The Kikuyu can also be called Agikuyu or Gikuyu and it is the most dominant ethnic group in Kenya with approximately 6,622,576 people all speaking their language known as ‘’Bantu Kikuyu language’’.
The Kikuyu belong to the Northeastern Bantu branch and their language is slightly related to that of the Embu and Mbeere. Geographically, they are concentrated in the vicinity of Mount Kenya.
Some authorities reveal that the Kikuyu arrived to their land of settlement (Mount Kenya) from earlier settlements further to North and east though others argue that the Kikuyu migrated from points further North together with the Embu, Mbeere, Kamba, and Meru to whom they are nearly related to them.
However, some archaeological evidence states that their arrival at the northern side of Mt. Kenya was during 3rd century as part of the larger called Thagicu and by the 6th century, there was a community of Agikuyu newly established at Gatuang’ang’a in Nyeri.
The Agikuyu established themselves in their current homeland of Mt. Kenya region by the 13th century. Though adhered from various indigenous faiths, most of the Kikuyu are Christians.
The traditional music of the Kikuyu has lasted for generations up to 1888 when the Agikuyu people encountered and adopted a new culture from the Europeans. Before 1888 and well into the 1920s, Kikuyu music included Kibaata, Nduumo and Muthunguci.
Cultural loss increased as urbanization and modernization impacted on indigenous knowledge including the ability to play the muturiru (an oblique bark flute).
As of now, music and dance are strong components of Kikuyu culture and there is a vigorous Kikuyu recording industry for both popular and gospel music in their pentatonic scale and western music styles.
Popular Kikuyu musicians include Joseph Kamaru, DK, Wanganangu, HM, D’mathew, Peter Kiggia, Mike Rua, Esther Wahome, and Kariuki wa Kiarutara.
Kikuyu cinema and film production are a very recent phenomenon among the Agikuyu. They have become popular only in the 21st century. In the 20th century, most of the Agikuyu consumed cinema and film produced in the west.
Popular Kikuyu film productions include comedies such as Machang’i series and Kihenjo series. Recently, Kenyan television channels have increased greatly and there are channels that broadcast programs in the Kikuyu language.
Like other tribes all over the world having their special dishes, for the Kikuyu includes; Githeri, which is maize and beans, Mukimo (mashed green peas and potatoes), Kimitu (mashed beans and potatoes), Irio (mashed dry beans, corn and potatoes), Mutura (sausage made using goat intestines, meat and blood), Ucuru (fermented porridge made from flour of corn, millet or sorghum) plus many others such as; roast goat, beef, chicken and cooked green vegetables such as collards, spinach and carrots.
Religious and cultural discord
The Presbyterian Church of East Africa made a resolution to prohibit its members from the Kikuyu cultural rite known as “Mburi cia Kiama” in April 2018. This triggered disturbances among devotees in the region of Mount Kenya.
The “Mburi cia Kiama” entails the slaughtering of goats and advising men on how to become respected elders and when this process is over, they join different groups “kiamas”.
It is in these groups that they are given advice on issues like marriage, the Kikuyu culture and community responsibilities. Members of the church were given the ultimatum to renounce the cultural practice or to leave the church’s fold.
Mijikenda is a tribe of nine related Bantu ethnic groups living at the coast of Kenya between the Umba River and Sabaki River in the area stretching from the border with Tanzania in the south to the border near Somalia in the north.
Archaeologist known as; Chapuruka Kusimba suggests that the Mijikenda formerly resided in coastal cities and later settled in Kenya’s hinterlands to avoid submission to dominant Portuguese forces that were then in control.
The Mijikenda ethnic groups have been called the Nyika or Nika (derogatory term meaning “bush people’’) by the outsiders.
Each of the Mijikenda groups has a sacred forest and a place of prayer locally known as ‘’Kaya’’. Out of almost 30 kaya forests, eleven of them have been inscribed together (the Sacred Kaya forests) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Each Mijikenda ethnic group has its own unique customs and dialects of the Mijikenda language, although the dialects are similar to each other and to Swahili.
