Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Gikuyu are a Bantu-speaking people living in central Kenya. Pre-colonial Gikuyu were hunters and gatherers who adopted cultivation over time. Organized along lineages, clans and age-grades, traditional Gikuyu society was politically decentralized. The oldest males of kin groups and/or councils of residential communities were responsible for administering land and other political issues. In the 1940 and 1950s, many Gikuyu families were dislocated from their land by the colonial government in order to settle farmers of European descent. The Gikuyu responded to this injustice by organizing an insurgency movement called Land and Freedom Fighters (also known as Mau Mau). The Gikuyu continue to dominate Kenya's post-independence national politics and economic life largely due to their demographic majority and earlier access to modern education.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa



OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Gikuyu Collection (FL10) documents, all of them in English, cover cultural, economic and historical information circa 1900 to 1995. Two of these documents were compiled by two famous Kenyans; one by Jomo Kenyatta, a Gikuyu anthropologist and politician who also became Kenya's first President (Kenyatta 1953, no. 4), and the other by Louis Leakey, an anthropologist who was born and raised in Gikuyu land (Leakey 1952, no. 3).  Together, these works provide a very comprehensive and intimate account of Gikuyu culture and recent history (including the Mau Mau rebellion) as observed and personally experienced by the authors. Four documents provide additional information on pre-colonial Gikuyu culture and society. Coverage ranges from brief ethnographic description (Middleton 1953, no. 1), through detailed documentation of aspects of customs and artifacts (Routledge and Routledge no. 7, 1910), to analytical description of age sets and political organization (Prins 1953, no. 6; Lambert 1956, no. 2).

Ten documents are based on findings of a multidisciplinary research on comparative child development conducted, from 1967-1973, in a Gikuyu village called Ngecha. All of them were originally published as chapters in an edited volume titled "Ngecha: A Kenyan Village in a Time of Rapid Social Change. One document provides background information relating to organization of the volume (Edward and Whiting, 2004 no. 16), while three subsequent documents focus on Ngecha's physical geography and resident families ((Edward and Whiting 2004, no. 17; Whiting, et. al 2004, no. 18) and historical settings (Whiting et al 2004, no. 19). The remaining seven discuss aspects of change in behavior and family life including gender roles (Whiting 2004, no. 20), concepts of good child and good mother (Whiting et al 2004, no. 21), transmission of values (Chesaina 2004, no. 21), aging and elderhood (Cox and Mberia 2004, no. 23), effects of university-level education (Edwards, et al 2004, no. 24) and change and continuity (Kimani 2004, no. 25).

The remaining documents are published works by anthropologists and development experts who worked in different Gikuyu villages in 1980s and 1990s. Most of these documents deal with aspects of social change at the household and community levels including lives of women (Davison 1996, no. 10), patterns of marriage across generations (Hetherington 2001, no.12), trends in adolescent sexual behavior and fertility (Worthman and Whiting 1987, no. 13), innovations in household economic strategies (Thomas 1988. no. 14), and continuities in the cultural values of children (Price 1996, no. 15). Finally, one document revisits earlier works on the Mau Mau Rebellion which tended to undermine women's participation (Presley 1988, no. 11).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Getiiro – a dance and song for women only - use "DANCE (535)" with "MUSIC (533)"

Gethataria – handsome youngman, lady-killer - use "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)", with "ADOLESCENT ACTIVITIES (883)

Gitiiro – to teach young women about sexuality - use "SEX TRAINING (864)"

Irio – food - use "DIET (262)"

Irua – extended initiation - use "PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)"

Itoora- (pl. matoora) - village, town, or city - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)", with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Keheti - an old woman past child-bearing - use "CONCEPTION (842)", with "STATUS AND TREATMENT OF THE AGED (888)"

Kiama – council - use "COUNCILS (623)"

Mariika –age sets - use "AGE STRATIFICATION (561)", with  "PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)"

Micii – homestead - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)", with "HOUSEHOLD (592)"


Muthuri –elder man - use "STATUS AND TREATMENT OF THE AGED (888)"

Ngwiko – socially approved sexual play and experimentation without intercourse - use "SEX TRAINING (864)", with "PREMARITAL SEX RELATIONS (836)"

Shamba – garden plot - use "TILLAGE (241)" and/or "CEREAL AGRICULTURE (243)"

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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