A History of the Kikuyu People in Africa


The Kikuyu people are an ethnic group in Kenya that make up a large percentage of the population; it is estimated that there are around 5.3 million Kikuyu in Kenya at this time. Circumcisions are performed on both boys and girls.  

It is generally accepted by academics and scholars that the Kikuyu originate from West Africa, probably modern day Nigeria. They had migrated due to having their society displaced by another – however, this led to the Mukogodo people being displaced themselves when the Kikuyu arrived in the area around Mount Kenya. It was a domino effect – the displacement of one society led to another and then another (Cronk, p. 34).

Ngai is the creator god of the Kikuyu. Appealing to Ngai, however, was thought suitable only during a national crisis, at which time the most senior riika elders would communicate with him through sacrifices at the sacred Mugumo trees. If the crisis was of a kinship nature, each mbari leader would gather his descent group together and sacrifice to the family ancestors. One did not trifle with either of these spiritual forces over trivial matters. Personal problems were worked out by oneself or with the help of a diviner (Sandgren, p.196)

We can get a sense of the Kikuyu society recorded by the Ethnographer, Louis Leakey, who states “Central to this system of attitudes and values was an image of society as an integrated organic community characterized by stability and harmony. Change was regarded as disruptive unless it took the form of gradual organic evolution that preserved essential continuity and order. These ideas were coupled with an emphasis on the value of tradition, a romanticized image of rural society (notably the English country village of some ill-defined golden past) and an insistence on loyalty and a sense of duty toward the community or group (“team spirit”). Colonial administrators deeply distrusted economic individualism, urbanization and industrialization as threats to the organic unity of society” (Clark, p.385). He goes on to describe the deterioration of colonial administration from the times when administrative officers went freely among the people and trusted the justice of indigenous society.

Louis Leakey’s ethnography is centred around Kikuyu rites of passage, stressing on those which bestow power to males as warriors and as elders. Throughout the three volumes of his ethnography, Leakey documents the various ceremonies and rituals entails the participation of elders, and the fees and fines to be paid to them. In concentrating on the many ceremonies, rituals, fees, and fines, Kikuyu society are shown as a particularly rule-governed and systematic culture. Few activities take place without the consent, supervision, or other participation of the elders. The many rules recorded in the ethnography were not infrequently broken in the course of everyday life, bringing ritual impurity to the perpetrator and his or her family. The elders possessed the knowledge and paraphernalia necessary to remove the impurity and restore order (Clark, p.387).


Clark, Carolyn, M. (1989) Louis Leaky as Ethnographer: On the Southern Kikuyu before 1903, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Canadian Association of African Studies.

Cronk, Lee (2005) From True Dorobo to Mukogodo Maasai: Contested Ethnicity in Kenya, Ethnology, University of Pittsburgh – the Commonwealth System of Higher Education. 

Sandgren, David P. (1982) Twentieth Century Religious and Political Divisions among the Kikuyu of Kenya, African Studies Review, African Studies association.