The Ituĩka is Gikuyu name for break/rupture and revolution, transformation, and transition. At ituika Literary Platform we believe that by centering the writing, the teaching and translation of African languages, we can transform African societies. The Kikuyu were ruled by a generation of elders. When the ‘generation in power’ reached the age of retirement, the ‘generation in waiting’ paid fees in goats, and an ‘Ituĩka’ ceremony was organized. This happened every 30 years. A cycle of nine names was used to identify each ruling generation and since it was a fixed cycle, the generation in waiting knew in advance what their name was. Below is a list of all the nine Ituĩka names:
this was during the reign of Thothmes III. ‘Ma’ is a prefix and the root is Thaathi for Thoth. This is the earliest period in the collective memory of the Kikuyu. Thothmes III (sometimes spelled as Tahutmes, or Thutmosis) was a pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty. For the first 22 years of his reign, Thothmes was co-regent with his stepmother, Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh ever. He is recorded to have ruled between 1504-1450 BC. Hatshepsut who was also called Makare, celebrated a Hebsed (the equivalent of an Ituĩka) as recorded on an obelisk. It is likely that 30 year jubilee celebration merely fell in her reign and was not of her own making as some Egyptologists have theorised. It is around this time that a group of East African men and women were acquired by Hatshepsut. The women were called the Angui (an archaic Bantu word for leopard). Makare, Hatshepsut’s other name meant ‘leopard’ and it would appear that these women were ‘her property.’ The Men probably took the interim name Mathaathi, before taking on the name Gĩkũyũ when Thothmes was in full power. ‘Sycamore’ was a Pharaonic title besides the fact that sycamores were sacred trees. A sycamore tree is called Mũkũyũ in Kikuyu. The present Angũi Clan of the Kikuyu is also called Aithiegeni (which is archaic Kikuyu for ‘those in a foreign land’). It is noteworthy that the Kikuyu call a leopard Ngare and not Ngoi as do many other Bantu groups. They seem to have adopted the Egyptian word for it. The Mathaathi generation gave birth to Chyera (Ciira).
About the God Thoth – “… In another aspect [besides as a scribe] Thoth was the heart of Ra – the heart was the seat of Intelligence, and writing was the physical manifestation of Intelligence” (Edward L. B. Terrace and Henry G Fischer, 1970).
The root of this word is the verb, Ciara – give birth. Scholars agree that this generation signifies excessive growth of the tribe. I suggest that this growth took place after the fortunes of a small captive group changed for the better. It was understandable that Hatshepsut, as the first female Pharaoh in Egypt, had given her captives and servants such freedom as was not available to their lot before. This is especially so for the women, and we can understand how at one time, according to legend, Kikuyu women ruled their men. It’s interesting that the Kikuyu women adopted some items of clothing that were the preserve of men in Egypt. Look closely at the images presented in this hub.
A Hebsed was likely to have been celebrated during the reign of Thothmes III who ruled for 54 years, (26 as a co-regent). A woman is called ‘mutumia’ in Kikuyu and it seems women were associated with Olive trees. If the sycamore was the ‘Sun’, then the Olive was the ‘Moon.’ This generation gave birth to Ndemi.
This generation is associated with writing (Ndemwa – letters and numbers) from the verb tema – to cut. Some writers have associated them with clearing fields for cultivation but that cannot be true when other evidence that is shown below is taken into consideration. Letters in Egypt were cut or incised in stone. When Thothmes III eventually took over from Hatshepsut, he put everybody to a lot of work on his monuments. It is reported that almost all the great temples existing in Upper Egypt at the time were enlarged while he ordered the building of new ones. This required artisans to work the stones and to assist the scribes in writing the hieroglyphics. Even if one did not actually write on stone, the event would be so important that everyone would want to be associated with the ‘cutting and incising’. Thothmes III extended the borders of Egypt to include the lands that we know as Ethiopia, Sudan, Arabia, Armenia and Kurdistan. Thothmes III was succeeded by his son Amenhotep II. It is likely that a Hebsed was celebrated after Amenhotep II had taken over from his father. His mother was the famous Mutemwiya – the great Olive. An Olive tree is called mutamaiyu in Kikuyu. It was the sacred tree for Kikuyu women. The Ndemi generation gave birth to Iregi– the rebels.
