Kikuyu People: Secrets of an ancient migration from Egypt to Mount Kenya
Updated 29th May 2012
The Kikuyu do not have a tradition of a migration from Egypt. Their Myth of Origin is a sort of Adam and Eve affair. It states that God created a man and a woman and placed them near Mount Kenya. The couple had nine daughters who miraculously received nine men to marry them after their father’s prayers. The Kikuyu call themselves The House of Mumbi in honour of this Mother who was also a potter. However, as I will show here, linguistic and comparative studies between Kikuyu culture and that of 18th Dynasty Egypt tell a different story.
Who were the Kikuyu?
The Kikuyu are classified linguistically as Highland Bantus together with the Kamba, Kuria and Gusii, Embu, Tharaka, and Meru of Kenya. The latter three are classified as Kikuyu by this researcher due to their common origins. The other Highland Bantus in East Africa are the Meru (Tanzanian), Segeju, Sonjo, Ikoma, Chagga, Gweno, Shashi, Zanaki and Nguruimi of Tanzania. They are all of the Benue-Congo language division of the Niger Congo family. In particular, the Chagga have an as yet unexplored affinity with the Kikuyu. According to traditions, the Ethaga clan of the Kikuyu either came from or represents the Chagga.
Kikuyu proper has three main divisions. These are Gaki (Nyeri), Metumi (Muranga) and Kabete or Kiambu Kikuyu. We use the term Kikuyu because as the anglicised form of the original - Gĩkũyũ – it has gained widespread academic use. Gĩkũyũ was not only a language but also the name of a patriarch ancestor.
The first written mention of Kikuyu in modern times must be by Ludwig Krapf when he made two journeys to Ukambani in the 1840’s. Before that, the Kikuyu had lived in isolation for more than one thousand years, with little interaction with the outside world. It is to be expected that some Kikuyu travellers did join their Akamba friends to and from the coast on trading expeditions. This explains why the Kikuyu, despite the isolation, did not lag behind in incorporating new crops into their agriculture. Examples of these crops are cassava, maize and tobacco, which were unknown outside the Americas before the Spanish conquests, and subsequent Portuguese presence at the East African Coast. For a detailed description of the Kikuyu, the reader is invited to read The Kikuyu Language: vocabulary and conversation practice.
Where did the Kikuyu come from?
The Kikuyu have several myths of origin. For details on these myths, read Kikuyu People - Myths of Origin. Myths cannot be relied on entirely for historical accuracy. However, they do carry some fragments of truth, which are important to the keen observer. The Myth of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi, the father and mother of all the Kikuyu is the most reliable of all the legends told by the kikuyu about their origins.
From comparative studies, I have deduced that the nucleus of the people called Kikuyu today came from the land of Ancient Egypt, during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten. They used the Ethiopia route to get to Mount Kenya. According to evidence from power handing over ceremony described below, it took less than thirty (30) years for the first group to get to Mount Kenya region. It took others more than one hundred years to join their kin. This explains the variety of dialects, including Meru, now a distinct language. The reader will be taken through the existing evidence of this migration. During this migration, the Nyeri and Murang'a Kikuyu were separated for three generations which resulted in the last three ruling generations to have two different names each as will be seen below. Once they had settled in the safety of the forests at the foot of the sacred mountain, the Kikuyu went to great pains to re-craft their origins and to ensure that intruders were kept at bay in a siege mentality that lasted over one thousand years.
The following questions will further help to understand the secrets given below:
- The Kikuyu say Tene to mean 'Long Ago.' Is this Tene the suffix in Akhenaten?
- The Meru who had a confederacy with the Kikuyu say KARE to mean Long Ago. Is this the suffix in Smenkhare, the co-regent of Akhenaten?
- The Kikhuyu call a Woman a Mutumia and an Olive tree a Mutamaiyo. Do this words have the same root as Mutemwiya, Akhenaten’s Grandmother? We also know with certainty that the Olive tree was sacred in ancient Egypt.
That said, let us look at two ceremonies, one in Egypt and the other in Kikuyu.
