|Regions with significant populations|
|Tharaka Nithi County||365,330|
|African Traditional Religion  Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Kikuyu, Embu, Swahili, Akamba, Mbeere, Kisii|
The Meru people, or Ameru, are a Bantu ethnic group that inhabit the Meru region of Kenya on the fertile lands of north and eastern slopes of Mount Kenya, in the former Eastern Province of Kenya. The name "Meru" refers to both the people and the region which for many years was the only administrative unit. In 1992, the Greater Meru was divided into three administrative units: Meru Central, Meru North (Nyambene), and Meru South (Tharaka-Nithi). After the promulgation of a new constitution in Kenya on August 27, 2010, the Greater Meru was further re-defined and now consists of the twin counties of Tharaka-Nithi and Meru. The Greater Meru covers approximately 13000 km² stretching from the Thuci river, on the border with Embu County in the south, to the border with Isiolo County in the north.
The Ameru people comprise of nine sections; namely, the Igoji, Imenti, Tigania, Mitine, Igembe, Mwimbi, Muthambi, Chuka and Tharaka. The Tharaka live in the semi-arid part of the greater Meru and they, together with the Mwimbi, Muthambi and Chuka, form the Tharaka-Nithi County. The Ameru are however unrelated to the Wameru of northern Tanzania, other than that they are both avid farming Bantu communities.
- 1 Languages
- 2 History
- 3 The "Nilotic Origin" Theory
- 4 Njuri Ncheke - The Council of Elders
- 5 Culture and Family Traditions
- 6 Education
- 7 Economy
- 8 Politics and Alliances
- 9 Meru Museum
- 10 Some former & Current Meru Leaders
- 11 Notes
- 12 External links
The Meru speak the Kimîîru language. The Kimîîru, Kikamba, Kiembu, Mbeere, Kikuyu and Kikisii (although to a lesser extent) share critical language characteristics. The Kimîîru language is however not uniform across the Greater Meru but comprises several mutually intelligible dialects depending on the section from which the speaker originates. More importantly, each of the dialect is a reflection of previous migratory patterns, the level of intra-community interactions, and the influences of other adjacent Bantu, Nilotic and Cushitic communities. As a whole language scholars have demonstrated that the Kimîîru language exhibits much older Bantu characteristics in grammar and phonetic forms than the other neighbouring Bantu languages.
The Meru have a fascinating oral narrative of their migration to their present location (North East of Mt Kenya) after a period of slavery. The place of bondage is traced by historians to have been most likely somewhere at the Far North of the Eastern African coast. It is also believed that the descendants of the Meru were among the earliest original inhabitants of this region, a place by the name Mbwaa (Mbwa or Mboa).
Slavery in Far off Land
According to oral tradition, the Meru once lived in a state of slavery far away from their present homeland, under a people called antu ba nguu ntuune (or nhuuntune or nguo ntuni, meaning "Red People" or "Red Clothes"). The king of the Red People was powerful and often harsh upon his subjects, but no one knows for sure who the Red people actually were. If we take 'red' to refer to skin colour, then these people were most likely Arabs, for the Europeans had not yet arrived in East Africa. If 'red' refers to dress, however, then their identity is anyone's guess. The place where the Meru were enslaved has also not yet been convincingly located. Some say that it was called Mboa,Mbwa or Mbwaa (the same name given to the body of water the Meru later crossed); others suggest that it may have been Mbwara Matanga on the western peninsula of Manda Island in the Lamu archipelago, off the northeast coast of Kenya; others still posit that it may have been in Yemen or in some other place on the other side of the Red Sea.
Whatever the exact location, this state of bondage lasted until the leader of the Red People started killing all the Meru's male children immediately after birth. But one child, apparently very handsome, escaped this fate, having been kept hidden in the riverside in a basket his mother had made. As a result, the child became known as Mwithe, the Hidden One. Mwithe, who also became known as Koomenjwe (Koomenjoe) or Muthurui, grew up to become a very great leader, and was also known as one who had been annoited by God. Assisted by another elder called Kauro-Beechau, Mwithe organized a council of wise elders to lead the Meru out of bondage. They went to the leader of the Red People and asked to be set free.
