Nyerikiambu

08. Special Professions:

The Medicine Man, Mũndũ Mũgo:

Throughout the kũyũ nation, medicine men were employed in curing diseases and also curing people inflicted by evil spirits. They also provided several magical charms covering all fields from love to protection during war. In fact before the warriors went to war a medicine man would be consulted, a practice which found some revival during the mau mau war for independence.

Medicine men had great knowledge in the use of herbal leaves for medicine, thus great knowledge in medicinal plants. The medicine man, of course had a very special place at the heart of kũyũ nation. They elicited a lot of resistance from the missionaries being called satanic. There do exist herbal medicine practitioners in the Kenya of today. It would be interesting to find out, what link, if any, they have to the medicine man of old. The medicine man in the old days was not just an expert in herbs but had to communicate with the spirits to see if a persons afflictions came from that other world, and if so what would have to be done to appease the spirits, so that the person could regain his good health. Certainly the use of magical charms is not part of the kũyũ nation that I grew up in, although being an urban child, I might not be at the position to quite know. Magical charms are nowadays associated more with our neighbours the Kamba

The Seer, Mũrathi:

In thekũyũ nation there existed great seers, the most famous one probably being a man by the name of C(h)ege son of Kĩbirũ or C(h)ege wa Kĩbirũ, later called Mũgo wa Kĩbirũ, who prophesized the coming of the white man to the kũyũ nation, saying there would come people who’d have bodies like kiengere, a small light coloured frog which lives in water and whose dress would resemble ciĩuhuruta (butterflies). They’d carry magical sticks which would produce fire. Further he prophesized the coming of the railway line that would stretch from one water body in the east to another in the west and the train which he described as an iron snake that would spit fire. Further this snake would ‘eat’ people and ‘vomit’ them out. He also predicted the coming of the famine that would signal the coming of the strangers with bodies like kiengere.

I have seen some of todays scholars cast doubt on these prophecies on account that Mũgo wa Kĩbirũ must have known some of the things from kũyũ who might have travelled to the coast for trade purposes, and certainly it would have been easy to know about guns and clothing from the Arabs and whites at the coast but the railway line (built 1896 – 1901) and the train are a different proposition. The steam engine train was a relatively new invention which started being operational in 1825. Further the Africans would have had to be on extremely friendly terms with the Arabs and whites for them to gain that information, if at all the Arabs knew about it. Secondly while Leakey says that trade contacts existed between Arabs and the Kikuyu for a while, it is possible that these contacts existed only in certain parts of the Gĩkũyũ nation and not everywhere. Boyes in his accounts testifies that he was the first white man that the Gĩkũyũ he came to rule had ever seen and that he was an object of a lot of curiosity. He even further goes on to use a trick to show his white powers, by shooting a hole through a soft barked tree. Lastly if items like guns and Arabs (I’ve found little difference between the appearance between Arabs and Europeans) were common knowledge in Gĩkũyũ land, then the prophecy wouldn’t have been met with such astonishment. Details about when Mugo wa Kibiru lived, when he died or even where exactly he lived are extremely sketchy and anyone who can feel them in will have been of great service.

Another seer was Kongo wa Magana who was the grandfather of the first president of the Kenyan nation, Jomo Kenyatta aka Kamau wa Ngengi, who is also the author of one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Gikuyu to date. Certainly one of the early ones still in print and available at your local bookshop.

Sources

  1. Kenyatta, Jomo – Facing Mt. Kenya [1938]
  2. Mugia, D. Kinuthia – Ũrathi wa Cege wa Kibiru [1979]
  3. Boyes, John – How I Became King of Wakikuyu [1911]

Witchdoctors, Arogi :

This were some of the most hated people in Akũyũ country. They used their magic and poisons for evil. They practised their craft in great secrecy as being found out as a witchdoctor meant certain death by being burnt. The fire set by ones own relative, no less. This in a society, where one could get away with murder under certain circumstances.

The Blacksmith, Mũturi:

Obviously the Gĩkũyũ society was heavily dependant on iron tools in times of war and peace. As such the smiths family held a special place in Akũyũ society. The smiths curses were also much feared and people did well not to incur them. The trade was passed on from father to son. It was a skill practised only by men, even though the entire family was involved especially in the procurement of iron ore from the river beds. This, like most other things are skills that went under in the post colonial period. Although described as primitive by Routledge, who thought he was standing at the dawn of the prehistoric man, they incorporated very modern themes like recycling. Generally anything lost no matter how irrelevant to today’s world is a big loss.

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