Gikuyu Clans

kikuyu-clans1Graphic Representation of the “TEN” Clans of the Gikuyu

According to the mythology of the Gikuyu, the first parents Gikuyu and Mumbi after arriving at Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga begat “nine” daughters who were the subsequently the mothers of the “nine” Kikuyu clans that bear their name. This is what Father Cagnolo writing in his book “The Akikuyu” published in 1933 wrote.

“Every Kikuyu states that the clans of the tribe are nine, but at the same time he enumerates ten names. Some of them will be unable to explain their incoherency: somebody else says: “Meherega ne kenda eyoire” -The clans are nine with the fill:- what explains the whole thing. The number ten is complete, and if they said plainly that the clans are ten, they would feel as they omened the end of the tribe. They result therefore to a periphrase.”

Cagnolo had a knack for detail and although he was a white man, he was able to record a vital point that has caused a lot of confusion. Many including the “authoritative” Kenyatta have not clarified this point as he does. StanleyKiama Gathigira in his Gikuyu 1933 authorititive response to Cagnolo’s foreign anthropology writes,

“Ni wega kumenyuo ati ruriri rwa Gikuyu ruri mihiriga kenda uiyuire – kenda uiyuire ni ikumi uhoroini wa kugera andu tondu Agikuyu matigeraga muigana wa andu, matigathire” – “It is well to note that the Gikuyu tribe has nine full clans – nine full is ten in the manner of counting people as the Agikuyu do not number people in case they perish”

He then goes on to enumerate their names which correspond nearly exactly with Cagnolos list. Fred K Kago (1954) also states,

“Mihiriga ya Gikuyu ni kenda, kenda muiyuru” “The Gikuyu clans are nine, nine full”

He then lists them from 1-9 but uses an asterisk instead of the number 10. (Though Fred was a converted Christian, the Gikuyu in him couldn’t allow him to put it plainly as 10, so he resulted to the asterisk subterfuge.)

M. N. Kabetu in “Kirira Kia Ugikuyu” writes,

“Mugwetere wa mihiriga io-ri, ihuthiire kuguetwo ta iri Kenda, na kaingi andu maagiite kumithuthuria wega, maahota gutuura mehokete ati no kenda ni undu hitho ya Agikuyu ya mutarire wa andu twahota gukoruo tutekumimenya. Ikigwetagwo ati ni kenda ni undu Agikuyu kuuma tene, matiitikagirakugweta muigana wa andu ni gwitigira gukua, moigaga ati gutara andu – undi, na eri na atatu ni kumareher gikuu.” – Normally these clans are mentioned as if they are nine and sometimes those who have not studied them in detail will always believe them to be nine because we may not understand the secret of the Agikuyu way of counting people. They are stated to be as if they were nine, because the Agikuyu from time immemorial have never agreed to enumerate people for fear they may perish. They say that enumerating people – one, two three, is to bring death to them.” He continues, “Ikigwetagwo ati ni kenda muiyuru…” – “They are therefore said to be nine-full ….”

E. N. Mugo in 1982 writes in his “Kikuyu People – A brief outline of their customs and traditions”,

“Kikuyus were not used to mention living things by exact numbers, for they argued that it would possibly have brought a bad omen, or an ill taboo, to whatever was being counted. Hence people were discouraged to say that the clans were ten, for fear that they would very likely bring a slow death to the whole tribe.”

Gakaara wa Wanjau writes in Mihiriga ya Agikuyu,

Ona gutuika Agikuyu moigaga ati mihiriga yao ni kenda, ni kuri hitho yuikaine wega ati mihiriga yothe ni ikumi. Agikuyu ni matuuraga mari na mugiro wa kugera andu kana mahiu imwe nginya ikumi, na tondu ucio matigitikagira gutengura ati mihiriga yao ni ikumi tondu ni mehokete ati gwika uguo ni gutuma andu ao mathire. Handu ha kugweta ikumi magwetaga “kenda muiyuru.” – Even if the Kikuyu say that their clans are nine, there is a well known secret that the the clans are ten. The Kikuyu have lived with the taboo of counting people or domestic animals one to ten, and because of this they do not agree to state that their clans are ten because they believe that doing this will bring their demise. Instead of stating ten they say “nine full”

Professor Wangari Maathai in her very well written autobiography “Unbowed” recaptures the true tradition of Gikuyu storytelling by giving a colourful snapshot of the Gikuyu cultural traditions she grew up in. She enumerates ten clans saying she herself was from the Anjiru clan like this blogger.

