Kisii and Meru people of Kenya and Mentuhotep II of Ancient Egypt

Kisii and Meru : A Misri origin

Updated 7th April 2011

The Kisii, also called Gusii are a highland Bantu agriculturalist community like the Kikuyu. The proto Kisii entered western Kenya from Uganda to the foothills of Mount Elgon. The Kisii live in Nyanza province, bordering the Luo to the south and Maasai and Kipsigis to the East and Southeast. They are separated from their closely related Abakuria (Tende) by the Luo to the South. Their language is commonly called Ekegusii. The Kisii have adopted customs and names of their Luo neighbours. They are noted for their soapstone sculpture which now goes by the name ‘Kisii stone.’ The Kisii believed in a supreme God called Engoro. Death in general was "unnatural" and was believed to have been caused by witchcraft.

The Kisii who gave their myth of origins to Prof. Were, mentioned a place called Misri as their place of origin." The Gusii themselves speak of Mogusii as the founder of their society and the person after whom they are named."

According to the story collected by Ochieng (Ogot et al 1976) in the past Gusii were the same people as the Kuria, Logoli, Suba, Kikuyu, Meru, Embu and Kamba, and that from the land of 'Misri' they migrated to the foothils of Mount Elgon. Dispersal then took place from there. Below is the genealogy of the Kisii. Their ealiest known acestor was Kintu, also known as Muntu. It is noteworthy that ‘Mentuhotep’ was a pharaonic name in the 10th dynasty.

Kintu begat Ribiaka, who begat Kigoma, who begat Molughuhia. This man Molughuhia had five sons; Osogo, Mogusii, Kuria, Mogikoyo, and Logoli. Mogikoyo is the forefather of the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Kamba.

Evidence in ancient Egypt indicates that Pharaoh Mentuhotep was also called Kintu besides the anusual title of Uah-Kara. We shall see this strange name recurring in the oral history of the Meru below. It is well know that the ancient Egyptians were sun worshippers with many Gods who were not previously assocated with the sun being ‘solarised’ with the RA suffix (AmeuRA, AtenRA, etc.) A vestige of sun worship can be seen Among the Kuria, who offer milk and honey to the sun during the morning prayer to god (Enokwe). They say that the sun (Erioba rie merengarie) is an embodiment of Enokwe.

The Meru people

The Meru - The Meru are closely related to the Kikuyu. They do not subscribe to the Kikuyu story of origin. Their origin includes a place called Mbwaa with some respondents mentioning Misri.

Meru traditions record that mbwaa was an island from which they could see wildlife on the mainland. There were two other Islands near Mbwaa. One of this is known to the Meru as Bua and was inhabited by a group remembered as Buu. Buu Is the current name of a division of the Pokomo". Note that the Embu were called Kembu in the distant past, a name that is similar to Mbuu. The Embu were allied to the Kikuyu and speak a Kikuyu dialect. A division of present day Kikuyu are called kiambuu, probably to indicate their position in the boundary where alarms had to be sounded during enemy attacks. Alarm sounds are called ‘mbu’ in Kikuyu. It is interesting to note that the Taita also lived next to the ‘Kilio’ (those who cry) people which implies that many communities lived next to one that gave warning cries as a survival strategy. Perhaps in the case of the Meru in ancient times, the Buu were part of a garrison with soldiers who would raise an alarm if the the captive groups attempted to escape. Perhaps these groups, once free, adopted a triumvirate system where one community played the role of ‘Buu’ – alarm raisers or the first line of defence. The Kiambu kikuyu according to Leakey were a first line of defence for the Kikuyu when the Maasai attacked. Help would soon come from the interior after information of the attack was relayed.

The word Mbwaa shares the same root with the word for dog or dog-like animal in several Bantu languages (mbwa – dog in Swahili; Mbweha – jackal in Swahili; Mbwe- jackal in kikuyu). The word for dog in Meru however is Kuru. The Agumba who were referred to by the Kikuyu as the owners of the land were also called ‘Umpua,' and Koru. Note that Anubis was also known as Yinepu, Anpu, Kenti Amentiu … lord of the Westerners.’

Some Meru informants told early ethnographers that they came from Misri, Mbwaa or Mbweni (Ogot et al 1976). The Meru, according to Nyaga, came from Mbwaa with a young girl and a young boy. According to Ogot, (1976), this word Mbwaa may originally have been spoken as "Mbwara" There exists an area known as Mbwara Matanga on Manda's western peninsula, which is the part of the Island closest to the mainland. "(Ogot et al, 1976, p. 140).