The Hebsed Festival or Jubilee
Egyptologists suggest that the Egyptian Hebsed started soon after 3100 BC when King Menes unified Egypt. It is likely that it was a much older tradition, taken into Egypt from the south where King Menes had come from. His commemorative palette called the palette of Narmer has two mythical long necked animals. Routledge described a long necked animal, a Ndamathia, living in the Mathioya River which has a sacred feather in its tail. He associated this animal to a ceremony of the Kikuyu similar to the Hebsed called Ituĩka in Kikuyu.
The Kikuyu Calendar
The Kikuyu used a lunar calendar by following the cycles of the moon. They therefore had twelve months, each with its own name, based on the activity or expected weather. These twelve months are listed in the hub: The Kikuyu Language: vocabulary and conversation practice. We can see therefore, that through the lunar month, they arrived at a year that was similar to the Egyptian year of 360 days.
A group of youths (both male and female) initiated into adulthood in a specific year was given a name that reminded them of a major event in that year, such as famine or the first time the aeroplane was cited. When the colonialist came with the Pax Britannica, it was possible to correlate known events and the names of the initiation groups to arrive at specific years. Cagnolo of the Consolata fathers was able to get Initiation names to as far back as 1840. It follows then that all the initiation names, marking major events in the history of the Kikuyu in the past, beyond 1840 have been forgotten. We shall never know for instance, what the initiation at departure of Egypt or at arrival in Kikuyu land was. However, another system, that of naming ‘ruling generations’ after every thirty years, gives the precise time that the Kikuyu identified themselves as a unique group in Egypt, the time they left Egypt and the possible time that they arrived in the Mount Kenya area. This is thanks to a list of nine names that are repeated in a cycle starting in the days of Pharaoh Thothmes III. Since the ancient Egyptians used the cycles of the ‘dog star’ or ‘Sirius’ to reckon the 30 year cycle, it should follow that the Kikuyu seers (Arathi) were familiar with ‘star gazing’ and used the same star to determine the end of a thirty year cycle.
The Word Arathi – Star gazer, has three morphs: A (a prefix to turn a word into plural); Ra (probably the sun God Ra): Thi (archaic form for the word ‘go.’ This form is still in use by the Akamba. What the Arathi do is kuratha – to foresee, the correct translation of Arathi in ancient times was – those who go with Ra, and since Ra was the sun, these journeys took place in the sky.
Kikuyu language is agglutinative. It has the tendency of forming new words by fusing two or more different words together to give a new meaning. By comparative studies, we are able to see and extract fused archaic forms.
The Ituĩka: a Kikuyu ceremony similar to the Hebsed of Egypt
The Kikuyu were ruled by a generation of elders. When the ‘generation in power’ reached the age of retirement, the ‘generation in waiting’ paid fees in goats, and an ‘Ituĩka’ ceremony was organised. This happened every 30 years. A cycle of nine names was used to identify each ruling generation and since it was a fixed cycle, the generation in waiting knew in advance what their name was. Below is a list of all the nine Ituĩka names:
2. Chyera (Ciira)
7. Choka (muirungu)
8. Chororo (murigaru)
9. Chuma (manduti)
10. ??? ( I will advance a theory why there must have been a tenth name)
Note that after Mwangi, the other generations have a different name in brackets. This bracketed names were from the Nyeri Kikuyu, an indication that a separation occurred but the ceremonies still took place according a traditional reckoning after every 30 years. Since each ceremony commemorated an event, the separated groups had, as is expected, differing experiences and events to name after the ceremonies.
There were two names however that were generic, meaning that whichever of the nine names a generation carried from the above list, they also had of the two – a sort of surname. A Generation was either a Mwangi or a Maina, regardless of the real generation name. Since Maina and Mwangi are alos on the list, it means that they commemorate very important occasions in the history of the tribe. In other words, the Mwangi begat the Maina, and the Maina begat the Mwangi. This will be clear when the reader has gone through the entire text.
