Cultural Identity Definitional Essay: The Kikuyu Culture

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Cultural identity is a sense of belonging to a particular group. A sense of belonging is a necessary human psychological need which is responsible for personal comfort or the feel at home feeling. A group is a distinct set-up made up of members whom all share in the same sense of belonging. Cultural identity features include tribe or ethnicity, general repute, religious beliefs, ceremonial events, language, dressing and economic activities among many others that help separate one group from another (Hall & du Gay 116). The focus on cultural identity shall be through the Kikuyu people, inhabitants of East Africa, who have a distinct cultural identity.

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The Kikuyu culture is a superstition-based culture. Superstition is the belief that two or more events can be linked with no clear natural cause. Take for example the Kikuyu origin story where God, called Ngai by the Kikuyu, created man, called Gikuyu and Mumbi his wife and then took them to Mt. Kirinyaga to settle there (Sandgren 195). Gikuyu and Mumbi had nine daughters who are the ancestors of the current Kikuyu community. Belief in superstitions and origin stories is nothing new for different cultures all over the world. The Kikuyu origin story is different in its way even when compared to other origin stories such as the Biblical account of creation concerning God creating Adam and Eve and putting them in the Garden of Eden or other stories such as the Greek, Egyptian or the Norse origin stories to name but a few. The Kikuyu have a sacred fig tree called Mgumo which they treat as a shrine. Elders conduct ceremonies such as weddings and dispute resolutions under this tree. The Mgumo tree cannot be cut under any circumstance - if anybody cuts down the tree, the Kikuyu believe that his or her ancestors will curse him or her. The Mgumo tree is so sacred that when it becomes uprooted, gets struck by lightning, or gets split through natural means then it portends a great calamity about to befall the Kikuyu community.

The Kikuyu people of East Africa are liberators. Liberators are a select group of individuals who play a big role in achieving freedom for others primarily by being leaders of others. The Kikuyu people have ever since Kenya achieved independence from British colonial rule on December 12, 1963, held positions of power in government and main economic engines of the Kenyan economy such as the agriculture industry. Even before independence shortly after the Second World War, the Kikuyu made up the majority of the Mau-Mau, the Kenyan freedom fighters who arguably played the biggest role in Kenya achieving independence. The leader of the Mau Mau, Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, freedom fighters, was himself a Kikuyu along with several other leaders in the group.

The late Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, was himself a Kikuyu and a liberator.Jomo Kenyatta has been credited with being the father of the Kenyan nation much like George Washington in the United States. George Washington, being the United States first president was himself a liberator and long before he was president he was a great military strategist. Washington achieved the rank of Lieutenant General during his lifetime. Both Jomo Kenyatta and George Washington liberated their people from British colonial rule, and that is why in their respective countries they are Founding Fathers.

The Kikuyu people though having held positions of great power thus far and being proven leaders are not fair and transparent in leadership and resource allocation. Fairness involves treating everybody equally regardless of race, gender, ethnicity and creed or any cultural disparity. Transparency is all about being open and straightforward in the daily running of things. Ever since Kenya achieved independence on December 12, 1963, corruption and mediocrity have shadowed the four governments that have ruled over the Kenyan citizens. Kikuyus holding powerful positions in power have used their placing to acquire property and embezzle taxpayers money for themselves. The Kenyatta family, for example, have ever since December 12, 1963, been the puppeteering much of what happens on the Kenyan socio-economic stage.

The Kenyatta family are reportedly currently owning more than 500, 000 acres of arable land around the country whose acquisition were either unfair and untransparent. The Kenyatta family is just one example of how Kikuyu leadership in Kenya has lacked fairness and transparency. There are other cases and scandals where millions and billions of Kenya shillings have just disappeared. Embezzlement schemes that have rocked the country include The Goldenberg Scandal and The Anglo Leasing Scandal where many taxpayers money was there one moment and not there the next. Transparency and fairness are fundamental traits of successful governments. Examples can be taken from the United States, the UK, Italy, France and the like; in the event of any scandal, the people who are in any way tied immediately resign from public office to allow investigations. Sadly in Kenya this has not been the case as the Kikuyus in leadership are in many cases unchecked, getting away with a lot.

The Kikuyu community (some parts of it) apart from being a tribe or an ethnic society is a sect. A cult/ cult is a group of people set apart from others by their practices and beliefs which are unique politically, religiously or philosophically and may be looked upon by others as strange, dangerous and or extreme. Sects have been known to use violence, coercion and intimidation to achieve their agendas which are in most cases shady and designed purposely to cause harm. Sects have risen and sometimes subsequently fell in many countries all over the world. One of the most famous sects in the world is the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) started in the 1860s in the southern states of the U.S.A. purposely to promote white supremacy and curtail black liberation movements. In 1965, the KKK was publicly banned by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson for excessive violence causing deaths and for generally being a public menace.

In Kenya among the Kikuyu, there are select groups that are sects. The Mungiki is the most widely known sect composed of select individuals among the Kikuyu. The origins of the Mungiki sect are yet unclear. Some of the Mungiki sect practices are believed to have been influenced by the Kenyan freedom fighters, the Mau Mau. The Mungiki are reported to be carrying out ceremonies (initiation ceremonies mostly) borrowed from the Mau ceremonies; practices like eating meat dipped in blood (Frederiksen 1071). Some explanations for the existence of the Mungiki sect point towards political motives; that it was a political unit that was used to consolidate votes- to make sure that the Kikuyu and allied communities voted as a single block. Beyond the theories explaining how the Mungiki was formed, the outlawed sect has also been linked with intimidation, gang violence, rapes, gruesome murders and assassinations and robbery with violence. The Mungiki sect is an outlawed cult following, yet it still operates behind the shadows. In Kenya membership in the sect knows no boundaries. People linked with Mungiki activities include prominent politicians, businesspeople, religious leaders and senior government officials. Nobody is spared from the cruelty of the Mungiki. Often family members and loved ones of people in the Mungiki sect are killed when the Mungiki suspects them of knowing too much and likely to talk.

Cultural identity is a controversial pick. It is a gray area- it is neither good nor bad, just distinctive. Any community or tribe has its sets of cultural traits, and controversy is a common enough feature in some of the tenets of these cultures. The negatives tend to stand out, and every community has negative traits which no matter the effort was done to keep them unnoticed still manage to stand out. The Kikuyu community is one such culture as is every other community. The best of things that can be analyzed correctly and deeply usually are negative.


Frederiksen, B. F. (2010). Mungiki, vernacular organization and political society in Kenya. Development and Change, 41(6), 1065-1089.

Hall, Stuart, and Paul du Gay, eds. Questions of Cultural Identity: SAGE Publications. Sage, 1996.

Sandgren, David P. "Twentieth Century Religious and Political Divisions among the Kikuyu of Kenya." African Studies Review 25.2-3 (1982): 195-207.

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