Note that Matanga means burial and that this location was on the 'western side' In conformity with Egyptian beliefs that the western side of the Nile was reserved for burial grounds. Besides, the Meru say that they came from the right side which is actually west when you are caming to Kenya from the North.

The most powerful people recalled to have lived near Mbwa were known as Nguo Ntuni (spelled by Nyaga as Nguo Ntune) - the red clothes.

At their present location, the Meru newcomers found people who were variously referred to as Ikara, Ukara, Athamagi and Mwoko. In Imenti they are remembered as Mu-uthiu or Mogukuru, allied to Agira. In Tigania, as Mukuru, Mugukuru and Aruguru allied to Mwoko.

Fadiman Identifies the Mukuru, Mu-uthiu as kitu or Tu, terms which are similar to one of the ancestors of the Gusii who, according to the Gusii, was the ancestor of the Kikuyu and Meru as well.

Mentuhotep II

Mentuhotep II (whose throne name was Nebhepetre ) was a Pharaoh in the middle kingdom in the 11th dynasty. He ruled for approximately 51 years between 2061 BC and 2010 BC. His father was Intef III and his mother was queen Iah. Mentuhotep, like all Pharaohs was a devine ruler. Mentuhotep III has been acclaimed as his only son.

Some authorities claim that Mentuhotep II was buried in the tomb he had constructed at Deir el-Bahri.

When he took the reigns, Egypt had been split into two since the 6th dynasty. After the explusion of the Semitic invaders Mentuhotep II is credited with reuniting Egypt again probably around his 38 and 39th year in power. This Dynasty also established control over the people of Wawat in the South. An expedition was mounted down the Red Sea to Punt in present day Somalia. He built a funerary temple at Deir-el-Bahri, opposite Luxor which was later to be duplicated 500 years later, next to it by queen Hatshepsut. Hatshepst, the great female Monarch also made much quoted journey to Punt. She was also called Makare on her monuments. Images in the reign of Mentuhotep II, as reported by Sir Petrie, F., show “....the chapel from Denderah bears scenes of the king smiting the Aamu. ....fragments of scenes show Libyan axilliaries helping to conquer Aamu and Mentiu.”

Important officials in Mentuhotep’s reign

Overseer of sealers - Meru.

Two viziers - Bebi and Dagi.

Army General - Intef

Treasurer 1 - Khety. He also organized the Hebsed festival.

Treasurer 2 - Meketre

Mentuhotep’s statue is unique for it’s colour - a jet black. His wife, a very dark woman indeed is shown below having her hair styled by maids, possibly from Syria.

Conclusion

The Kisii’s ealiest known acestor was Kintu, also known as Muntu. It is noteworthy that ‘Mentuhotep’ was a pharaon in the 11th dynasty in ancient Egypt. He was also called Kitu Uah-ka-ra. It is significant that the Meru who are closely related to the Kisii claim to have found a people called ‘ikara’ or ‘athamagi’ (kings) in the Mount Kenya area. The Meru also say that before they left the legendary Mbwaa, they were all Imenti. Note similarity of Imenti with ‘Muntu’ and Mentuhotep.

Since the Meru claim that there were several Mbwaa places of origin, it seems that one era of these Mbwaa’s was in the reign of Mentuhotep – an era that is also in the memory of he Kisii. The second era happened at the end of Akhenaten’s reign when the Imenti split intoand the Tigania (the abandoners) who were collectively called the Meru (a pyramid was called a MR). To call themselves ‘the Abandoners’ would imply that Akhenaten’s departure was against his will.

Certain authorities on the Mount Kenya region believe that Egyptian Pharaohs made pilgrimages there to pray. I believe that they instead used it a safe haven from persecution when their removal through revolution or religious omens was imminent. Pharaoh Mentuhotep disappeared without trace just like Akhenaten. We know that Akhenaten had stired the wrath of Amun priests by decreeing that only Aten should worshipped, thus rendering the Amun priests jobless. He had even ordered the hacking away of the Amun title from monuments.

