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Crown Headgear - NyagaThanga Deity - and the Kikuyu People

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The crown of King Christian IV of Denmark. This is how a good crown should look like. Image credit: Ikiwaner via Wikimedia Commons

The crown of King Christian IV of Denmark. This is how a good crown should look like. Image credit: Ikiwaner via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Symbol for Absolute Power

A crown is a traditional symbol worn as a headgear by the leading elder or deity of a society. Traditionally, a crown represents absolute power, legitimacy, victory, triumph, immortality, honour, glory and resurrection. Societies take crowns to be very important such that they sacrifice their most valuable jewels to go into the making of a crown for their leading elder or deity. A crown can also be in the form of a wreath where it is made from feathers, thorns, leaves or flowers.

National Symbols in Heraldry

Crowns have been worn since the times of ancient Egypt. Good examples are the blue crown, white crown, red crown, and the combined pschent crown of the Pharaonic Egypt. With the passage of time, many societies have stopped using crowns but prefer to preserve them as national symbols in heraldry. Today, the British still continues to use a crown for their monarch.

Korean Gold Crown A.D. 500-513 (Silla Dynasty), National Treasure No. 87. Collection: National Museum, Kyong-Ju, Korea.

Korean Gold Crown A.D. 500-513 (Silla Dynasty), National Treasure No. 87. Collection: National Museum, Kyong-Ju, Korea.

Silla Dynasty A.D. 500-513

Since most crowns were made from gold and jewels, the original crowns have been able to withstand significant wear for thousands of year. Antique crowns are very good pieces for art collectors, but then, the crowns would be very expensive for any individual person to afford to buy it.

For example, the Silla Dynasty (A.D. 500-513) of Korean had a gold crown made of gold and jade. This crown was excavated in Gyeongju, the former capital of Silla, and this crown is now designated as National treasure Number 87. To accommodate the needs of art collectors, the National Museum of Korea have fabricated small sized crowns that mirror the original crown. The crown is made of Gold with jade ornaments set in a glass block, with plate that reads: Korean Gold Crown A.D. 500-513 (Silla Dynasty), National Treasure No. 87. Collection: National Museum, Kyong-Ju, Korea. If you are an art collector, perhaps you can be able to get those in the market but at a fortune.

Societies evolve slowly

Different societies in different locations worldwide will evolve towards higher complexity by a slow process and in the same patterns only that there is a time difference. This time difference can be thousands of years but the process is the same. When one monarch has completed forming in Europe, another monarch may be in the process of forming in India – its all about the natural process of developing gradually from a simple society to a more complex society. It’s like in eggs that have gone through the 21 days incubation period - there will be the first egg to hatch, and then the next one, and so on until the last chick crawls out of its shell. The time scale here is just hours. In evolving of societies, it’s just the same thing like the hatching of eggs only that the time scale is in hundreds of years.

A Simple Society

In this article, we shall look at the use of a crown (headgear) and formation of a kingdom that never was in a simple Kikuyu society. It’s natural for one to wonder why people in 21st century would be interested in learning about simple societies of centuries ago. This is because history helps us to understand the past, explain the present, and be able to predict the future more accurately.

The Kikuyu People

It is tempting to say that if Kĩrĩnyaga district had not been invented early enough, it would have been impossible for the future generations to accept that the Kikuyu people referenced the dwelling place of their most powerful deity as Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga. When you have a mountain that you call Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Mara, and then latter on you decide that mountain represent the dwelling place of your most powerful deity and you call it Kĩrĩ Nyaga, then with passage of time you will forget the original name (Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Mara) of that mountain. This happened to the Kikuyu people because people placed a lot of importance to the name of their deity, Ngai mwene Nyaga, such that the original name of their mountain, Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Mara, was forgotten. Mara is a kikuyu name that means beautiful shiny features in reference to the glacier at the top of the mountain whilst maara means beautiful spots, blotches, etc. Things became even more complicated when a few hundred years latter, white missionaries came and told the people that their deity was an idol and should not be worshipped - instead they should worship another god called Jesus Christ. If then the missionaries refused them to refer to their mountain as the dwelling place of Jesus Christ, they were left without a name for their mountain as people started forgetting the name Kĩrĩ Nyaga with passage of time since they no longer considered that mountain as a genuine dwelling place for their god.

Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Mara and Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga

From the above, it is important to note the difference between Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Mara and Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga as follows:

  1. That Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Mara is in reference to Mount Kenya as a mountain with beautiful shiny features of glacier.
  2. That Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga is in reference to Mount Kenya as the dwelling place for the most powerful Kikuyu deity.

Bantu People of Kenya

A simple look at the languages of the coastal, central, and eastern Bantu people of Kenya will tell you that these tribes are closely related to each other and that they may at one time spoken the same language in the distant past. The alternative is that they loaned each other lots of words. These people are the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru, Kamba, Mijikenda, Swahili, Taita, Taveta, and Chagga, Segeju and Pare in Tanzania. Kiswahili is a language which is heavily loaned words from the said Bantu people and enriched with some vocabulary here and there from the Arabs, Portuguese and Hindi languages. Other than the Swahili people, these Bantu people have one peculiar characteristic – their languages do not have words for a wide spectrum of colours – perhaps just red, black, and white. This is the reason these people find it confusing in describing the colour of light (brightness), colorless and white preferring to just lump them as white in colour.

Mount Kenya

The Embu people calls Mount Kenya Kirenia (brightness) or Njeru (whiteness). The Meru (and earlier Kikuyu) people called Mount Kenya Maara which means beautiful shiny spots, blotches (the Rabai people, a sub-group of the Mijikenda ethnic group uses the name maramara for beautiful spots). The Kamba people calls Mount Kenya Kenia which means to glitter, or to shine. From these people, it’s obvious they are all talking of something that is bright, white, colourless, beautiful, shiny, sparkling, glittering and spotty. Their descriptions would very well fit the appearance of the snow and glacier on top of mountain Kenya.

Mount Kenya aka Kirima Kiri Nyaga. What you are seeing is not snow and gracier - its the crown of the Kikuyu Deity. Image Credit: Mehmet Karatay via Wikimedia Commons

Mount Kenya aka Kirima Kiri Nyaga. What you are seeing is not snow and gracier - its the crown of the Kikuyu Deity. Image Credit: Mehmet Karatay via Wikimedia Commons

Theluji Means Snow

The Kiswahili name for snow is thelu-ji. Ũtheru is from the word thera which in Kikuyu means to be bright, shine, sparkle, to be clean, transparent, and pure. Thea is the Kamba word which means to be clean, or pureness. From this you can see how the Bantu words may have been used to create a Kiswahili word, theluji, which is the name for snow. A mountain with snow and glacier is what the Kikuyu people refer to as kĩrĩmara for Mount Kenya. It would therefore be reasonable enough to assume that if one of these Bantu groups were to lose a word from its vocabulary, one can easily borrow an appropriate word from the other groups with a very high chance that the word borrowed is likely to be the same to the lost word.

A Mountain with Ostrich

But the Kikuyu are also referring to Mount Kenya as Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga. Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga simply means a mountain with ostrich. This is a very odd name from what the other coastal, central, and eastern Bantu people of Kenya are calling Mount Kenya. How does the word Nyaga (ostrich) comes about? To explain this we need to borrow a few words from the Mijikenda ethnic groups by assuming that the Kikuyu are distantly related to Mijikenda. But first let’s show how words borrowed from Mijikenda ethnic groups can work out by fitting them into what we already know.

