Skip to main content

Kikuyu People - Ancient Scripts and Symbols similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs

1. Egyptian 'MS' biconsonantal (wines skins) symbol and 2. the Anjiru Clan symbol


Vestiges of Ancient Writing Systems

Writing falls into two major categories:
1.When there is no painted or drawn design.
This first method of memory aids is referred to by experts as mnemotechnic writing. Here the writer intends to either communicate with self or with others. Notched sticks for the recognition of debts is one example. In the case of the Kikuyu as I was informed by Michael Waweru (mutigairi), one was able to follow the history of his herd by such notches on a stick. A certain notch on a stick that identified a specific cow would signify insemination; another notch would record the birth of the calf and by such records the cattle breeder was able to estimate the amount of milk from his herd.
It is noteworthy that the word for letters or numerals in Kikuyu is ndemwa, which translates to those that have been cut. Father Cangolo of the consolata fathers who lived among the Kikuyu in the 1930s recorded that:

"Recently an old Kikuyu took to a public meeting a wooden stick on which he was able to read the amount of tax paid by him to government on each year since it began being collected (Cagnolo)

Another example of mnemotechnic writing is the knotted chord such as the complex quipus of the incas. Waweru told me that the Kikuyu used the knotted chord to count down the days towards an appointment or major event. If for example there was a meeting in seven days, seven knots would be made on a string. On the morning of each new day, a knot would be untied until the last knot was untied and the record keeper punctually attended his appointment. An African writer, Gathigira who I believe was educated by the Consolata fathers, noted that:

"The Kikuyu believed that when a person was born, God made a knot. When he (God) wanted to recall a person, he undid the knot (Gathigira s.)

The second kind of writing happens:

2. When there is a design that has been painted or drawn.
One symbol documented by Routledge, was stated as being the symbol of the Anjiru Clan.The meaning that was attached to this symbol is now lost. What remains to be seen is the signifier, but the signified has been lost in antiquity. The symbol has nine lines that intersect at the head. Perhaps the Anjiru clan had a special place among the nine clans of the Kikuyu. It resembles the symbol of wine skins that represents 'ms' bi-consonant in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Other symbols, which were also documented by Routledge, were inscribed on property such as beehives. Routlege implied that each clan had its own type.
The Gichandi was a gourd on which certain designs were inscribed. Cowry shells were added on the surface as part of the inscription or story that the user of the Gichandi wanted to tell. The user of this picture rattle as Routledge (1924) called it moved around the countryside singing to tell his story. This writer assumes that objects had been sealed in the gourd to make it rattle.

Both Cagnolo and Routledge gave the impression that the Gichandi was a vestige of a period when some form of writing was in use.

Other symbols were used for branding cattle but unfortunately none has survived in the available literature.

It is my opinion that the Arathi (seers) and Ago (traditional healers) were able to maintain more complex records including mathematical computations. The Ituika ceremony that took place every thirty years for instance would require accurate reckoning if its regularity had to be maintained. Its counterpart in Egypt, the Hebsed, was reckoned by observing the sky for the rising of the star Sirius (dog star).

Kikuyu Numerals

All Kikuyu numerals start with the prefix i, except seven and nine. Only ‘1’ replaced by ĩ – ĩmwe.The rest are; 2. igĩrĩ; 3. ithatũ; 4. inya; 5. ithano; 6. ithathatũ (literally two threes);7. mũgwanja; 8. inyanya (literally two fours);9. kenda; 10. ikũmi. Leakey, (1959, p. 23) gives an alternative word for ten as “mũrongo, which signifies a complete unit…almost always used for each of the units of 10 between 20 and 90...”

One hundred is igana and one thousand is ngiri. No word for one million has been identified.


To the best of my knowledge, percentages are preceded by the term Gacunji ga … ( One piece from …).

Gacunji ga ikumi – 10%, Literally this may be translated as “one piece from ten pieces.”

Gacunji ka igana – 1%, literally “one piece from one hundred pieces.”

Hieroglyphic numerals for 3, 4, 6, and 8 and Equivalent Kikuyu

Egyptian numerals were represented by strokes, with the number of strokes corresponding to the numeral - one stroke for numeral "one"; two strokes for numeral "two" etc. Numeral "six" is represented by doubling the three strokes that represent numeral "three". In the same way, numeral "eight" is represented by doubling the strokes that represent numeral "four".

