|6,622,576 Gĩkũyũ people in Kenya|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Christianity, traditional African religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Embu, Meru, Mbeere, Kamba, other Bantu peoples|
The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic group in Kenya. They speak the Bantu Gĩkũyũ language as a mother tongue. The term Kikuyu is the Swahili form of the proper name and pronunciation of Gĩkũyũ , although group members refer to themselves as the Agĩkũyũ. Gĩkũyũ literally means a huge sycamore tree and Agĩkũyũ thus literally refers to the children of the huge sycamore.
According to the 2009 Kenya Population & Housing Census, there are an estimated 6,622,576 Gĩkũyũ people in Kenya, about 16.9% of the country's total population. According to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2014 there are approximately 9,902,212 Gĩkũyũ people in Kenya, comprising about 22% of the country's population.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Origin
- 1.2 Before 1888
- 1.2.1 The nation and its pursuits
- 1.2.2 Social and political life
- 1.2.3 Spirituality and religion
- 1.2.4 Political structures and generational change
- 1.2.5 Collapse of traditional political structure
- 1.3 1888–1945
- 1.4 1945–1963
- 1.5 1963–present
- 2 Genetics
- 3 Culture
- 4 List of prominent Gĩkũyũs and people of Gĩkũyũ descent
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Mythically, the nation of the Agĩkũyũ came from two original parents who were created by God, namely Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi. The word Gĩkũyũ means 'a huge sycomore tree'. Ngai refers to the creator who happens to be a life companion to the sycamore, the sacred tree from which the nation originated. The Kikuyu are of Bantu origin. They constitute the single largest ethnic group in Kenya, and are concentrated in the vicinity of Mount Kenya. The exact place that the Kikuyu's ancestors migrated from after the initial Bantu expansion from West Africa is uncertain. Some authorities suggest that they arrived in their present Mount Kenya area of habitation from earlier settlements further to the north and east, while others argue that the Kikuyu, along with their closely related Eastern Bantu neighbors the Embu, Meru, Mbeere, and Kamba moved into Kenya from points further north.
The nation and its pursuits
Until the arrival of Europeans, the Agĩkũyũ preserved geographic and political power from almost all external influence for many generations; they had never been subdued. Just before the arrival of the British, Arabs were involved in slave trade and their caravans passed at the southern edges of the Agĩkũyũ nation. Slavery as an institution did not exist amongst the Agĩkũyũ, nor did they make raids for the capture of slaves. The Arabs who tried to venture into Agĩkũyũland met instant death. Relying on a combination of land purchases, blood-brotherhood (partnerships), intermarriage with other people, and their adoption and absorption, the Agĩkũyũ were in a constant state of territorial expansion. Economically, the Agĩkũyũ were great farmers and shrewd business men. Besides farming and business, the Agĩkũyũ were involved in small scale industries with professions such as bridge building, string making, wire drawing, and iron chain making. The Agĩkũyũ had a great sense of justice (kihooto).
Social and political life
The Agĩkũyũ nation was divided into 9 clans. The members of each clan had a maternal blood tie in common, but were not restricted to any particular geographical area, they lived side by side. Some clans had a recognised leader, others did not. However, in either case, real political power was exercised by the ruling council of elders, lead by a headman.
Spirituality and religion
Ngai – The Supreme Creator
The Gĩkũyũ were – and still are – monotheists believing in an omnipotent God whom they refer to as Ngai. Both the Gĩkũyũ, Embu, and Kamba use this name. Ngai was also known as Mũrungu by the Meru and Embu tribes, or Mũlungu (a variant of a word meaning God which is found as far south as the Zambezi of Zambia). The title Mwathani or Mwathi (the greatest ruler) comes from the word gwatha meaning to rule or reign with authority, was and is still used. All sacrifices to Ngai were performed under a sycamore tree (Mũkũyũ) and if one was not available, a fig tree (Mũgumo) would be used. The olive tree (Mũtamaiyũ) was a sacred tree for women.
Philosophy of the Traditional Kikuyu Religion
- The universe is composed of interacting and interconnected forces whose manifestation is the physical things we see, including ourselves and those we don't see.
- All those forces (things) in the universe came from God who, from the beginning of time, have had the vital divine force of creation within himself.
- Everything created by God retains a bond from God (Creator) to the created.
- The first humans who were created by God have the strongest vital force because they got it directly from God.
- Because these first humans sit just below God in power, they are almost like Gods or even can be Gods.