Thagana is Sagana

Thaagaana is a kikuyu word that means ‘to go out and meet a visitor so that you can bring him/her home’. Thagana is a Kikuyu name for a river than runs from the slopes of Mount Kenya in Nyeri and round the Mountain slopes through the Seven Forks hydropower generating dams of Masinga, Kamburu, Gitaru, Kindaruma, Kiambere, Karura, Mutonga, Low grand Falls, Usheni, AdamsonsFalls, and Kora. This river turns southwards just about Meru (and into the coast and Indian Ocean) where its name changes into River Tana. This Thagana River has rearranged Mountain Kenya Bantu people in such a way that each community has a share of the river as a portion of the borderline. To a simple society, such a river is an important natural migration route as it provides directions, water and food in lands that are overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation. To facilitate easy movements of people especially for women, children and elderly, there were rest points in intervals of ten miles or so along Thagana River where travelers would rest overnight and would be met by friends and relatives to be taken home. So, to meet a visitor to bring him/her home is called thaagaana in Kikuyu, and since visitors were usually met by the resting points along the river this made people call that river thagana. To the British, they would pronounce the word Thagana as Sagana.

Dhana is Tana

Dhana is a Giriama word that means ‘to go out to meet and welcome someone’. The Giriama are at the coast and they would go out to meet and welcome someone by their river which they called dhana. The Giriama are one of the nine ethnic groups of Mijikena. The others are Digo, Chonyi, Duruma, Jibana, Kambe, Kauma, Rabai and Ribe. To the British, they would pronounce the word Dhana as Tana. From this we find that Dhana and Thagana has the same meaning for two different ethnic groups who are more than 300 miles apart and that in the real life the river that is called Sagana at one region is the same river that is called Tana at the other region. Don’t we know that river Sagana is the same river that is called river Tana at the coast? We have compared how river thagana becomes river dhana because we need to use a similar logic in learning more about the name Nyaga as used by the Kikuyu.

Nyaga Means Ostrich

The name nyaga is a male’s name for the Meru, Embu and Kikuyu people. And in addition the kikuyu are using it in the following:

  1. Ngai mwene nyaga
  2. Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga
  3. Mŭkŭrwe wa nyagathanga
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The word nyaga is here used in three different instances and we can not just take it lightly and say it’s an error. There must be a reason and it should have a meaning. Nyaga means an ostrich. An ostrich is defined as a swift-running flightless bird of Africa which has a long bare neck, small head, two-toed feet, and with a running speed of 70 Km/hour. An ostrich is also the largest living bird.

Thumbĩ Means Headgear

Thumbĩ is a Kikuyu name that means a headgear. A head-dress is made of ostrich feathers or plumes. Thumbĩ may also refer to the mane of a lion (king of the jungle) as well as the mane on a baboon. When kikuyu goes to war they may wear a skin of colobus monkey which is called a thumbĩ. Thumbĩ may also be used in reference to the round unshaven patch of hair on a woman’s head skin. The word thumbĩ is also used in reference to the topmost branches of a tree. For the kikuyu, there are many types of head-dresses but of particular interest is that headgear made of ostrich feathers or plumes. Who is supposed to wear that headdress made of ostrich feathers? Is the headgear made of ostrich feathers supposed to be the crown of the kikuyu king? Can every Tom, Dick and Harry put on a head dress made of ostrich feathers? For the kikuyu people, we seem to run in confusion as they had many meaning for the word thumbĩ.

Crown Made of White Ostrich Tail Feathers

For the Giriama people, Thumbĩ is called Kidhumbiri, a headgear. For the Giriama people, Kidhumbiri is a crown or a head-dress made from white ostrich tail feathers and is only worn by the leader of maximum age-set. The chosen elder to wear the kidhumbiri has to be of high uprightness and wisdom. Kidhumbiri has no other meaning for the Giriama people. So, the headdress for a Giriama senior-most leader has to be made from white feathers of a nyaga.

Nyaga Means a Crown for an Important God?

It is by borrowing words from the Gariama language that we derived that the word dhana means thaagaana in Kikuyu and which we derived to show that River Sagana is actually River Tana. It is on the strength of the above discussion that we can extend, with high probability of truth, the application of our conclusion as follows: that Kikuyu may have had a crown called nyaga, or a variation of that word. That crown, thumbĩ, or nyaga had to be made from feathers obtained from an ostrich. This particular crown could only be worn by an elder of maximum age-set. The chosen elder to wear that crown/nyaga has to be upright, wise and of high morals.

