The Mugumo tree as it is known was used as a place of worship by the kikuyu community to their God ‘Ngai’. It is still considered a sacred place up to date despite the fact that the coming of the western culture introduced churches as places of worship. Long ago when people went to offer their sacrifices under the tree, they had to undergo a cleansing ritual for 8 days so that when they offer their sacrifices, God will answer their prayers. Sacrifices would be offered in times of calamities such as famine, drought, during an outbreak of a disease or a pandemic. They also offered sacrifices as a way of giving thanks after a bountiful harvest or when a baby is born.
Unlike other trees it is not planted but grows on its own. The tree has a dating age of 200 years. When it dries up, the tree is soothed. If the tree is to be transferred to grow to another place, a special sacred event is performed so that no curse befalls on the place the tree will be planted. When the tree falls it is left to dry on its own.
But what does the falling of the Mugumo tree today signify? Does it signify the change of guard or is it the end of a dynasty or are just creating a big fuss over nothing? Back in the days when Kenya was still under the colonial rule, a well-known and respected seer Chege wa Kibiro prophesied that when the Mugumo tree in Thika town falls, the colonial rule will come to an end. When the whites
came to hear about his prophesy, they built a metal casing around the tree with poles of support so that the prophesy may not come true. The tree began to wither when the maumau fighters were fighting for independence. In 1952, when Kenyatta and the kapenguria six were captured and imprisoned, the first branch of the tree fell. In 1961, when they were released the second branch fell. And true to the prophesy, in June 1963 the tree fell and Kenya gained its independence.
Since then several other Mugumo trees have fallen and marked different events according to the Agikuyu elders. Some have marked political change in the government while others were as a result of aging of the tree. The trees are still considered sacred up to today as their falling signify special communication from the kikuyu ancestors. This are still one of the many cultures still upheld by the Kikuyu community.
When a Mugumo tree falls, it sends members of the Agikuyu community who dwell near it into a panic — they believe it is a bad omen. The fallen tree cannot be used for firewood and must be left to rot.
Some believe if you went around a Mugumo tree seven times, you’d change your sex. No one has had that transformation.
For generations, the Mugumo has occupied a mythical place among the Agikuyu who consider it sacred.
Some people believe that the spirits of the ancestors dwell in Mugumo trees and its canopy has been used as a shrine to offer prayers and sacrifices to gods.
Agikuyu ancestors believed that God would heed their prayers when they prayed under the tree.
Elders say the tree is respected for its role in the beliefs and culture of the community that have over the years helped it to thrive.
The tree is not planted but grows wildly in fertile and moist areas, especially near rivers. It is believed that the tree is planted by God.
“We found our great grandfathers worshipping under the tree and saw that their prayers were answered,” Kikuyu Council of Elders national chair Wachira wa Kiago said.
Kiama Kia Ma national chair Ndung’u Gaithuma said the Mugumo tree lives through several decades and tells a trans-generational story.
The tree is believed to nurture life as it’s towering stature provides shade and supports the growth of other trees under it.
“The tree can live up to 500 years. It acts like an umbrella during drought and provides a sense of peace to the community,” he said.
When Gikuyu, the community’s founding father and his wife were created by God and placed at the Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga shrine, they chose the Mugumo and Mukurwe trees as their sacrificial trees and passed them down to the subsequent generations.
Gaithuma said the ancestors prayed under the trees while facing Kirinyaga, now known as Mt Kenya, where he believed God dwelled.
Not all Mugumo trees are used for rituals. Gaithuma said elders are able to identify trees used for sacrifices as they have soot and burn holes on their trunks.
This is because animals offered for sacrifices to ward off calamities were burnt until they turned to ashes under the Mugumo tree to appease God.
“Every single part of the animal sacrificed for such a purpose, including bones, were burnt completely that no predatory animal could find anything afterwards,” he said.
In Uthiru, Kiambu county, Gaithuma said there is a sacrificial tree known as ‘Mugumo Wa Ambui’ under whose canopy founding President Jomo Kenyatta met elders numerous times for prayers.
The Kikuyu people literally claim that this tree is part of them. In the past it helped them in defining themselves as a group and acted as a compass by which they could find their way to social and religious integration in times of crises.
Mugumo trees are physically and ecologically powerful. The tree’s roots suspend downwards as ropes do, and through these roots, the Mugumo can suffocate other trees that are in the way of its growth.
The Kikuyu believe that, like themselves, the Mugumo tree is a survivor and it does not need humans to grow. With time it can transform the landscape, people, and identities.
In common with other African communities, the Kikuyu have been working through immeasurable religious and political change within a relatively short period.
Their past is tied to their future through songs and rituals about the Mugumo tree. The songs change to include contemporary messages while eliciting strong feelings connected with the older traditional values concerning health, hope, unity, harmony, wholeness, and communion. (Karangi, 129).
Article by: Joy Kamau
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