Monday, 25 February 2013

The Kikuyus: Kenya's largest ethnic tribe

Kikuyus: Kenya's largest ethnic tribe

  Kikuyu woman harvesting tea 
The Kikuyu tribe is a Bantu tribe that neighbors the Embu, Mbeere and Meru tribes around Mount Kenya.

They are Kenya's most popular and the largest ethnic tribe, making up 22 percent of the country's population.The Kikuyus, also known as Gikuyu or Agikuyu, have been known since the colonial times as a tribe that wields a lot of political and economic influence in Kenya. Kikuyus speak the Kikuyu language, and most of them live around the fertile central highlands and Mount Kenya where they mainly grow tea and coffee.

History of the Kikuyus

Kikuyus are believed to have come from West Africa along with other Bantu tribes. They finally settled along Mount Kenya where they began their main activity of farming the fertile volcanic highlands. Kikuyus were good friends with the Maasai and the two tribes often traded goods and inter-married. However, when the British came to Nairobi, they confiscated some of the Kikuyus' fertile land, leaving them with only a small piece to cultivate. Frustrated with the loss of their land and the colonial rule, the Kikuyus formed a rebellion group, the Mau Mau, and entered into war with the British. This war eventually led to Kenya's independence.

Although many Kikuyus have migrated to the main urban city of Nairobi and other towns, their territories still remain along Mount Kenya and the central highlands, including Nyeri, Muranga, Kiambu, and Kirinyaga regions of Kenya.

Kikuyu language, culture & lifestyle

Today, a majority of the Agikuyu are found in Nairobi and Kenya's Central Province. Many have also migrated to other Kenyan towns and cities where they're involved in small business ventures, while others work in other areas. A good number of Kikuyus have moved onto the west side of the Rift Valley, into what was traditionally Kalenjin territory. There they work as large-scale farmers growing major cash crops of tea and coffee.

Due to their history of economic success, the majority of Kikuyus are well educated. Their ability to adapt to new realities has resulted in the Kikuyu, including those who live in the rural areas, adopting many aspects of modern culture.
Prof. Wangari Maathai from the Kikuyu tribeFoto: Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai

Traditionally, a Kikuyu husband could marry more than one wife if he could afford to care for them. Paying a dowry (bride price) is still an important aspect of their culture. Although some of the Kikuyu culture has eroded, the Kikuyu language is still predominantly spoken, especially in the urban areas where a majority of people speak English and Swahili. The Kikuyu language has almost become Kenya's third language of choice.

When it comes to food, music, marriage ceremonies and everyday family life, most Kikuyus still uphold their cultural traditions. In addition to maintaining their economic stability, the Kikuyu tribe have continued to dominate leadership and politics in Kenya.The first Kenyan president, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was a Kikuyu; Kenya's third and current president, his Excellency Emilio Mwai Kibaki, is also a Kikuyu and so is the late Professor Wangari Maathai, Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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