Scroll to Continue

In the Kikuyu morphemes that represent the numerals three, four, six and eight, a similar pattern can be observed.

Three is ithatu. Six is ithathatu, a repetition of the word for three; ithatu. It appears that the original word before the natural effect of language change took place was ithatu-ithatu, similar to the doubling of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics for three to indicate numeral six.

Similarly, eight is inyanya, which was possibly inya-inya - a repetition of the word for four; inya. The antiquity of the root in the Kikuyu word for eight may be apparent by comparing with the Arabic word for eight - tamanya.


All forms of letters and numbers are called ndemwa - from the word tema, to cut. For them to be referred to as ‘those that have been cut,’ the Kikuyu were probably were privy to writings that had been incised on stone as was common during the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

Tara - to count

This is another interesting word. When computers came into fashion, Swahili scholars were taxed to find a suitable word for this machine. They eventually came up with Tarakilishi. The prefix Tara, means to count in Kikuyu. Many Swahili coined terms borrow from ancient Kiamu (Lamu) dialect which surprisingly has many archaic words that are still in use in Kikuyu. Lamu island is the only place in the world where a cat breed that resembles the ancient Egyptian breed (Bubastis) can be seen alive today. It would be interesting to research Tara in ancient tongues to see if it included the idea of ‘compute’ in its semantic field.

Beehive Clan symbols


Symbols on the Gichande picture rattle musical instrument

A clearer picture will be sought soon so that all the symbols can be seen clearly

A clearer picture will be sought soon so that all the symbols can be seen clearly

Egyptian symbols for 1,2,3, 4, 6 and 8

These symbols correspond with Kikuyu concepts of 6 as the doubling of 3 and 8 as as the doubling of 4

These symbols correspond with Kikuyu concepts of 6 as the doubling of 3 and 8 as as the doubling of 4


Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on March 24, 2014:

Hi Penevam,

Thanks for commenting on this hub. I did consider a book at one time but my local publisher are not interested in this "non-text-book" material. Maybe I should try an e-book after learning the ropes.

Penevam on March 22, 2014:

Truly interesting, I am a great fan and have a lot of interest in African Philosophy. Emmanuel have you ever considered consolidating all this into a book?

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on February 25, 2013:

@BlackTechnocrat - Interesing how Bantus are really brothers scattered all over Sub - Sahara Africa. I guess that vindicates what I am saying about the Kikuyu here. Thanks for your most enlightening comment. I will definitely use your contribution to update the hub - with your permission.

BlackTechnocrat on February 13, 2013:

Bwana Kariuki, the word TARA in Shona (TALA in in Kalanga) means to demarcate (count and apportion). The word TEMA and writing are closely linked to the incision of the skin and rubbing in medicinal powders, a process that leaves tattoo-like scars. The scars are called NYORA, which translates to the word SCRIPT. KuNYORA is to write and the incission/scarification/tattooing process is called KUTEMA (to cut) NYORA, i.e., the cutting of scripts.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 25, 2012:

Hello BlackTechnocrat ,

I had no idea of Shona counting, but I am not surprised. I have a photo novel that has been translated into Shona and the language looks like Luhya - another Kenya Bantu. The book is 'House of Mercy/Imba ye tsitsi by weaver press.

If you got the Kikuyu version from Focus publishers you will be able to compare the two languages better.

BlackTechnocrat on August 22, 2012:

Emmanuel, do you realize how close Kikuyu is to Shona? When counting 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, we say imwe, piri/mbiri, nhatu/tatu, ina, shanu, tanhatu, nomwe, sere/tsere, pfumbamwe and gumi/kumi, respectively.

I notice you also have class nouns like we have in Shona e.g., mu-, va-, mu-, mi-, ri-, ma-, chi-, zvi-, etc.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 07, 2012:

Hello Lucy Wathika - I think those were like the poetry of nursery school to ease learning because education was given by members of the family, especially Grandparents. You are fortunate to have had that interaction, I didn't. You should write as much as you can remember before it is all lost. Maybe you can find someone to remind you the ones that have faded. Thanks for that contribution.