My theory is that Mentuhotep for whatever reason is remembered by the Kisii as the ruler when when something very memorable happened to them as a community. Around the same time, for the same or other reason, the Imenti renewed themselves as a community and chose to call themselves by his name. Perhaps they are the Mentiu he conquered as reported on the monument, and by that submission gave them his name. How Anubis the funerary god also came to be called Amentiu is still a mystery, but we know that his priests wore the mask of a dog. It has been shown in my writings that the word Mbwaa indicates ‘the place of the dog,’ which implies that the Meru associate their stay in Egypt with Anubis, probably as funerary workers. They continued to stay in Egypt until the reign of Akhenaten when an exodus took place. This is when the Tigania (the abandoners) were born as a community when they abandoned Mbwaa. All royal burials took place on the west side. When you walk down the River Nile to Kenya while on the west side, you will be on your right side. The Meru say that they came from the right side.


Kemsit, Mentuhotep's wife getting attention from her maids (Kemsit, l'pouse de Mentouhotep avec ses serviteurs)
Kemsit, Mentuhotep's wife getting attention from her maids (Kemsit, l'pouse de Mentouhotep avec ses serviteurs)

References

1. Aldred, Cyril 1985,Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, New York.

2. Aldred, C., 1996,Egyptian Art, Thames & Hudson, London.

3. Aldred, C., 1968AkhnenatenThames & Hudson London

4. Bottignole, S., 1984.Kikuyu Traditional Culture and Christianity.Heinemann Educational Books, Nairobi.

5. Breasted, J. H., 1898, The History and Civilization of Egypt, University of Chicago Press,. Chicago.

6. Bynon T., 1977,Historical Linguistics,Cambridge University Press, London.

7. ben-Jochannan, Y., 1971,Africa: Mother of Western Civilization, Alkebu-Lan Books Associates, New York, New York.

8. Cagnolo, C.,1933,The Akikuyu, Their customs, Traditions and Folklore,Mission Printing school, Nyeri.

9. Collier J., 1970,In search of Akhenaten,Ward Lock Limited - London

10. Gathigira Stanley K., 1933,Miikarire ya Agikuyu, this edition - 1986 by Scholars Publication (no town).

11. Giles, F. J., 1970,Ikhnaton: Legend and History,Hutchinson, London.

12. Hobley C.W., 1922,Bantu Beliefs and Magic,H.F&G Witherby, London

13. Ions, V., 1973.Egyptian Mythology.Paul Hamlyn, New York.

14. Kabeca M. A., (n.d.)Pre-colonial History of the Chuka of Mount Kenya c1400 - 1908. Dalhousie university, n.p.

15. Kabetu M. N, 1947,Kirira kia Ugikuyu, This edition-1966 by East African Publishing, Nairobi

16. Kenyatta J, 1938,Facing Mount Kenya,Kenway Publications, Nairobi.

17. Kenyatta, J.,1966,My People of Kikuyu,Oxford University Press, Nairobi.

18. Lange. K., 1968,Egypt, Architecture, Sculpture and Painting,Phaidon press, London.

19. Lambert H. E., 1956,Kikuyu Social and political Institution ,International African institute – Oxford University Press, London.

20. Leakey L.S.B., 1977,The Southern Kikuyu before 1903, Vol I,II & III,Academic Press, London.

21. Levi-Strauss, C., 1968,Structural Anthropology, translated from French by Jacobson C., and Grandset Schoeff B., Allen Lane The penguin Press, London.

22. Maspero, G., 1903,History of Egypt vol II,Grolier Society, London.

23. Middleton J. & Kershaw G., 1965,The Central Tribes of the North-Eastern Bantu,(The including Embu, Meru, Mbere, Chuka. Mwimbi, Tharaka, and the Kamba of Kenya), International Africa Institute, London.

24. Nyaga, D., 1986.Meikariire na Miturire ya Ameru. Heinemann Educational Books, Nairobi.

25. Ogot B.A., editor, 1974,Zamani, a Survey of East African History, East African Publishing House, Nairobi.

26. Ogot B.A., editor, 1976,Kenya Before 1900, Eight Regional Studies, East African Publishing House, Nairobi.

27. Sir Petrie, Flinders, (1924),History of Egypt, From earliest Kings to the xvi Dynasty Vol. II, (6 vol., 1894- 1925)

28. Save-Sodergbergh, T., 1987, Temples and Tombs of Ancient Nubia, the International Rescue campaign at Abu Simbel, Philae and other sites, Thames and Hudson.

29. www.wikipedia.com

If any one can make these things up, please let me know by leaving your comment below.

