Kikuyu - Music and Dance

The lyrics included in this page are mostly from Gikuyu Oral Literature, by Wanjiki Mukabi Kabira and Kerega wa Muthahi (1988: East African Educational Publishers, PO Box 45314 Nairobi, Kenya). Copyright Wanjiki Mukabi Kabira and Kerega wa Muthahi, 1988.
In this page:
Beer parties
Circumcision dance
M'Goiyu dance
Song lyrics - social
Song lyrics - social - Gutuuha (a dance for old women)
Song lyrics - social - Uriigu (a dance for youth)
Song lyrics - social - Irua (a dance for youth)
Song lyrics - social - Kiriro (a lament for newly-wed women)
Song lyrics - social - A grandmother’s lament
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance - Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance - Maikariite Kaloleni
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance - Muthenya wa Munyaka (the lucky day)
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance - Rugendo Ruakwa Rwaguthii Mbuci (my journey to the forest)
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance - Aria Meendirie Nyumba Yaao (those who sold their people)
Song lyrics - Mau Mau and Resistance - Matenjagwo


As far as I know, traditional Kikuyu music and dance is pretty much extinct, although there may well be exceptions connected with the rare times when ceremonies are conducted to pray to Ngai for rain, despite the majority of Kikuyu being Christian. For information on the wealth of modern Kikuyu music (pop, dance, Gospel), have a look at Doug Paterson's website at

Note that this page, albeit already large, is still incomplete: much more information about the music itself has to be added, plus paragraphs about the M'Goiyu dance, ceremonies and other dances. Please bear with me.

Beer parties

From Rose Mwangi, Kikuyu Folktales: their Nature and Value

"Hard worked alternated with fun and enjoyment. In most cases work itself was fun because people sang and talked as they worked in their shambas and they had time during the working hours to roast maize, sweet potatoes or bananas. If beer was being brewed, the men were called out to cut the sugar cane, the women to carry and thrash it and the children to eat the remaining, unusable pieces of it. When the beer was ready, it was drank by all."

Circumcision dance

The following paragraph is from Ngugi wa Thiongo's The River Between, where, after several years at a Protestant institution, Waiyaki returns temporarily to Kameno apparently unbaptized and desiring to participate in the annual circumcision ritual with other boys of his age. The uninhibited behaviour of the participants in the accompanying festival scandalizes the youth. Ngugi describes their conduct graphically, particularly with regard to a nocturnal communal dance:

Everyone went into a frenzy of excitement. Old and young, women and children, all were there losing themselves in the magic motion of the dance. Men shrieked and shouted and jumped into the air as they went round in a circle ... Women, stripped to the waist, with their thin breasts flapping on their chests, went round and round the big fire, swinging their hips and contorting their bodies in all sorts of provocative ways, but always keeping the rhythm. They were free. Age and youth had become reconciled for this one night. And you could sing about anything and talk of the hidden parts of men and women without feeling that you had violated the otherwise strong social code that governed people's relationships, especially the relationship between young and old, man and woman.

M'Goiyu dance

Please be patient - I've still got to write about this! But enjoy the photos...

Prelude to the M'Goiyu Dance M'Goiyu Dance

Song Lyrics - Social

GUTUUHA (a dance for old women)
by Gakenye, Wambui Wambugu and Wanjiru Kabuagara

Wambui let the goats run about
Let them run about
Let them turn the eyes. Wangari, let the goats run about
Let them run about
Let them turn the eyes. Wanjiru, let the goats run about
Let them run about
Let them turn the eyes. No! they won't pass through here
No! they won't pass through here

URIIGU (a dance for youth)

I shall sleep outside my friend
Thiari birds sleep on hedges
I will sleep outside

Whose place is this?
Whose place is this?

I shall sleep outside my friend
That I may drop myself down like a buffalo calf
I will sleep outside my friend

Will he/she be washed with water in order to be shaved?
Will he/she be washed with water in order to be shaved?

I will sleep outside my friend
Or will he/she be washed with milk
I will sleep outside, my friend

This big one
I will sleep outside my friend
Is easy to win
I will sleep outside, my friend.

IRUA (a dance for youth)

The travelling I undertook
Hai hui
The travelling I undertook
I turned back at the Lake Mirithu
The travelling I undertook

Whose place is this?
That I may drop myself like a buffalo calf
Whose place is this?
I hai-hu

This is our place
If you wish drop yourself
This is our place

Dance with strength
You were brought up on milk and meat
Dance with strength

KIRIRO (a lament for newly-wed women)
by Wanjiru wa Kabuagara

Gicui (People) you came,
To greet Waceera (clan)
She came
She was drowned by a river
When it dried up the announcer died too.

There is nothing I understand
When (you) our children
come in and go out
Waceera, did you leave that boy and Njeeri at home?