In all probability, the Ituĩka names were given to the Kikuyu when in Egypt and after departure from Egypt, every 30 years according to an Egyptian tradition called the Hebsed. This word Hebsed translates to “the becoming” in English, the same meaning that “Ituĩka” gives in Kikuyu. For details on the Hebsed and the Ituĩka see the Hub: Akhenaten and the Kikuyu People of Kenya. All the Generations that appear before Mwangi in the list below are believed by this author to have corresponding Hebsed festivals celebrated in Egypt. The names of generations in the power-handing-over ceremony give us an idea of how many years the Kikuyu took to get to Mount Kenya regions as follows:
(1)Mathaathi – this was during the reign of Thothmes III. ‘Ma’ is a prefix and the root is Thaathi for Thoth. This is the earliest period in the collective memory of the Kikuyu. Thothmes III (sometimes spelled as Tahutmes, or Thutmosis) was a pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty. For the first 22 years of his reign, Thothmes was co-regent with his stepmother, Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh ever. He is recorded to have ruled between 1504-1450 BC. Hatshepsut who was also called Makare, celebrated a Hebsed (the equivalent of an Ituĩka) as recorded on an obelisk. It is likely that that 30 year jubilee celebration merely fell in her reign and was not of her own making as some Egyptologists have theorised. It is around this time that a group of East African men and women were acquired by Hatshepsut. The women were called the Angui (an archaic Bantu word for leopard). Makare, Hatshepsut’s other name meant ‘leopard’ and it would appear that these women were ‘her property.’ The Men probably took the interim name Mathaathi, before taking on the name Gĩkũyũ when Thothmes was in full power. ‘Sycamore’ was a Pharaonic title besides the fact that sycamores were sacred trees. A sycamore tree is called Mũkũyũ in Kikuyu. The present Angũi Clan of the Kikuyu is also called Aithiegeni (which is archaic Kikuyu for ‘those in a foreign land’). It is noteworthy that the Kikuyu call a leopard Ngare and not Ngoi as do many other Bantu groups. They seem to have adopted the Egyptian word for it. The Mathaathi generation gave birth to Chyera (Ciira).
About the God Thoth – “...In another aspect [besides as a scribe] Thoth was the heart of Ra - the heart was the seat of Intelligence, and writing was the physical manifestation of Intelligence" (Edward L. B. Terrace and Henry G Fischer, 1970).
(2) Chyera (Ciira). The root of this word is the verb, Ciara – give birth. Scholars agree that this generation signifies excessive growth of the tribe. I suggest that this growth took place after the fortunes of a small captive group changed for the better. It understandable that Hatshepsut, as the first female Pharaoh in Egypt, had given her captives and servants such freedom as was not available to their lot before. This is especially so for the women, and we can understand how at one time, according to legend, Kikuyu women ruled their men. It interesting that the Kikuyu women adopted some items of clothing that were the preserve of men in Egypt. Look closely at the images presented in this hub.
A Hebsed was likely to have been celebrated during the reign of Thothmes III who ruled for 54 years, (26 as a co-regent). A woman is called ‘mutumia’ in Kikuyu and it seems women were associated with Olive trees. If the sycamore was the ‘Sun’, then the Olive was the ‘Moon.’ This generation gave birth to Ndemi.
(3) Ndemi – This generation is associated with writing (Ndemwa – letters and numbers) from the verb tema – to cut. Some writers have associated them with clearing fields for cultivation but that cannot be true when other evidence that is shown below is taken into consideration. Letters in Egypt were cut or incised in stone. When Thothmes III eventually took over from Hatshepsut, he put everybody to a lot of work on his monuments. It is reported that almost all the great temples existing in Upper Egypt at the time were enlarged while he ordered the building of new ones. This required artisans to work the stones and to assist the scribes in writing the hieroglyphics. Even if one did not actually write on stone, the event would be so important that everyone would want to be associated with the ‘cutting and incising’. Thothmes III extended the borders of Egypt to include the lands that we know as Ethiopia, Sudan, Arabia, Armenia and Kurdistan. Thothmes III was succeeded by his son Amenhotep II. It is likely that a Hebsed was celebrated after Amenhotep II had taken over from his father. His mother was the famous Mutemwiya – the great Olive. An Olive tree is called mutamaiyu in Kikuyu. It was the sacred tree for Kikuyu women. The Ndemi generation gave birth to Iregi- the rebels.
