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Early Human Migration From East Africa and Constant Intermingling Over the Centuries: Linguistic Evidence

Emmanuel Kariuki is a writer on social-political issues of his home country, Kenya. He is also a published author of 20 works of fiction

All human beings once shared the similar words

Several words in English have cognates in African languages. We can go either of two ways. In the first instance, which requires the least energy, we can attribute this to mere chance. Alternatively, we can take the stand that all human beings have a common origin and these words are the vestiges of the ancient mother tongue. Since I only have working knowledge of a few African languages, notably from East Africa, they are the only ones I will rely on. Take the French word Tante for Auntie as an example. In the Kikuyu language, we say Tata for auntie. Very close, but one word can get us into a lot of trouble with academicians, especially linguists. Let us try a word that can be explored much further that.

Saioa López, Lucy van Dorp and Garrett Hellenthal, Putative migration waves out of Africa, CC BY 3.0

Saioa López, Lucy van Dorp and Garrett Hellenthal, Putative migration waves out of Africa, CC BY 3.0

Interesting facts about the word Mother

In an article in the Daily Nation of 2nd June 2012, veteran writer, Philip Ochieng traces the word Mer for mother in French to Latin, back to the Etruscans and ultimately back to the Nile valley where variants of the word are still used to mean mother including in the Dholuo language, in which, according to Ochieng, the word has survived as Omera. I would like to add that Mother in English and Mater in German must consequently trace their roots to Mut in Egypt. Mut is a variant of the word Maitu that the Kikuyu still use to mean mother. Mut was the goddess of truth and Justice in Ancient Egypt. We can find this in the word Maitu when we do a deconstruction. Truth is called ‘Ma’ in Kikuyu. Itu means ours. It would seem that in the Kikuyu word is derived from a monosyllabic proto-language. The complete word ‘Maitu,’ therefore meant ‘our truth’ in perfect grammar. This was probably a tribute to mothers in an era when women were held in reverence as living embodiment of the Goddess Mut. The word ultimately found its way to European languages in the same route that Philip has Identified – along the Nile valley to the delta and onward to Greece and Rome and finally, from Latin, diffused into several European languages.

 Jeff Dahl, Mut, CC BY-SA 4.0

Jeff Dahl, Mut, CC BY-SA 4.0

Earth in English...

The Kikuyu and English share yet another word-root – the word for Earth. The word Earth must also have its roots in the Nile valley. The ground is called thĩ, in Kikuyu. This Kikuyu word also means the ground that is the opposite of sky. In their migration, the Kikuyu claim that they bought land from the Athi – owners of the land. Arthi in Swahili means land. Clearly there is a strong link between Earth and land and ground. I leave the investigation to linguists for the real etymology of Earth, but it has to go back, further than Latin.

What about the word son in English? Is it derived from the sun? I think so. In ancient Egypt, a pharaoh was a ‘son of the sun.’ Pharaohs themselves were representatives of the sun-god Ra on earth. I have come to the conclusion that the Kikuyu word for son – Mũriũ, was originally Mũriũwa. Mũ is a prefix to personify an object. Riũwa is the sun. It makes more sense to have said Mũriũwa – Human sun. Wouldn’t a human sun be a son of the sun? Since the Kikuyu are no longer sun worshipers, they have abbreviated Mũriũwa to Mũriũ and the original meaning has been lost (well until today).

A look at the etymology of the word Stonehenge for that stone monument in Britain reveals that the Henge signified a rock. A museum site in Kenya with ancient stone structures is called Thim Lich Ohinga. Note the last word in that name – Ohinga. I am made to understand that in the Dholuo language, Ohinga signifies stone. Henges and Ohinga are semantically linked, what linguists might call cognates. A certain rocky island on Lake Victoria that is being claimed by both Uganda and Kenya is called Migingo, and I suspect that Migingo is linked to Ohinga – stone. The coincidence does not end there. In the Kikuyu language, a stone is known as an Ihiga – many are mahiga. Incidentally, Stonehenge, just like Thim Lich Ohinga, has been linked to sun worship.

What about Stonehenge? What about the word nose?

Is it mere coincidence that Henges, Ohinga, Mahiga and Migingo share the semantic field of stone? To many, the likelihood that a Germanic language might remotely share a root with a Bantu or Nilotic languages of Africa is remote. I prefer the proposition that human beings are more intricately linked, beginning with a common nuclear family in East Africa followed by sporadic contacts over thousands of years in a back and forth migrations up and down the Nile and across the five continents.

As a parting shot, think of the English word Nose for that scent sensing appendage on the face. The word for picking up a scent in Swahili is Nusa! In Kunta Kinte's language from West Africa, a nose is called Nungo. In Kikuyu to pick up a scent is Nungĩra and a smell is mũnungo.

If Nose, Nusa, Nungo and Mũnungo are not historically linked, well, I guess it's just a big coincidence.

 Mavratti, Stonehenge on 27.01.08, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Mavratti, Stonehenge on 27.01.08, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

An interesting hub about henges and the Kikuyu


Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on February 06, 2013:

Thanks Spongy0llama for the correction. Interesting how it makes my case stronger. I am still trying to rake for more evidence.

Jake Ed from Canada on February 06, 2013:

Interesting! I had no idea that words from our ancient African origin still survive today (a theory I totally buy, by the way :)

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A quick correction though, "mother" in German is actually "Mutter", which strengthens your argument anyway ;)

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 08, 2012:

Thanks addingsense. I think 'stone' is a good word to investigate further since major migrations happened during the stone age. So a statement like "pass that stone" was said by everyone - don't you think?

Akhil S Kumar from kerala on June 07, 2012:

hi Emmanuel Kariuki,


very interesting about origin of language..

all the best,

good day,


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

Thanks Paul - very quick on the draw with your encouraging comment again. I will keep 'em coming and thanks for sharing.

Thanks Levertis. I want to provoke more scrutiny of the human race beyond what is in the text books.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on June 07, 2012:

Very interesting hub! It certainly makes one think. Thanks for sharing.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on June 07, 2012:


This is a very interesting hub, and you do build a good case for a common origin of language in East Africa. I look forward to future hubs like this which are very thought provoking. Voted up as interesting and useful and sharing.

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