The Kikuyu tribe is a Bantu tribe that neighbors the Embu, Mbeere and Merutribes around Mount Kenya. They are Kenya’s most popular and the largest ethnic tribe, making up 22 percent of the country’s population.
The Kikuyu traditionally believe that a man, Gikuyu, was the founder of the tribe. He had a wife named Mumbi, who gave birth to nine (plus one) daughters. The daughters married and had their own families, retaining a domineering role in Kikuyu society.
This has led to the current division of the Kikuyu into nine (plus one) family groupings. According to legend, the men grew tired of their treatment by the women and rebelled. This legend seems to represent a change in history from matriarchal to patriarchal organization, which also occurred with other Bantu peoples.
Ancestors of the Kikuyu arrived in Kenya during the Bantu migrations of 1200-1600 AD. The Kikuyu developed from several continuous waves of migration and remigration within the area. The Kikuyu as such actually came to be by around 1800, and include some families from all the surrounding peoples.
One genetic line contributing to the Kikuyu is the Thagicu, thought to be the earliest Bantu settlers in the area, perhaps around 1200 AD. The Kamba also incorporate some of those people in the Thaicu of today, related to the Dhaiso (Segeju) of northern coastal Tanzania. It was in Mukurue division of Nyeri district where an identifiable beginning for the modern Kikuyu people is defined.
The key event was military conflict with and defeat of the Gumba people by the Mathira and Tetu people, allied with the Athi and the Maasai in the early 1800’s. Settlement of the Nyeri plains took place after the British moved the Maasai from the area. The Kikuyu were in Kabete by around 1850, Ruiru about 1900.
The Kikuyus’ contact with the outside world came through missionaries and settlers. The name for the mountain around which they are settled, Mt. Kenya, is actually a Kamba word because it was a Kamba guide who led the first white person — when the person asked the name of the mountain, he gave him the Kamba name.
The Kikuyu responded strongly to missionaries and western education. Their proximity to the British colonial government in Nairobi and the settlers who desired the comfortable Central Highlands simultaneously gave them a great advantage and imposed on them the greatest burden of peoples under colonialism.
They had greater access to education and opportunities for involvement in the new money economy and political changes in their country. They also experienced the greatest cultural change because of both the opportunities and the oppression of their colonial masters. They developed a greater adaptability and used the British colonial system to overcome the system.
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