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KIKUYU CULTURE & TRADITIONS

Kenya is famous for its 42 cultures, but other than the nomadic Maasai and Samburu, not many of these are widely known to the outside world. A new cultural centre devoted to the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest offers a unique experience of this tradition rich culture existing in a modern world.

Riuki Cultural Centre is located not far outside of Nairobi, in the Kikuyu Heartland of Kiambu. The centre is run by Dr. Kinuthia Njoroge, who wanted to build a traditional Kikuyu village homestead to show local children the history and customs of their community.

The Kikuyu are the largest community in Kenya, and have always played a central role in the development of the independent Nation. For this reason, many may believe that modern influence has eroded the traditional way of life for this community, who mainly live around the capital city and the highlands.

But as Riuki demonstrates, this is not the case. While the traditional huts and ceremonies may be displays of a proud history, many of the same beliefs and customs persist in modern life.

In cuisine, music, marriage and everyday family life, most Kenyan Kikuyus still hold true to their identity. It is this pride that Riuki strives to encourage and strengthen, with its own blend of the modern and traditional.

Now visitors to Kenya can come to Riuki and spend a day learning more about this little known culture.

Welcomed to the centre by a group of elders, all of whom live in the local area, guests are welcomed in true Kikuyu style, with an invitation to drink from a horn filled with Muratina, a locally brewed drink.

There is a tour of a traditionally built hut with an explanation of how the traditional society operated. Communities always remained bound by strict and strong ties of clan loyalty and an even stronger sense of tribal unity - There was an age set system among young men, known as Mariika, but all clans and villages (itura) always paid deference to the wisdom and law of the tribe.

At Riuki, traditional songs, proverbs and dances bring the myths and legends of the Kikuyu to life.

According to Kikuyu mythology, all of creation began at the summit of Mount Kenya.

The icy peak was the realm of Ngai, the Supreme Creator, who descended from the heavens to his mountainous throne to survey his newly created lands. The mountain became Kirinyaga, his resting place, and it was from here that he called forth Gikuyu, the father of the Kikuyu people.

Ngai told him that all of the lands around Kirinyaga would be the home of Gikuyu and his children forever. He sent Gikuyu to grove of Fig trees, where he found a woman called Mumbi. This grove would become known as Mukuru wa Nyagathanga, the birthplace of all Kikuyu, still revered as a sacred place.

Among the fig trees, Gikuyu and Mumbi produced nine daughters- Wanjiku, Wanjiru, Wanjeri, Wambui, Wangari, Wacera, Waithera, Wairimu, and Nyambura. (Traditionally all Kikuyu girls should be given one of these names)

The girls grew into beautiful young women, who each full moon wandered the lands around Kirinyaga in search of men so that they could bear children. They begged their father to appeal to Ngai for help. Finally he bowed before the Mountain, and Ngai commanded him to make sacrifice among the figs and light a fire.

The sacrifice of a goat beneath a fig tree is still considered a way to call rain in times of drought, but in this first case it was a different form of life sustaining rain that Gikuyu sought. After the sacrifice he plunged nine sticks into a fire, and prayed. The fire erupted into an inferno, from which nine strong young men emerged. Giving thanks, Gikuyu took them back to his daughters, and the nine marriages were blessed by Ngai.

Each of the daughters made her own homestead, and nine separate clans of the Kikuyu were born. the unity of these clans was known as the Nyumba ya Mumbi, in honour of their Mother. The peak of Kirinyaga has since remained the sacred home of Ngai. As at Riuki, all Kikuyu homesteads were traditionally built to face this Holy Mountain.

A group of local women come to the centre to perform for visitors, with a series of dances traditionally performed at weddings and initiations and to sing songs. These are simple love and courting songs, traditional hunting songs and chants used when going to work in the fields.

The highlands of Kenya are rich fertile land, and this is a great farming culture- with a great cuisine that has grown from freshly grown vegetables.

The highlight of the day is a chance to sample a typical Kikuyu meal- delicious healthy food including sweet potatoes, Githeri (a maize and bean stew), Mukimo (a mashed combination of green peas and potato) with roasted goat and Irio, a great Kikuyu favourite.

There are also displays of traditional medicine, healing and divination.

Riuki can arrange extended programs to visit local farms and schools, or even to spend the night under the stars by a campfire on a traditional banana fibre mat, or to spend the night in a specially arranged homestay in a typical Kikuyu home.

For anyone with a free day in Nairobi, the Riuki Cultural Centre is an excellent way to discover more about another culture, and make many new friends along the way.

For more info click here Click here or email the Centre.
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