Lucy Wathika on June 06, 2012:

I used to hear some years back my old maternal great grandma teaching us to count "ino ni mbuku, na ngaara, ciarungii; kwa muthoni; ikumbi-ini; ikiuna ruti; rutindi; mburi ni imwe; na mwari; igi kumira. [so you fold a finger after every phrase so that when you are saying 'igi kumira'(literary "they tenthed" you fold the tenth finger. This was said in a kind of a singsong. There was another counting system she taught us that used to begin with “wakamwe watwiiri watutatu , aruna ni kumwenda, gikuuri, kinyuari, karagacha, kiigue! but am not sure of the Italized words.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on April 17, 2012:


I have been to the link you sent and it does look like the symbols are related to the Anjiru clan symbol. The word I find most interesting is Uruk. See the following quote about the Ameru:

"After sometime there come frequent wars between the Amiiru and Amathai each group claiming that the other had its cows .... That’s why they named them Antu-ba-urui or Antu-boorui which means fighters. All the same the Ameru drove the Amathai from their homes which were Athanja in Tigaama, Uruku and Githongo. In Amathai there are clans named after these places. These are the Asonga (from Athanja) Buruku (from uruku) and Orogithongo (from githongo)."

Weru on April 13, 2012:

Hello Emmanuel,

It is true that the above clan symbol of the Anjiru has very old roots, but I stumbled across a website that traces its roots to ancient Uruk and Elam by way of the Nile Valley.

Please compare the design of the Anjiru clan symbol and the symbols shown on this website



wanjiru Kariuki on February 22, 2012:

very insightful..Kindly enlidhten me on the different kind of Register that the Gikuyu used during various events..e.g Marriage negotiations,succession issues,naming,etc

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on January 13, 2012:

Kamau, thanks for the encouragement.

Tell me more about these seers. I have theorised "long Ago" in English must be related to "Tene na Ago." The two phrases mean "in the distant past. I have heard that there were seers in ancient times called the Maggo in English from where comes the word "magi" - the wise men of the Bible.

Here is an account about the origins of the word Magi from the Wikipedia:

The perhaps oldest surviving reference to the magi – from Greek (mágos, plural: magoi) – is from 6th century BC Heraclitus (apud Clemens Protrepticus 12), who curses the magi for their "impious" rites and rituals. A description of the rituals that Heraclitus refers to has not survived, and there is nothing to suggest that Heraclitus was referring to foreigners.

Better preserved are the descriptions of the mid-5th century BC Herodotus, who in his portrayal of the Iranian expatriates living in Asia minor uses the term "magi" in two different senses. In the first sense (Histories 1.101), Herodotus speaks of the magi as one of the tribes/peoples (ethnous) of the Medes. In another sense (1.132), Herodotus uses the term "magi" to generically refer to a "sacerdotal caste", but "whose ethnic origin is never again so much as mentioned."[1] According to Robert Charles Zaehner, in other accounts, "we hear of Magi not only in Persia, Parthia, Bactria, Chorasmia, Aria, Media, and among the Sakas, but also in non-Iranian lands like Samaria, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Their influence was also widespread throughout Asia Minor. It is, therefore, quite likely that the sacerdotal caste of the Magi was distinct from the Median tribe of the same name."[1]

Kamau on January 11, 2012:

This is really amazing

Muthigi was used by chief seer for foretelling the future and to do calculation. Thunguya (10) igana ria mbugu (100) and ngiri ya mbugu (1000). the galaxy was of very much importance during this ritual as the seer would face runyondo rwa njathi(peak of batian)

much to be told at

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on October 08, 2011:

Lucy kindly write again but use 'i' and 'u' for the Kikuyu special vowels since they always refuse to register in the comment boxes. I think what you have written is useful.

Lucy Wathika on October 07, 2011:

I used to hear some years back my old maternal great grandma teaching us to count "?no n? mbuk?, na ngaara, ciar?ngi?; kwa muthoni; ik?mb?-in?; ikiuna r?t?; r?t?nd?; mb?ri n? ?mwe; na mwar?; ig? k?m?ra. [so you fold a finger after every phrase so that when you are saying 'ig? k?m?ra'(literary "they tenthed" you fold the tenth finger. This was said in a kind of a singsong. There was another counting system she taught us but I have forgotten

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 30, 2011:

Muceera has written in Swahili to say: "I hope you will start to learn the writings of the 'original Great Gikuyu' thank you."

Kindly let us know where to find that information. I am interested.

Muuceera on August 28, 2011:

Natumaini utaanza kujifundisha maandishi ya the original Great Gikuyu.

Asante sana.

Ni Muuceera

Related Articles