The Nordic woman has long blond hair which she uses as part of her winter attire. It falls over her shoulders as a blanket and keeps the neck warm. The neck carrying the crucial blood vessels and nerves to and from the brain is one of the vital areas that is able to send a message that the body is warm. Its a matter of what the brain thinks it feels. So much so that advertisers of winter clothing use the subconscious association of hair with a feeling of warmth and security to subliminally target buyers.

The folk tale, Rapunzel where a girl is shut up in a castle by an evil witch and is freed by a charming prince may be nothing more than an enactment of the battle between the evil winter, represented by the witch and the bright summer awakening represented by the prince and the crucial role hair plays in her survival.

Hair is associated with continuity and growth and with fertility and sex. It is therefore not surprising that it is used so powerfully in this age of marketing and advertizing and with even greater effect than the more obvious and overt sexual signals.

During the summer the hair is gathered up and held with pins above the head or done into pig tails to remove the blanket from the shoulders and exposing them to the precious sun. For those with fast growing hair it is sometimes just cropped above the shoulders during the summer.

In Africa, the sun is deadly and the African adapted to his environment by having melanin in his skin to help block the deadly rays of the sun. As for hair he would never let it fall over his shoulders as a thick blanket as this would smother him to death. He therefore developed several hair styles that either made the long hair into ropes or was simply cut and kept short. The genetic adaptation of curly hair that trapped air in it ensured that the little hair on top of his head acted as a good insulator for the head against the burning sun.

The thatched roof of an African dwelling was also an adaptation to the African sun. The thick insulation ensured a cool inside environment. This roof was like the curly hair trapping a mass of air for insulation. The sleek smooth and thin iron roofs constructed in most of Africa today trap no air within themselves and hence the rooms under them are extremely hot inside.

To appreciate the coolness of an African grass thatched hut, it is necessary to remove ones shoes and step in with bare feet. (not with socks). Coming in from a long walk in the burning heat, the coolness of the bare earth floor is transmitted through the feet into the whole body. The experience is difficult to explain in words and is probably best experienced. It is not a feeling that is easily measurable and tabulated. The brain receives the message of coolness just like the Nordic brain is affected by the neck warmth. Walking in with shoes is a waste of this wonderful opportunity.

The African grass thatch is fast disappearing and is being replaced by cheap iron roofs poorly adapted to the African environment but at least provide crucial drinking water. In hair the cheap solution is a plastic weave from China labeled, human hair which however is waterproof like the iron sheets. Others in imitation of Western idols let their hair down on their shoulders getting hot under the collar like their men counterparts in dark suits and ties.


Gĩkuyũ Home – Mũciĩ

A Gikuyu home, Muciĩ,  “is that which has a woman and a man, for an unmarried man has no home of his own and one gets a home when he marries or is married. A man when he marries is when he builds his new wife a house for no two married women share a house.”  This is a translation of the first lines of chapter 3, on “the Gikuyu home” in Stanley Kĩama Gathĩgĩra’s book , Miikarire ya Agikuyu. (Customs of the Kikuyu) published in 1934. “Mucii ni uria uri mutumia na muthuri, amu gutiri mwanake uri mucii wake, ni undu mundu agiaga na mucii o aahikania kana aahikio. Mundu aahikania nirio aakagira muhiki wake nyumba, tondu gutiri atimia eri matuuraga nyumba imwe.”

In translating the above Gikuyu into English, one runs into a number of difficulties as the word ‘house’ in the English language does not properly communicate the meaning in the Gikuyu. The word nyumba in Gikuyu today generically means any house, even a commercial building like a shop, but traditionally the word nyumba meant the specific structure built for the habitation of a married woman. Inside a Gikuyu homestead, the Nyumba was the main house and the man’s hut, thingira  and other structures like granaries and animal shelters were secondary. A Gikuyu home, mucii was one with at least one Nyumba. The ceremonies accompanying its erection and the taboos that were associated with it made it the centre of the homestead life.

The word ‘hut’ does not properly describe this Nyumba and conjures in a Gikuyu mind the man’s hut, thingira. In speaking of the Nyumba today it would be a grave injustice to refer to it as ‘a woman’s hut’. Any reference to it today must always be in the Gikuyu as Nyumba and to differentiate it from any generic modern house must be capitalized. All Nyumba layouts were exactly the same. The man’s hut, thingira can however never be capitalized as there were many designs of thingira.