Chief Wambugu wa Mathangani in 1902 with his sixteen wives. Notice the headgear made of ostrich feathers.... And the girls are beautiful, especially the third one from right. Image Credit: Godfrey Muriuki and Neal Sobania

Chief Wambugu wa Mathangani in 1902 with his sixteen wives. Notice the headgear made of ostrich feathers.... And the girls are beautiful, especially the third one from right. Image Credit: Godfrey Muriuki and Neal Sobania

Chief Wambugu wa Mathangani

In 1902, the British made a Kikuyu man called Wambŭgŭ wa Mathangani to be the local chief for the Kikuyu people in Nyeri District. Wambugu was a powerful chief who wielded a lot of power and influence. He was absolutely trustworthy, reliable and wealthy such that the British had given him authority to collect taxes and use a portion of such taxes as his own money. It’s unlikely that the British would have required him as a chief to wear a headdress made of ostrich feathers. The image below shows chief Wambugu together with his sixteen beautiful wives. The chief is putting on a headdress made from ostrich feathers, and he also has a sword, spear and a shield. He is indeed the koigi, perhaps the nyagathanga, the one who says in his Nyeri district.

Osiris god of ancient Egypt. The crown to Osiris god is made of ostrich feathers. This god will give you life, sprouting vegetation and fertile land. Image Credit: Jeff Dahl via Wikimedia Commons

Osiris god of ancient Egypt. The crown to Osiris god is made of ostrich feathers. This god will give you life, sprouting vegetation and fertile land. Image Credit: Jeff Dahl via Wikimedia Commons

Osiris God Has a Crown Made of Ostrich Feathers

Getting ostrich feathers can be difficult. Roosters are very common. Why didn't the Kikuyu or Giriama people make headgears using feathers from Roosters? What would make headgears made of ostrich feathers be so special? This should be a historical thing and may have been inherited from several generations in the past as man evolved. For example, in ancient Egypt, Osiris is a god that represents the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. Osiris is the god that gives life to all, including sprouting vegetation and fertile land. The Osiris god has a crown/headgear with ostrich feathers at each side. The ostrich feathers represent truth, justice, morality, and balance. And yes, the Osiris god had a headdress made with feathers from a nyaga.

Important God Have Crown

From our discussion so far we can deduce the following about what the early Kikuyu may have believed in:

  1. An important god should have a crown
  2. The crown of an important god should be made from nyaga feathers
  3. Their leader/elder of maximum age-set should have a headgear
  4. The headgear of their leader/elder of maximum age-set should be made from nyaga feathers

God the Owner of Ostrich

It would therefore make logic to assume that when the Kikuyu says Kĩrĩma kĩrĩ Nyaga which means a mountain with ostrich, they are in essence talking of where their most important god resides. It would also make logic to assume that when the kikuyu says ngai mwene nyaga, which means, god the owner of ostrich, they are in essence referring to their most important god. It would also make logic to assume that when the Kikuyu saw the snow and glacier on Mount Kenya, they took it to be the crown for their most important god just like ancient Egyptian saw the crown of their Osiris god.

Kikuyu Myth of Origin

The Kikuyu myth of origin states that the founder of the Kikuyu was a guy called Gĩkŭyŭ. In the beginning, a god who lived on Mount Kenya, called ngai, gave Gĩkŭyŭ a wife called Mumbi. This god then instructed Gĩkŭyŭ to put up a home at a place called Mukurwe Wa Nyaga-thanga. And the myth goes on and on…..

