Seasons & Generational Change.

The Agĩkũyũ had four seasons and two harvests in one year.1. Mbura ya njahĩ [The Season of Big Rain] from March to July,2. Magetha ma njahĩ [The season of the big harvest] between July and Early October ,3. Mbura ya Mwere [Short rain season] from October to January,4. Magetha ma Mwere [the season of harvesting millet]

Further, time was recorded through the initiation. Each initiation group was given special name. According to *Professor Godfrey Mũriũki, The individual initiation sets are then grouped into a regiment every nine calendar years. Before a regiment or army set, there was a period in which no initiation of boys took place. This period lasted a total of four and a half calendar years [nine seasons in Gĩkũyũ land, each season referred to as imera] and is referred to as mũhingo, initiation taking place at the start of the fifth year and going on annually for the next nine calendar years. This was the system adopted in Metumi [Mũrang’a]. The regiment or army sets also get special names, some of which seem to have ended up as popular male names.

In Gaki [Nyeri] the system was inversed with initiation taking place annually for four calendar years, which would be followed by a period of nine calendar years in which no initiation of boys took place [mũhingo]. Girls on the other hand were initiated every year. Several regiments then make up a ruling generation.

It was estimated that Ruling generation last an average of 35 years. The names of the initiation and regiment sets vary within Gĩkũyũ land. The ruling generations are however uniform and provide very important chronological data. On top of that, the initiation sets were a way of documenting events within the Gĩkũyũ nation, so, for example, were the occurrence of small pox and syphilis recorded. Girls’ initiation sets were also accorded special names, although there has been little research in this area. Mũriũki only unearths three sets, whose names are, Rũharo [1894], Kibiri/ Ndũrĩrĩ [1895], Kagica [1896], Ndutu/ Nuthi [1897].

All these names are taken from Metumi [Mũrang’a] and Kabete [Kĩambu]. It is strange that professor Mũriũki didn’t do more research in this area because he states that the girls’ initiation took place annually.

Kikuyu Woman with Traditional symbols of power -Muthigi (stick)signifying power to lead and Itimu (Spear)-power to call people to war*Before the overthrow of Wangu wa Makeri women could carry both,

The ruling generations [riika] according to Mũriũki, which he used to trace the history of the Agĩkũyũ to the year 1500 or there abouts.

1. Manjiri 1512 – 46 ± 55

2. Mamba 1547 – 81 ± 50

3. Tene 1582 – 1616 ± 45

4. Agu 1617 – 51 ± 40

5. Manduti 1652 – 86 ± 40

6. Cuma 1687 – 1721 ± 30

7. Ciira 1722 – 56 ± 25

8. Mathathi 1757 – 1791 ± 20

9. Ndemi 1792 – 1826 ± 15

10. Iregi 1827 – 1861 ± 10

11. Maina 1862 – 97 ± 5

12. Mwangi 1898?

Mathew Njoroge Kabetũs list reads,

Tene, Kĩyĩ, Aagu, Ciĩra, Mathathi, Ndemi, Iregi, Maina [Ngotho], Mwangi

Gakaara wa Wanjaũs list reads

Tene, Nemathĩ, Kariraũ, Aagu, Tiru, Cuma, Ciira, Ndemi, Mathathi, Iregi, Maina, Mwangi, Irũngũ, Mwangi wa Mandũti. The last two generations came after 1900.

One of the earliest recorded lists by Mc Gregor reads (list taken from a history of unchanged)

Manjiri, Mandoti, Chiera, Masai, Mathathi, Ndemi, Iregi, Maina, Mwangi, Muirungu. According to Hobley(a historian) each initiation generation, riika, extended over two years. The ruling generation at the arrival of the Europeans was called Maina. It is said that Maina handed over to Mwangi in 1898. Hobley asserts that the following sets were grouped under Maina – Kĩnũthia, Karanja, Njũgũna, Kĩnyanjui, Gathuru and Ng’ang’a. Professor Mũriũki however puts these sets much earlier, namely Karanja and Kĩnũthia belong to the Ciira ruling generation which ruled from the year 1722 to 1756, give or take 25 years according to Mũriũki. Njũgũna, Kĩnyanjui, Ng’ang’a belong to the Mathathi ruling generation that ruled from 1757 to 1791 give or take 20 years according to Mũriũki.

Professors Mũriũkis list must be given precedence in this area as he conducted extensive research in this area starting 1969, and had the benefit of all earlier literature on the subject as well as doing extensive field work in the areas of Gaki [Nyeri], Metumi [Mũrang’a] and Kabete [Kĩambu]. On top of the ruling generations, he also gives names of the regiments or army sets from 1659 [within a margin of error] and the names of annual initiation sets beginning 1864. The list from Metumi [Mũrang’a] is most complete and differentiated.

Mũriũkis is also the most systematically defined list, so far. Suffice to say that most of the most popular male names in Gĩkũyũ land were names of riikas [initiation sets].

