Kikuyu People - the trees and shrubs around them
Important trees to the Kikuyu
Updated 25th April 2012
All names for trees in Kikuyu start with Mũ, the prefix for nouns that have a spirit such as a person - Mũndũ.
The list below is by no means exhaustive. It is compiled with the help of respondents still knowledgeable on how the Kikuyu used the trees. Reverend Cagnolo, documented a selection of trees that he deemed important to the Kikuyu. Some of these trees are listed in this section. The Kikuyu orthography applied is not the one adopted by Italians who were the first white people to establish a printing press in Kikuyu land. Instead the has been standardized because the Kikuyu of today know the trees by the same name. First the Kikuyu name is given, followed by the scientific name. Where I doubt the authenticity of the scientific name, I have placed a question mark until the matter is settled. Cagnolo did not state traditional uses of the trees, but was more concerned with what the Europeans would do with them, especially the ones that could produce timber. Where this writer’s respondents had given an indication of what the tree was used for, the use has been stated.
Mũcharage – Olea hochstetteri
Mũderendũ (Teclea spp).– Used for making spear handles. Leakey notes that this tree was used for piercing lobes.
Mugaita – Rapanea rhododendoides
Mũgio and Mũrũrũ - The bark is tripped to make string
Mũgono,or mũtathi - Used to make Thanju – herding and elders sticks.
Mũũ- Merkhamia hildebrandtii ?- was good for posts
Mũhũgũ - Brachylena Hutchinsii.
Mũhũtha - Looked like a Mũkũyũ, never used for ceremonies but fed to goats. Used to make Thanju – herding and elders sticks
Mũiri - pygeum Africana - The leaves were boiled and inhale to treat colds. The wood makes good hoe handles.
Mũirũthi - Maba abissinica ?
Mũkarara - phylanthus discoideus
Mũkindũri - Croton Elliotanus ? In the experience of this researcher, this tree is common in all of Kikuyu country.
Mũkoigo - fed to goats and had very durable timber for building
Mũkũngũgũ – All homesteads were ringed with a “green hedge or stockade” of this tree. It was also used to feed cattle and goats.
Mũkũngũgũ - Used to make shamba border posts called gitoka with live trees
Mũkũyũ and Mũgumo trees - Two trees stand out as important in religious ceremonies. These are the Mũkũyũ (Ficus sycamora) and the Mũgumo (Ficus natalensis). According to Leakey, the Kikuyu are called Kikuyu in association with the Mũkũyũ.
Mũkũyũ, Mũũmbũ - Sacred but fed to goats when not designated as sacred.
A prophecy comes to pass
Mũnderendũ – Tecla spp.
Mũringa - cordia Holstii
Mũtamaiyũ - Olea Chrisofila (africana) ? - wild Olive tree. In the absence of a Mũkũyũ or a Mũgumo tree for sacrifices, a respondent, affirmed that the Kikuyu used other sacred tress such as the Mũtamaiyũ. However, Leakey states that this Olive tree was the female in the sacred tree family, implying that it may have been venerated even where a Mũkũyũ or Mũgumo were available.
Mũtarakwa - Juniperus procera.
Mũtathi - Herbal but what was treated not clear.
Mũtatĩ - Poliscias kikuyensis
Mũthengera - Podocarpus milanjianus
Mũthite - Ocotea usambarensis.
Mũtũndũ - Neoboutonia macrocalyx.
Mũtũndũ - The thick liquid from this tree was used to treat wounds.
Mwatha and Mũthakwa wathi - Leaves were mixed and boiled to treat swollen lymphatic glands of cattle.
Mũgumo – Ficus thoningii (Ficus natalensis)?
Mũkũyũ– ficus sycamora
Mũgumo and Mũkũyũ were sacred trees. Cagnolo desribed them thus - “They are the…temples of the Kikuyu paganism” . The word Gĩkũyũ means “The Big Fig Tree” . Mũkũyũ was preferred to the Mũgumo for religious ceremonies, the later being used where a Mũkũyũ was not available. King and Salim give an account of Francis Hall and [chief] Kinyanjui who planted “two limbs” of a Mũgumo tree, tied together with wire to symbolise their bond in a peace treaty in the 1890’s.