The leader agreed, but on condition that an impossible task be successfully performed by the Meru. This task required them to produce a shoe that had hair on both sides. As shoes were normally made from leather, this took some thinking, until Koomenjwe told the people to cut the dewlap of a bull. Before it was completely severed, it was stitched on the side that had been cut. By the time the bull recovered, the lap had made the shoe that was required. But when they took it to their masters, it was rejected and the Meru were given a second task. This was to provide a steer (or an ox) that produced diatomite (a very fine chalk). Koomenjwe advised them to feed a calf on milk, and eventually it started passing out white dung.
The successful completion of the task was also rejected by the Red People, and they were given a third task to do.This required them to remove a fruit from a very deep pit, without piercing it or having anyone descend into the pit to pick it up. Koomenjwe advised them to fill the pit with water until it overflowed, and the fruit floated out. Though it succeeded, this test was also rejected.
The next test required them to kill all the elders until their blood flowed like run-off during rains. Koomenjwe advised that the elders be hidden and all old livestock - cows, goats, sheep and donkeys - be killed instead. When that was done their blood was enough to flow as the enemies wanted. But the success of this test was not accepted either.
Escape and exodus
The fifth test was truly impossible. It required the Meru to forge a spear that could touch both the earth and the sky. The Meru started making it straight away, but it kept breaking. Koomenjwe and the elders, failing to come up with a solution, simply abandoned the whole task, and instead conceived the idea of organizing the people for an escape. For this reason, the Meru later on called this spear itumo ria mwito (the spear made for the trek), for it was the impossibility of making it that had given them the idea of the exodus. In order to have an opportunity to make good their escape, Koomenjwe went and asked the Red People to give them eight days to complete the task. He said the Meru were making charcoal from people's hair because it was the type of charcoal that was required to make the spear. The enemies granted the request.
Koomenjwe went back and organized the first group of old people, because they could not walk fast, and they were grouped together with the remnants of the older livestock. The second group was made up of mothers and children, and the third group consisted of young people and young livestock. Keeping the rear were the warriors, well-armed and ready for battle. The exodus took place at night. The warriors collected a very big heap of dry dung and animal droppings and set it on fire with all the houses. Meanwhile, Koomenjwe had gone to explain to the masters that the fire they were seeing was being used for making the spear which would be ready by noon the following day. After that, he returned. The following day the enemies waited for the spear, but it was never brought. The Meru were gone.
Crossing the Great Water
During their exodus, the Meru reached a very large water body(mboa, mbwaa or mbwa). Here, they suffered a lot, so much so that a sacrifice to God had to be made. The elders went to the prophet (Mugwe) for for the sacrifice and instructions. Mugwe asked for three young men for the sacrifice and Gaita, Kiuma and Muthetu volunteered. The three main Meru clans were named in their honour and all other Meru clans stem from these. Once the sacrifice had been concluded, Mugwe gave instruction to the elders for a successful escape. In addition, he gave Koomenjwe a magic stick or spear (itumo) about three feet long, with which he was to strike the water to make it part.
In line with the instructions, Koomenjwe/Muthurui struck the water with his magic spear, and it parted. Some flowed to one side and the rest to the other side, forming a wide corridor of dry land in the middle, along which the people went across. The crossing of the water lasted all night, and took place in the form of three groups or nchienu which were identified with the time of the crossing: the first to cross when it was still dark were the Njiru (black); the second crossed just after dawn and were called Ntune (pale or red); and the last to cross at sunrise were the Njeru (white). When the last group had crossed, Koomenjwe/Muthurui struck the water again and it came again into one mass, drowning the army of the Red People who had followed them.
