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Kikuyu also known as “Gikuyu” Pitek, Emily


The Gikuyu refer to themselves as the “Gikuyu” or “Agikuyu”; “Kikuyu” is their spoken language, and also the name used by British Colonial administration and anthropologists (Davison, 2010). The Gikuyu live in central Kenya in the administrative districts of Kiambu, Fort Hall (Murang’a), Nyeri, Embu, and Meru (as defined in the 1920’s). This entry focuses specifically on the Gikuyu living in the Fort Hall District of Kenya around the time of 1920. By this time, British colonialists held political control over the Gikuyu, and Christian missionaries had arrived in the area. Despite such contact, the Gikuyu culture and religious beliefs at the specific time and place this entry focuses on remains largely traditional. Gikuyu socio/political organization centers around three factors: the family group (mbari/nyomba), the clan (moherega), and an age-grading (riika) system that unites the whole society. The family, led by a patriarch, is the main social, economic, and religious unit. No full-time religious specialists (such as priests or shamans) are present. Rather, "in religious ceremonies, and in political and social gatherings, the elders hold supreme authority" (Kenyatta, 1953:263). Elders serve as intermediaries between Ngai (the high god) and ancestral spirits, and maintained communication with these beings (especially through the form of sacrificial ceremonies). The highest status for a Gikuyu man is the religious or sacrificial council (Kiama Kia Maturanguru), which is reached after passing through and being initiated into all age-grades. The religious and sacrificial council are considered “holy men” who are charged with leading all religious and ethical ceremonies. For the Gikuyu, religion is interwoven with all aspects of life; this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with the society itself.

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