The nine ethnic groups which make up the Mijikenda people include; Duruma, Kambe, Rabai, Chonyi, Giriama, Kauma, Jibana and Ribe who are the Northern Mijikenda and the other group is the Digo who are southern Mijikenda who also reside in Tanzania due to the closeness to the common border.
The Digo are believed to have been the first to leave Singwaya and thus are accepted as seniors by the other groups.
Mijikenda people are known for making wooden Kigango funerary statues for which there is an illegal international market and these artifacts were at one time legally sold by reputable art galleries and curio shops during the early 1970s to 1990s though other Kigango statues were found to have been stolen from cultural sites and then illegally sold.
According to the Orthodox, the Mijikenda people originated from Singwaya (also known as Shungwaya) and several other parts of the Northern Somali coast and were pushed south by the Galla (Oromo) then accessed Kenya during the 16th century.
However, various Mijikenda oral traditions clarify that the precise reason for the Galla pushing the Mijikenda from Singwaya was the murder of a Galla Tribesman by a Mijikenda youth and the Mijikenda people subsequent refusal to pay compensation to the Galla.
However, it has also been theorized that the Mijikenda people may have originated in roughly the same places they currently reside. One possible explanation for this is that the Mijikenda people adopted the Singwaya narrative in order to create an ethnic identity that allowed them to create a relationship to the Swahili who also claimed Singwaya origins.
Oral tradition also states that the Mijikenda people split into six separate people during this southern migration after they were driven out of Singwaya. These six groups would go on to settle the original six kaya.
During the 17th century, the Mijikenda settled six fortified hilltop Kaya where they constructed their homesteads and these original six Kaya were later expanded into nine Kaya.
The origin legend serves as a narrative of a real migration that happened at a specific point in time to a real place but also serves as a narrative of a mythical migration that took place through a cultural time from a common origin.
It promotes a higher unity among the group of the nine individual ethnic groups that makes up the Mijikenda people. Singwaya is considered by the Mijikenda to be their common origin point and the birthplace of their language together with traditions.
The kayas were the first homesteads of the Mijikenda people after their origination from Singwaya and the first Kaya was established by the Digo since they were the first to migrate.
The kaya represented both an important political and cultural symbol to the Mijikenda people of which the political symbolism of the kaya also played a part in the resistance to colonialism for the Mijikenda peoples.
During the late 19thcentury, the Mijikenda people started leaving their kaya homesteads thus settling areas elsewhere.
The layout of the kaya settlements usually had centrally positioned areas devoted to leadership and worship with other areas devoted to initiation ceremonies, areas for developing magic and medicine, and areas devoted to burials and entertainment placed around them.
The Kaya forests surrounding the settlement acted as a buffer between the settlement and the outside world. As the populations of these kaya grew, security also grew which led to a period of stability and thus allowing the Mijikenda people to spread outwards along the coasts and southwards along the border of Tanzania.
Eventually all nine of the original Kaya were abandoned as the Mijikenda settled elsewhere though the importance of these kaya did not diminish and they were still held as sacred sites.
The Masai people are Nilotics residing in central and southern Kenya plus also in some parts of northern Tanzania. The Masai are among the best-known local populations due to their residence near the many game parks of the African Great Lakes and their distinctive customs and dress.
The Maasai reside in some of Africa’s finest Parks such as (MAASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE, AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK, TSAVO NATIONAL PARK and in Tanzania’s SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK).
The Masai speak Maa language though some of them have become educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania such as; Swahili and English. The Masai are pastoralists and are also famous for their fearsome reputations as warriors and cattle-rustlers.
The Masai are believed to have been originated from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana in Northwestern Kenya and started migrating south around the 15th century arriving in a long trunk of land stretching from what is now northern Kenya to what is now central Tanzania between the 17th and late 18th century.
The Masai are globally known to possess one of the most colorful and amazing cultures in Africa. The Masai are popularly known to be polygamous and great cattle keepers too who even have a belief that all the cattle in the world belong to them.
The Masai also practice cattle rustling though to them they don’t consider that act as stealing other people’s cattle and instead they refer it as rescuing their own cattle had got lost.
The Maasai also have a totemic animal (lion) however the animal can be killed though the way this lion is killed differs from trophy hunting as it is used in the rite of passage ceremony.