Mukurwe Tree (Albizia gummifera Mimosaceae). Gikuyu would make important rulings, under this tree, that could impact the entire Kikuyu people. Image Credit Worldbotanical/ Commons

Mukurwe Tree (Albizia gummifera Mimosaceae). Gikuyu would make important rulings, under this tree, that could impact the entire Kikuyu people. Image Credit Worldbotanical/ Commons

Mukurwe Tree

Mukurwe is a utilitarian tree with very many species. The species of mukurwe tree that is found around Mount Kenya is known by scientists as Albizia gummifera Mimosaceae. The image of this mukurwe tree is provided below. Mukurwe tree is not mukuyu tree. Mukurwe tree is not mugumo tree. Mukurwe is a tree and not a mukuru (valley). Albizia gummifera is a large deciduous tree that grows to a height of about 4 m, and in some localities, Albizia gummifera can grow far much taller than 4 m. The leaves from Albizia gummifera have been used by Kikuyu people to cover green bananas so that they can ripen faster.

In a typical Kikuyu homestead, on the extensive compound, there usually is a tree which is meant for the old man of the home to rest under the shade of this tree. Whenever the man is at home, one of his wives is supposed to take a stool or seat under that tree for the old man to rest under the shade. It’s under this tree that the old man could hold important discussions with his visitors - important discussions such as to who he will sell his piece of land to, or which guy should not marry his daughter, or whatever. Mukurwe tree could be ideal for this purpose, but usually not a mukuyu or mugumo trees for obvious reasons.


Nyagathanga is said to have been a unique bird species. That is one bird that I would be interested to know how it look like. We are now in 21st century and it’s only fair that information about this unique bird species be made available. If you have a photo of this bird, please, provide it to me. If that bird really does exists, it would be interesting to research on the criteria the Kikuyu people used in naming it as nyagathanga. I would not be surprised if someone tells me that Nyagathanga is the crown bird as shown in the photo below. The crested crane crown bird is found in Democratic Republic of the Congo through Uganda and Kenya, and into Tanzania to South Africa.

NyagaThanga is the crown bird? Crown birds are found in Congo through Uganda and Kenya, and into Tanzania to South Africa. Image Credit: Jepsen via Wikimedia Commons

NyagaThanga is the crown bird? Crown birds are found in Congo through Uganda and Kenya, and into Tanzania to South Africa. Image Credit: Jepsen via Wikimedia Commons


We would like to look at the word nyaga-thanga a little bit more critically to see if we can come up with something more realistic. We have already found out earlier on that nyaga has more to do with god, crown, or headdress made of nyaga feathers for a leader/elder of maximum age set, or for the most important god – the leader, elder, or god has to have something to do with uprightness and wisdom. Thanga in Kikuyu language has something to do with sand, iron ore, iron-rich subsoil, and rust and to tarnish. This can not fit appropriately with an upright and wise god or elder. The Kikuyu may have lost meaning of this word from their vocabularies.

The Gweno are a dialect of the Chagga people of Tanzania. Two of the 9-plus clans of the Kikuyu are said to have origins from the Chagga. Ithanga in kigweno means to assemble. Ithanga in Kenya is a name of a place which is considered to have been a dispersal point for the Kikuyu people. Ithanga is in the neighbourhood of Thika and Makuyu. In Pare of Tanzania, the name for assemble is thanga. Pare are Asu (as in Thaisu or Thagicu). Might this thanga be the same as thanga in nyagathanga? Might it be the root word used in ithanga (dispersal point)? If we borrow the word thanga from the Pare, we can then speculate that thanga means a point where people assembles for further instructions. Nyagathanga might therefore means an assembly point where people meets for further instruction about dispersal from their elder of maximal age-set; An assembly where people meet with koigi (the one whose power and influence would impact the entire Kikuyu people). Or might nyagathanga be another dispersal point but with a twist about forgetting the past for the kikuyu people as instructed by mwene nyaga?