- The current parent of an individual is the link to God through the immediate dead and through ancestors.
- On Earth, humans have the highest quantity of vital force.
- All the other things (forces) on Earth were created to enable human vital force (being) become stronger.
- All things have vital force but some objects, plants and animals have higher vital force than others.
- A human can use an animal to symbolize the level of his vital force compared to other humans.
- There is a specific point within every physical manifestation (thing) of vital force where most that force is concentrated.
- A human can easily manipulate things to his advantage or to their detriment by identifying this point of concentration of vital force. There are human beings who have more knowledge of these forces and can manipulate them at will usually by invoking higher forces to assist.
- Higher forces are invoked by humans using lower forces (animal or plant sacrifice) as intermediaries. To approach higher forces directly is thahu (abomination which leads to a curse).
- The human society has some few elite people very skilled in the art of manipulating forces to strengthen a human(s) force or diminish it, strengthen any force below human force or diminish it.
- The leader of a human society is the one possessing the highest vital force as at that time or the one closest to God or both. Since the leader of this human society has the highest vital force and hence closer to God than any other person, he should be able to nourish the rest of the people by linking them to the ultimate God and by being able to command lower forces to act in such a way so as to reinforce the other humans vital force.
- The life force of a dead ancestor can come back to life through the act of birth of a new child, especially when the child is named after the departed ancestor and all is seen to be well.
Gĩkũyũ nation, being of Bantu family held a belief in the interconnection of everything in the universe. To the Gĩkũyũ people, everything we see had an inner spiritual force and the most sacred though unspoken ontology was being is force. This spiritual vital force originated from God, who had the power to create or destroy that life force. To the Gĩkũyũ people, God was the supreme being in the universe and the giver(Mũgai/Ngai) of this life force to everything that exists. Gĩkũyũ people also believed that everything God created had a vital inner force and a connection bond to Him by the mere fact that he created that thing and gave it that inner force that makes it be and be manifested physically. To the Agĩkũyũ, God had this life force within himself hence He was the ultimate owner and ruler of everything in the universe. The latter was the ultimate conception of God among the Gĩkũyũ people hence the name Mũgai/Ngai. To the Gĩkũyũ people, those who possessed the greatest life force, those closest to God were the first parents created by God because God directly gave them the vital living force. These first parents were so respected to be treated almost like God himself. These were followed by the ancestors of the people who inherited life force from the first parents, then followed by the immediate dead and finally the eldest in the community. Hence when people wanted to offer sacrifices, the eldest in the community would perform the rites. Children in the community had a link to God through their parents and that chain would move upwards to parent parents, ancestors, first created parents until it reaches God Himself. The Gĩkũyũ people believed the departed spirits of the ancestors can be reborn again in this world when children are being born, hence the rites performed during the child naming ceremonies. The Gĩkũyũ people believed the vital life force or soul of a person can be increased or diminished, thereby affecting the person's health. They also believed that some people possessed power to manipulate the inner force in all things. These people who increased the well being of a person spirit were called medicine-men (Mũgo) while those who diminished the person's life force were called witchdoctors (Mũrogi). They also believed that ordinary items can have their spiritual powers increased such that they protect a person against those bent on diminishing a person vital life force.Such an item with such powers was called gĩthitũ. Thus, the philosophy of the Gĩkũyũ religion and life in general was anchored on the understanding that everything in the universe has an inner interlinked force that we do not see. God among the Gĩkũyũ people was understood hence to be the owner and distributor(Mũgai) of this inner life force in all things and He was worshiped and praised to either increase the life force of all things (farm produce, cattle, children) the Gĩkũyũ people possessed and minimize events that led to catastrophes that would diminish the life force of the people or lead to death. The leader of the Gĩkũyũ people was the person who was thought to possess the greatest life force among the people or the person who had demonstrated the greatest life force in taking care of the people, their families, their farm produce, their cattle and their land. This person was hence thought to be closer to God than anybody else living in that nation.The said person also had to demonstrate and practice the highest levels of truth(maa) and justice(kihooto), just like the supreme God of the Gĩkũyũ people would do.