(4) Iregi – This means ‘rebels’ in Kikuyu. This generation is associated with the rebellion against Amun by Amenhotep iv (Maina) who changed his name to Akhenaten (Tene) when he took over in.1350. The Hebsed was likely to have been celebrated when Akhenaten was co- regent with his father, Amenhotep III. The rebellion was against the worship of the state religion which had a stranglehold on the population. Note that a State House is called ‘Thingira wa Iregi’ – house of the rebels in the Kikuyu language. This title for the ruler’s house was initiated by Akhenaten, who was the Gikũyũ of Kikuyu migration from Egypt. The priests of Amun were rich and influential, a situation he endeavoured to change by decreeing that none should be worshipped but the sun God Aten whose rays were always shown holding the Ankh – symbol of life. It implies that the generation sided with his actions. Akhenaten went to great lengths to erase inscription with Amun on monuments, acts that no doubt infuriated the nobles and priests. The Iregi gave birth to the Maina who were so named in memory of Akhenaten whose religious belief they had now adopted. Maina is from Amun in Amenhotep – Akhenaten’s name before the change.
The Ankh – This word is the root of the Kikuyu word ũgima and the Luo word mangima, both meaning health. As will be apparent here, it is also the root of the name Mwangi and the Egyptian name Tutankhmen.
(5) Maina – This name is the first of the Generic names. It must be marker of a momentous stage in the history of the Kikuyu. I have deduced that this generation is derived from Akhenaten’s original name Amenhotep IV and though it is a grim reminder of the banished God and his priests it is associated more with the peace that reigned in the land – the Amarna period. Despite the fact that Petrie, an early Egyptologist stated that there is no record of Akhenaten’s celebration of a Hebsed, he believed that it must have taken place. The fact that the Kikuyu have this Maina that precedes Mwangi is testimony that it did take place. The name Maina shares the same roots with the Kiswahili word Amani meaning peace. Egyptologists are agreed that the Amarna period was a peaceful era in the 18th Dynasty. This Maina generation gave birth to Mwangi.
(6) Mwangi – This generation was associated with Tutankhamen’s rise to the throne after Akhenaten’s flight from Egypt. Mwa in Mwangi and Tut in Tutankhamen are prefixes. The root in Mwangi is “Angi” which corresponds with “Ankh” inTutankhamen. Maina was the father of Mwangi, just as Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamen. Akhenaten took flight at about 1334 BC. The Ituĩka ceremony in this generation may not have been celebrated in Egypt, since the Pharaoh and his followers were in full flight. However, the Kikuyu and Egyptians may have held the ceremonies concurrently since the timing was reckoned by stargazing. This generation in flight gave birth to Choka, which means ‘return’ in Kikuyu.
The use of the word Choka - ‘return,’ implies that the Kikuyu had arrived at ancestral lands, from where they had been uprooted in the first place. It is at this point that the returnees called themselves Gĩkũyũ – as followers of the fleeing sycamore whom they also adopted as their symbolic father. This was in an effort to forget their tribulations in Egypt. In any case, a sycamore tree was also sacred in Egypt and the word was another title for a Pharaoh. The Meru who were all Imenti (people of the mountain) commemorated this departure by forming a new group – Tigania, which means ‘abandoners.
(7) Choka (also called Mũirungu) - Thirty years after the installation of Mwangi, a section of the next generation was born in Mount Kenya area by the first batch of returnees. The Generic name for them would be Maina. These were the Choka – those who returned. Choka is also called Mũirungu or Irũngũ. Mũirungu is archaic Kikuyu to mean ‘the one who is underground.’ Rungu means under. ‘Mu’ is a prefix to denote a human. Mũirungu therefore means “the one who is under.” Mũirungu was later pronounced as Mũrungu and came to mean God, which was the custom of ancient Egypt to deify a departed leader.. This means that Gĩkũyũ the leader, died within the reign of this generation and was buried in the Mount Kenya area. Did Akhenaten die soon after arrival and was interred?
It is debatable whether the Chuka ethnic group of Mount Kenya region derive their name from the verb Choka - this occasion of returning. Perhaps the Mbeere ethnic group also of the Mount Kenya region was always present as the remnant group that received the returnees. Mbeere means ‘first’ and is related to the Hebrew word ‘Bereshith’ – the name of the first book in the Bible.
