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People of Kenya: Kikuyu

The Kikuyu are Bantus. They came to Kenya during the Bantu migration. They include some families from all the surrounding people and can be identified with the Kamba, the Meru, the Embu and the Chuka


Kikuyu are the largest of all the Kenya ethnic groups numbering more than five million. They spread rapidly throughout the Central Province, Kenya and also in the world. Their original heartland is the area around Mount Kenya usually identifying their land by the surrounding mountain ranges of Mt. Kenya and Aberdares.

The original kikuyu are thought to have migrated to the area from the east and north east over a period of hundred years from the 16th century. Basically they overran the original occupants of the area such as the Athi and the Gumba, although intermarriage and trading occurred.

The kikuyu new land was bordered by the Maasai and although there were periods of calm between the two groups, there were also times when raids were carried against each other’s property and cattle. Intermmarriage took place leading them to share a number of similarities such as dress, weaponry and dancing.

The administration of the clans (mwaki), made up of many family groups (nyumba), was originally taken care of by a council of elders with good deal of importance being placed on the role of the witch doctor, medicine and the blacksmith.

Though they are traditionally agricultural people and have a reputation as hard-working people, a lot of them are now involved in business. Most of the Kikuyu still live on small family plots but many of them have also seen the opportunities in business and have moved to cities and different areas to work. They have a desire for knowledge and it is believed that all children should receive a full education.

They have a terrific reputation for money management and it is common for them to have many enterprises at one time. The Kikuyu have also been active politically. The kikuyu God ‘Ngai’ is belived to reside on Mt. Kenya (Kirinyaga – the mountain of the black and white spots like ostrich feathers). This demanded for the doors of kikuyu huts to be fitted facing Mt. Kenya.

Initiation rites for both boys and girls are important ceremonies and consist of circumcission in boys and cliterodectomy in girls although the later is now rarely practiced. Each group of youths of the same age belongs to an age set (riika) and passes through the various stages of life and rituals together.

The Kikuyu man is referred to as m?thuuri (meaning someone who can choose or discern evil from good) and the Kikuyu woman is called m?tumia (meaning someone who retains family secrets and practices). Traditionally, Kikuyu society is polygamous so that any man with means could have as many wives as he could afford.

The main traditional dishes for kikuyu are Irio (a mash of traditional vegatables with potatoes and or arrowroots, pumpkins and bananas), blood and meat was also welcome although now Githeri (mixture of bioled maize/corn and beans) has become the stable food. Also availlable was farmented porridge (ucuru) which still today is used in major functions together with traditional brew (muratina).