And I am an only child
Announcers when you reach Ceera (clan)
You greet Kigotho for me,
My father and I know he did not come

Oh dear
Well Ngewa, I have gone
Greet those of Njeeri (clan)
You hear, I told you
I am alone
I am the lone child of Wangari!
But now I am no more be able to wander.

You hear?
Well me, of Njeeri I get milk
From my father Kigotho's cow
You hear?
And now stay in peace.

This lament was sung by an old woman about the loss of traditional values in her society, and the immorality that has come with modern civilization. From Ronald Dain and Jac van Diepen's Luke's Gospel for Africa Today, and quoted in Daniel Nyaga's Customs and Traditions of the Meru.

Yes, you condemn our sins,
You may say we were primitive,
We did not know Maendeleo [Progress],
Because we wore skins,
And walked bare-foot. I'm old, but I fear for you,
Young generation.

Nobody consults our doctor,
the girl pollutes the homestead,
The clan's ancestors are angered,
Nobody bothers to slaughter a goat,
To apologize and appease them,
For the broken taboo.

Brother mistreats sister,
Brothers fight,
They easily poison each other,
Blood is thicker than water,
Means nothing to you, young generation. Uuui! Uuui! they are gone,
The old days,
yes they are gone.

Isn't it only yesterday,
A son could not bypass his father,
An elder or one of his father's age group,
Yes, now I can see things clearly,
Our tribe has collapsed,
The ground has cracked,
The crack is being enlarged everyday,
the gruel is pouring,
That is how it is being with our tribe. the Gikuyu.

Lovers could not dance together,
It was forbidden,
After the dance,
the girls went home alone,
They went straight to their mother's huts,
The old men discussed the daughter, of so and so,
Who has proved,
Herself more agile,
And elegant,
Than the others.

Our men knew discipline,
They did not seduce,
Like the ones of today,
sex before marriage,
was not known,
Who wanted to be a gichokio [a girl who had an illegitimate child]
Who wanted to be a laughing stock!
Our days were good.

In our parties,
We learned the names,
Of our relatives,
We met in person,
Our near and distant cousins,
Ste-brothers and sisters,
Came to know each other. No cousins were engaged,
And no step-sisters and brother,
Got married like you do these days,
That too was taboo. What is happening to you?

Songs of Resistance to Colonialism

These songs date from the time of the Mau Mau Uprising.

by Wambui wa Wambugu

The Mukurwe tree of Nyagathanga
The origin of black people
If you wish to know more come nearer
I will inform you

chorus: Oh dear! suffering is bad
Oh dear! suffering is very very bad
I saw the face of my friend and I found it dull

I got a deep feeling for my sister
who went into the forests.

by Wanjiru wa Kabuagara

They sat in Kaloleni the shepherds of KAU
They put their thoughts together about going abroad

The goats, cows and land were given to Beauttah
We sent Mbiyu abroad to go for them

When Kenyatta stopped speaking, Mbiyu also spoke
He said he was very happy for the prophecy will be fulfilled

Nothing will be asked of you Agikuyu
Only unity and we ask for the land together

You go there and see a school for black people
It is four storeyed and it is on a hill

All the builders are black and the contractor is black
The committee of the builders are black and the money is from black people

Let us work hard and build the sharpener
We should not be sharpened by White people

by Wambugu wa Gitiiri

It was a lucky day
The day we sent our messengers
Mbiyu went on the fifth
Achieng' followed him
A really good day
The day they went in a plane
It was the first time
To send our people to UNO
To take our grievances
So that we get back our land
A very good unity
The house of black people together.

We should take this load together
So that we may have a place to live happily.

We shall be very very happy
When the white man says 'Ndio Bwana' [Yes Sir]
Now he calls us "boy"
Because he doesn't value us.

by Wanjiru wa Kabuagara

My time to go to the forest had come
It was the whites and the homeguards who prevented me.

On small white man asked a question
One bad question
This was the question,
Where did the black people come from?

One black man asked one question
One good question
And this is the question,
Where did the whites come from?

Homeguards you will cry at noon
When you find you are neither in the skin nor in the meat.

ARIA MEENDIRIE NYUMBA YAAO (Those who sold their people)
by Nyagiko

We agreed to carry this log together
And when we reached the middle of the river
Those who ran away and sold their people
And burnt our houses
Now their children are like those of Goliath

Now Mumbi is in hospital
Let's pray God that Gikuyu will have a good issue
Let her get a boy whom we shall call Freedom
And if she gets a girl, we shall name her 'Our Land'.

Let us praise those of us in Nyandarua forest
Dedan Kimathi and General Mathenge
General Kago and General Waruingi

Our people have you forgotten
The Gikuyu proverb that
One cannot eat what he has not sweated for?

by Nyagiko

The man you see wearing a watch
Is Gitau Matenjagwo
He used to bring down the planes
That came to harass the fighters

The trench we dug at Ng'ombe's
We spent three weeks
We were badly beaten
But none of use died.

Parents don't worry
A child may be born and then die
Tell the people to be brave
Colour bar will come to an end in our country.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle - fine art photography