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Akhenaten’s Grandmother, Queen Mutemwiya and the Kikuyu Word "Mũtumia"

Emmanuel is from Nairobi, Kenya and loves researching its history. He is also an artist and likes to share what he knows with others.

Queen Mutemwiya

K. R. Lepsius, Mutemwiya, line by Emmanuel Kariuki, CC0 1.0

K. R. Lepsius, Mutemwiya, line by Emmanuel Kariuki, CC0 1.0

Akhenaten, Grandchild of Queen Mutemwiya

Akhenaten was the Pharaoh who is credited with starting Monotheism in 18th Dynasty Egypt. Here, we shall be more concerned with his grandmother called Queen Mutemwiya (spelled as Mutemwaya by some writers). Before we discuss Mutemwiya, two trees need to mentioned. These are the Sycamore and the Olive. The Sycamore, Ficus sycamora is a sacred tree to both the ancient Egyptians and the Kikuyu. It is stated by writers on the Kikuyu that the originator of the tribe was called Gĩkũyũ which translates as “the Big Fig Tree” in Kikuyu language.

The Olive, Olea chrisofila, was the ‘female’ among sacred trees to both the Kikuyu and the Ancient Egyptians. That said, we shall come back to the significance of these trees shortly.

To bring Queen Mutemwiya into perspective, let us look at her more famous relatives. Below is a brief chronology of the period from Thothmes IV to the reign of Akhenaten after Collier (1970).

1.Thothmes IV (1414 – 1412) – He was the husband of Mutemwiya.

2.Amenhotep III (1405 – 1367) – His mother was Mutemwiya.

3.Amenhotep IV (1378 – 1362). His Grandmother was Mutemwiya.

Amenhotep IV married Queen Nefertiti with whom it is claimed they had only Girls. He later changed his name to Akhenaten and decreed that only one God would be worshipped. Then he moved his capital from Thebes to a location he called Akhetaten, which we now know as Amarna. In this place, a number of clay tablets which were identified as correspondence between the Pharaoh and his vassal kingdoms were found. The tablets are popularly called the Amarna letters.

In one of the Amarna Letters, a tablet with the words ‘book of the Sycamore and the Olive’ was found. I have concluded the following:

4.The Sycamore (a sacred fig tree) was a title of the Pharaoh Akhenaten in whose city it was found.

5.The Olive which is a sacred ‘female tree’ was a title of Queen Nefertiti who lived in the city of Akhetaten with her husband, the Pharaoh.

This is one instance where a Pharaoh is associated with the Sycamore tree. The reason for this conclusion is in the hub ‘Akhenaten and the Kikuyu,’ but it will soon be very clear.

Keith Schengili-Roberts, ReliefPortraitOfAkhenaten01, CC BY-SA 3.0

Keith Schengili-Roberts, ReliefPortraitOfAkhenaten01, CC BY-SA 3.0

Queen Mutemwiya, God’s wife and God’s mother

Though Mutemwiya is not as famous as her grandson, she was probably more important than Egyptologists have painted her. She is said to have been a third wife to Pharaoh Thothmes IV, but the titles listed here indicate that she may very well have been a venerated first wife.

Some of Mutemwiya’s titles were:

· God’s Wife

· God's Mother

· Lady of The Two Lands

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· Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt

· Great King’s Wife

· Great of Praises

The question that comes to mind is whether a third wife would deserve such titles. What then were the titles of the first wife? I would suggest that she was a first wife, with many honorary titles including Mutemwiya and that she was too venerated to be called by her real name. In fact, we may never know her real name.

Collier (1970) believes that the prefix Mut in the name Mutemwiya associates her with the Godess Mut, wife of the God Amun Ra. Mut was the Godess of Truth and Justice. Since a Pharaoh was a God on earth, this matches very well with her other titles above. It is very likely that the root of the word Mutemwiya – Mwiya, was the word for Olive. In the days of Harems, the first wife was the head of all the other women in her husband’s life and this cannot have been different for Mutemwiya. She was therefore not only God’s Wife but also The Great Olive.

Queen Mutemwiya and the Kikuyu connection

An Olive tree is called a Mutamaiyo in the Kikuyu language. A woman is called a Mutumia. The Olive tree, according to LSB Leakey, was sacred to Kikuyu women. This must have been an important title in antiquity. In the Kamba language and Mijikenda languages of the coastal region of Kenya, a Mutumia or Mudumia is a respected old man. Obviously the meaning shifted to men in what is known in linguistics as a semantic shift when Male leaders assumed the title without delving into its origins. The Kikuyu retained the term mutumia for women. This can be explained by the myth of origin, where the women are the heads of the nine clans, while the men are surbodinate. The woman was the ‘Retu’ – Egyptian. No wonder initiated girls are called ‘Airetu.’ Cagnolo states that Retu was the term the Egyptians used to differentiate themselves from other cultures.

So the Olive or Mutamaiyo, or Mutemwiya was the sacred female, whether human or tree. This statement is valid for both the Ancient Egytpians and the Kikuyu. We can conclude that the word was a venerated title, originally for the leading female – the first lady, the Pharaoh’s wife. For the Kikuyu, the word was transferred to all the heads of the nine clans. Eventually every woman became the head of her own homestead in the era remembered by the Kikuyu as when ‘Women ruled.” Every woman became a Mutemwiya; or to use current spelling, a Mũtumia and semantic field eventually shifted to only married women.

In all the dances described by Leakey in his treatise on the Southern Kikuyu, it is women who chose a dancing partner and not the other way round. This appears to have been a continuation of the ancient Female Hegemony when women were in control.

Mut was the Godess of Truth and Justice. It is no wonder then that the word for mother in Kikuyu – Maitu – can be deconstructed into two morphemes: Ma (truth), Itũ (ours) - Our truth. Every Mũtumia was eventually a Maitũ when she married and became a mother, a word that is coined from the prefix Mut in Mutemwiya. We can conclude that the memory of Akhenaten’s Grandmother lives on unconsciously in Kikuyu psyche.


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

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

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

4. 4.

5. 5.

6. 6.

7. Leakey, L.S.B., 1977, The Southern Kikuyu before 1903, Vol I, II & III, Academic Press, London.

8. Akhenaten and the Kikuyu People of Kenya

9. Akhenaten and the Kikuyu People of Kenya


mbugua kibera on June 17, 2012:

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