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Akhenaten and the Kikuyu People of Kenya - More Than Meets the Eye

Kariuki is a Museum Exhibits Designer and author of several children's and young adults story books. He is also a gifted artist.


Courtesy of Kurt Lange 1968

Courtesy of Kurt Lange 1968

A Kikuyu male - note similarity with Akhenaten's headdress

A Kikuyu male - note similarity with Akhenaten's headdress

Akhenaten the Sun worshiper

Akhenaten (whose throne name was Neferkheperure-waenre) was the tenth Pharaoh in the eighteenth dynasty, in the last part of the New Kingdom. According to Wikipedia, he was preceded by the following pharaohs, the ninth one being his father,

Amenhotep II (Nebmmatre):

  1. Ahmosis I
  2. Amenhotep I (Djeserkare)
  3. Thothmes I (Aakheperkare)
  4. Thothmes II (Aakheperenre)
  5. Hatshepsut (Maatkare)
  6. Thothmes III (Menkheperre)
  7. Amenhotep II (Aakheperrure)
  8. Thothmes IV (Menkheperure)
  9. I Amenhotep III (Nebmaatre)

My theory is that Akhenaten, being the Tenth Pharaoh of his clan’s dynasty and a member of the tenth clan (keeper of the nine clans of captives) is the reason why the number TEN is a suffix of the name Akhenaten. The term has been passed on from the Nile Valley, through the Phoenicians, Greeks and Latin of the Romans (who conquered England) into modern English. Latin is from LA-TENE, a culture that was likely an offshoot of Akhenaten's disappearance.

Number nine was an ominous number in ancient Egypt. Captives were assigned to the nine Gods of On, and hence the symbol of the 'nine captives' in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Perhaps, just being the son of the ninth Pharaoh made him a marked man. As was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen where symbols of the nine captives were discovered, a pharaoh was the custodian of these 'nine clans' and therefore held the key to their health and sustenance. The house of the pharaoh was the tenth clan. It owed its existence to the 'sun God' and its descendants were the 'daughters and sons of the sun.

According to Collier J. (1970), this dynasty was started by Akhenaten’s ancestor, Ahmosis in 1559 BC. Collier (1970) suggests that Akhenaten’s ancestors were from Arabia, Asia Minor or Syria but she does not explain how she formed that opinion. Akhenaten's features are clearly negroid as are those of his son Tutankhamen.

It has been suggested that Akhenaten's mummy may be in Egypt in what is referred to as KV55:

"It is now generally believed that the mummy found inside the tomb was Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten." (

I wish to state that his mummy or remains may never be found in Egypt. It is more likely in Ethiopia , Lamu island or even Mt. Kenya. When Akhenaten disappeared from Egypt around in the 1300s BC, a young boy took over the throne. For a nine year old to take a throne without an elaborate burial of his predecessor is an indication that the man fled alive.

Below is a list of the months in Coptic, which is close to the language spoken in the New Kingdom.

Thout, Paopi, Hathor, Koiyak, Tobi, Msehir, Paremhat, Paremoude, Pashons, Paoni, Epip, Mesore.

Note the month of Mesore and ponder the following:

Misery - English

Majonzi (misery) - Kiswahili

Maithori (tears) - Kikuyu

Machozi - (tears) – Kiswahili

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The month of misery and tears

Did something that could caused misery and tears happen in the month of Mesore in ancient Egypt? I think so. After Akhenaten’s departure from Egypt, his name was hacked from the monuments and the Pharaoh who ruled after Tutankhamen and Aye removed Akhenaten from the King list. This horrible Pharaoh was Horemhab. The departure of Akhenaten from Egypt caused the displacement of many of his followers. If there were people ready to hack his name from monuments, they would definitely have harmed his followers.

The name Horemhab may be the reason for HORRIBLE in English. In may deduction, Horemhab who was the army General in Akhenaten’s rule, did a Coup d’état, installed a nine year old, killed him later and installed Aye. Aye also disappeared only to be replaced on the throne by Horemhab himself. The followers of Akhenaten must have fled in all directions. Those at the coast on the Mediterranean moved towards the European Continent. Those on the Red Sea sailed southwards to the East African Coast. Those on the East and West banks of the Nile walked southwards through present day Sudan and Ethiopia. In the same way that the word Mystery crossed into English, so could HORRIBLE.

