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A Kikuyu Ancestor's wrath

Updated on December 27, 2016

Introduction

In the late 1800s, Kikuyu land was invaded by the Imperial British East Africa Company IBEA. This company ventured deep into the interior, following in the footsteps of Ludwig Krapf who had been as far as Chief Kivoi’s Kamba territory but had not yet gone into Kikuyu land. IBEA rushed in to take territory before the French and the Germans could take everything. The territory that was administered by the IBEA was eventually taken over by the British Government when the IBEA went bankrupt. The British Government built a railway line from the port of Mombasa to Port Florence (Kisumu) in 1900 and declared Kenya a British Colony twenty years later.

The railway line opened up the interior of East Africa, and the previously reclusive Kikuyu farming community were finally conquered and subjected to British rule. A way of life was slowly eroded, including a democratic system of government where an entire generation was in power and only lost it through a peaceful handing over ceremony at the end of a thirty year rule. This ceremony, the ituĩka (which translates to “the becoming”) took place every thirty years. The last one took place between 1890 and 1889, in the area presently known as Thika. The next one was banned by the British Government for fear that large gatherings might excite the Kikuyu into rebellion. No other generational change has taken place since due the colonial government’s subjugation of the Kikuyu through the appointing of Chiefs and Headmen on the Governments payroll. This system persists to this day.

When a Kikuyu died from old age, he or she transitioned to ancestor-hood. The living remembered and revered the dead every time they were taking drinks, by pouring some on the ground. Sacrifices were also made from time to time to appease ancestors during pestilence, famine or other disasters. During these sacrifices, the ancestors were fed with roast meat and beer, which were left in designated places overnight. Obviously by morning, the food would be gone, eaten by wild animals of course, but it would be believed that the ancestors had been fed. Obviously the Kikuyu knew that it is the animals that had eaten. Animals like Jackals and hyenas were thought to be agents of the ancestors. This was not ancestor worship as some writers has implied. The Kikuyu believed in one God, Ngai, who lived on the snow-capped Mt. Kenya. Prayers were said to God Ngai while facing Mt. Kenya, in all ceremonies, even those meant to appease an ancestor.

When Kikuyu culture was diluted, the age-set system that determined the generation in power broke down. Elders are no longer respected and ancestors were completely forgotten as the Kikuyu took up the new religion of Christianity. In the old days, children born out of marriage were a rare phenomenon, since the girl would have to contend to being a second third or even fourth wife of an old man. No young man would marry her.

In this poem, an ancestor who departed before dilution of kikuyu culture is complaining about the current state of affairs.

A traditional hut of the Ameru people - Meru Museum
A traditional hut of the Ameru people - Meru Museum | Source

I am anger!

I am anger! Anger! Angry!

Hot volcanic bile

Eternally boiling,

My fury un-appeased

For more than a century.

On earth I was Maina,

Son of Mwangi

From the Anjiru ...

Ah! Who cares?

Anyway,

The Anjiru clan,

Initiated into manhood

In the biting cold of dawn,

With a sharp knife

By the cold waters of the Tana

With others of my riika

Unflinchingly,

Bravely.


A clay pot - these have been replaced by aluminium pots and pans
A clay pot - these have been replaced by aluminium pots and pans | Source

I am fury!

See my Great-great-grandson,

His Grandson, going to hospital,

To be sick,

Getting the ageless sacred cut,

Performed on his anesthetized member,

And you call that circumcision!

Without the song and dance,

Without the teachings,

Wooooo weeeee!

Ũrirũ, ũrirũ, ũrirũ !

I am writhing in raging fury

Crackling furiously,

Like a runaway bush fire!

Mwangi was my father,

Whose name I gave my son,

Who gave birth to another me

Maina!

Reincarnating in every generation,

Forever and ever

Into eternity

Traditional cultures should be replaced by a "global village" culture

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I am rage

See my great-great grandson,

Steve Maina

A clawless beggar,

With a borrowed first name!

And the accent of an Englishman

Who will teach him Kikuyu?

Does he even care?

ũgwati! ũgwati! ũgwati!

I am vexed,

Trembling in epileptic wrath,

My thirst un-libated

My stomach has been empty

For more than a century

How much longer?

See my great-great grandson,

His grand-daughters,

All un-ripe mothers,

Their innocence lost,

To society at large,

Their children,

Fatherless,

Clan-less,

ROOTLESS!

Glossary

  1. Anjiru – one of the nine clans of the Kikuyu. The other clans are Ambui, Njeri, Anjiku, Ambura, Airimu, Aitherandu, Angari and Angui.
  2. Riikaan age set. Ordinarily, all the boys and girls initiated in the same Initiation period belonged to the same ageset which was given a special name. For example, when the first plane flew over Kenya, the age set that was circumcised around that time was called riika ria ndege (age-set of the aeroplane)
  3. Wooooo weeeee! - An exclamation, usually signifying extreme danger such as an attack.
  4. Ũrirũ a shocking phenomenon
  5. ũgwati!A dangerous occurrence, such as an actual attack, kidnapping, rape or even murder.


Comments

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  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image
    Author

    Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Elias Zanetti, thanks for giving the poem thumps up. Am sure the fireworks will come, from those who think Ancestors should RIP.

  • Elias Zanetti profile image

    Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

    Interesting and powerful words, Emmanuel and a great poem I enjoyed reading!

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image
    Author

    Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Thanks Paul - I quess the ancestor is whinning about me as well - am Emmanuel! Thanks for sharing.

  • Paul Kuehn profile image

    Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

    Emmanuel,

    This is a very beautiful poem which I found very interesting and stirring. Voted up and sharing with followers.