Gathigira however says, “a home is that which has a woman and a man”, meaning that an unmarried man may build a house to live in and however big it is people always say of him, ndari mucii,  ‘he has no home.’ This according to Gathigira also applies to a single lady. She has no home even if she has a house.

Gathigira also says that no two women share the same house. A Nyumba is specific to a specific woman. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the eminent Gikuyu author when He was forced into exile left a home in Limuru. His wife, Nyambura later died and the house has been under the caretaking of a relative of Ngugi since then. Ngugi however remarried but being a strict Gikuyu cannot take the new wife Njeeri to his former home in Limuru. Njeeri has her home in the USA and has yet to establish one in Kenya. In such a case Ngugi’s Limuru home is said to have finished with the death of his wife – Niwathirire.

In rural Gikuyu, today the homestead is always made up of a main house, nyumba, a kitchen, riko, and several other structures all usually around a courtyard of bare earth swept daily and kept perfectly clean. This courtyard space is called the Nja and is owned and managed by the woman, mundu-wa-nja, ‘Person of the Nja’. The homestead can have an extensive compound but the Nja is a specific area defined by the bare earth and taking the feminine operations of the homestead eg. food preparation, washing, drying farm produce and a man does not sit in there. It is a woman’s realm. There is usually a bench under a small tree for shade and many small structures, holding all manner of small animals and birds beyond and round about the Nja. In one such bench the men may sit. Cows are not allowed into the Nja and most cattle today are in zero grazing units as few small farmers can afford the luxury of a pasture. The toilet and bath are usually in a separate structure but a bit removed from the Nja.

The word homestead is used especially in architecture to mean a group of domestic dwellings or structures in a compound and related as an entity by use of an organizing principle like a courtyard without necessarily having the social religious overtones of home. The relationships in a homestead are primarily spatial and structural rather than social as in the case a home, mucii. Thus a compound with structures constituting a single lady’s or bachelor’s habitation is a homestead but not necessarily a home.

Gathĩgĩra, Stanley Kĩama. 1934. Mĩikarĩre ya Agĩkũyũ. (Customs of the Kikuyu.). Nairobi, Equatorial Publishers Ltd.

Stages of a Gikuyu Woman’s Life

  1. Kaana – a girl baby. A baby boy is a gakenge.
  2. Karĩgũ – a young girl not yet circumcised.  (Kĩrĩgũ – big girl.)
  3. Mũiritu – A maiden after circumcision and before marriage.
  4. Mũhiki – A bride for the first year after marriage. If she goes beyond this one year without getting pregnant she begins to raise concern. A few more years without getting pregnant and she undergoes a resurrection ceremony called Kũriũkio  kwa mũhiki which is intended to awaken her.  (Kũriũkio – to be resurrected)
  5. Mũhiki wa rwara rũmwe – A primipara with only one child.
  6. Mũtumia wa kang’ei – An older married woman who can join in the wedding dance when food is taken to the village of the groom. (Wabai – a class term for mature matrons.)
  7. Mũtumia wa nyakĩnyua – A mother of at least three circumcised daughters or sons and is hence entitled to drink (kunyua) beer.
  8. Mũtumia wa makanga – A woman past child-bearing but who is still active.
  9. Kĩheti – An old woman who resides at home unable to leave her homestead.


The general term for a woman is mutumia, meaning ‘one whose lips are sealed’ and the name for the female gender is Mundu-wa-nja meaning ‘Person of the Nja’. The Nja was the open courtyard space surrounded by all the huts in a homestead. The Gikuyu were polygamous and each woman in a homestead had her own hut, nyumba and the man his own hut, thingira. Each woman also had her own granary and all these structures were held together by the Nja. The Nja was bare earth and always swept clean and it was taboo for someone to trip and fall within it. It meant there were things lying around loosely. The swept Nja also made it difficult for snakes and other small animals to venture there. The food preparation and cooking also happened in the Nja when weather permitted and the inside of the hut was used mainly in the evenings and at night.