In Summary

In view of the discussion in this article, we can conjecture the following:

  1. That Gĩkŭyŭ was the maximal age-set elder who performed major sacral functions for the people
  2. That Kĩrĩ Mara is in reference to Mount Kenya as a mountain with beautiful shiny features of glacier.
  3. That Kĩrĩ Nyaga is in reference to Mount Kenya as the mountain where the most powerful Kikuyu god resides.
  4. That Kikuyu people saw the snow and glacier on Mount Kenya as the crown of their most important god just like ancient Egyptian saw the crown made of ostrich feathers for their Osiris god.
  5. That Mwene Nyaga is the name of the most powerful Kikuyu god.
  6. That Nyagathanga is the title of the maximal age-set elder, a small human god, a high priest, the koigi, the one whose power and influence would impact the entire Kikuyu people. Or it might be another point where Kikuyu had to assemble for further instructions on their dispersal from their maximal age-set elder as instructed by their god, mwene nyaga.
  7. That Mukurwe is a tree under which Gĩkŭyŭ would make important rulings.
  8. That the area around Gĩkŭyŭ’s homestead obtained its name from the famous Mukurwe tree under which Gĩkŭyŭ made important rulings, and the area was renamed Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga.

Tana and Kindaruma Crossroads

Kindaruma dam is the oldest manmade dam in Kenya which generates hydro-electric power from Thagana/Tana River. Kamba's other name for Tana River is Kiluluma, and from this the Kikuyu should call Tana River Kiruruma (or a variant of the word Kirurumo). The Pokomo people, a Bantu just like the Kamba, Kikuyu and Giriama, calls Tana River, Tsana, whilst the Giriama of Mijikenda calls it Dhana. The Orma's name for a river is Galana. Also in Amharic, Galana means 'river'.

The Orma and Borana are descendants of the Oromo people of Ethiopia. The Orma people can thus be considered as the Oromo people of lower Tana River, Eastern Kenya. These Cushitic-speaking groups extend from lower Tana and up to Ethiopia. The Amharic language is the language of Oromo people of Ethiopia. Lake Tana is a lake in Ethiopia. In Amharic language of Oromo, the older variant of Lake Tana is Tsana, the very same name the Pokomo people uses for Tana River. From this, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the origin of the name Tana, and by extension Thagana, is borrowed from Amharic language of the Oromo people of Ethiopia. Here is a link to a map showing the location of tribes/linguistic in Central and East Africa for you to have.

Probable Origin of the Kikuyu People

In earlier days, the Kikuyu migration was more like nomadic life where physical movement of humans would move from one area to settle into another causing significant conflict, displacement and cultural assimilation with indigenous inhabitants. Migration in earlier days was mostly guided by rivers as rivers would provide water which is life as well as direction guide to transverse the jungle. Rivers also played a very important role in marking of major or minor boundaries for land acquired.

The Kikuyu’s Agaciku and the Aceera clans are said to represent/originated from the Chagga people of Mount Meru. Also some Kikuyu’s clans such as Ethaga are common to both the Kamba and the Kikuyu. From this, one can safely assume that the Mount Kenya Bantu people were at one time in the present Mt Meru/Chagga/Taita region. The migration to the Mount Kenya might have been in at least three major waves as follows;

1. One major wave comprising of Kamba and Kikuyu groups may have migrated upstream the Athi River. The Kikuyu crossed the Thika River and thus Thika River became the boundary line to the south between the Kamba and Kikuyu. This Kikuyu group first occupied Ithanga and Makuyu in Metumi and soon migrated to the fertile lands farther north in Muranga and continued to migrate along the Thagana river up to Gatunganga in Nyeri. To the north east, the Thagana River from Gatunganga in Nyeri to the confluence with Thika River at Masinga Dam may have formed the boundary for the Kikuyu in Metumi, and they did not cross the Thagana River into Kirinyaga and Mathira.