Here is Mũriũkis list of the names of regiment sets in Metumi [Mũrang’a].

These include Kiariĩ [1665 – 1673], Cege [1678 – 1678], Kamau [1704 – 1712], Kĩmani [1717 – 1725], Karanja [1730 – 1738], Kĩnũthia [1743 – 1751], Njũgũna [1756 – 1764], Kĩnyanjui [1769 – 1777] , Ng’ang’a [1781 – 1789], Njoroge [1794 – 1802], Wainaina [1807 – 1815], Kang’ethe [1820 – 1828] Mbugua [1859 – 1867], Njenga or Mbira Itimu [872 – 80], Mutung’u or Mburu [1885 – 1893]

H.E. Lambert who dealt with the riikas extensively has the following list of regiment sets from Gichũgũ and Ndia. It should be remembered that this names were unlike ruling generations not uniform in Gĩkũyũ land. It should also be noted that Ndia and Gachũgũ followed a system where initiation took place every annually for four years and then a period of nine calendar years followed where no initiation of boys took place. This period was referred to as mũhingo.

Karanja [1759 – 1762], Kĩnũthia [1772 – 1775], Ndũrĩrĩ [1785 – 1788], Mũgacho [1798 – 1801] , Njoroge [1811 – 1814], Kang’ethe [1824 – 1827], Gitaũ [ 1837 – 1840], Manyaki [1850 – 1853], Kiambuthi [1863 – 1866], Watuke [1876 – 1879], Ngũgĩ [1889 – 1892], Wakanene [1902 – 1905]

The remarkable thing in this list in comparison to the Metumi one is how some of the same names are used, if a bit off set. Ndia and Gachũgũ are extremely far from Metumi. Gaki on he other hand, as far as my geographical understanding of Gĩkũyũ land is concerned should be much closer to Metumi, yet virtually no names of regiment sets are shared. It should however be noted that Gaki had a strong connection to the Maasai living nearby.

The ruling generation names of Maina and Mwangi are also very popular male Gĩkũyũ names. The theory is also that Waciira is also derived from ciira [case], which is also a very popular name among male Agĩkũyũ. This would call into question, when it was exactly that children started being named after the parents of one parents. Had that system, of naming ones kids after ones parents been there from the beginning, there would be very few male names in circulation. This is however not the case, as there are very many Gĩkũyũ male names. My theory is though that the female names are much less, with the names of the full-nine daughters of Mũmbi being most prevalent.

Gakaara wa Wanjaũ supports this view when he writes in his book, Mĩhĩrĩga ya Aagĩkũyũ page 29.

“Hingo ĩyo ciana cia arũme ciatuagwo marĩĩtwa ma mariika ta Watene, Cuma, Iregi kana Ciira. Nao airĩĩtu magatuuo marĩĩtwa ma mĩhĩrĩga tauria hagwetetwo nah au kabere, o nginya hingo iria maundu maatabariirwo thuuthaini ati ciana ituagwo aciari a mwanake na a muirĩĩtu.”

Freely translated it means“In those days the male children were given the names of the riika [initiation set] like Watene, Cuma, Iregi or Ciira. Girls were on the other hand named after the clans that were named earlier until such a time as it was decided to name the children after the parents of the man and the woman.”From this statement it is not clear whether the girls were named ad-hoc after any clan, no matter what clan the parents belonged to. Naming them after the specific clan that the parents belonged to would have severely restricted naming options.

This would strangely mean that the female names are the oldest in Gĩkũyũ land, further confirming its matrilineal descent. As far as male names are concerned, there is of course the chicken and the egg question, of when a name specifically appeared but some names are tied to events that happened during the initiation. For example Wainaina refers to those who shivered during circumcision. Kũinaina [to shake or to shiver].

There was a very important ceremony known as Ituĩka in which the old guard would hand over the reigns of government to the next generation. This was to avoid dictatorship. Kenyatta relates of how once in the land of the Agĩkũyũ, there ruled a despotic King called Gĩkũyũ, grandson of the elder daughter [Wanjirũ according to Leakey] of the original Gĩkũyũ of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi fame. After he was deposed of, it was decided that the government should be democratic, which is how the Ituĩka came to be. This legend of course calls into question when it was exactly that the matrilineal rule set in. The last Ituĩka ceremony where the riika of Maina handed over power to the Mwangi generation, took place in 1898-9 [Hobley]. The next one was supposed to be held in 1925 – 1928 [Kenyatta] but was thwarted by the colonial imperialist government. And one by one Gĩkũyũ institutions crumbled

*Muriuki, Godfrey 1974. History of the Kikuyu 1500 – 1900. (Oxford U Press)

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2 thoughts on “Seasons & Generational Change.

  1. Its very encoueaging to find that atleast there are some facts about why am called what am called. My grandfather was called Maina wa njaria born in the late 18s and died in 1968 before I was born but what I read from muiguithania is like my grnad pa’s legacy.

    I wish to take this opportunity to thank whoever came up with the idea of putting up this website

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