Other sources confirm the above cited and the conclusion when comparing all of them is that there were nine plus one daughters who were the mothers of the nine plus one clans. It is clear that the notion by some people (like Kenyatta) that the tenth clan was a minor clan has no basis as the superstition of numbering was the principle motive behind saying that they were nine. Kenyatta has actually contributed greatly to the confusion as he is taken as an authority merely because of his stature but he ignorantly wrote in his 1942 “My People of Kikuyu”

“So it came about that the nine clans of the Kikuyu tribe were founded, and took their names from the nine daughters of the Kikuyu; ….”

It is in his later and more influential “Facing Mount Kenya” that he conceded that there were nine major clans, suggesting erroneously that there were major and minor clans. I find his thesis unacceptable because it flies in the face of the more powerful facts regarding enumeration and furthermore, the order of the names changes all the time according to who is enumerating though it is normal to end with Warigia.

The name, Warigia means ‘the last’ and it may very likely be that she was the last born. However the name Warigia also meaning ‘left behind’ suggests she is the one who remained in the original Gikuyu homestead and inherited her father’s property after the rest had left to establish their homes and clans. She may not necessarily have been the last born as the order the girls were born is unknown.

Most of the daughters and clans have multiple names and which name is predominantly used depends on geographical location. Generally there are two major variations; theNyeri/Kirinyaga (Northern Gikuyu) versions and the Murang’a/Kia Mbu (Southern Gikuyu) versions. The use of various alternative names was what caused Routledge writing in 1910 to erroneously enumerate 13 clans.

Below in bullets, are the names of the daughters and their corresponding derivative clan names. The name starting with the prefix Wa is certainly the main name. Each may have more variants depending on location but the main names prefixed WA are conclusive.

  • Wanjiru, mother of Anjiru
  • Wambui, mother of Ambui
  • Wanjiku, mother of Agaciku
  • Waceera or Njeri mother of the clan Aceera
  • Wangari, mother of Angari or Aithekahuno
  • Wakiuru or Wambura mother of Akiuru or Ambura or Ethaga
  • Wangeci or Waithira, mother of Angeci or Aithirandu
  • Wairimu or Gathigia, mother of Airimu or Agathigia
  • Wangui or Waithiegeni, mother of Angui or Aithiegeni
  • Wamuyu or Warigia or Wanjugu mother of Aicakamuyu
The Nine Full
The Nine Full Beauties as photographed by Father Philip Perlo of the Consolata Mission Nyeri between 1902 and 1930. Exact date of photo not given.

Front Left: Wanjiru, Waithiegeni, Wamuyu, Gathigia, Wanjiku, Wangari Wambui
Back heads only from Left: Njeri, Nyambura, Waithira

When the girls became of age and began to have yearnings for their own husbands, they went to their mother and asked her where she got her’s. She took the problem to her husband Gikuyu. Gikuyu consulted Ngai, God and Ngai asked him to make a sacrifice of a spotless ram under the fig tree “Mugumo”. He called his daughters and asked them to go to the Mukuyu and for them to cut for each a straight rod of her own height. Nine of the girls brought the rods and their father placed them on top of the fire as ndara and then placed the sacrifice on them. In the morning NINE young men appeared and each of the daughters took a mate her own height. Apparently, there is confusion in the myths as to whether nine, relating to the young men means nine in the real sense or it meant “nine full”. What seems to emerge from the various stories is that one of the daughters, Wamuyu was too young to take part in the rods’ business and their heating (ahem! Let me swallow that one) but nevertheless later had children and descendants.

The interesting story of this daughter, Wamuyu, who remained unmarried but nevertheless as a single mother became the mother of the Aicakamuyu clan deserves to be dealt with separately in another post here.

– Post updated 21st March 2009 (Main changes: Evidence from Gakaara Wanjau inserted)

To listen to the explanation of clans in Kikuyu by Joseph Kamaru go to the link below. Start with the question by Nduru.

Mitugo ya Agikuyu