Mount Kenya and religion
Ngai or mwene-nyaga is the Supreme Creator and giver of all things. He created the first Gĩkũyũ communities, and provided them with all the resources necessary for life: land, rain, plants, and animals. Ngai cannot be seen but is manifested in the sun, moon, stars, comets and meteors, thunder and lightning, rain, rainbows, and in the great fig trees (Mugumo). These trees served as places of worship and sacrifice and marked the spot at Mũkũrũe wa Gathanga where Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi – the ancestors of the Gĩkũyũ in the oral legend – first settled. Ngai has human characteristics, and although some say that he lives in the sky or in the clouds, Gĩkũyũ lore also says that Ngai comes to earth from time to time to inspect it, bestow blessings, and mete out punishment. When he comes, Ngai rests on Mount Kenya and Kilimambogo (kĩrĩma kĩa njahĩ). Thunder is interpreted to be the movement of Ngai and lightning is the weapon used by Ngai to clear the way when moving from one sacred place to another. Some people believe that Ngai’s abode is on Mount Kenya. In one legend, Ngai made the mountain his resting place while on an inspection tour of earth. Ngai then took the first man, Gikuyu, to the top to point out the beauty of the land he was giving him.
Political structures and generational change
The Agĩkũyũ had four seasons and two harvests in one year.
- Mbura ya njahĩ (the season of big rain) from March to July,
- Magetha ma njahĩ (the season of the black bean harvest) between July and Early October,
- Mbura ya Mwere (short rain season) from October to January,
- Magetha ma Mwere (the season of harvesting) milletà
- Mbura ya Kimera
Further, time was recorded through the initiation by circumcision. Each initiation group was given special name. According to Professor Godfrey Mũriũki, the individual initiation sets are then grouped into a regiment every nine calendar years. Before a regiment or army was set, there was a period in which no initiation of boys took place. This period lasted a total of four and a half calendar years (nine seasons in Gĩkũyũ land, each season referred to as imera) and is referred to as mũhingo, with initiation taking place at the start of the fifth year and going on annually for the next nine calendar years. This was the system adopted in Metumi Mũrang’a. The regiment or army sets also get special names, some of which seem to have ended up as popular male names. In Gaki Nyeri the system was inversed with initiation taking place annually for four calendar years, which would be followed by a period of nine calendar years in which no initiation of boys took place (mũhingo). Girls on the other hand were initiated every year. Several regiments then make up a ruling generation. It was estimated that Ruling generations lasted an average of 35 years. The names of the initiation and regiment sets vary within Gĩkũyũ land. The ruling generations are however uniform and provide very important chronological data. On top of that, the initiation sets were a way of documenting events within the Gĩkũyũ nation, so, for example, were the occurrence of smallpox and syphilis recorded. Girls’ initiation sets were also accorded special names, although there has been little research in this area. Mũriũki only unearths three sets, whose names are, Rũharo , Kibiri/Ndũrĩrĩ , Kagica , Ndutu/Nuthi . All these names are taken from Metumi (Mũrang’a) and Kabete Kĩambu. It is strange that professor Mũriũki didn’t do more research in this area because he states that the girls’ initiation took place annually.
- Manjiri 1512 – 46 ± 55
- Mamba 1547 – 81 ± 50
- Tene 1582–1616 ± 45
- Agu 1617 – 51 ± 40
- Manduti 1652 – 86 ± 40
- Cuma 1687–1721 ± 30
- Ciira 1722 – 56 ± 25
- Mathathi 1757–1791 ± 20
- Ndemi 1792–1826 ± 15
- Iregi 1827–1861 ± 10
- Maina 1862 – 97 ± 5
- Mwangi 1898?
Mathew Njoroge Kabetũs list reads, Tene, Kĩyĩ, Aagu, Ciĩra, Mathathi, Ndemi, Iregi, Maina (Ngotho), Mwangi. Gakaara wa Wanjaũs list reads Tene, Nemathĩ, Kariraũ, Aagu, Tiru, Cuma, Ciira, Ndemi, Mathathi, Iregi, Maina, Mwangi, Irũngũ, Mwangi wa Mandũti. The last two generations came after 1900. One of the earliest recorded lists by McGregor reads (list taken from a history of unchanged) Manjiri, Mandoti, Chiera, Masai, Mathathi, Ndemi, Iregi, Maina, Mwangi, Muirungu. According to Hobley (a historian) each initiation generation, riika, extended over two years. The ruling generation at the arrival of the Europeans was called Maina. It is said that Maina handed over to Mwangi in 1898. Hobley asserts that the following sets were grouped under Maina – Kĩnũthia, Karanja, Njũgũna, Kĩnyanjui, Gathuru and Ng’ang’a. Professor Mũriũki however puts these sets much earlier, namely Karanja and Kĩnũthia belong to the Ciira ruling generation which ruled from the year 1722 to 1756, give or take 25 years, according to Mũriũki. Njũgũna, Kĩnyanjui, Ng’ang’a belong to the Mathathi ruling generation that ruled from 1757 to 1791, give or take 20 years, according to Mũriũki.