According to Kikuyu folklore, Gikuyu a grandchild of the original Gikuyu who had ruled during the times of Tene (Read Akhenaten) and Ago (diviner priests) was overthrown for being tyrannical. The implication here is that some of Akhenaten's relatives moved inland where they ruled over the natives. There is a Kikuyu fable about young men who say “let us go and marry the daughters of the sun, or we shall remain forever the ‘ichagatae.’ This story which was collected by the Consolata fathers implies that a man could improve his status by marrying daughters of the sun. Did a TENTH family that claimed lineage from the sun move into what is today Kikuyu land and held itself superior and the only way to be accepted was by marrying into it?

Some Egyptologists see the depiction of Akhenaten as having feminine features. This is besides him always having women around in almost all the scenes. Giles (1970) states that by the ninth year Akhenaten already had six daughters with his wife, Nefertiti. Jimmy Dunn (2005) however finds that the women are portrayed almost always in “a cult-ritual or state ceremony” carried out by Akhenaten in honor of the sun god.

Regarding this closeness with women, Dunn, J. (2006) notes that Nefertiti was not the only queen to be treated well. Each of the royal women had her own sanctuary, which was frequently called a sunshade temple.” Maspero, one of the early Egyptologists, is quoted as having said “since the 12th Dynasty, female power in succession matters had increased perhaps due to a time when all males of a family had perished (Collier p. 40)”.

I hold the belief that one day, evidence of rock cut tombs will be found in Mount Kenya area.

One more reason why it is possible that Akhenaten moved into what is Kikuyu land today is that the Kikuyu had a jubilee, a 'Hebsed' that was celebrated every thirty years. It ended abruptly when it was outlawed by the British colonialists. This Kikuyu 'Hebsed' is called 'ituika' which translates to 'the becoming.' This is the same meaning that has been attributed to the word 'Hebsed' by Egyptologists.

The Kikuyu festival was primarily for the new generation to take over in a power handing over ceremony. The Kikuyu Ituika was described in detail by several writers among them Leakey, Kenyatta and Routledge. However, none connected it to the Hebsed in Ancient Egypt, until now.

The original name given to Akhenaten was Amenhotep IV.

Collier J. (1970) states that a Pharaoh had several titles, the first one being a pre-nomen; a son of Ra title, a Horus title; a two ladies title; a golden Horus title and a coronation title. The coronation or jubilee is known as a Hebsed Festival. This festival took place on the thirtieth year of the reign.

Akhenaten has been translated by Adams (1999, p.101) to mean “servant of Aten.”

Akhenaten’s coronation name was Neferkheperure (Collier, p.80) and his reign according to Giles (1970, p. 6) lasted for about seventeen years. Giles gives Akhenaten’s prenomen as Neferkheperure Uanre. Akhenaten’s father was Amenhotep III, who is said by Giles to have named his “royal barge Tehen Aton (the Aton gleams)”. In Kikuyu, the word ‘henia’ means shine, a synonym for gleam. Tahenia would mean, ‘do shine’ and it seems like the Egyptian term, Tehen and the Kikuyu word henia share the same root.

Mutemwiya, the Great Olive

Akhenaten’s great Grandmother, mother of his father, Amenhotep III was called Mutemwaya, a name that is very close to the word Mũtumiya for woman in Kikuyu. In the book ‘Ikhnaton’ the name is spelled as Mutemwiya (Giles F.J. 1970). According to Collier, J. (1970) several Egyptologists suggest that she was not of royal ancestry.

The Olive tree was sacred in Egypt and was designated as 'female.' Interestingly, the olive tree was the sacred tree for Kikuyu women and is called a 'mũtamaiyo.' This leads me to believe that Mutemwiya was not the queen's real name. It was merely a title to mean the 'great olive' since she was, as a royal woman, a living goddess.