The woman ruled the Nja and this was her realm. The man usually would sit outside his thingira or with friends around another fireplace near the entrance to the courtyard, boi-ini. Cattle were not allowed into the Nja and  though goats were permitted they were controlled in a corner of the Nja by providing sweet potato vines hung on a post, Kihanya. They were also provided with a trough filled with saline earth for them to lick therefore they could not roam about the Nja. Cow peas, millet, sorghum and other produce would also be spread out to dry in the Nja and because of this the beloved small robin bird, Kanyoni-ka-nja or ‘Bird of the Nja’ was always about moving around and feeding on the seeds. Like the small bird moving up and about in the Nja, the woman was also the ‘Person of the Nja‘, Mundu-wa-nja, the name for the feminine gender. And just as all the built objects in a Gikuyu homestead orbit the Nja, so does the woman act as a central force holding the members of a Gikuyu family in place. The Nja is a mirror of her world.


This name Mundu-muka is used in the Gikuyu Bible for ‘woman’. It means ‘the person who came’ (from uka-come). When a woman married a man she is the one who left her people and joined her husband’s people, thus she gained the name mundu-muka or ‘the one who came’. But this was not the way things worked at the beginning of time. Gikuyu myths talk of a time when the woman was the head of the household and it was the man who came to her and was married to her just like in the case of the original nine plus one daughters but that is another story.


Ngatha ya Mutumia is a prosperous woman of substance of the Nyakinyua or Makanga grade. Traditionally the picture of a Ngatha was not one of a thin woman like the Ngatha of today as Mrs.Jane Kiano nor  was it of a fiery-brand like a  Mrs.Wambui Otieno or a Wangari Maathai but one of quiet self-assurance and confidence with just a hint of disdain. Mama Ngina Kenyatta is the true personification of a Gikuyu ngatha. She is ample and has the overpowering presence of a queen yet is still a Mutumia, a woman of discretion. The Catholics try to pass off the virgin Mary as a Ngatha but that picture is riddled with contradiction as their Mary is first and foremost an innocent virgin most usually depicted as being at the level of a maiden, muiritu gathirange. Ngatha ya mutumia is rare and at a spiritual level this is what every woman strives to be whatever her outward circumstances may be. It is not dependent on adulation but  on an inner experience and sense of self satisfied well-being. Gwikindira.

A baby - Kaana

A girl - Kairĩtu (Karĩgũ)

A maiden - Mũirĩtu

A young mother - Kang'ei

A mature woman - Nyakinyua

An old Lady - Kĩheti

Photos from Il Popolo Kikuyu

Wamuyu: A Single Mom?

Wamuyu aka Warigia aka Wanjugu was the Gikuyu daughter of Mumbi who according to legend did’t marry. This post speculates on the reasons she did not marry.

According to the existing myths of the tribe, Gikuyu and Mumbi the first parents of the tribe bore nine plus one daughters and no sons. This was at their home at Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga in Muranga. Gikuyu then prayed to God and God asked him to make a burnt offering of a goat under the Mukuyu tree and return in the morning. On return the following morning he found nine young men waiting whom he took to his daughters and each took one for a husband.  These nine went on to establish what are the cornerstones of the tribe the nine  plus one clans. The clans are ‘nine with the fill’ not because Wamuyu’s clan, the Aicakamuyu was the fill but because the Gikuyu do not count their offspring exactly for fear they might perish. The myth is not clear whether there were actually nine young men or ten. Remember the Gikuyu will not count exact numbers of people or livestock due to superstition. So it is not at all clear whether Wamuyu refused to marry because there was no husband for her or because she had to wait as some people who tell the myth say that she was too young to marry.

I am a great fan of folk tales and myths and I have come to understand that most of them contain a very powerful meaning once deconstructed. Take the story of little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. A mere tale to amuse children? Nay! It is the story of maturation and initiation according to some writers. “Take care little girl, men are wolves” Or take the story of Beauty and the Beast. Isn’t it a teaching to young girls to beware of judging their future spouses by mere externals and looks?

