeere are closely related to the Kamba people who speak a language similar to Gĩkũyũ. As a result, the Gĩkũyũ people that retain much of the original Gĩkũyũ heritage reside around Kirinyaga and Murang'a regions of Kenya. The Murang'a district is considered by many to be the cradle of the Gĩkũyũ people and as such, Gĩkũyũ's from the Murang'a area are considered to be of a purer breed.
Until 1888, the Agikuyu literature was purely expressed in folklore. Famous stories include The Maiden Who Was Sacrificed By Her Kin, The Lost Sister, The Four Young Warriors, The Girl who Cut the Hair of the N'jenge, and many more.
When the European missionaries arrived in the Agikuyu country in 1888, they learnt the Kikuyu language and started writing it using a modified Roman alphabet. The Kikuyu responded strongly to missionaries and European education. They had greater access to education and opportunities for involvement in the new money economy and political changes in their country. As a consequence, there are notable Kikuyu literature icons such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Meja Mwangi. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's literary works include Caitani Mutharabaini (1981), Matigari(1986) and Murogi wa Kagogo(Wizard of the Crow (2006)) which is the largest known Kikuyu language novel having been translated into more than thirty languages
Traditional Kikuyu music has existed for generations up to 1888, when the Agikuyu people encountered and adopted a new culture from the Europeans. Before 1888 and well into 1920s, Kikuyu music included Kibaata, Nduumo and Muthunguci. Today, Music and Dance are strong components of Kikuyu culture. There is a vigorous Kikuyu recording industry, for both popular and gospel music, in their pentatonic scale and western music styles. Popular Kikuyu musicians include Joseph Kamaru, DK Kamau, Wanganangu, HM, D'mathew, Peter Kiggia, Mike Rua and Esther Wahome.
Kikuyu cinema and film production are a very recent phenomenon among the Agikuyu. They have become popular only in the 21st century. In the 20th century, most of the Agikuyu consumed cinema and film produced in the west, particularly America's Hollywood. Popular Kikuyu film productions include comedies such as Machang'i series and Kihenjo series.
Typical Kikuyu food includes githeri (maize and beans), mukimo (mashed green peas and potatoes), irio (mashed dry beans, corn and potatoes), roast goat, beef, chicken and cooked green vegetables such as collards, spinach and carrots. Agikuyu people are also fond of nyama choma.
Although Gĩkũyũs historically adhered to indigenous faiths, most have today converted to Christianity.
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