Professor Mũriũkis list must be given precedence in this area as he conducted extensive research in this area starting 1969, and had the benefit of all earlier literature on the subject as well as doing extensive field work in the areas of Gaki (Nyeri), Metumi (Mũrang’a) and Kabete (Kĩambu). On top of the ruling generations, he also gives names of the regiments or army sets from 1659 [within a margin of error] and the names of annual initiation sets beginning 1864. The list from Metumi (Mũrang’a) is most complete and differentiated.
Mũriũkis is also the most systematically defined list, so far. Suffice to say that most of the most popular male names in Gĩkũyũ land were names of riikas (initiation sets).
Here is Mũriũkis list of the names of regiment sets in Metumi (Mũrang’a).
These include Kiariĩ (1665–1673), Cege (1678–1678), Kamau (1704–1712), Kĩmani (1717–1725), Karanja (1730–1738), Kĩnũthia (1743–1751), Njũgũna (1756–1764), Kĩnyanjui (1769–1777), Ng’ang’a (1781–1789), Njoroge (1794–1802), Wainaina (1807–1815), Kang’ethe (1820–1828) Mbugua (1859–1867), Njenga or Mbira Itimu (872–880), Mutung’u or Mburu (1885–1893).
H.E. Lambert who dealt with the riikas extensively has the following list of regiment sets from Gichũgũ and Ndia. It should be remembered that this names were unlike ruling generations not uniform in Gĩkũyũ land. It should also be noted that Ndia and Gachũgũ followed a system where initiation took place every annually for four years and then a period of nine calendar years followed where no initiation of boys took place. This period was referred to as mũhingo.
Karanja (1759–1762), Kĩnũthia (1772–1775), Ndũrĩrĩ (1785–1788), Mũgacho (1798–1801), Njoroge (1811–1814), Kang’ethe (1824–1827), Gitaũ (1837–1840), Manyaki (1850–1853), Kiambuthi (1863–1866), Watuke (1876–1879), Ngũgĩ (1889–1892), Wakanene (1902–1905).
The remarkable thing in this list in comparison to the Metumi one is how some of the same names are used, if a bit offset. Ndia and Gachũgũ are extremely far from Metumi. Gaki on the other hand, as far as my geographical understanding of Gĩkũyũ land is concerned should be much closer to Metumi, yet virtually no names of regiment sets are shared. It should however be noted that Gaki had a strong connection to the Maasai living nearby.
The ruling generation names of Maina and Mwangi are also very popular male Gĩkũyũ names. The theory is also that Waciira is also derived from ciira (case), which is also a very popular masculine name among the Agĩkũyũ. This would call into question, when it was exactly that children started being named after the parents of one parents. Had that system, of naming one's children after one's parents been there from the beginning, there would be very few male names in circulation. This is however not the case, as there are very many Gĩkũyũ male names. My theory is though that the female names are much less, with the names of the full-nine daughters of Mũmbi being most prevalent.
Gakaara wa Wanjaũ supports this view when he writes in his book, Mĩhĩrĩga ya Aagĩkũyũ.
Hingo ĩyo ciana cia arũme ciatuagwo marĩĩtwa ma mariika ta Watene, Cuma, Iregi kana Ciira. Nao airĩĩtu magatuuo marĩĩtwa ma mĩhĩrĩga tauria hagwetetwo nah au kabere, o nginya hingo iria maundu maatabariirwo thuuthaini ati ciana ituagwo aciari a mwanake na a muirĩĩtu.
Freely translated it means "In those days the male children were given the names of the riika (initiation set) like Watene, Cuma, Iregi or Ciira. Girls were on the other hand named after the clans that were named earlier until such a time as it was decided to name the children after the parents of the man and the woman." From this statement it is not clear whether the girls were named ad hoc after any clan, no matter what clan the parents belonged to. Naming them after the specific clan that the parents belonged to would have severely restricted naming options.
This would strangely mean that the female names are the oldest in Gĩkũyũ land, further confirming its matrilineal descent. As far as male names are concerned, there is of course the chicken and the egg question, of when a name specifically appeared but some names are tied to events that happened during the initiation. For example Wainaina refers to those who shivered during circumcision. Kũinaina (to shake or to shiver).