In order to deconstruct the story of Wamuyu, we have to understand the dynamics of family life as presented by the first family. Look at them. They have nine grown up women who are all married to “goats” They shortly all go away one after another with their husbands to settle elsewhere. This aging couple had no son who could bring a young woman to take care of them. This was a serious matter as there were no old people’s homes then. One of the girls, certainly the one who either  loved them more than she loved herself or was favored of the father and mother must have decided – to hell with the “goat of a husband” and decided to stay and take care of the aging couple. This girl, Wamuyu, as she has been called, rather than being an outcast  as some people have suggested was probably the most beloved, the most caring and possibly the richest of the ten daughters of Mumbi as she would have inherited Gikuyu’s property. That is why even being single she is recognized as the mother of a full clan in its own right, the Aicakamuyu.

From her life we might conclude that:

  • Women owning and inheriting property was a fact from the beginning of time. It was overturned only later. (another myth)
  • The phenomenon of a single motheris not “un-African” or a misfortune as is insinuated by some people. It was a fully recognized status by Gikuyu himself.


Updated on 2nd Aug 2011 – Internal links

Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga

Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga is the mythical garden of Eden of the Gikuyu tribe of central Kenya. It is also the central point of dispersal of the Gikuyu after arrival into the Mt. Kenya area. According to the myth, God, Ngai took the first Gikuyu man up to his abode on top of Mt. Kenya, Kiri-Nyaga, and showed him all the land pointing to the Aberdare Mountain ranges (Nyandarwa) to the west, Ngong Hills (Kia Mbiruiru) to the South and the Ol donyo Sabuk (Kia Njahi) to the South east. (see map). God told him, “All that land between those mountains and here is yours. Whenever you need me, pray to me facing those mountains and I will answer you. Now go and setlle at that place near that giant Mukuyu fig tree and build a house for your wife.” Gikuyu then discended and went to the place he had been directed to and there found a woman waiting for him. The woman’s name was Mumbi, which means Creator or Potter. They settled in the place and had nine plus one daughters but no sons. This place of origin has traditionally been identified as Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga near present day Muranga.

The daughters names were, Wanjiru, Wambui, Wanjiku, Wangari, Waceera, Wakiuru, Waithira, Wairimu, Wangui, and Wamuyu.

After some time Gikuyu felt that his daughters needed to get married and he went and prayed to Ngai and Ngai answered him requesting the sacrifice of a spotless goat at the foot of the Mukuyu and for Gikuyu to return early in the morning to the spot. On arrival at the fig tree the following morning he found nine young men waiting and he took them home. Each of the girls took a mate who was her height. Wamuyu was left to stay without a husband as she was too young to marry. These nine couples went on to establish their own homesteads and are the source, together with Wamuyu of the Nine plus One Gikuyu clans.

Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga today attracts curious Gikuyu who want to know their history and also tourists who want to find out more about the tribe. It is also used by the Gikuyu political elite to rally the tribe around a common cause. Gikuyu traditional religious men also visit the place from time to time to make sacrifices and prayers.

The Muranga county together with the Ministry of Culture and Social Services have been trying for years to develop some form of cultural center where people could come and learn more of their culture, a sort of museum. I should think the Kenya National Museums are involved in the project though I am not sure. For now what there is is an abandoned project in serious decay. There is an ignorant attempt at reproducing Gikuyu traditional architecture and some men from around the village who saunter in when they see a van of visitors and who give a rudimentary introduction to the place. Usually they earn themselves a few coins from the grateful visitors. Below are some of the images of the place as it is. Definitely not a garden of Eden and even less worthy of a visit from anyone wanting to understand more about the Gikuyu.

Above gate and signboard.


On the left is the “sacred tree”. This is actually a Muringa tree (Cordia africana) and not the mythical fig tree, Mukuyu, (Ficus sycomorus). The lower branches and the trunk were recently burnt by a fire which was started by a religious man of the Akurinu sect who had come to perform some rituals. The huts on the right supposedly represent the traditional huts like Gikuyu and Mumbi could have built.

Above a fireplace on a cement screed floor and a bed of bamboo on the right.

Above, the entrance to the yet unfinished Cultural Centre and the performance hall to the left.

Above, the rest cabins are ten named after the nine plus one clans and a reception on the right. Notice the high walls and short eaves resulting in a dirty wall above plinth from splash. Luckily the walls are in stone and cement plastered. If they were mud walls they could not survive that kind of treatment.

