The Second Birth – Gucokia Mwana Ihu-ini

Among the traditional Gikuyu, when a child was born, it took about three to four years sometimes even five for it to be weaned from its mother. The first separation of baby and mother was done by the midwife when she cut the umbilical cord. Between that first birth and the second, the mother carried the child everywhere she went and if need be had to carry it even on top of her other loads. On very very rare occasions would she let the child out of her sight and then only under an elder daughter and never with a co-wife or stranger. The child after it learnt how to walk always tagged behind its mother’s leather dress and usually would never let go and would hide between her legs under the long dress when a stranger was talking to the mother. The strong bond between child and mother was only broken after an elaborate ritual ceremony of the Second Birth also called “Returning the child into the womb”, Gucokia mwana ihu-ini.

Woman coming from the river. The Construction of the harness for the water pot, ndigithu is an architectural masterpiece
Woman coming from the river. The Construction of the harness for the water pot, ndigithu is an architectural masterpiece

The Second Birth was important for several reasons.

  1. Up to that point, about three to four years, the child’s Soul was in formation and could not take on any responsibility for sin. Any sin and the misfortune arising therefrom, thahu, was the parents’ responsibility and they were the ones who would undergo the purification ceremony for the sin, thahu. The Second Birth ceremony was therefore the real birth of the individual ego. Henceforth not only did the child become responsible for its own destiny but it shed any inherited sins of its parents.
  2. It is after the ceremony that a child graduated from its first stage of child, mwana into becoming either a Kairitu, girl or a Kahii, boy. It does not mean he or she was a generic genderless being but he was a mwana wa kahii, and mwana wa kairitu. The child after that could be sent, for instance fetch such and such item from so and so.
  3. The child and also the mother take the difficult step of disengaging themselves from each other. She could then have another child. Women who had children on top of each other before the previous had graduated were thought to be irresponsible women without planning and their husbands worse like they could not afford to have other wives. It was a planning thing.
  4. The child could be allowed to sleep in another house away from the mother. Before that it could never be allowed to sleep out with relatives. Even more, the child could leave its mothers bed and sleep in the Kweru for a boy and in the girls’ bed, Kiriri for the girl. I say could because getting the privilege of sleeping in the girls’ bed, Kikiri required the consent of the older girls.

The ceremony itself was a very elaborate affair and would take pages and pages to describe. I urge readers to get themselves a copy of Stanley Kiama Gathigira, Miikarire ya Agikuyu or Mathew Njoroge Kabetu Kirira kia Ugikuyu. Gathigira gives the Nyeri, Gaki version of the ceremony and Kabetu the Kabete version. Briefly, the ceremony required the use of the original half calabash that was used to wash the baby after it came from its mother’s womb and a new calabash, a fattened ram which the woman had to take to the river and have it dip its forelegs into, and eight leaves collected from the bush by children; four leaves of the Mukenia and four leaves of the Mutei for a total of eight leaves. The woman had to collect soil from the hoofsteps of the ram into the calabash. All these were brought to the man who then slaughtered the ram and its innards mixed with the soil. The child then dipped the leaves into the mix and smeared the mother. The highlight of the ceremony was an enactment of childbirth compete with labour pains. The intestines of the ram were tied between mother and child and the climax of the ceremony was the cutting of this ritual cord. After this, the woman and the child were clean shaven to look like the calabashes. The ceremony also involved the use of the four secondary spaces in a Gikuyu Nyumba, woman’s house.

The Gikuyu Nyumba Woman’s Abode

A Nyumba had:

  1. The main central space with a three stone hearth at the centre.
  2. Four Primary Spaces forming a cross outside the square but inside the circle of the Nyumba’s circular wall. The Entry, ruri, The Goats Area, Kweru, The Woman’s Bed space, Uriri, and the Great bed, Kiriri.
  3. The Secondary Spaces at the extremities of the inner square between the Primary spaces: Gaturwa-ini, Gaturi, Thegi, and Gicegu

The Primary and secondary spaces are eight and there are four twice leaves – eight for the ceremony.
The main rafters holding up the Kikuyu cone roof were always eight.
The hooves of the the ram are eight as each leg has a pair.
The old calabash of the primal birth and a new calabash signified the split between the new life and the old. If they were put together they are complete as a circular container, womb made of old and new, mother and child. The Nyumba is a container of the Gikuyu Soul. The center is the navel. Umbelico del mondo, or the navel of the world.

This ceremony was one of the first to be attacked by the civilizing missionaries and this resulted in its abandonment. Because polygamy also came under attack the direct result was the loss of control which women had over sexual matters and they started bearing children every two years and sometimes yearly. Women became physically devastated and have never quite recovered.