The biggest challenge for anthropologists is putting the exact location to this oral narration of events. It is thought that "Red People" were probably East African coastal Arabs, who had invaded Manda Island around 1700. As this was a time of great expansion for the principalities of the Lamu Archipelago, slaves were needed for cultivation to feed the increasing commercial population, as well as to assist in the menial aspects of the ivory trade. The subsequent flight from enslavement could possibly have been accomplished at low tide across the narrow channel which separates Manda Island from the mainland, whilst a rising tide could have disorganized the pursuit.
The "Nilotic Origin" Theory
Yet another version of ancient Meru history, this one more academically-inspired, is posited by one Alfred M. M'Imanyara, that the Meru came originally from the ancient Nilotic Empire of Meroe (circa 300BC - AD100), which is sometimes referred to as an island, as it was bounded by both the White and Blue Niles, and swamps in the south. The linguistic similarity between the words 'Meru' and 'Meroe' is certainly tempting, as is other linguistic evidence, which - although far from conclusive - does suggest at least that the Meru were at some point in contact with civilizations from further north.
Njuri Ncheke - The Council of Elders
The Ameru have since the 17th Century been governed by elected and hierarchical councils of elders from the clan level right up to the supreme Njuri Ncheke Council. To become a member of the Njuri-Ncheke is the highest social rank to which a Meru man can aspire. The elders forming the Njuri-Ncheke are carefully selected and comprise mature, composed, respected and incorruptible members of the community. This is necessary as their work requires great wisdom, personal discipline, and knowledge of the traditions. The Njuri Ncheke is also the apex of the Meru traditional judicial system and their edicts apply across the entire community.
The functions of the Njuri-Ncheke are to make and execute community laws, to listen to and settle disputes, and to pass on community knowledge and norms across the generations in their role as the custodians of traditional culture. Local disputes will invariably first be dealt with by lower ranks of the elders (Kiama), then the middle rank (Njuri) and finally the Njuri-Ncheke. However, Njuri Ncheke does not handle matters involving non-Meru people, or those that are expressly under the Kenya's common law. Interestingly, the determination of cases by the Njuri Ncheke, just like is for common law, relies a lot on case law and precedence.
A lesser known, yet important function of the Njuri-Ncheke, is the overseeing and enforcing the rules and regulations controlling the use and conservation of open grasslands, salt-licks and forests. Their work as conservators extends to the preservation of the Sacred Sites.
The Njuri Ncheke is also influential in the socio-economic and political decision making amongst the Meru. The Council of Elders spearheaded the establishment of the Meru College of Science and Technology and donated 641 acres of community land in 1983 for its siting and development. The college was in 2008 upgraded to a University College of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT and in early 2013 awarded a charter by H.E Mwai Kibaki - the then President of Kenya and renamed Meru University of Science and Technology(MUST). Njuri Ncheke is represented in the University Council.
Culture and Family Traditions
The Meru are primarily agrarian, and their home life and culture is similar to other Highland Bantus. The Meru have maintained adherence to a fairly strict customary code amongst the various cohorts of the population. For instance circumcision is still a mandatory rite of passage for boys during which time cultural education including community norms and expectations, such as respect for elders and protection of children are taught in a seclusion period that may last up to a month. As a matter of principle, young men must ensure minimal contact with their "Mothers" after initiation. Nowadays however the depth of instruction varies depending on the extent of urban influence. Previously, girls would also undergo circumcision, but the practice was outlawed by Njuri Ncheke in April 1956. The practice has been progressively abandoned and is being replaced by instruction based alternative rites of passage.
