The Kikuyu Tribe

The Kikuyu tribe, also spelled as Gikuyu, is the largest ethnic group in Kenya, making up about 22% of the countries total population. That equals around 6 million people, according to the 2007 CIA World Fact Book.

The Kikuyu people have often held positions of political and economic power in post-independence Kenya, which has created racial tensions between them and some of the other tribes, particularly the Luo. This was a main reason for the post-election violence of December-January 2008. Though many Kenyan tribes still live in a "traditional" way, the Kikuyu people have greatly embraced modern life, and are commonly found living in large cities.

History of the Tribe

Like most African tribes, the Kikuyu came to their current territory after migrating from another region. The Kikuyu tribe likely originated in western Africa and settled in Kenya after moving through Tanzania. Unlike many other tribes of the area, they were agricultural not pastoral (nomadic). They farmed their lands for crops. They were frequent traders with the well-known Masai tribe. Other closely related tribes are the Embu, Mbeere and the Meru.

Much of their fertile land was confiscated during the period of British colonialism, which led to a great deal of frustration and anger among the Kikuyu. They eventually contributed to the Mau Mau rebellion, which led to the independence of Kenya. Much of the fighting during this uprising took place in the highlands around Mt. Kenya, specifically Kikuyu land.

In modern times, they are found living throughout Kenya, but their main territorial area is still surrounding Mount Kenya. Towns like Nyeri, Muranga and Thika are predominantly Kikuyu.

To celebrate the history and traditions of the Kikuyu, the Riuki Cultural Center has opened near Nairobi, in the Kiambu area. It is an up-and-coming tourist attraction, and a place to see a traditional Kikuyu village and see performances of song and dance.

Kikuyu Religion and Culture

Though today many Kikuyu have been converted to Christianity, their native religion is similar to that of the Masai and the Kamba. They worshipped a single God whose name was Ngai, the "great provider" who lived at the top of the mountain. They believed that the origins of their people were with a single man and woman (named Kikuyu and Mumbi) who were put on the earth by Ngai. They had 9 daughters, who married and founded the Kikuyu tribe.

Traditional Kikuyu families were polygamous, with a husband taking more than one wife if he could provide for her. On the other side of the coin, Kikuyu women were also permitted their own lovers outside the marriage as well. It was quite customary for male visitors to share the bed of one of the wives. Any children born to a women were considered the children of her husband, regardless of any biological connection.

Their language is also called Kikuyu (or Gikuyu). It's part of the Bantu group of languages. There are 4 main dialects, found in different parts of Kikuyu territory. Most Kikuyu people who live in the major cities (like Nairobi) speak either English or Swahili, or both.

Notable Members of the Tribe

The current (and third) president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, is a member of the Kikuyu tribe just like first president after the country became independent from Britian, Jomo Kenyatta. The Grammy-winning American guitarist, Tom Morello is also of Kikuyu descent. He played in bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. His father was Mau Mau guerrilla Ngethe Njoroge.

Related pages:

Tribes in Kenya - Main page
List of tribes with short descriptions

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