The Kikuyu tribe is a Bantu tribe that neighbors the Embu, Kikuyu woman harvesting tea Mbeere and Meru tribes around Mount Kenya, they are Kenya’s most popular and the largest ethnic tribe, making up 22 percent of the country’s population.
The Kikuyus, also known as Gikuyu or Agikuyu, have been known since the colonial times as a tribe that wields a lot of political and economic influence in Kenya.
Kikuyus are believed to have come from West Africa along with other Bantu tribes. They finally settled along Mount Kenya where they began their main activity of farming the fertile volcanic highlands. Kikuyus were good friends with the Maasai and the two tribes often traded goods and inter-married. However, when the British came to Nairobi, they confiscated some of the Kikuyus’ fertile land, leaving them with only a small piece to cultivate. Frustrated with the loss of their land and the colonial rule, the Kikuyus formed a rebellion group, the Mau Mau, and entered into war with the British. This war eventually led to Kenya’s independence.
The kikuyu are generally fluent in three languages. The primary national language in Kenya is English. All children receive instruction in English beginning in primary school and continuing through university.
KiSwahili is a second national language, although it is not the language of government, it is widely used as a language of trade and commerce, especially by those without formal education.
KiSwahili is also taught in the schools from primary through secondary school. The Gikuyu use either English or KiSwahili when traveling outside the central highlands. Radio, television, and mass media publications are available in both languages throughout Kenya.
The Gikuyu language is the preferred language at home and in the community. Gikuyu is taught in primary schools throughout Gikuyuland.
Although many Kikuyus have migrated to the main urban city of Nairobi and other towns, their territories still remain along Mount Kenya and the central highlands, including Nyeri, Muranga, Kiambu, and Kirinyaga regions of Kenya.
Today, a majority of the Agikuyu are found in Nairobi and Kenya’s Central Province. Many have also migrated to other Kenyan towns and cities where they’re involved in small business ventures, while others work in other areas. A good number of Kikuyus have moved onto the west side of the Rift Valley, into what was traditionally Kalenjin territory. There they work as large-scale farmers growing major cash crops of tea and coffee.
Due to their history of economic success, the majority of Kikuyus are well educated. Their ability to adapt to new realities has resulted in the Kikuyu, including those who live in the rural areas, adopting many aspects of modern culture.
Prof. Wangari Maathai from the Kikuyu tribeTraditionally, a Kikuyu husband could marry more than one wife if he could afford to care for them. Paying a dowry (bride price) is still an important aspect of their culture. Although some of the Kikuyu culture has eroded, the Kikuyu language is still predominantly spoken, especially in the urban areas where a majority of people speak English and Swahili. The Kikuyu language has almost become Kenya’s third language of choice.
When it comes to food, music, marriage ceremonies and everyday family life, most Kikuyus still uphold their cultural traditions. In addition to maintaining their economic stability, the Kikuyu tribe have continued to dominate leadership and politics in Kenya.
The first Kenyan president, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was a Kikuyu; Kenya’s third and current president, his Excellency Emilio Mwai Kibaki, is also a Kikuyu and so is the late Professor Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first female Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Today, most Kikuyus are Christians, however, like the Maasai and Kamba tribes, Kikuyus traditionally worshipped a single god, Ngai, who was known as the provider and lived at the top of the mountain. Kikuyus believed it was their traditional god who started the Kikuyu tribe by putting on earth a man and woman named Kikuyu and Mumbi. The couple had nine daughters who later married and brought the Kikuyu tribe to life.
In most rural Kikuyu homes, typical traditional Kikuyu food includes githeri (maize and beans), mukimo (mashed green peas and potatoes), irio (mashed dry beans, corn and potatoes), roast goat, beef, chicken and cooked green vegetables such as collards, spinach and carrots.
In the past, Gikuyu adults dressed in animal skins, especially sheep and goat skins. Skin tanning was a vital industry for which many men were renowned as specialists. Women’s clothing includes three pieces—an upper garment, a skirt, and an apron. Men wore a single garment covering the entire body.
Young men preferred bare legs made possible by wearing short skirts, especially those made from kidskin (lambskin or goatskin) because of its smooth hairs. Elders wore more elaborate costumes—often made of fur.
European clothing is now commonplace throughout Gikuyuland. In rural areas, women wear multicolored cotton dresses or skirts and blouses.
Men generally wear Western-style trousers and shirts with jackets and ties for formal occasions. Women who prefer to dress in African fashion wear long pieces of colorful cloth as skirts and wrapped around a dress.