There was a very important ceremony known as Ituĩka in which the old guard would hand over the reins of government to the next generation. This was to avoid dictatorship. Kenyatta relates of how once in the land of the Agĩkũyũ, there ruled a despotic King called Gĩkũyũ, grandson of the elder daughter (Wanjirũ according to Leakey) of the original Gĩkũyũ of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi fame. After he was deposed of, it was decided that the government should be democratic, which is how the Ituĩka came to be. This legend of course calls into question when it was exactly that the matrilineal rule set in. The last Ituĩka ceremony where the riika of Maina handed over power to the Mwangi generation, took place in 1898-9. The next one was supposed to be held in 1925–1928 [Kenyatta] but was thwarted by the colonial imperialist government. And one by one Gĩkũyũ institutions crumbled
Collapse of traditional political structure
The ruling generations, the rĩĩka system can be traced back to the year 1500 AD or there abouts. These were:
- Manjiri 1512 to 1546
- Mamba 1547 to 1581
- Tene 1582 to 1616
- Agu 1617 to 1652
- Manduti 1652 to 1686
- Cuma 1687 to 1721
- Ciira 1722 to 1756
- Mathathi 1757 to 1791
- Ndemi 1792 to 1826
- Iregi 1827 to 1861
- Maina 1862 to 1897
- Mwangi 1898
The last Ituĩka ceremony where the rĩĩka of Maina handed over power to the Mwangi generation, took place in 1898-1899 The next one was supposed to be held in 1925–1928 but was thwarted by the colonial government.The traditional symbols of power among the Agikuyu nation is the Muthĩgi(stick) which signifies power to lead and the itimũ(Spear) signifying power to call people to a war.
The traditional way of life of Agikuyu was disrupted when they came into contact with British people around 1888. The aim of these Europeans was to subdue the local population, colonise and take over their rich agricultural land. The colonial takeover was met with strong local resistance: Waiyaki Wa Hinga, a leader of the southern Agikuyu, who ruled Dagoretti who had signed a treaty with Frederick Lugard of the British East Africa Company (BEAC), having been subject to considerable harassment, burned down Lugard's fort in 1890. Waiyaki was abducted two years later by the British and killed.
Following severe financial difficulties of the British East Africa Company, the British government on 1 July 1895 established direct rule, by force, through the East African Protectorate, subsequently opening (1902) the fertile highlands to British settlers. The Agikuyu simply killed almost any member of the Agikuyu nation that helped the British to subdue the Agikuyu. In response the British employed crude methods to retaliate. Failing compliance in such a case, some five hundred of the Masai tribe, the hereditary enemies of the Akikuyu, would then be summoned, and with the addition of some regular local conscripted troops and police the country would be scoured. The men were killed, and the women, children, and herds taken captive until such time as, experience having been dearly bought, another meeting procured the requisite submission. Having tried to violently resist British occupation and colonisation by force and failed between 1895–1920, the Agikuyu people resulted to political means of resistance.
Kenya became a military base for the British in the First World War (1914–18), as efforts to subdue the German colony to the south were frustrated. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the governors of British East Africa (as the Protectorate was generally known) and German East Africa agreed a truce in an attempt to keep the young colonies out of direct hostilities. However Lt Col Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck took command of the German military forces, determined to tie down as many British resources as possible. Completely cut off from Germany, von Lettow conducted an effective guerrilla warfare campaign, living off the land, capturing British supplies, and remaining undefeated. He eventually surrendered in Zambia eleven days after the Armistice was signed in 1918. To chase von Lettow the British deployed Indian Army troops from India and then needed large numbers of porters to overcome the formidable logistics of transporting supplies far into the interior by foot. The Carrier Corps was formed and ultimately mobilised over 400,000 Africans, contributing to their long-term politicisation.
The experiences gained by Africans in the war, coupled with the creation of the white-settler-dominated Kenya Crown Colony, gave rise to considerable political activity in the 1920s which culminated in Archdeacon Owen's "Piny Owacho" (Voice of the People) movement and the "Young Kikuyu Association" (renamed the "East African Association") started in 1921 by Harry Thuku (1895–1970), which gave a sense of nationalism to many Kikuyu and advocated civil disobedience. From the 1920s, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) focused on unifying the Kikuyu into one geographic polity, but its project was undermined by controversies over ritual tribute, land allocation, the ban on female circumcision, and support for Thuku.