Above, inside the walls of the Cultural Centre. This is their visitors book where people sign. Updates are also regularly posted on the wall.

Above, visitors being given the stories and myths by guides.

Nation TV video of Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga

An explanation of the traditional huts to the guests.

The long version of the explanation above.

Post updated on 2nd Aug 2011. Changes – main text, links

Gitaruru {GĨTARŨRŨ}

GĨTARŨRŨ is a winnowing tray of the Gĩkũyũ tribe in central Kenya that was and still is an indispensable household utensil in many homes. It has multiple uses. It is mainly used for winnowing grain and the true test, if there was one, of a true Gĩkũyũ woman is the dexterity and grace of her body coordination when winnowing with the gĩtarũrũ. It is really a dance for the body sings. It is the most rhythmic body exercise ever devised and no wonder women were so stoic and elegant. A small one is called a gatiti.

Gitaruru in 1905 from Routredge's "With a Prehistoric People"

Woman Winnowing - from Red Strangers, A novel by Elspheth Huxley 1939.

The gĩtarũrũ is made from thin strips of the Mũgio (Triumfetta tomentosa) cut longitudinally and held together tightly by the buck of the same Mugio into a width of a forefinger and done into an ever expanding spiral adding more strips as you go.  The difficult part is getting the bottom after a diameter of about two feet to make a gentle curve and an upright of about 2-3 inches making it into a tray that can hold grain.

Woman making a gatiti from Il Popolo Kikuyu.

It was used for all manner of things besides winnowing and a home cannot do without one even today. It was so efficient in preparing beans for cooking as you just run your hand over the beans and the sand and stones get caught in the valleys and you just pick up the clean beans – simple.

Women preparing a feast from the Akikuyu by Cagnolo 1933

Food preparation outside the house. From Il Popolo Kikuyu

After food was served from the pot, the remaining food was placed on the gĩtarũrũ and usually placed somewhere cool like the granary. Anyone could help himself or herself of the food thus stored including passerbys.

A good gĩtarũrũ was smeared with cow dung on both sides. Some people have queried the usefulness of this and out of ignorance have slowly made the cow dung gĩtarũrũ a thing of the past by making it look unhygienic. Ironically it is just the opposite. It is more unhygienic to use a gĩtarũrũ without cow dung.

Cow dung as it dries becomes very moisture hungry. When a half calabash of Irio (maize and beans mashed with green bananas, pumpkin leaves or whatever other green) is placed on this kind of gĩtarũrũ, the moisture hungry gĩtarũrũ begins to suck the liquid from the food. Within hours, the food has hardened and by the following day it is like a rock for hardness. This way it can last for several days without going bad or having a bad smell. I used to love this kind of three day old food when eaten cold. Put the same food on one of these modern metal trays and within hours it is drenched and swimming in its own watery slimy base. In a day or two it has attracted mould and is already stinking. So now you know that nothing passes from the gĩtarũrũ to the food. Any movement is from the food to the gĩtarũrũ. The gĩtarũrũ is a cleanser, a preserver, an African fridge.

The same principle works in a mud wall treated with cow dung like the Maasai dwelling or a traditional Gĩkũyũ dwelling. The outside was so moisture hungry that it sucked air right out of the hut leaving it ice cool inside. This is why an elephant or buffalo rolls in mud when it is very hot. It is cooled by the layer of mud quickly drying up and also healed of any wounds as germs are sucked out of the wounds.

Muddy Elepphant cooling off.

Since the cow dung for the treatment of walls was also mixed with urine, it was a powerful treatment against insects and fleas. In the absence of animals in a hut or even the compound due to poverty, the house is infested with all manner of parasites including jiggers. As a matter of fact in traditional Gĩkũyũ dwellings the goats always spent the night in the huts in either a pen or freely in an area called kweru.

Their presence thus in the hut is of the greatest value, as the alkali in their urine prevents the ingress of the burrowing flea or jigger. Where no goats are present as in the case of very poor people, the children and sick persons may be seen with their fingers and toes dropping off in the consequence of the jiggers in their hands and feet¹.