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Comments 10 comments

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Simon,

The Kikuyu are also said to have a connection with a people called Thagishu. Beyond that not much is known and I would be interested in exploring this Bagishu issue further.

The events you describe are recent so the Kintu in the migrations of 16 century, indeed even first century cannot be related to the Kintu in the History of the Kisii above. Perhaps, after many centuries, the name Kintu was carried over from Egypt as a royal title.

There is no doubt that the Kingdoms of Uganda were ofshoots of a bigger kingdom in the distant past, most likely Egypt. There are accounts in Ancient Egyptian History where a servant who has served the Pharaoh diligently is awarded a chieftaincy on the remote edges of the empire where he would have harems and lord over a people just like a pharaoh. Further, children born in the royal harem could not all be rulers in Egypt and so many moved out to seek their own kingdoms where their royal descent would be respected and even worshipped. This is what led to the Oba’s of west Africa and I believe the Kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro etc. Further south, this phenomenon lives on in the Kingdom of Lesotho, probably as a vestige of the Zimbabwe empire.

What I can deduce from my research is that the first Kintu in recorded history is Pharoh Mentuhotep. It is very likely that even the word Muntu, from where we get Bantu is derived from this man. There was an exodus in his era and if there was a time that a group of people became Bantuised, then it is in his era. It is coneceivable that numerous boys born in his harem would carry his name and hence the proliferation of the name Kintu. Remember this name is even in West African legends (Kunta Kinte ?)


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Hello Simon Mulongo,

I appreciate the information you have given here most of which is new to me since I have concentrated my research on the Kikuyu. This information on the Kisii actually was a bi-product. I have also seen the other question you have posed. I want to take some time to respond so that I can be comprehensive in my answer. In the meantime, I would encourage you to read my hub - Akhenaten and the Kikuyu. This man to me was the Maina you are alluding to and the folklore from your people appears to confirm this. Read also - where did Akhenaten go? There are two hubs on that question.

Thanks for stopping by and expect an answer soon.


Simon Mulongo 4 years ago

Am a Ugandan who hails from the Bamasaaba community, also known as the Bagishu bantu on the western and southern slopes of Mt. Elgon. We are told the local founding 'first man' was Mundu, who came from Mt Elgon. However, it is stated, that we originated from Misri, presumably the current Egypt. Among the ancestors of Mundu was Masaaba, whose eldest son, Mwambu, led a successful raid into the Maasai commununity on the eastern side of Elgon and recovered the prominent bull, Khole, after which he was nicknamed Gisu by the Laibon - the Maasai chief, meaning cow or cattle, hence man of the cow. Since then, the Bamasaaba (children of Masaaba) are loosely referred to as Bagishu.

Does this mean the Maasai lived around Kitale/Cherengany/Pokot area, at the time? In fact, Bungoma is named after the Bangoma people; a small community remnants of the Kalenjin/Maasai speaking community. They are not Bukusu and they are fast succumbing to the Bukusu language.

But interestingly, we also have related story of Kintu. Masaaba had three sons: Mwambu, the eldest, also known as Gisu, who settled in the north of Masaabaland. Mubuya settled in the east and southern slopes of Elgon. The descendants are the current 'babuya' who include the Babukusu, mainly in Bungoma and Trans-Nzioa Counties in western and north rift valley of Kenya, respectively. The last born, Wanale, settled in central Masaaba, around the town of Mbale.

It is said that Kintu, settled here around Wanale, briefly, before heading to Buganda, where he helped strengthen the nascent kingdom that was bedeviled with difficulties. Recent history puts it at around 16th Century. Kintu, then, did not start Buganda but got it in turmoil, when Bunyoro-Kitara was attempting to recover it from the rebellious and secessionist sons.

The Baganda acknowle that the 'first' Founding King Kintu came from Mbale. The other version of Bunyoro is discarded by those who have lived to despise the Banyoro, that remained a historical enemy of Buganda. They rather recognize the contribution of Kintu than that of Kato, a direct descendant of the Bunyoro-Kitara dynasty.

The other aspect I find interesting is the Twa people of a pigmy stock that were originally settlers in these areas. They were and remain largely hunters and gatherers. They are referred to as Batwa or Barwa or Tua. Very few remain in Elgon, some parts of Uganda but many can be traced in the ranges of the Rwenzoris, Kivu, Rwanda and Burundi.