Akhenaten was crowned king at about the age of twenty-six . His reign presided over a period that is commonly known as the Amarna period, and is also acknowledged as the one of the most peaceful period in the dynasty. The word Amarna is similar to Amani, which means peace in Kiswahili and it can be noted that Amenhotep is a compound word – Amun and Hotep, indicating allegiance to the God Amun. Before Akhenaten changed his name he was known as Amunhotep IV, paying homage to his father’s official God Amun. He later rebelled and paid homage to Aten, hence the change of name. Collier, J. (1970) implies that the last major war campaign before Akhenaten’s reign was during the reign of his grandfather, Thothmes IV when a revolt in Kush was crushed and many captives taken to Thebes. This was about half a century before the reign of Akhenaten. Another earlier raid on Kush had been carried out by Thothmes II.

I wish to suggest that the raid in Kush resulted in Captives from Mt. Kenya area, who were given their freedom, when Akhenaten fled. These Egyptianised freemen and women saw themselves as sons and daughters of the Sun. Like all pharaohs Akhenaten also had divine qualities. Aldred (1968) states that "Akhenaten's henchmen refer to their king as 'the god who made them', and the vizier Rekh-mi-re declares that Thutmosis [Thothmes] III was 'a god [through] whose guidance men live, the father and mother of mankind, unique, peerless."

Egypt was a polytheist nation, with hundreds of deities. The sun god was the principal god “with seventy five names of RA” (Collier F. J. 1970). RA was prefixed with many names, among them Amun, Atum and later Aten. It is generally accepted that Amun was the god of Thebes, and the most powerful and richest of the gods, riches that were controlled by the priests..

Monotheism - only one God to be Worshiped

In a country that had hundreds of Gods, Akhenaten is credited with starting monotheism and making great efforts to enforce it. Every Pharaoh proclaimed a god to whom he paid allegiance. The prefix or Suffix of Pharaoh’s name indicated his official God. Thothmes (Akhenaten’s Great Grandfather) subscribed to Thoth. Amenhotep III, (Akhenaten’s father) subscribed to Amun as Akhenaten did at the point of taking over leadership. He later changed his allegiance and therefore his name. Akhenaten’s official god became the Aten, manifested in the rising sun as Aten-Ra.

Giles F. J., (1970) says that Akhenaten even avoided war and turned “more and more to religious matters. The difference with his predecessors was that only Aten was to be worshiped after the proclamation. The other pharaohs had allowed the existence and worship of all the other gods besides the official one. This fanaticism with the god Aten, whom Akhenaten is often shown worshiping, is termed ‘Atenism.

Collier J., (1970) traces the first evidence of Atenism as a cult in the reign of Amenhotep II’s son, Thutmosis IV. “Thutmosis [Thothmes] arouses himself to fight with Aten before him; he destroys mountains ... in order to bring the inhabitants of foreign lands like subjects to the rule of Aten forever.” Giles, F. J. (1970) reports an even earlier mention of Aten in the reign of Hatshepsut from text translated from her temple at Deir el Bahri. “Hail to thee sovereign of Ta Meri (Egypt) female Re [Ra] who shines like the Aton.” Hatshepsut was Akhenaten’s great-grandmother. Akhenaten may have popularised Aten worship but he did not invent it. Mohammed Osman (2006), a modern Egyptologist, believes that Akhenaten was Moses. The following is a quotation from Osman on Freud’s theory on Akhenaten;

“…Moses and Monotheism, published in 1939, [in which he, Freud] argued that biblical Moses was an official in the court of Akhenaten, who was an adherent of the Aten religion. After the death of the king, Freud's theory goes, Moses selected the Israelite tribe living east of the Nile Delta to be his chosen people, took them out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus and passed on to them the tenets of Akhenaten's religion (Osman 2006).”

Upon establishing Akhenaten’s only god, Akhenaten supposedly sent workmen to hack way at the names of Gods. He did not leave his own father’s name which was prefixed with Amun. Akhenaten composed two hymns to Aten which are among the outstanding feats of his reign. From then on, only Aten would be worshipped.

Dethroning Amun as the national god, rendered Amun’s priests jobless and friction between the Pharaoh and the powerful priesthood of Amun was inevitable. According to Adams L. S. (1999), Akhenaten moved his capital from Thebes to escape the influence of priests of Amun. It is likely that Horemhab the Horrible never forgave Akhenaten for rebelling against Amun and actually moved with him to the new City to wait for a chance to depose him.