From this point we know that more returnees continued to come in deferent waves. It is likely that those left behind by the Choka called themselves something different, hence the many intelligible dialects of Mount Kenya region. The next two generations had two different names each. This may indicate that some groups did a government changeover – and Ituĩka, in isolation and commemorated events with names that were unknown to the people already settled in Mount Kenya area. I have concluded that the Gichukya dance, which is described on the right was danced until recently to commemorate the return to ancient ancestral lands over 1000 years ago, perhaps even 3000.
(8) Chororo (Murigaru) – I have been unable to decipher the meaning of these two words. The generic name for Chororo would be Mwangi. One group which was likely lost and came across a people who had iron working knowledge adopted the name Murigaru instead of the one by those who had already arrived. Murigaru maybe in association with heat (ũrugarĩ) as would be expected when working near hot furnaces during iron working. These generation known by its two names, gave birth to Chuma also known as Manduti.
(9) Chuma (Manduti) – It would appear that this age group commemorated the acquisition of ‘iron working’ skills, almost one hundred years after the flight from Egypt. Chuma (pronounced as ‘shuma’ in Kikuyu) means Iron in both Kikuyu and Swahili, which was introduced by the group that had been previously lost. Having superior iron weaponry, it is likely that a lot of evil was committed by those arriving with the technology. The other name for this generation, Manduti has been translated as ‘evil doers.’ In ancient Egypt, iron working was associated with Set, a god of evil. When they were integrated sufficiently, the evil was probably visited on other ‘enemy’ communities that did not have iron working knowledge. The name Manduti also means the ugly ones. The generic name of Chuma would be Maina.
After this generation, the Kikuyu were well settled in the mountainous area where they developed a siege mentality and proceeded to isolate themselves. Akhenaten was in danger of being pursued by his enemies in Egypt. His people therefore went to great lengths to hide him. The women in the harem (seraglio) were adopted as Gikũyũ 's daughters and the myth of Gikũyũ and Mũmbi was crafted.
In the Myth of Gikũyũ and Mumbi, God placed Gikũyũ in the area of Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga, and gave him a wife. The wife bore only girls, nine in all. When they were ready to get married, there were no men, and Gikũyũ had to sacrifice to God Ngai, resulting in the miraculous appearance of nine men to marry the girls. The girls became the heads of their homes and were the initiators of the nine clans. Gikũyũ's entire household, according to some interpretations constituted the tenth clan.
This period is remembered as TENE or the days of TENE NA AGO (very long ago).
I highly suspect that the AGO of Kikuyu (seers and diviners) and the ago in Long Ago in English are related etymologically.
The Gichukya dance
The word Gichukya is derived from the verb – choka (return). Gi is a prefix to denote a big thing. The meaning of Gichukya then is the Big return.
The dancers dress in a triangular apron, the kind that is worn by Akhenaten’s servants in tomb pictures. The males paint their legs halfway with white chalk instead of ochre. They paint lines of white on their bodies. These lines represent water – the waters of the Nile, Lake Tana and river Tana in Kenya. One man paints his face green, another with white, yellow or even blue. I have concluded that this is a representation of all the different races that escaped from Egypt but lived together as ‘Kikuyu.’ An early writer on the Kikuyu noted that the Kikuyu are a mixture of many races. The men form a circle and the girls form another circle inside the big one, facing the men. This was always done around a sacred tree which no doubt represented the patriarch Gĩkũyũ. During the dance, groups of men entered the inner circle and showed off their dancing skills before returning to their position and giving room to others. A garment that was described by Routledge as peculiar was worn around the waist by the men. This was the triangular apron worn by Akhenaten’s servants.
We have seen that the Kikuyu myth of origin does not include Egypt as a possible location. After focussed scrutiny, the nine names given in a 30-year cycle in Ituĩka ceremonies of handing over power indicate that the Kikuyu had something to hide. Readers should ask themselves why the coincidences seem to revolve around the life of Akhenaten and his relatives when a comparison is made with the history of 18th Dynasty Egypt. I would conclude that the coincidences are not to be taken as chance occurrences.