The Meru have had a strong modern educational heritage provided by the Christian missionaries. The main education institutions were started or sponsored by the Catholic, the Methodist and the Presbyterian Churches. The Greater Meru has numerous institutions of learning including primary schools, secondary schools, teacher training colleges, nursing schools, technical institutes and Universities. One of the most prestigious chartered private university in Kenya, Kenya Methodist University (KEMU) was the first to be established in the area in 2006. Two chartered public universities, Chuka University in Tharaka-Nithi County and Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) at Nchiru- Meru County have since been established. Several other institutions of higher learning including the University of Nairobi, Egerton University, Kenyatta University, Co-operative University College, Nazarene University and Mt. Kenya University have established their satellite campuses in the area, making the Greater Meru a key education hub in Kenya
The Ameru are primarily agrarian, growing a variety of crops and keeping livestock. The Greater Meru is endowed with soils and climatic conditions that allow for the production of a variety of commodities including wheat, barley, potatoes, millet, sorghum and maize. High grade tea, coffee, bananas and miraa are the key cash crops. The Meru were indeed the first Africans to grow coffee in Kenya in early 1930s upon the implementation of the Devonshire White Paper of 1923. Other crops include groundnuts and a wide range of legumes, vegetables and fruits. The Meru are also keepers of livestock both for subsistence and commercial purposes These include dairy and beef cattle, goats, sheep, poultry and honey bees. Besides, the area has huge potential for tourism by virtue of hosting the Meru and Mount Kenya National Parks and the Lewa Conservancy. Mining activity is also expected to pick-up once the ongoing exploratory works on the iron-ore deposits in Tharaka are completed.
Politics and Alliances
The Ameru wield a lot of political influence in Kenya mainly due to their astute and strategic political organization. The community has not produced a President for the Republic of Kenya so far. However, members of the community have always held some key and strategic positions in the governments of the day. In the early years of Kenya's independence, the Meru were in the Gikuyu-Embu-Meru Association GEMA, a political mobilization outfit formed during the reign of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. GEMA is no longer a strong entity, but since the the advent of plural politics in Kenya in 1992, the Meru have largely voted with the Kikuyu and the Embu in all subsequent presidential elections.
In the non-presidential election, most constituencies in the Greater Meru vote in candidates based more on their individual merit than on the basis of the sponsoring political party. This particularly manifested itself in the general elections of 4 March 2013 where the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) captured two seats in Meru County despite the predominance of the Jubilee Coalition in the Mt. Kenya region. The elections also saw the historic election of Hon. Rahim Dawood, a Meru of Asian Origin to represent Imenti North Constituecy and Hon. Kinoti Gatobu, a 26 year old independent candidate elected to represent Buuri constituency. Subsequent to the same elections, Prof. Kithure Kindiki, an International Constitutional Lawyer and a first time Senator (Tharaka-Nithi County) became the Majority Leader in the Senate. .
The historical and cultural artifacts of the Meru People are preserved at the Meru Museum, formerly the colonial DC's office located in Meru Town. The Njuri Ncheke Shrine at Nchiru is also gazetted as an heritage site and placed under the care of the National Museums of Kenya. The Shrine is accessible and open to the public most time of the year unless there are Njuri Ncheke activities at the site. Members of the Njuri Ncheke, though bound by a strict oath of secrecy, can also provide valuable and authoritative information and insights into the Meru traditions and culture dating back to the yore and transmitted through generations.
Some former & Current Meru Leaders
- Late Hon. Bernard Mate, Former Legco Representative for Central Province Kenya
- Late Hon. Simon Kamunde, Member of Parliament, Meru Central
- Hon. Julius K. Muthamia, Former Senator - Meru
- Hon. Mathew Adams Karauri, Former Member of Parliament- Tigania
- Hon. Kabeere M'Mbijiwe - Former MP & Minister
- Hon. David Mwiraria, Former Finance Minister,
- Hon. Kiraitu Murungi, Senator, Meru County & a 4 term MP, Imenti South
- Hon. Kilemi Mwiria, Educationist & Former Assistant Minister for Education, Kenya.