By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in Agikuyu country and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy. The area was already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu nation, most of whom had been deprived of their land by the European settlers, and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax, and the landless were granted less and less land in exchange for their labour. A massive exodus to the cities ensued as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled.
In the Second World War (1939–45) Kenya became an important British military base. For the Agikuyu soldiers who took part in the war as part of the King's African Rifles (KAR), the war stimulated African nationalism and exposed the weakness of the Europeans who were oppressing them at home. Meanwhile, on the political front, in 1944 Thuku founded and was first chairman of the multi-ethnic Kenya African Study Union (KASU).
In 1946 KASU became the Kenya African Union (KAU). It was a nationalist organisation that demanded access to white-owned land. KAU acted as a constituency association for the first black member of Kenya's legislative council, Eliud Mathu, who had been nominated in 1944 by the governor after consulting with the local Bantu/Nilotic elite. The KAU remained dominated by the Kikuyu ethnic group. In 1947 Jomo Kenyatta, the former president of the moderate Kikuyu Central Association, became president of the more aggressive KAU to demand a greater political voice for the native inhabitants. The failure of the KAU to attain any significant reforms or redress of grievances from the colonial authorities shifted the political initiative to younger and more militant figures within the African trade union movement, among the squatters on the settler estates in the Rift Valley and in KAU branches in Nairobi and the Kikuyu districts of central province
By 1952, under Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (Mau Mau) launched a full military conflict on the British military, settlers and their native allies. By this time the Mau Mau was fighting for total independence of Kenya. The war is considered by some the gravest crisis of Britain's African colonies The capture of rebel leader Dedan Kimathi on 21 October 1956 signalled the ultimate defeat of the Mau Mau Uprising, and essentially ended the British military campaign although the state of emergency would last until 1959. The conflict arguably set the stage for Kenyan independence in December 1963.
Since the proclamation of the Republic of Kenya, after the British colony of Kenya came to an end in 1963, the Agikuyu now form an integral part of the Kenyan nation. They continue to play their part as citizens of Kenya, helping to build their country. However, some Kenyans resent their incorrectly perceived superior economic status, a resentment sometimes vented through political violence, as happened in 1992, 1997 and 2007 Kenyan elections.
According to a Y-Chromosome DNA study by Wood et al. (2005), around 73% of Gĩkũyũs and their Bantu kinsmen the Kamba belong to the common Sub-Saharan paternal haplogroup E1b1a. The remainder carry other clades: 19% E1b1b, 2% A, and 2% B.
In terms of maternal lineages, Gĩkũyũs closely cluster with other Eastern Bantu groups like the Sukuma. Most belong to various Sub-Saharan mtDNA L haplogroups such as L0f, L3x, L4g and L5 per Castrì et al. (2009). According to Salas et al. (2002), other Gĩkũyũs largely carry the L1a clade, which is a signature of the Bantu expansion from West Africa.
Gĩkũyũs speak the Gĩkũyũ language as their native tongue, which is a member of the Bantu subgroup of the Niger–Congo language family. Additionally, many speak Swahili and English as lingua franca, the two official languages of Kenya.
The Gĩkũyũ are closely related to the Embu, Meru, Mbeere, and Kamba people who also live around Mt. Kenya. Members of the Gĩkũyũ family from the greater Kiambu (commonly referred to as the Kabete) and Nyeri districts are closely related to the Maasai people due to intermarriage prior to colonisation. The Gĩkũyũ people between Thika and Mbeere are closely related to the Kamba people who speak a language similar to Gĩkũyũ. As a result, the Gĩkũyũ people that retain much of the original Gĩkũyũ heritage reside around Kirinyaga and Murang'a regions of Kenya. The Murang'a district is considered by many to be the cradle of the Gĩkũyũ people and as such, Gĩkũyũ's from the Murang'a area are considered to be of a purer breed.
Until 1888, the Agikuyu literature was purely expressed in folklore. Famous stories include The Maiden Who Was Sacrificed By Her Kin, The Lost Sister, The Four Young Warriors, The Girl who Cut the Hair of the N'jenge, and many more.