Religiously, most of the Maasai are Christians and Muslims. The Maasai are known for their intricate jewelry and for decades, have sold these items to tourists as a business.
The end of life of the Maasai is virtually without ceremony and the dead are left out for scavengers. A corpse rejected by scavengers is seen as having something wrong with it and liable to cause social disgrace and therefore, it is not common for bodies to be covered in fat and blood from a slaughtered ox.
In the past, burial has been reserved for great chiefs since it is believed to be harmful to the soil. The entire Masai lifestyle rotates around their cattle which constitute their primary source of food though due to their cattle dwindling, they also depend on some other foods such as sorghum and others.
According to the Masai, man’s wealth is measured in terms of cattle and children whereby a herd of 50 cattle is respectable and the more children the better.
A Masai religious belief relates that God gave them all the cattle on earth, leading to the belief that rustling cattle from other tribes is a matter of taking back what is rightfully theirs, a practice that has become much less common though.
Maasai music and dance
Masai music traditionally consists of rhythms provided by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies whereby a song leader (formerly known as Olaranyani) sings the melody. The Olaranyani is usually the singer who mastered that song however several individuals may lead a song.
The Olaranyani begins by singing a line or title (namba) of a song whereby each song consists of its specific namba structure based on call-and-response.
While singing, the group will respond with one unanimous call in acknowledgment whereby the Olaranyani will sing a verse over the group’s rhythmic throat singing and the lyrics follow a typical theme and are often repeated verbatim over time.
One exception to the vocal nature of Maasai music is the use of the horn of the Greater Kudu to summon morans for the Eunoto ceremony. Both singing and dancing sometimes occur around manyattas (Masai temporary homes) and involve flirting.
Young men will form a line and chant rhythmically with a growl and staccato cough along with the thrust and withdrawal of their lower bodies.
Girls stand in front of the men and make the same pelvis lunges while singing a high dying fall in counterpoint to the men. Although bodies come in close proximity, they do not touch.
The coming of age ceremony of the warrior known as Eunoto can involve ten or more days of singing, dancing and ritual. The dances of Masai are so impressive to many (especially Kenyan foreign tourists) due to the high energy they apply while jumping up and down in a dance.
Dancers are often photographed during this competitive jumping way of dancing. A circle is formed by the warriors whereby one or two at a time will enter the center to begin jumping while maintaining a narrow posture never letting their heels touch the ground as the members of the group may raise the pitch of their voices based on the height of the jump.
Body modification in the Maasai
The Masai are well known for modifying their bodies through piercing and stretching of their earlobes which is also common in some of other tribes in Kenya such as in; the Samburu tribe, Meru tribe and Turkana tribe among others.
Several materials have been used to both pierce and stretch the lobes including thorns for piercing, twigs, bundles of twigs, stones, the cross section of elephant tusks and empty film canisters. Female Masai wear various forms of beaded ornaments in both the ear lobe, and smaller piercings at the top of the ear.
Amongest Masai males, Circumcision is practiced as a ritual of transition from boyhood to manhood however women are also circumcised. The removal of deciduous canine tooth buds in early childhood is a practice that has been documented in the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania.
There exists a strong belief among the Maasai that diarrhea, vomiting and other febrile illnesses of early childhood are caused by the gingival swelling over the canine region which is thought to contain worms or nylon teeth.
Clothing changes by age, for example, young men wear black for several months following their circumcision however red is a favored colour. Blue, black, striped, and checkered clothes are also worn as are multicolored African designs though pink is not shunned by warriors.
The Maasai began to replace animal-skin, calf hides and sheep skin with commercial cotton cloth in the 1960s. Shuka is the Maa word (Masai language) for sheets traditionally worn wrapped around the body.
These are typically red though with some other colors like black or blue and patterns like plaid. One piece garments known as kanga (a Swahili term) are common well as the Masai near the coast may wear ‘’kikoi’’ which is a type of sarong that comes in many different colors and textiles.
The Masai women regularly weave and bead jewel of which this bead work plays an essential part in the ornamentation of their body.
Although there are variations in the meaning of the color of the beads, some general meanings for a few colors are: white meaning peace, blue meaning water and red meaning blood/bravery/warrior.