In regard to the nine Ituĩka ceremony names, I maintain that a tenth generation was hidden in the same way that the Kikuyu only talked of nine clans. Most writers agree that the clans were ten. The reason for hiding the tenth clan is that counting people to the exact number would cause them to perish. Since the tenth clan name is said to be the entire house of Mumbi, it is a symbolic clan – that of completing the bundle, i.e. 10. Using the same argument, the tenth generation name would be symbolic to complete the bundle and it should not be surprising if it sounds a bit like ten (10). The word ten in English is thousands of years old as we shall see.
Nine Generations at 30-year intervals would give a total of 270 years at the end of the cycle. They would also make the use of the generic names Maina and Mwangi lose rhythm at some point since 2 is an even number while 9 is an odd number.
Ten Generations at 30-year intervals would give a total of 300 years, a figure that has the magical number 3, and a round figure.
With a tenth clan, we would not have a situation where Maina’s generic name is Mwangi or vice versa, which would be unacceptable, since “the Maina beget the Mwangi and the Mwangi beget the Maina in perpetuity. After the tenth Generation, the Kikuyu in their wisdom decided that the cycle would be repeated without further changes since they too had gone a full circle – from Mount Kenya to Egypt and back. Only the annual initiation names were subject to change as warranted by the major occurrences each year.
I suggest that the tenth Ituĩka was called Tene na Ago. This is a common phrase that also means long ago in Kikuyu. Note that Ten inEnglish and Tene na ago for long ago in Kikuyu and long Ago (English) are mere semantics for number ten and long ago.
During the Ituĩka power handing over ceremony, the secrets of the tribe were handed over to the new rulers. In 1939, the British Government proscribed the ceremony so the generation that was to hand over went to their graves with all the secrets of the Kikuyu. According to LSB Leakey, the ceremony was already very late. The payment to the retirees had been greatly delayed, possibly due to the transition from self-government to colonialism. Unknown to the British, the ceremony had continued among the Kikuyu uninterrupted for roughly 3,300 years. But if it is assumed that the ceremony had started with King Menes in 3100 BC, then 5,000 years would be closer to the truth. The people of England may one day discover that the story of the Hebseds, the Ituĩka and their story too, since little is known of pre-Roman times.
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4. Dundas, Charles, 1968, Kilimanjaro and its People, Frank Cass & co. Ltd, London.
5. Ellison T, R., (2006), Tree Goddesses http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/treegoddess.htm, accessed April 2006.
6. Giles, F. J., 1970, Ikhnaton: Legend and History, Hutchinson, London.
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11. Middleton, J. & Kershaw G., 1965, The Central Tribes of the North-Eastern Bantu, (including the Embu, Meru, Mbere, Chuka. Mwimbi, Tharaka, and the Kamba of Kenya), International Africa Institute, London.
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14. National Geographic, April 2001, p. 34-57, Pharaohs of the Sun, by Rick Gore, published by the National Geographic Society, Washington DC.
15. Ogot, B.A., editor, 1974, Zamani, a Survey of East African History, East African Publishing House, Nairobi.
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17. Routledge, W. S., and Routledge K., 1910, With a Prehistoric People, the Akikuyu of British East Africa, Edward Arnold, London.
18. Sir Petrie, Flinders, (1924), History of Egypt , From earliest Kings to the xviDynasty Vol. II, (6 vol., 1894- 1925)
19. Tate, H. R., 1904, Further Notes on the Kikuyu Tribe of East Africa, Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, London
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More Hubs about the Kikuyu and Ancient Egypt
- Akhenaten’s Grandmother and the Kikuyu
Akhenate was the Pharaoh credited with starting Monotheism in 18th Dynasty Egypt. Here, we shall be more concerned with his grandmother called Mutemwiya (spelled as Mutemwaya by some writers). Before we discuss Mutemwiya, two trees need to mentioned.
- Akhenaten and the Kikuyu People of Kenya
Akhenaten the monotheistic Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty had some influence in Kikuyu culture, language and religion. The evidence is not very obvious but once you see it, it stands out like a white elephant.
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