When the European missionaries arrived in the Agikuyu country in 1888, they learnt the Kikuyu language and started writing it using a modified Roman alphabet. The Kikuyu responded strongly to missionaries and European education. They had greater access to education and opportunities for involvement in the new money economy and political changes in their country. As a consequence, there are notable Kikuyu literature icons such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Meja Mwangi. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's literary works include Caitani Mutharabaini (1981), Matigari (1986) and Murogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow (2006)) which is the largest known Kikuyu language novel having been translated into more than thirty languages
Traditional Kikuyu music has existed 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. Today, Music and Dance are strong components of Kikuyu culture. 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 Kamau, Wanganangu, HM, D'mathew, Peter Kiggia, Mike Rua and Esther Wahome.
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, particularly America's . Popular Kikuyu film productions include comedies such as Machang'i series and Kihenjo series. There is also the movie Kitchen Toto set in colonial Kenya where a young Kikuyu boy, Mwangi, works for British settlers in Kenya at that time, depicting the hardships they had to go through as the workers faced constant pressure from the MauMau freedom fighters who wanted the workers to join them. The movie that uses Gikuyu as its primary language gained popularity from the Gikuyu populace.
Typical 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.
Although Gĩkũyũs historically adhered to indigenous faiths, most have today converted to Christianity.
List of prominent Gĩkũyũs and people of Gĩkũyũ descent
- Chris Kirubi,Industrialist,investment banker
- Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, 4th and current President of Kenya, Former Deputy Prime Minister
- Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate, first African woman and first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. First Kenyan woman to earn a PhD.
- Jomo Kenyatta, 1st President of Kenya, father of Uhuru Kenyatta
- Mwai Kibaki, 3rd President of Kenya
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Gikuyu-language author, father of author and professor Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ.
- Dedan Kimathi, Mau Mau resistance leader
- Samuel Wanjiru, First Kenyan to win the Olympic gold medal in the marathon, 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon Champion, 2009 London and New York Marathon Champion, 2009 Rotterdam Half Marathon champion
- George Saitoti, Politician
- Ngina Kenyatta (Mama Ngina), Former First Lady, wife of Jomo Kenyatta, mother of Uhuru Kenyatta.
- Lucy Kibaki, Former First Lady (Wife of Mwai Kibaki)
- Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta Fourth and current first lady of Kenya, married to Uhuru Kenyatta
- Douglas Wakiihuri, 1987 World Championships in Athletics Marathon Champion, 1988 Olympic Marathon silver medalist, 1990 London and New York Marathon Champion
- Henry Wanyoike, Paralympics Gold medalist over 5,000 meters, Holder of various marathon and half marathon records
- Githu Muigai, Attorney General
- John Ngugi, World Cross Country Champion four consecutive titles between 1986 and 1989 and five titles overall. 1988 Olympic Champion 5000 metres
- Edi Gathegi, Stage, film and television actor
- Catherine Ndereba, Four time Boston Marathon Champion, Olympic marathon silver medalist in 2004 and 2008.
- Tom Morello, Grammy Award winning guitarist, son of Ngethe Njoroge.
- Meja Mwangi, Author
- Chris Murungaru, Politician
- Eric Wainana, Musician
- David Mathenge, Musician popularly known as "Nameless"
- Joseph Kamaru, Musician
- Kenneth Matiba, Politician and businessman
- James Njenga Karume, Politician
- Mbiyu Koinange, Former Minister of State, brother-in-law of Jomo Kenyatta, first Kenyan holder of a Master's degree
- Josephat Karanja, Former Vice-President
- Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, Politician
- Waruhiu Itote a.k.a. General China
- Charles Rubia, Former Member of Parliament and Political Activist
- Harry Thuku, Freedom Fighter and Independence Hero
- Mutahi Kagwe, Politician
- Njenga Karume, Politician and businessman
- Martha Karua, Politician and former presidential candidate
- John Njoroge Michuki, Politician and businessman
- Muthui Kariuki, Former spokesman for the Government of Kenya
- John Michael Njenga Mututho, Politician and anti-alcohol abuse campaigner.
- Koigi wa Wamwere, Author, politician and Human Rights activist
- Gakaara Wa Wanjaũ, Mau Mau Freedom fighter and author
- Charles Mugane Njonjo, Former Attorney General and Minister for Constitutional Affairs
- Eliud Mathu, First African member of the Kenyan Legislative Council (LegCo)
- Jeff Koinange, Journalist
- Jimnah Mbaru, Investment banker
- "Gikuyu: A language of Kenya". SIL International. 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
- 2009 Population & Housing Census Results at the Wayback Machine . Ministry of State for Planning  archived 10 August 2013
- Joseph Bindloss, Tom Parkinson, Matt Fletcher, Lonely Planet Kenya, (Lonely Planet: 2003), p.35.