17 thoughts on “The Second Birth – Gucokia Mwana Ihu-ini

  1. This is very impactful for me, i recently had a 2nd baby after 4years and a ceremony like this would have been so life changing, children indeed need something to transition from being the mwana, and mothers too. It is so sad we lost this


  2. I know one cannot unscramble an egg, but we need to go back as a much as possible to our ways b4 Mzungu brought us “civilization”. I think this is what is called Family Planning.


  3. “Women became physically devastated and have never quite recovered.”
    I wonder about your conclusion here. It’s seems to promote this pagan ritual and polygamy. But have you thought about the many ways these women and their children have benefited from the truly selfless work of loving missionaries, who brought hope, truth, education, medicine, science and many other things to the different tribes and people groups throughout the African continent? Although some will lament a loss of tribal rites and pagan rituals, where these things truly good just because they were intrinsic parts of traditional culture? No, I think not. Truly these people have been liberated from bondage to those false gods they used to worship. Logically, with an end to polygamy, each married woman now has a greater voice in her family because she is the only wife and mother. This is true even if the society remains patriarchal and dominated by men. In regards to the mother-child bond, it is curious to compare the so-called ‘second birth’ to Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus about being born again (see John 3). Indeed, many pagan rituals throughout the world bear a resemblance to spiritual truths, but replace the Creator with creatures and created things as objects of worship (Romans 1:25)… Surely the selfless work of the missionaries who loved these people, many of whom even died for them, and the hope of the gospel has drastically improved their quality of life, not diminished it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “the truly selfless work of loving missionaries, who brought hope, truth, education, medicine, science and many other things to the different tribes and people groups throughout the African continent? ”

      Lets lleave the selfless part and that some of them suppossedly died for us like the so-called saviour. You say they brought hope? You say they brought truth? Are you serious? Good people, is this a comment we can reply to? He says they brought medicines? Which planet does he live in? They brought education? They brought us a god because our gods were false and we needed liberation from them? Are you serious? Do you ever allow yourself to think critically about these issues as they pertain to you in your judeo-christian bubble?


      1. Well, I’m no expert. But I’ve read stories and watched documentaries telling as much. I also have many African friends who are Christian. And I would be willing to read more from your perspective, friend.


    2. for you to understand a culture you have to learn from it through day to day activities.our traditional rules,regulations and positions that were held by each individual in the society maintained sanity,morality,spirituality in wholesome.all this were integrated through what the white man writes as the ten commandments from God…do u think we also didn’t have and know God till you came God?.infact we revered God in the traditional st up than what we do today.we had traditional medicine men who used herbs to heal.this herbs didn’t bring secondary diseases like that of white man today.if we compare the white man and our traditional way life ;life would have been better if u didn’t come to Africa.


      1. Hello, Rwigi. Thank you for your reply. I admit that I commented out of ignorance and that everyone’s kind responses have been enlightening. Thank you for also sharing your perspective. We cannot change the terrible things that happened in the past or long for the What if that never happened. It would also be useless for me as a white man to apologize for things that other white people did to your African relatives in the past. I have never been to Africa. Nevertheless, I do apologize. Although those those were not my crimes, I do understand the pain is real and I sympythize with those who have suffered. Bad things happen to everyone, not just Africans. This is the human experience. Now we live in a globalized world, where we cannot wish that white people never went to Africa. That is an impossibility. White people are not the problem. Thinking that way is actually another kind of racism. The real problem, my friend, is the evil that abides in the human heart. Sin infects everyone, regardless of your skin color, race, religion or nationality. There is only one vaccine: faith in Jesus Christ. Do not be deceived by your own prejudices or distracted by the personality of the messenger: The gift of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE and it is FREE. Including you and me. You can choose to believe it and receive God’s blessing on your life. Or you can choose one of a million reasons to reject it. Either way, God knows. He looks at our hearts and is the final Judge of our lives. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Jesus (who was Jewish) said those words to his disciples (who definitely where not white) before he went to the cross to die for their sins, so that they could be saved from the punishment of sin, be blessed on earth and spend eternity with him in heaven… Rwigi, clearly you feel disappointed about life on earth. Me, too! But here is the Good News, if you choose to accept it!


  4. @Jordonious the big question is what dod the whiteman get in return for bringing his ‘civilization’ to Africa? Poverty and destitution started when the colonialists came and stole our lands. They have continued to exploit our minerals,land,water name it and africans have continued to sink in poverty. You talk about pagan rituals but whose yardstick are you using? What is pagan to the whiteman is not necessarily pagan to Africans. Back here we say that the whiteman came and promised us heaven in the sky and made his on our land using our resources. Infact one of the first explorers returned a message to the queen saying that he did not see a single beggar in Africa. There was no poverty at all. We have practiced your religion and ended up with a wretched society, religious leaders being the worst hypocrites, some even scum. This is a far cry from the disciplined well fulfilled society that we had traditionally so in short christianity has failed to replace our cultural practices effectively. You dig?


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