This means ‘rebels’ in Kikuyu. This generation is associated with the rebellion against Amun by Amenhotep iv (Maina) who changed his name to Akhenaten (Tene) when he took over in.1350. The Hebsed was likely to have been celebrated when Akhenaten was co- regent with his father, Amenhotep III. The rebellion was against the worship of the state religion which had a stranglehold on the population. Note that a State House is called ‘Thingira wa Iregi’ – house of the rebels in the Kikuyu language. This title for the ruler’s house was initiated by Akhenaten, who was the Gikũyũ of Kikuyu migration from Egypt. The priests of Amun were rich and influential, a situation he endeavored to change by decreeing that none should be worshiped but the sun God Aten whose rays were always shown holding the Ankh – symbol of life. It implies that the generation sided with his actions. Akhenaten went to great lengths to erase inscription with Amun on monuments, acts that no doubt infuriated the nobles and priests. The Iregi gave birth to the Maina who were so named in memory of Akhenaten whose religious belief they had now adopted. Maina is from Amun in Amenhotep – Akhenaten’s name before the change.
The Ankh – This word is the root of the Kikuyu word ũgima and the Luo word mangima, both meaning health. As will be apparent here, it is also the root of the name Mwangi and the Egyptian name Tutankhmen.
This name is the first of the Generic names. It must be marker of a momentous stage in the history of the Kikuyu. I have deduced that this generation is derived from Akhenaten’s original name Amenhotep IV and though it is a grim reminder of the banished God and his priests it is associated more with the peace that reigned in the land – the Amarna period. Despite the fact that Petrie, an early Egyptologist stated that there is no record of Akhenaten’s celebration of a Hebsed, he believed that it must have taken place. The fact that the Kikuyu have this Maina that precedes Mwangi is testimony that it did take place. The name Maina shares the same roots with the Kiswahili word Amani meaning peace. Egyptologists are agreed that the Amarna period was a peaceful era in the 18th Dynasty. This Maina generation gave birth to Mwangi.
This generation was associated with Tutankhamen’s rise to the throne after Akhenaten’s flight from Egypt. Mwa in Mwangi and Tut in Tutankhamen are prefixes. The root in Mwangi is “Angi” which corresponds with “Ankh” inTutankhamen. Maina was the father of Mwangi, just as Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamen. Akhenaten took flight at about 1334 BC. The Ituĩka ceremony in this generation may not have been celebrated in Egypt, since the Pharaoh and his followers were in full flight. However, the Kikuyu and Egyptians may have held the ceremonies concurrently since the timing was reckoned by stargazing. This generation in flight gave birth to Choka, which means ‘return’ in Kikuyu.
The use of the word Choka – ‘return,’ implies that the Kikuyu had arrived at ancestral lands, from where they had been uprooted in the first place. It is at this point that the returnees called themselves Gĩkũyũ – as followers of the fleeing sycamore whom they also adopted as their symbolic father. This was in an effort to forget their tribulations in Egypt. In any case, a sycamore tree was also sacred in Egypt and the word was another title for a Pharaoh. The Meru who were all Imenti (people of the mountain) commemorated this departure by forming a new group – Tigania, which means ‘abandoners.
(also called Mũirungu) – Thirty years after the installation of Mwangi, a section of the next generation was born in Mount Kenya area by the first batch of returnees. The Generic name for them would be Maina. These were the Choka – those who returned. Choka is also called Mũirungu or Irũngũ. Mũirungu is archaic Kikuyu to mean ‘the one who is underground.’ Rungu means under. ‘Mu’ is a prefix to denote a human. Mũirungu therefore means “the one who is under.” Mũirungu was later pronounced as Mũrungu and came to mean God, which was the custom of ancient Egypt to deify a departed leader.. This means that Gĩkũyũ the leader, died within the reign of this generation and was buried in the Mount Kenya area. Did Akhenaten die soon after arrival and was interred?
