Greetings in Gīkūyū can be complicated. In order to understand Gīkūyū traditional greetings it is necessary to first define some terms.
Maitū means Mother and not just the biological mother but all women who are the approximate age of your mother. She will greet all young men Wakīa Awa and young women as Wakīa Iiyū and they will reply, Wakīa Maitū – Hail! my mother!
Awa means Father and all men of the approximate age of your father. He will greet all young women Wakīa Maitū and young men Wanyua Awa and the girl will reply Wakīa Awa while the boy will reply, Wanyua Awa – Hail! my father!
Cūcū means Grandmother and all women of the approximate age of your Granny will greet you Wakīa Cūcū. The reply is the same.
Wakinī means male agemate so they will greet each other Wakīa Wakinī and with the same reply.
Wanyua means male drinking buddies. They will greet each other Wakīa Wanyua or simply Wanyua! with the same reply. Young men before their first born daughter or son is circumcised did not qualify to drink beer and thus were Wakinī.
Thiritū is girl friendship so you will hear girls addressing each other as Wathurutia! Young girls’ hand greetings are complex and full of hidden messages and meanings impossible to decode unless one is in their loop.
Boys address each other as Mūriū! – Son of my Mother and address young girl peers as Wamwarī, Daughter of my Mother and many other group variations like those of girls.
Ūrata is a is a loving relationship of opposite sexes so you will hear a man addressing an age-mate or age-mate’s wife as Wakīa Mūrata and she replying the same. Remember man-man is Wakinī or Wanyua and girl-girl is Thurutia so don’t as a man make the mistake of addressing your man friend, Wakīa Mūrata. Joker.
Ūiru means jealousy and because co-wives are jealous of each other they greet each other Wakīa Kairu. The reply is the same. Because many women today share husbands without knowing it, they should greet each other, Wakīa Kairu! – Hail! My Jealousy!
The women mother-in-laws are Wakīa Kanyanya to one another – My little tomato.
The women of her approximate age who welcome a newly-wed into a village are flowers to each other thus Wakīa Mahūa – My flowers.
The general rule is that the older person usually initiates the greeting and between male and female the male initiates the greeting. It is not proper for a girl to look at an older man in the eye but will look aside or below making patterns with her toe. Young men do not also meet their mother’s gaze but will look away as they answer. Women raise their hands and tap each other’s palms while girls do all sorts of cheeky tricks with their fingers and arms. Men grip each other’s right arm firmly and not hand greeting. Men who were initiated together always have a special bond as blood brothers who share anything even wives since they shared the knife. During initiation they developed a secret greeting so that even if one were to travel far and meet an age-mate, they would recognize each other from the greeting, much like Freemasons. One would host the other warmly in his homestead and even offer him one of his wives for the night. Men and women did not share hand greetings.
The Gīkūyū system of naming children is simple. The first born son is named after his paternal grandfather. The second son is named after the maternal grandfather. The third son is named after his oldest paternal uncle. The forth son is named after the oldest maternal uncle and so forth. The girls are named using the same system. There can be no skipping of anybody for reasons of not liking that person or any other reason. Twins are both named on the same side and never named on both the paternal and maternal sides but on the side the first twin happens to fall.
This discussion of the naming system is important as the person partakes of the Spirit of the one he or she is named after. If the child is named after a departed Soul, he or she is considered the reincarnation of the departed relation. Because of this naming system it is normal to hear an old woman greeting a very young man, seeing in him her husband, as “ūūūūi! Wakīa Mūrata! Ūyū nī Mūthuuri ūrīa wakwa?” – Ohhh! This is my lover! The young man must reply, often in embarrassment, “Wakīa Mūrata!” – Hail! my lover! It is old women who had the habit of greeting young men thus. Men did not usually do this to little girls.
It is important that we note that a man greeted his daughter and all girls below his age as Wakīa Maitū – Hail my Mother! This would mean that every little girl, even to an old man, Guuka, is necessarily his mother, though she will reply, Wakīa Guuka – Hail! my grandfather! When a man met an older or younger woman on the road he saw in her his mother or his daughter. Since his daughter is his reincarnated mother, the greeting is always, Wakīa Maitū – Hail! my Mother! It would then have been impossible to cross boundaries as is happening today when young girls greet older men, Hi Daddy! and he replies, Hi Sweetie! This piece of traditional etiquette and morality is lost when we fail to comprehend this naming system. For a man, his second daughter is always his wife’s mother. All in-laws in Gīkūyū are people who are handled with velvet gloves. One is meant to be a little shy in their presence, (Because cough, cough). Because of this strong boundary between a man and his mother in law, he cannot bring himself to shout her name in his house and therefore calls his second daughter, Mūthoni – My Shy, regardless of whether the mother-in-law’s name was Wangeci or Wambui. It is not in order for him to shout, Wangeci!
We advice young men to reply Wakīa Maitū to women who greet them Nīatia! (literally, What is it!?) What is it she is asking when she asks, Ūrī mwega? – How good are you? Good for what? Likewise, young women should reply to advances of “Hi Baby!” with Wakīa Awa! – Hail! my father! Traditionally, Ūrī Mūhoro, Ūrī Mwega, Kūhana Atīa, asking on the health etc. of the other party came as secondary greetings after the formal address of Wakīa, Hail, NEVER before as is normal today.
It is high time we returned human relationships to their proper sense of etiquette otherwise this is the reason why men are ending up having carnal relations with young girls, their mothers. The Gīkūyū say, Kīrīra nī ūūra thoni, that is, in order to impart true wisdom, Kīrīra, it is necessary to be explicit – or not too near your in-law. It is our hope that this post will help this generation to rediscover the riches hidden in their traditional practices like greetings and naming systems which they consider outdated or archaic.
This is an urgent call for the re-estamblishment of the social boundaries that have been uprooted by the corrupting influence of mindless Westernization. One way to start is to make sure the formal greetings are learnt by all and used at all times.
The pumpkin in the old homestead cannot be uprooted.
– Okot p’ Bitek, Song of Lawino