Chuka - Religion and Beliefs

The entirety of this page is an edited narration by Petero Gacumba, quoted in H.S. Kabeca Mwaniki's book "Embu historical texts" (1974: East African Literature Bureau, PO Box 30022 Nairobi, Kenya). Copyright H.S.K. Mwaniki, 1974.
In this page:
God and religion
The Devils, Nkoma
Incident with Devils
The Dead

God and religion

We knew that God was 'on high' while there were devils on the ground, or under the ground. We had to keep ourselves 'pure' otherwise bad things would always come in our homes. The warriors especially had to be very careful. If one went to fight when not ritually pure, he would be killed.
   We believe that:

mama mari iguru, matiri uthu na muntu,
mama mari nthi, nimo maii.

These on high have no enmity with anyone,
These on the ground (or under) are the ones who are bad.

No churches as you build today existed but people asked for blessings every time. Even a small group going to a place would say, 'Rugami twikie mata', 'stop, let us throw saliva', meaning, 'Let us stop and ask for blessings' and they would offer some prayers.

Medicine men belong to God. They were trained by him and told us things that were always true. Others 'beat the goat', solemnly rested on the ground on its side and requested it to tell the people. Since the people would not understand, he would explain.


Whenever we felt need, we sacrificed to God. For instance, if one saw a mystery, like seeing a person clearly close to him and the person disappearing mysteriously, the person had seen God! He had to sacrifice, otherwise bad things would follow him. Meat was put in sharpened sticks and put on tall trees for the 'owners' to come and take. No bone of the sacrificial goat was broken!

The Devils, Nkoma

Nkoma were bad. Their presence was known because they were heard dancing and singing, blowing horns and using leg-bells, etc., like living men but mainly at nights. They even 'circumcised' our children and ordered the Chuka not to circumcise during their season. Many were 'circumcised' by the devils in this way but we recircumcised them later after sacrificing.
   The devils cultivated at times like during the rain of Mutwamakembo, but when they made a shamba (farm), they did not plant.

Incident with Devils

A woman and her husband at Kigunka sat in their hut as it rained. Then a child was heard crying outside their door. After a time, they opened to find a small child paced just outside the door by the devils. They picked it up, cared for it till it grew big and was circumcised. Then the young man married and had a son of his own who was very mysterious. He was full of charms and would fight Chuka enemies without being hurt. He would be slashed with swords but would not die. He would be killed but would revive! He made the Chuka formidable to their enemies.

A Tharaka traitor revealed the secret of the man's life. He advised Mwimbi enemies of the Chuka to open his chest if they killed him. In his chest was hidden a horn of charms which if removed the man would be mortal.
   This was removed by the Mwimbi and the man did not revive this time. He died for good. His father, very annoyed, said: 'I thought I was at home, but if you have betrayed my son, I'll go.' He left and went beyond Ciokariga and made a cave in which he disappeared with his daughters. The daughters used to emerge from the cave, dance nchungo with the Tharaka and go back.

The Dead

We did not bury any dead. The dead were thrown out and eaten by hyenas. Only the mugwe [paramount chief] was buried.


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Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

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