Giles (1970), states that the new city was under construction from about year five of Akhenaten’s reign. Akhenaten called the new city ‘Akhetaten’ which was translated by Giles (1970) as “Brightness of Aton”. He dedicated this city to Aten, far from the Amun priesthood. The location of this city is today’s site of ‘Tel el Amarna,’ where the ‘Amarna letters’ in cuneiform text on clay tablets were found. These letters were between the Egyptian state and its vassals in Palestine.

The story of Tone and the God Ruwa

Long ago there was no mountain. In that time there lived a man named Tone, a skeptic and mocker, who in audacious mood expressed the wish that the God ‘Ruwa’ would bring famine on the land that he might see it. The people reproved him, bidding him have a care lest presently he should see his mocking made truth. But tone gave no heed and called the louder for famine. Then Ruwa sent a great famine which distressed both man and beast and many died. And now the people resolved to kill Tone, whom they blamed for their suffering. Tone heard of the daughter that threatened him and ran from one to the other for succor, but none would have mercy on Tone, but threatened to kill him with his own hand.

Then Tone went into the forest to the great animals the elephant and the buffalo but all rejected his pleadings and drove him away. At last Tone found a refuge with solitary dweller of the forest who had pity and took him in, hiding him within his hut so that his pursuers could not find him. Now this man had two heifers which had been stones but were miraculously transformed into cattle. His rescuer bade Tone never to open the cattle-stall and the milk store where the heifers were kept, warning him that on the day he did so he would die.

Now Tone laughed in his heart at this warning and one day when the owner was away, he let the heifer out. Immediately both Meruand Tenu ran off . Tone being afraid that they might be lost ran after Tenu, but Tenu ran on. Then Tone called out ‘Tenu’ wait for me. Tenu answered, ‘come here, I wait for you. But when Tone got near to the heifer she threw up the hill. Soko and Tone had to climb the hill to get near her. Exhausted, he got to the top only to see Tenu running on. ‘Tenu’ Tenu’ wait for me; he cried - and Tenu stood bidding him to come. But when he got near to Tenu, she threw up the hill Soweko and ran on. Again, he ran after her over the great hill and she stopped when ..., but once more she threw up the hill lyeshimbo between herself and Tone. So they ran on, Tone pleading with Tenu and each time she stopped but each time created a hill as he neared her, first the hill lasoe, the pofu, next lego, lyakishonyi, Ngangu, Kitembonyi and so on, finally the hills of Mwika and Rombo. Then Tone cried with a loud voice ‘Tenu’ my fellow, i am weary, be kind and wait for me. Tenu answered. ‘Come quickly, I have pity and wait’ Now Tone ran quickly and was just about to catch Tenu when, with a greater effort than before, she threw up Mawenzi. Poor Tone was obliged to scale the great peak and when he reached the top he cried in a voice like lion; Tenu, Tenu, my friend, have pity, for I die. Tenu answered in Thunderous tones; ‘come quickly, I am merciful and wait for you’ Panting and exhausted unto death, Tone staggered forward, only to find Tenu busy throwing up Kibo. up the great slope she galloped, and Tone after her. There they were lost and have never been seen again. - KILIMANJARO AND ITS PEOPLE by DUNDAS CHARLES, FRANK CASS & CO LTD 1968 LONDON

The Amarna letters

One of the Amarna tablets is quoted by Giles (1970, p. 68) to have Akhenaten’s prenomen besides those of his father and the words “the book of the sycamore and the olive.” This writer postulates that the “sycamore” may have been in reference to Akhenaten’s father and the “olive” to Akhenaten’s mother, since Giles attributes the find to the reign of Amenhotep III, besides the fact that queen Tiy, Akhenaten’s mother is also mentioned. This is farther proof that Mutemwiya was 'the Olive' in her time and that it was merely a title. This would make Akhenaten a ‘son of the sycamore’ and a sycamore himself when he took over the reins.