I find convergence of the the origin of these highlands Bantu (in Kenya and Uganda) and an academic issue. The second aspect is the Kintu legendary. Who was he? Was it a title or a person? How could he manisfest in may parts at the same range of time? In Masaabaland Kintu came in from Abysinia or Ethiopia. The third aspect is the claim by the Abagusii that they came fromMt. Elgon. Indeed there are several similarities one can settle on among the two people's. Equally, when one considers the regalia such as the headdress, use of the calabash monkey skin and the circumcision rituals of initiation among the Bamasaaba and the Meru, They are very similar. Of course we also call a dog, e Mbwa. There is a clan called after it, the Bawambwa.

Did these highland Bantus, then, had similar origins? I have also posed other questions elsewhere: When and where did we get Bantunised?


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks for your insightful comment, A me Man.

This is the first time I am hearing of the Akithii. I have always believed that Meeru and Kisii languages sound similar but to have a people called Akithii among the Meru is a striking coincidence. Could it be that it is the Akithii who came from the Kisii? Just a thought.


A me Man 4 years ago

I am from Akithii community of Tigania in Meru. The first time I heard Kisii people talking I was in a strange place, and I thought I was hearing folks from my Akithii community talk ... the flow was definitely my language, so I thought it was only because I was at a distance that I was not getting what they were saying. Then I approached them with the intention of introducing myself and telling them I am from their place ... within meters of them is when I met my shock .... these folks are no Akithii people. About 5 years later I would be in a congregation visiting that ol' man, Harvester Angaine, who would find a way of talking about the Kisii people and their populous nation ... then he proceeded to say that the Kisii were discendants of the Akithii of Tigania, and that they left the Akithii only as a handful. He continued to attribute their numbers of a culture of feeding on finger millet poridge every night before they go to bed. I have no doubt Angaine had this story right ... there is something common in "Kisii" and "Akithii" after all, and if you said "Nyambene" to folks who know the Kisii well but don't know Tigania, they will easily bet money that Nyambene is in Kisii land. When I ventured into Nairobi years later, I made friends with Kisii folks, and discovered very quickly that I could understand most of what they were saying ... in most cases it was the tense that would fail me, but I would get the general material.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks for compliment, htodd. I hope my post reveals the untold sides of history.


htodd profile image

htodd 5 years ago from United States

This is really great post....Nice


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

You are right that Mentuhotep is the father of all people, including Akhenaten because he preceded him. The word Mtu (Bantu) is from his prefix. The Kabaka merely wanted to associate himself with Mentuhotep's greatness. If you recall Alex Haileys book on American Slavery, there was a 'kunta Kinte' - a great ancestor in Senegal. This is either in reference to the Great Pharaoh or a later admirer of the Great Menuthotep. His followers would like to believe that he was the first person on earth, just like the Kikuyu have fooled us for years that before Gikuyu and Mumbi there was tribe. You are also right that the Kikuyu myth was an attempt to create a kingdom which happened but died a natural death due to too much democracy where an entire generation was in power instead of an autocratic ruler who would have fought other communities to bring them under his rule. This excessive democracy probably happened after the overthrow of Gikuyu's Great grandson (see Facing Mount Kenya) and I believe it is the same time that the women in the royal household were also removed from positions of power.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

This is interesting.

Do the Kisii people and Meru people have any relationship to Kato Kintu, the first kabaka of the Buganda kingdom (1200/1400 AD)? The Baganda people have a creation myth that says another earlier man called Kintu was the first person on earth, the father of all people.

Perhaps it would be important to note that of the 13 clans that Kato Kintu came with to start the Buganda kingdom, one was called the Mbwa (Dog) clan.

You have stated that the Pharaoh Mentuhotep was also called Kintu. Chances are high that this Mentuhotep guy is what the Buganda people are referring to as the ‘first person on earth, the father of all people’.

If there is a relationship between Meru/Kisii people and Kabaka Kato Kintu, then, the Kikuyu myth of creation could as well have been an “attempt” to create a kingdom. Kabaka Kintu created one of the most successful kingdoms in Africa which in itself is a measure that would explain the capability of our early people who migrated from Egypt to Kenya.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks Albert for the link with hieroglyphics that spell the word Bantu - I hope others will profit as much as I did.

http://www.kaa-umati.co.uk/Bantu%20in%20Ancient%20...

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