- Hon. Gitobu Imanyara, Former Member of Parliament, Imenti Central; Journalist and Civil Rights Advocate
- Hon. Rahim Dawood, MP, APK, - Imenti North (11th Parliament)
- Hon. Kinoti Gatobu, MP, Independent - Buuri Constituency (11th Parliament)
- Hon. Kareke Mbiuki, MP, TNA - Maara Constituency (10th & 11th Parliaments)
- Hon. Mithika Linturi, MP, TNA - Igembe Constituency (1Oth & 11th Parliaments)
- Hon. Prof. Kithure Kindiki, Senator - Tharaka-Nithi County/Leader of Majority
- Hon. Peter M. Munya, Governor, Meru County & Former MP, Tigania East
- Late Field Marshal Musa Mwariama, Mau Mau
- Late General Baimunge Marete, Mau Mau
- Major General (rtd) Eustace Kajogi Njeru- Military General
Njuri Ncheke & Local Administration
- late Naaman M'Mwirichia, Former Chairman, Njuri Ncheke
- Late. Erasto Mwirichia, Chief Mwimbi Location
National Public Service
- Francis K. Muthaura, Former Head of Public Service & Secretary of the Cabinet, Kenya.
- Prof. Margaret Kobia, Chairperson - Public Service Commission -Kenya
Academia & Research
- Late Prof. Julius Meme, Professor of Pediatrics(UoN) and PS- Ministry of Health
- Prof. Leah Marangu, Vice Chancellor, African Nazarene University,
- Prof Erastus Njoka, Vice Chancellor Chuka University
- Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi, Cabinet Secretary for Education - Kenya
- Dr. Adriel Kabaara, First African CEO/Director of Coffee Research Foundation
- Prof. Mutuma Mugambi, Former Vice-Chancellor, Kenya Methodist University
- Late Prof. Julia Gitobu, Professor, Kenyatta University
- Prof. Gerrishon Ikiara, Professor of Economics, UoN
- Prof. Germano M. Mwabu, Professor of Economics, UoN
Judiciary & Laws
- Late Justice William Mbaya, Judge of High Court of Kenya
- Late Justice Kaburu Bauni, Judge of High Court of Kenya
- Hon. Lady Justice Martha Koome, Appellate Judge, Kenya
- Hon. Justice (Rtd) Aaron Ringera, Former Director Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC)
- Hon. Justice Richard Mwongo, Judge of High Court of Kenya
Business & Corporate
- Henry Kinyua, Former Managing Director, KPCU
- Jason Kimbui, Founder CEO, Co-operative Bank of Kenya
- Wilfred Murungi, Chairman and CEO - Mastermind Tobacco Ltd
- Edward H Ntalami, Former Chief Executive, Capital Markets Authority, Kenya.
- Late Reuben Marambii, Former CEO, National Bank of Kenya
- Stephen Mutai Imanyara, Farmer/Former Long Serving Chairman of Kenya Tea Development Agency
- Alexander Kaminchia, Former CEO, Kenya Reinsurance Company & Kenya Commercial Bank
- Rev. Dr. Lawi Imathiu, Former Presiding Bishop, Methodist Church of Kenya
- Rt. Rev. Salesius Mugambi, Bishop/Ordinary, Catholic Diocese of Meru
- Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, Former General Secretary, World Council of Churches (WCC),
- Late Rev. Fr. Andrew Mung'atia, Vicar-General, Catholic Diocese of Meru
Arts, Sports & Music
- Kamanu M'twamwari, Musician
- Prof. Kinyangi, UNESCO
- Henry Kinyua Mwenemeru, Operations Officer to United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
- Ministry of Housing and Planning (31 august 2010). "2009 POPULATION & HOUSING CENSUS RESULTS". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 12 july 2012.
- "Kenya 2009 Population and Housing Census Highlights". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. 28 august 2010. Retrieved 13 july 2012.
- Marete Gitari. "CONCEPTS OF GOD IN THE TRADITIONAL FAITH OF THE MERU PEOPLE OF KENYA".
- The Meru of Kenya
Mauta, Thuranira.(2010). Retracing The Footsteps of Ameru and Their sub-tribal differences. Nkubitu Publishing Co.Mwenemeru Kinyua