Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog are familiar with my love of mythology. I’ve covered many gods, goddesses and epics from around the world. This blog post will examine the Kikuyu (also spelled Gikuyu) Creation Myth of the Kikuyu people of what is now Kenya.
A. Ngai, the creator god, divider of the universe, divider of the land from the sea and owner of the dazzling light, descended to the Earth shortly after making it. Mists covered the entire world because of how freshly made it was.
B. After inspecting the world, Ngai established his Earthly home atop Kirinyaga (Mount Kenya), where the deity may be prayed to but he can never be perceived by human eyes.
C. Ngai developed a swelling in his knee. He cut it open (or in some versions it burst open on its own) and out came three sons, named Kikuyu/ Gikuyu, Masai and Kamba. Those sons were to marry and produce the three tribes/ nations which would be named for the husbands.
As this portion of the tale continued, Ngai offered his three sons the choice of a spear, a bow or a digging stick. Kikuyu chose the digging stick and established agriculture; Masai selected the spear and learned to tend herds on the plains; and Kamba took the bow and established the practice of hunting for game.
Over time the fields established by the three sons changed a bit. Kikuyu still founded agriculture but both herding AND hunting were established by one of the other two sons with the third son establishing forging and ironworking.
D. By now all of the primordial mists had dissipated, and Ngai next assigned his sons to particular areas which they and their descendants were to populate. Kikuyu (whom we’ll stay with now, since this is the Kikuyu people’s myth) was told to settle in the southwest at the place called Mukurwe wa Gathanga.
E. Kikuyu drove off the Dorobo people who had been living at Mukurwe wa Gathanga since the supreme deity had granted the area to him and his. While examining his new domain Kikuyu met Mumbi, the wife created for him by Ngai.
F. Kikuyu and Mumbi married and had nine daughters – Wanjirũ, Wambũi, Njeri, Wanjikũ, Nyambũra, Wairimũ, Waithĩra, Wangarĩ, and Wangũi. (Or, alternately, Acheera, Agachikũ, Airimũ, Ambũi, Angarĩ, Anjirũ, Angũi, Ethaga and Aithĩrandũ. Just take away the “w” in each name.) In some versions a tenth daughter was born but had an incestuous relationship with her father and was therefore shunned and never named from then on.
This myth was used to justify the Kikuyu tradition of not counting their population to the last person, maintaining that including the names of the many last born brought bad luck. The daughters of Kikuyu and Mumbi are sometimes referred to as “nine and the full” leaving the tenth daughter unmentionable.
Another version states that the Kikuyu simply never said “ten” because of the events in this myth. “Nine and the full” or “full nine” was understood to mean ten without saying it out loud.
G. Kikuyu loved his daughters (don’t go there) but desired sons, too, so he prayed at Kirinyaga for such children. Ngai instructed him to sacrifice a lamb and a kid under one of the many fig trees (mugumo) near his home, pour the fat and blood on the tree’s trunk and present the meat to Ngai as a burnt offering.
H. In response to this ritual, nine young men were created by Ngai and sent to Kikuyu. In some versions the nine were waiting for Kikuyu when he returned home after the sacrifice. In others the men were waiting the next day when he returned to the fig tree.
Kikuyu offered them his daughters in marriage under the condition that – because the daughters were flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood while their husbands were not – the newlyweds must all live in his home under a system of matrilineal descent. The men agreed and this established the matriarchal familial system of the Kikuyu.
I. The marriages were fruitful, with many children being born. Eventually, Kikuyu and Mumbi died, so the land was divided among the nine daughters. As more generations were born, each daughter established one of the nine clans of the Kikuyu, with each clan named after themselves.
J. The women, all of them strong, capable fighters, practiced polyandry and took several husbands each. The husbands were treated harshly and were often jealous of each other. Some of them cheated on their wives but were severely punished for doing so.
K. The suffering men plotted to overthrow the women, but knew they were no match for them in combat. It was decided that they would all get their wives pregnant, and then they launched their revolt when the women were very advanced in their pregnancies and could not fight as well as they usually did. The men’s revolt was successful.
L. The men abolished polyandry and established polygamy. Next, they changed their people’s overall name to Kikuyu instead of Mumbi but when the men tried to change the clan names from the nine daughters, the women had had enough. They threatened to kill all the male children and to refuse to bear anymore children at all. The men surrendered on that point, so the nine clan names remained the same to this day.
M. Some versions of the Creation Myth go on to include the Kikuyu people’s first encounter with Pygmies, who at the time lived in caves and underground tunnels according to the myth. The tale also maintained that Pygmies made wonderful music and had the power to disappear at will.