Note that a sycamore is a Mũkũyũ in Kikuyu language and that the word ‘Gĩkũyũ’, means 'the great sycamore,' and that Gĩkũyũ was also the initiator of the tribe, the first ever ancestor. I have shown above that the person who frees captives can be referred by them as ‘father’ and does not need to be a biological father.

Akhenaten was depicted on reliefs accompanied by the women of his household - his wife Nefertiti and their six daughters. Aldred, (1968, p.138) wondered why Akhenaten’s daughters were always associated with their mother in texts. Dunn is surprised that Akhenaten who kept a harem, as was the practice with kings, was unable to beget a son. In a picture where Akhenaten and Nefertiti are riding a chariot, two of the people running ahead of the horses are women. It is possible that in his power was withdrawn from men and given to women, in all spheres of life, including in homesteads. Any wonder that in Kikuyu fork lore, men had to overthrow their women in order to regain control of their families?

At about the fourteenth year of his rule (Giles, F. J. 1970), Akhenaten picked on his son-in-law, Smenkhare, to rule with him due to his supposed failing health. Giles F. J. 1970) also supports the view that Akhenaten, Smenkhare and Tutankhamen were brothers, sons of Amenhotep III and queen Tiy. I have not found evidence to support ‘a failing health’ proposition for Akhenaten. It seems more probable that Pharaoh Akhenaten sidestepped tradition and appointed Smenkhare to be a chief Priest of Aten for the West side of the Nile, where the Pyramids and cult temples were situated.

Akhenaten Disappears

The city of Akhetaten was eventually abandoned. Collier (1970) sums up the suddenness with which Akhenaten disappeared as hinting “at a tragedy of classical proportions.” Collier implies that the disappearance was with “startling suddenness” in Akhenaten’s seventeenth year. The end of Akhenaten’s reign culminated in the rise to power of young Tutankhamen, a boy of about nine years old (Giles, F. J. 1970).

While Collier suggests that the city of Akhetaten was abandoned suddenly, Gilles (1970,) suggests that the departure was not hurried because;

“…Archaeologists have found that the population made preparations for their departure and closed up their houses, as though they were uncertain whether they might not be coming back one day.”

Young Tutankhaton, the young boy who took the throne upon the disappearance of both Akhenaten and Smenkhare, changed his name to Tutankhamen (Giles, F. J. 1970), an indication that he had switched his allegiance from Aten to Amun as can be seen from the suffix of his name. Clearly a nine year old boy did not have much conviction in religion to know the significance of such a change, but must have been directed to do so by his handler (HOREMHAB the Horrible?)

From hieroglyphic texts interpreted by Giles F. J., (1970) it would appear that the disappearance of Akhenaten and Smenkhare caused a great break down of law and order. Giles theorises that the disappearance was due to “treachery and bloodshed (Giles F. J.).” Giles also suggests that Epidemics and disease were rife in Egypt’ at about that time. The story below, collected from the Chagga of Mt. Kilimanjaro seems to imply that famine also resulted. Collier (1970) ascribes this information to the hieroglyphic text, which describes, “neglected and deserted temples overgrown by grass and weeds; of a country in ruins” and “wrong-doers unpunished.”

It is very likely that Akhenaten disappeared in the Egyptian month of Mysore. This definitely caused a lot of MYSERY and (maithori - kikuyu word for tears; Machozi – Swahili word for tears) TEARS for those of his followers that were either left behind or for some reason lost their way and ended up elsewhere.

African folklore

From my interpretation of African folklore Akhenaten fled with the entire 'royal herd' (cattle) of Egypt.

Read the Chagga story of Tone (TENE ?) and Ruwa (Ruwa is the word for SUN) that was collected by Dundas. While fork lore may appear at first to be many ideas and events jumbled together, a closer look indicates historical facts that have lost chronological sequence over time, especially since they were handed down orally.