African Renaissance

¹ Routredge Scoresby and Routredge Katherine, 1910. With a prehistolic people: The Akikuyu of British east Africa, London, Edward and Arnold.

Gĩkũyũ names for God


The name for God among the Gĩkũyũ is NGAI.  Ngai seems from the many descriptions of him to be a man who related to the first man, Gĩkũyũ as a friend, walking with him and speaking with him. But Gĩkũyũ mythology suggests that he then retreats into the mountains and no longer communicates directry to humanity today. He however occasionally leaves his mountain abode and takes walks up and about viewing his creation. The Gĩkũyũ then say he is inspecting his wealth. (kũroora). One story states that the Karĩma Hill in Othaya, Nyeri is Ngai’s footprint as he moved between the Aberdares Range (Nyandarũa) to Mt. Kenya, (Kĩrĩnyaga) his main abode. When the Gĩkũyũ say, NGAI, NIWE MUGAI, (God is the only server), they mean literally that God, is the only source of all that they receive. Everything belongs to God and it is in God’s wisdom and benevolence that anything comes to them so his other name is MŨGAI which means the divider or distributer of spoils.



Nyaga in Gĩkũyũ is Ostrich and the white patch of the Ostrich feathers resembles the patch of white snow on the peaks of Mt Kenya.  This makes Ngai Mwene Nyaga, or “POSSESOR OF WHITENESS”, by this the Gĩkũyũ may have been alluding to Ngai as ALL PURE, ALL WHITE, WITHOUT BLEMISH. According to Gĩkũyũ tradition, Ngai dwells on this sacred mountain. In this regard Ngai is NGAI WA KĨRĨNYAGA or GOD OF MT. KENYA. However, when he is up and about reviewing his creation, he takes rests on three other mountains, the Aberdare Ranges (Nyandarũa) to the West, The Ngong Hills,(Kĩa Mbirũirũ) to the South East, and the El Donyo Sabuk (Kĩa Njahĩ or Kĩrĩmambogo). When the Gĩkũyũ pray they face each of these mountains in turn ending with Mt. Kenya, as they would not be sure at which mountain he was resting at any one moment but they refer to him in the prayers as, YOU GOD OF MT. KENYA, not of the other mountains. These four mountains therefore formed powerful eco-spiritual pillars or markers of the Gĩkũyũ world that were indelibly fixed in the Gĩkũyũ psyche.

Map of Kikuyuland


Mũrungu in Gĩkũyũ means literally, “DWELLER OF THE UNDERWORLD”. In Gĩkũyũ mythology there dwells a people under the earth and they are the ones who gave the Gĩkũyũ fire.  In this underworld which is somehow connected to the roots of the sacred fig tree, the Mũgumo dwells the spirits of the ancestors and God, MŨRUNGU, DWELLER OF THE UNDERWORLD” visits it occasionally.


As already mentioned, Mũgai literary means THE DIVIDER, or THE ONE WHO SERVES, or giver of all; therefore possessor of all.


According to Gĩkũyũ mythology, the first man Gĩkũyũ walked with God. God then took him to the top of Mt Kenya and there showed him all the land of the Gĩkũyũ. He then directed the man to a grove of trees near present day Muranga and told him to go and establish his homestead there. This is the Gĩkũyũ sacred site of origin, Mũkũrwe wa Nyagathanga. On arrival he met a woman, Mũmbi the two became man and wife. (Full Story). Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi then were with this Ngai at the beginning of Gĩkũyũ time. It is not clear from the available Gĩkũyũ creation myths how the earth and everything else was created prior to that. What we do know is that Mũmbi the woman’s name means, CREATOR or POTTER. Whether the woman had a hand in creation or she merely made pots is also not clear.  Since the man Gĩkũyũ, found her already waiting for him at the sacred grove Mũkũrwe wa Nyagathanga, she may have pre-existed in the form of the earth itself. NGAI WA GĨKŨYŨ NA MŨMBI or God of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi is this God in Gĩkũyũ mythology.

A depiction of Ngai and Gikuyu

Picture source:

These are the traditional names for God in Gĩkũyũ and any other names, eg.  MWATHANI – Lord, MWENE HINYA WOTHE – God almighty, MŨTŨŨRA MWOYO – Eternal God, MŨTEITHĨRĨRIA – Helper, etc. etc. may have been later derivations from Christianity.


