The Kikuyu, also called the Gikuyu, are Kenya's largest tribe. There are more than 6 million of them, accounting for more than 21% of the population of Kenya. They are a Bantu tribe, and arrived in Kenya during the Bantu migration. Over time, they have intermarried with the surrounding tribes, and so they overlap with the Kamba, the Meru, the Embu, the Chuka, and other tribes. Their language is also called Kikuyu.


The Kikuyu lands are typically identified by the land surrounded by the mountain range they call Kirinyaga, or the shining mountain. They inhabit much of the highlands of central Kenya, including the astonishingly beautiful edge of the Great Rift Valley. The Kikuyu lands expanded rapidly during the 19th century, especially southward, putting them into conflict with many neighboring tribes, including the Maasai and the Kalenjin. Nairobi itself, whose name is a Maasai word meaning "cold water", is more than 50% Kikuyu.


The Kikuyu history has been written down since the earliest days of colonisation, and so, while many things have changed in the intervening years, much classical history remains. Tradition says that the tribe is decended from a man named Gikuyu, who was taken to the top of Kirinyaga by God, whom the Kikuyu call Ngai, given a wife (Mumbi) and told to build his house there. They had nine daughters, and these nine daughters were the founders of the nine Kikuyu clans:
  • -Achera
  • -Agachiku
  • -Airimu
  • -Ambui
  • -Angare
  • -Anjiru
  • -Angui
  • -Aithaga
  • -Aitherandu

There was a tenth daughter as well, but the Kikuyu consider the number ten to be bad luck, so they do not say it. Instead, they refer to the full nine as a way of saying ten.

The Mau Mau were a Kikuyu group who took arms in an attempt to drive the British out of Kenya. Although they were soundly beaten by the Brits, and their effectivity has always been doubted, they nonetheless represented the struggle for independence, which was succesful.

Way of Life

The Kikuyu are noted for being forward thinkers. They are traditionally farmers, though they are involved in business throughout Kenya. Over 95% of Kikuyu children attend school, and the literacy rate among the tribe as a whole is estimated to be at approximately 90%.

The Kikuyu have been influenced by many years of contact with missionaries. The Bible was translated into Kikuyu over 100 years ago, and missions like the Africa Inland Mission have been working there for equally long. As a result, over 73% of Kikuyus are Christian. The number may be much higher, but reliable statistics are very difficult to come by.

Notable Kikuyus

There have been many notable Kikuyus. I will mention a selection of them here.

Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, was Kikuyu. He featured heavily in Kenya's struggle for independence from the British.

Catherine Ndereba, a Kikuyu mother from was the second woman to break the elusive 2-hour, 20-minute barrier in a marathon. Six days after Japanese runner Naoko Takahashi broke it for the first time, Catherine obliterated it, running to a 2-hour, 18-minute, 47-second time in Chicago in October 2001.

There have been many other runners from the Kikuyu, though perhaps not as many as from the Kalenjin.

Wangari Muta Maathai, from the Nyeri area of Kenya was the first woman from all of eastern and central Africa to obtain an advanced degree (an M.S. in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has received many awards and honors, including Woman of the Year 1983, The Right Livelihood Award in 1984, the Better World Society Award for the Protection of the Global Environment in 1986, the Windstar Award for the Environment in 1988, the Women of the World Award in 1989, the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1991, the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End to Hunger in 1991. She received an honorary doctorate from Williams College in Massachusetts. She also founded the Green Belt Movement which is making an effort to encourage replanting of trees in East Africa. Most recently, Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, making her the first African woman to receive that award.

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