Upon running away, Akhenaten may have gone through Ethiopia and hid for some time on an island in lake Tana (named after him) . While he sojourned there, his craftsmen, especially masons imparted their stone curving skill to the Ethiopians. It should be recalled that rock cut tombs were a specialty of the 18th dynasty kings. When Ethiopia was eventually Christianized, Rock cutting skills were used to build the famous rock cut churches of Lalibela many centuries later. It is likely that Akhenaten got out of Ethiopia alive and went on die somewhere in near Mt. Kenya. Interestingly, the Kenyan Island of Lamu (known as Amu by the locals) is the place where a breed of cat similar to Bast (Bubastis) as depicted on monuments can still be seen today. Note also there are many references to a vassal state of Amu in ancient Egypt and it is possible that those who were fleeing along the Mediterranean settled there. As Akhenaten’s entourage crossed into Kenya, the largest river that they encountered was named after him - the Tana.

Recent discoveries in the Valley of Kings

The recent discovery of a new tomb in the Valley of Kings may shed light or add to the controversy on the whereabouts of Akhenaten’s tomb. According to the online edition of the Archaeologist (2006), Work on the tomb named KV 63, started in 2006. A corner of the shaft was first noticed on March 10th, 2005 (Archaeologist, 2006). This according to the on-line publication is the only tomb to be found there since Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Ertman, a University of Akron archaeologist maintains that KV-63's design points to the 18th Dynasty. He has noted that the tomb is also similar to two other tombs of the period, KV-46 and KV-55. The latter is believed by some scholars to belong to Smenkhare. Ertman like Aldred maintains that KV-55 is Akhenaten's (Archaeologist, 2006). Giles was aware of Aldred’s supposition when he said that that such a deduction (that KV – 55 belongs to Akhenaten) is ‘an excursion into fantasy [because Aldred does not explain how the body found its way to Thebes and into] …a miserable uninscribed little tomb…(Giles, F. J. 1970).” I am in total agreement with Giles.

KV-46 was the tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu, parents of Queen Tiye. This Queen was the wife of Amenhotep III and the mother of Akhenaten. Archaeology (2006) reports that seals from KV-63 bear an image of “the jackal and nine captives, the sign of the necropolis priests.” This symbols were, according to Collier (p.209) also found in the tomb of Tutankhamen.

I maintain that all captives were assigned to one set of the nine clusters, which were headed by a Headman, or in the case of Akhenaten’s reign, a Headwoman. These Headwomen had a lot of power derived from closeness with the Akhenaten and therefore referred to themselves as ‘Daughters of the Sycamore.” It is conceivable that their nine homes were only inferior to the tenth home – that of the Pharaoh. It is headwomen such as these that started and headed the “nine clans of the Kikuyu.”

In conclusion, Akhenaten in his haste to flee also freed numerous captives, some of whom led him to safety southwards into what is present day Kenya. The search for his tomb should be extended to East Africa in general and Kenya in particular.


1. Adams, L. S.,1999, Art Across Time, McGraw-Hill College, New York.

2. Cagnolo, C.,1933, The Akikuyu, Their customs, Traditions and Folklore, Mission Printing school, Nyeri.

3. Collier, J., 1970, In search of Akhenaten ,Ward Lock Limited - London

4. Giles, F. J., 1970, Ikhnaton: Legend and History, Hutchinson, London.

5. Lange. K., 1968, Egypt, Architecture, Sculpture and Painting, Phaidon press, London.

6. Routledge, W. S., and Routledge K., 1910, With a Prehistoric People, the Akikuyu of British East Africa, Edward Anorld, London.

7. for images of the gods of Egypt.

8. for information on Egyptian Gods.



Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 01, 2012:

Tutankhaton, later renamed Tutankhamen took over the throne.

randomguy on April 30, 2012:

Did it say who took over the throne when he died?

i didn't see it.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on November 06, 2011:

Here are some Gods of Egypt:

(1) Atum-ra (2) Shu (3) Tefnut (4) Geb

(5) Nut (6) Osiris (7) Isis (8) Seth (9) Nepthys

You can learn more about them by googling. is a good place to start. Jimmy Dunn is another knowledgeable writer in the web about Ancient Egypt.

kiarie on November 05, 2011:

very interesting topic .id like to know more about their gods though

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on February 10, 2011:

Thanks Multiman I will update the article soon. Now read more conjecture in a related hub here :

Multiman on February 09, 2011:

Wonderful and complete article and interesting historical conjectures.

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