It is debatable whether the Chuka ethnic group of Mount Kenya region derive their name from the verb Choka – this occasion of returning. Perhaps the Mbeere ethnic group also of the Mount Kenya region was always present as the remnant group that received the returnees. Mbeere means ‘first’ and is related to the Hebrew word ‘Bereshith’ – the name of the first book in the Bible. From this point we know that more returnees continued to come in deferent waves. It is likely that those left behind by the Choka called themselves something different, hence the many intelligible dialects of Mount Kenya region. The next two generations had two different names each. This may indicate that some groups did a government changeover – and Ituĩka, in isolation and commemorated events with names that were unknown to the people already settled in Mount Kenya area. I have concluded that the Gichukya dance, which is described on the right was danced until recently to commemorate the return to ancient ancestral lands over 1000 years ago, perhaps even 3000.
I have been unable to decipher the meaning of these two words. The generic name for Chororo would be Mwangi. One group which was likely lost and came across a people who had iron working knowledge adopted the name Murigaru instead of the one by those who had already arrived. Murigaru maybe in association with heat (ũrugarĩ) as would be expected when working near hot furnaces during iron working. These generation known by its two names, gave birth to Chuma also known as Manduti.
It would appear that this age group commemorated the acquisition of ‘iron working’ skills, almost one hundred years after the flight from Egypt. Chuma (pronounced as ‘shuma’ in Kikuyu) means Iron in both Kikuyu and Swahili, which was introduced by the group that had been previously lost. Having superior iron weaponry, it is likely that a lot of evil was committed by those arriving with the technology. The other name for this generation, Manduti has been translated as ‘evil doers.’ In ancient Egypt, iron working was associated with Set, a god of evil. When they were integrated sufficiently, the evil was probably visited on other ‘enemy’ communities that did not have iron working knowledge. The name Manduti also means the ugly ones. The generic name of Chuma would be Maina.
After this generation, the Kikuyu were well settled in the mountainous area where they developed a siege mentality and proceeded to isolate themselves. Akhenaten was in danger of being pursued by his enemies in Egypt. His people therefore went to great lengths to hide him. The women in the harem (seraglio) were adopted as Gikũyũ ‘s daughters and the myth of Gikũyũ and Mũmbi was crafted.
In the Myth of Gikũyũ and Mumbi, God placed Gikũyũ in the area of Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga, and gave him a wife. The wife bore only girls, nine in all. When they were ready to get married, there were no men, and Gikũyũ had to sacrifice to God Ngai, resulting in the miraculous appearance of nine men to marry the girls. The girls became the heads of their homes and were the initiators of the nine clans. Gikũyũ’s entire household, according to some interpretations constituted the tenth clan.
This period is remembered as TENE or the days of TENE NA AGO (very long ago).
I highly suspect that the AGO of Kikuyu (seers and diviners) and the ago in Long Ago in English are related etymologically.
Note that after Mwangi, the other generations have a different name in brackets. This bracketed names were from the Nyeri Kikuyu, an indication that a separation occurred but the ceremonies still took place according a traditional reckoning after every 30 years. Since each ceremony commemorated an event, the separated groups had, as is expected, differing experiences and events to name after the ceremonies.
There were two names however that were generic, meaning that whichever of the nine names a generation carried from the above list, they also had of the two – a sort of surname. A Generation was either a Mwangi or a Maina, regardless of the real generation name. Since Maina and Mwangi are alos on the list, it means that they commemorate very important occasions in the history of the tribe. In other words, the Mwangi begat the Maina, and the Maina begat the Mwangi. This will be clear when the reader has gone through the entire text.
Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s fable, ‘The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright,’ made literary history when it became the single most translated short story in the history of African writing. My chapter reflects on that process, tracing the genesis of the story, to the earlier conceptual work that led to the publication of the translation issue by Jalada Africa and its post-publication popular and critical acclaim. Over 40 nations have been represented in the 92 translations so far published in platforms both online and in print. The synergy, coordination, as well as planning necessary to bring all these people together to work on a single project that revitalises our mother tongues speaks well to the dreams of visionaries like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. From practical effects on the translation work of those involved, the cooperative efforts in the translation process and resultant global conversations, the Jalada translation project has challenged many orthodoxies and initiated conversations among languages. As the conceiver and editorial coordinator for the project, I examine the obstacles we had to overcome, and envision the future that is being paved by this work for the translation into and among African languages.
This book chapter first appeared in the 1st Edition of the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism, published in 2020.
1. Aldred, C., 1968 Akhnenaten Thames & Hudson London
2. Cagnolo, C., 1933, The Akikuyu, Their customs, Traditions and Folklore, Mission Printing school, Nyeri.
3. Collier, J., 1970, In search of Akhenaten ,Ward Lock Limited – London
4. Dundas, Charles, 1968, Kilimanjaro and its People, Frank Cass & co. Ltd, London.
5. Ellison T, R., (2006), Tree Goddesses http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/treegoddess.htm, accessed April 2006.
6. Giles, F. J., 1970, Ikhnaton: Legend and History, Hutchinson, London.
7. Ions, V., 1973. Egyptian Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, New York.
8. Kenyatta, J., 1938, Facing Mount Kenya, Kenway Publications, Nairobi.
9. Krapf, J. Lewis., 1968. Missionary Researches and Travels No. 2. Frank Cass, London.
10. Leakey, L.S.B., 1977, The Southern Kikuyu before 1903, Vol I, II & III, Academic Press, London.
11. Middleton, J. & Kershaw G., 1965, The Central Tribes of the North-Eastern Bantu, (including the Embu, Meru, Mbere, Chuka. Mwimbi, Tharaka, and the Kamba of Kenya), International Africa Institute, London.
12. Middleton, J. & Kershaw G., 1965, The Central Tribes of the North-Eastern Bantu, (including the Embu, Meru, Mbere, Chuka. Mwimbi, Tharaka, and the Kamba of Kenya), International Africa Institute, London.
13. Millard, Anne, 1981, Ancient Egypt, Usborne Publishing, London.
14. National Geographic, April 2001, p. 34-57, Pharaohs of the Sun, by Rick Gore, published by the National Geographic Society, Washington DC.
15. Ogot, B.A., editor, 1974, Zamani, a Survey of East African History, East African Publishing House, Nairobi.
16. Petrie, M, 1972, Amarna city of Akhenaten and Nefertiti , Department of Egyptology, University College, London.
17. Routledge, W. S., and Routledge K., 1910, With a Prehistoric People, the Akikuyu of British East Africa, Edward Arnold, London.
18. Sir Petrie, Flinders, (1924), History of Egypt , From earliest Kings to the xviDynasty Vol. II, (6 vol., 1894- 1925)
19. Tate, H. R., 1904, Further Notes on the Kikuyu Tribe of East Africa, Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, London
20. Terrace, Edward L. B., and Fischer Henry. G., 1970, Treasures of the Cairo Museum, Thames and Hudson, London.
More Hubs about the Kikuyu and Ancient Egypt
- Akhenaten’s Grandmother and the Kikuyu
Akhenate was the Pharaoh credited with starting Monotheism in 18th Dynasty Egypt. Here, we shall be more concerned with his grandmother called Mutemwiya (spelled as Mutemwaya by some writers). Before we discuss Mutemwiya, two trees need to mentioned.
- Akhenaten and the Kikuyu People of Kenya
Akhenaten the monotheistic Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty had some influence in Kikuyu culture, language and religion. The evidence is not very obvious but once you see it, it stands out like a white elephant.
Was this article helpful?