Kikuyu - Riddles and Proverbs

Most of the following proverbs and riddles are taken from Gikuyu Oral Literature, by Wanjiki Mukabi Kabira and Kerega wa Muthahi (1988: East African Educational Publishers, PO Box 45314 Nairobi, Kenya). See the copyright notice.
In this page:
Sung riddles


- The quality of a home is only known by its resident

- One who never travels thinks it only his mother who is a good cook.

- A beautiful girl passes by the poor man's home.

- The prospective initiates may take the initiation bath yet fail to go through the initiation.

- The warrior may be tripped by a maize cob

- Where men have been on cannot pick a good feather.

- Good reasoning breaks a strung bow.

- A disunited battalion gets beaten with one club.

- An old he goat does not sneeze for nothing.

- We are like a Maasai and his underpants
(if two Kikuyu wish to have nothing further to do with each other after a disagreement, they will say this meaning 'we have nothing to do with each other' - the Maasai do not wear underpants, at least not in popular legend)

- Women and the sky cannot be understood.

- The man may be the head of the home, but the woman is the heart.

- Frowning frogs cannot stop the cows drinking from the pool.

Riddles - Ndai



When I look at you I see you through to the intestines

A granary

I have travelled with one who never tells me to rest

My shadow

I have gone round the forest with a red motorcycle

A rainbow

I have a house without a door or a window

An egg

It is upside down but does not leak

A cow's udder

They face up as if they are about to lead a song

The horns of cattle

I have a person who stays between two swords but never gets cut

The tongue

My house has only one pole

The mushroom

Those things in the cave have one hundred eyes

Honey combs

An elephant with one ear

A cup

Sung Riddles

If anyone has any more information about these, I'd love to hear it!

The Kikuyu had a very elaborate sung riddle game, a duet called the enigma poem or gicandi (gicandia), a set text of riddles that could apparently contain up to 127 stanzas. It was sung in a duet by two competitors, who had each learned the poem by heart. A decorated gourd rattle accompanied the singing.


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