- Arnold Curtis, Kenya: a visitor's guide, (Evans Brothers: 1985), p.7.
- Routledge & Routledge 1910, pp. 54,55
- Routledge & Routledge 1910, p. 58
- Boyes, pp. 3–5
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- Boyes, p. 5
- Routledge & Routledge 1910, p. 23
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- John & Mbiti 1990
- Placide & Tempels 1959
- Charles William & Hobley 1922
- Godfrey & Muriuki 1974, p. 25
- Godfrey & Muriuki 1974, p. 110
- Mathew & Njoroge 1997
- Godfrey & Muriuki 1974
- Harold E & Lambert 1956
- Gakaara wa & Wanjau 1980, p. 25
- Jomo & Kenyatta 1965
- Jomo & Kenyaata 1965
- Hobley, C.W. (1922). Bantu Beliefs and Magic: With Particular Reference to the Gĩkũyũ and Kamba Tribes of Kenya Colony. London. p. 92.
- "History of Kenya". Kenya-africa.com. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
- Routledge & Routledge 1910
- Berman, Bruce J. (1991). "Nationalism, ethnicity, and modernity: The paradox of Mau Mau". Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines 25 (2): 181–206. doi:10.2307/485216.
- Robbins, Richard H. (2008). 'Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism (4th Ed.). Pearson Education, Inc. P. 315.
- Wood et al. (2005). "Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in Africa: evidence for sex-biased demographic processes". p. Appendix A.
- Castrì, L.; Tofanelli, S.; Garagnani, P.; Bini, C.; Fosella, X.; Pelotti, S.; Paoli, G.; Pettener, D.; Luiselli, D. (2009). "MtDNA variability in two Bantu-speaking populations (Shona and Hutu) from Eastern Africa: Implications for peopling and migration patterns in sub-Saharan Africa". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140 (2): 302–311. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21070. PMID 19425093.
- Salas et al. (November 2002). "The Making of the African mtDNA Landscape". American Journal of Human Genetics 71 (5): 1082–1111. doi:10.1086/344348. PMC 385086. PMID 12395296.
- "Kikuyu Tribe – the Largest Tribe in Kenya: History and Culture". Kenya-information-guide.com. 19 February 2013. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
- Mukoma Wa Ngugi website.
- Boyes, John. How I became King of the Wa-Kikuyu (PDF). Nairobi: W. Boyd. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
- Hobley, Charles William (1922). Bantu Beliefs and Magic: With particular reference to the Kikuyu and Kamba tribes of Kenya colony; together with some reflections on East Africa after the war. London: H. F. & G. Witherby.
- Kabetũ, Mathew Njoroge (1966). Kikuyu: Customs and Tradition of the Kikuyu People. Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau.
- Kenyatta, Jomo (1938). Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. London: Secker and Warburg.
- Lambert, Harold E. (1956). Kikuyu Social and Political Institutions. London: Oxford University Press.
- Mbiti, John (1990). African Religions and Philosophy (2nd ed.). Oxford: Heinemann.
- Muriuki, Godfrey (1974). A History of the Kikuyu, 1500-1900. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.
- Routledge, William Scoresby; Routledge, Katherine Pease (1910). With a Prehistoric People: The Akikúyu of British East Africa, Being some account of the method of life and mode of thought found existent amongst a nation on its first contact with European civilisation. London: Edward Arnold.
- Tempels, Placide (1959). Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Présence africaine.
- Wanjau, Gakaara wa (1967). Mihiriga ya Agikuyu. Nairobi: Equatorial Publishers.
- Branch, Daniel (2009). Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-13090-5.
- Elkins, Caroline, 2005. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. (Henry Holt)
- Huxley, Elspeth. 2006. Red Strangers. (Penguin)
- Lonsdale, John, and Berman, Bruce. 1992. Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa. (J Currey Press)
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- Muhindi, Samuel, Author [Ngucanio 1 & 2] 2009, A Gĩkũyũ Christian movie] - The first Gĩkũyũ author to write and shoot a Christian Gĩkũyũ movie
- Mwakikagile, Godfrey, Kenya: Identity of A Nation. Pretoria, South Africa: New Africa Press, 2008.
- Mwakikagile, Godfrey. Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria. Huntington, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2001.
- Wanjaũ, Gakaara Wa, 1988. Mau Mau Author in Detention. Translated by Paul Ngigi Njoroge. (Heinemann Kenya Limited)
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