The word NGOMA meaning SPIRIT or SPIRITS is not to be confused with NGAI, God. Spirits dwell among men and seem to be the connection between the living and the dead. The Gĩkũyũ believe that peaceful dead live in the realm of MŨRUNGU, the underworld. The act of pouring a ritual libation to the ancestors before partaking a drink is meant to connect one with the ancestors. The evil spirits of those departed who have never rested in peace however roam the earth and are the source of mischief and misfortune.


Mũrathi in Gĩkũyũ literally means PROPHET or SEER. This was a man who Ngai chose as his messenger to the rest of the people. A famous Seer of the Gĩkũyũ was Mũgo wa Kĩbirũ who foresaw the coming of the White man into Gĩkũyũ country some 200 year ago.


Ngai, is distant and is not involved in the affairs of men here on earth though he visits them from time to time.  He is not to be disturbed with petty annoyances which can be sorted out by the intervention of benevolent spirits. He is beseeched upon on certain occasions when everything else has failed. This is never an individual experience but a community affair when sacrifices are made for instance over a prolonged drought or famine. A personal relationship with Ngai was unheard of except for the first man Gĩkũyũ .


1. Facing Mt. Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta

2. Kwarahura Muhooere wa Gikuyu na Mumbi by Gakaara wa Wanjau

3. The Sacred Footprint: The Story of Karima Sacred Forest by Kariuki wa Thuku

Goat eating at a function

They are celebrating a function to welcome a son from the US visiting in Kenya. Preparations are in full throttle – sitting arrangements, music, food, the goat and even the test video.

A modern rural homestead.

The preparations for the guests still going on.


Reposted on 5th March 2014



Kamweretho is a modern Gikuyu ceremony by women who go home to their mother to ask for blessings from her and sometimes her husband but the central characters are women. The males always take a secondary role if any.

I am made to understand that it was started by the newly rich urban, not so educated ladies who have made it through selling clothes from Dubai and elsewhere and want to show their poor rural moms (and the public) how far they have gotten in the city of lights. They normally go as a group and dress up sometimes in uniform and take clothing (presumably Dubai clothing) and dress the mom and sometimes also the dad with a lot of fanfare. The parent then grants the blessing and they return to the city.

I cannot fail to make a personal comment that while it seems a very noble deed in fact:

  1. The Bible tells us that when we give we should not let the left hand know what the right hand is giving. Jesus was very happy with the poor lady who gave a mite (all she had) secretly, while he was not amused by the showmanship of the rich Pharisee.
  2. Blessings from the parent whether our divine parent or our earthly parent are given unconditionally and are not necessarily because we give them something. Actually the Lord does not look kindly to attempts to bribe him – something that is very prevalent in Kenyan churches and has naturally manifested itself in the Kamweretho.

    Listen to Isaiah Chapter 1

11  To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12  When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
13  Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
15  And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
16  ¶ Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17  Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Kamweretho has also been used by unmarried single mothers who feel a sense of incompleteness as no dowry has ever been paid for them. Like the female initiation rituals to do do with rites of passage which are still so deeply embedded in remnants of traditional Gikuyu psyche that  alternative methods of rite of passage have been devised, the modern Kamweretho is used by unmarried single mothers as an alternative  to the powerful dowry rituals performed during a marriage ceremony. In such a Kamweretho, the single mother marries herself (Kwigura). In a show of celebratory defiance some of these ceremonies sometimes turn into orgies of  drinking sometimes worse after the day ceremony. This has caused some churches to distance themselves from them.

The basic organization of the Kamweretho is the popular women’s merry-go-round and cooperative; ideas which have been central in empowerment of women. Each member of the group contributes a certain amount of money each month which is invested or used as a lump sum by one member at a time. Many women have benefited greatly by these merry-go-rounds. In the Kamweretho the women organise to visit the rural home of each of the members at a time. There are many different shades of the Kamweretho and the ceremonies differ according to region and religion.

Posted on 5 May, 2009 @ 18:37 by Mukuyu

Reposted : 5 March 2014