Kikuyu - Fables and legends

In this page:
Kikuyu story-telling

Fables and legends:
The Kikuyu Creation Myth
The Origin of Death (1)
The Origin of Death (2)
The Spirit Wife
A Communal Sacrifice in the Lake
Rugano Rwa Wanjiru (another lake sacrifice)
The Hare's Practical Jokes
Wanjiru the Beauty of the Hills
The Old Man's Swollen Knee
Nyaga and Wamweru
The Hunters and the Hartebeest
The Story of Wamugumo

Kikuyu story-telling

Stories - whether true accounts of historical events, or amusing and far-fetched tales of giants and ogres, or fables involving animals, were crucial to a child's education. Sadly, folk tales have become a thing of the past. As Rose Rose Mwangi wrote in 1970 in the introduction to her superb little book, "Kikuyu Folktales: their Nature and Value" (1983, 1970: Kenya Literature Bureau, PO Box 30022 Nairobi):

Their alienation from our society started when social education and entertainment passed from the lands of the mother in her hut, the wise old man in his hut to the hands of the missionary and government teachers who were no more interested in the creativity of folk tales than in ritual and ceremony. They introduced 'book education', which more than anything else removed both children and adults from the down-to-earth language of their folk tales, their vocabulary, their rhythms and their natural involvement in day-to-day activities and introduced them to a far more restricted and removed world of English Literature.

There were different places where tales were told. Sometimes the family stayed home in one hut and told them. Sometimes only the younger children stayed with the mother. When the mother was not telling her children tales, she instructed them in tribal customs, codes and beliefs. This instruction was very important since children were expected to grow into acceptable men and women in the society. They were taught to work hard, not to deride the sick or the deformed and they were warned that failure to observe society's rules would always bring trouble to the family or the hole tribe. There were tales to illustrate this and because they provoked laughter among other reactions, they deterred the listeners from playing, in actual life, the part of characters in those tales.

As the tales were primarily educational in nature, the telling of tales was surrounded with conventions and taboos. Again to quote Mwangi:

The first convention that had to be observed related to the prohibition of telling tales during the day. It was generally believed that if this convention was violated, all the cattle, sheep and goats would mysteriously disappear and a particular tribe, clan or family become irredeemably poor. This convention was intended to prevent people from forsaking hard work during the day in favour of tale-telling. It was part of a social reminder to the effect that there were two distinct modes of activity and that each had its appropriate time.

The actual tale-telling was done systematically so that if the group was sitting in a circle, a clockwise or an anticlockwise system was followed and everybody present had to tell one. This ensured everybody's presence of mind because sometimes a story which a particular individual had in mind was told by somebody else. [...]
   Just as tradition imposed order on the audience, so did it impose on the tale itself. It did not matter who began to tell the tale. What mattered was how the tale was began and ended. 'Ugai Itha' were the two prescribed words for beginning a tale. They alerted the audience and obliged them to listen to the narrator's tale. The end formula, 'Rukirika' (it is finished) signalled the conclusion of the tale and the audience were then allowed to put in their comments. These were usually about the characters or the quality and skill of the narrator. 'What a clever boy', 'What a stupid Hyena' or 'What a poor narrator' or 'What a good narrator'.


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

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