2. The second major wave comprising of Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru, and others may have migrated from Mt Meru/Chagga/Taita region downstream the Athi Galana River to the coast. This wave moved along the Kenya coastline and there is a possibility they may have ended up in Shungwaya. Their stay in Shungwaya may have had painful conflict, displacement, cultural assimilation, and multiple change of dialect. After a short stay in Shungwaya (perhaps 2 to 3 generations), they hurriedly left Shungwaya and migrated along Tana River through Orma/Galla people to Meru. From the Orma/Galla people they borrowed some words such as Tana/Thagana from Amharic language. From Meru, some of the dialects moved to Embu and Kerinyaga, just next to the Kikuyu who were already in Metumi. The Kikuyu in Metumi would call these new arrivals, Ndia or ‘irigia’, meaning ‘the last to arrive’. This new group of Kikuyu that settled in Kirinyaga had by then acquired a different dialect as a result of the long period of separation from the Kikuyu who had migrated in a different route and were already settled in Metumi. The group that settled in Kirinyaga was therefore called Ndia and Gichungu and this may have semblance/representation to the last daughter called Warigia/Wanjugu who never got married in the Kikuyu myth of origin. That last girl “was not to be counted and then on a second thought that girl should be counted”. Most of the migration to Kabete and Gaki happened after the Kikuyu of Kirinyaga had arrived. The settlement areas of the Ndia/Gichugu, Metumi/Gaki/Kabete, and Kamba are today using Thagana and Thika Rivers as boundary lines just as it was perhaps 500 years ago when they migrated to Mount Kenya region.

This may be so but not without a contradiction. The word 'ndia' may also mean a place in a river that is very deep and where the water at that place looks motionless. This would translate into a sort of a dam. The dams Masinga, Kamburu, Gitaru, Kindaruma, Kiambere, and Karura are man-made dams along Thagana river which were constructed in the 20th century. For the dams to have been constructed where they are now, the topography of the site must have been very conducive for formation of dams and perhaps with fairly large natural dams. This coupled with the close proximity of the dams to Ithanga, a dispersal point for Thagicu people, would suggest the name 'ndia' was picked in reference to the dams, and most likely Masinga dam which is just next to the place called Ithanga.

3. The third wave may have comprised Meru and others who may have migrated westward from Mt Meru/Chagga/Taita area towards Lake Victoria and then eastwards through Baringo land and Samburu land before reaching Nyambene hills in Meru.

During the year 1571, the Portuguese visited East Africa coast and wrote about people called Segeju (Thagicu). The Segeju were numerous and barbarous pastoralists who mixed and heated fresh blood, milk and fresh cow dung as a meal. The Portuguese wrote that these people had very many good cattle, were fearless warriors and could go to the extent of keeping the genitals of their victims as trophies of war. Linguistically, the name Segeju is a variant of the names Thagicu, Thaicu, Thaisu or Thegeju. So, who were the Thagicu in relation to the Mount Kenya Bantu and what happened to this numerous group of people?

Why Many Mutually Intelligible Dialects?

Today, all the way from Nyeri, Muranga, Thika, Kitui, Embu to Meru, there is a myth that tries to explain why these people speaks in different mutually intelligible dialects. The myth says its because of drinking water from different rivers. What that myth is implying is that these people remember they were once one people with one language and that when they started drinking water from different rivers, dialects started forming. This is a myth that has been passed from one generation to the other for a very long time. Now the question is: does drinking water from a different river influence one’s dialect? Yes, it does, but not in that sense.

Language, like body cells, is continuously growing and changing all the time. If you remain within the rhythm of the changing language, you will never notice the change. The key determinant in the change of language into dialects is a separation of people for a long time. When a single people separate into groups and migrate in different directions and the resulting groups no longer maintain close communication with one another, then dialects emerge. People are usually cut off from each other by either one of the following:

  1. by geography (mountains, valleys and rivers)
  2. by ethnic separatism
  3. by political separation

In Mountain Kenya, there is a complex network of rivers starting from that mountain. When their earlier ancestors migrated from plain lands to Mount Kenya, all they were interested in was the fertile soils and sufficient precipitation. In the mountain, there was the hidden challenge brought by the series of small rivers and valleys. Like any other simple society, they had petty politics perhaps over cattle, women and witchcraft. What the series of rivers and valleys did was to provide readily available boundary line for separation after disagreement over petty politics. Disagreements would start like this: our cattle was stolen by men from that other ridge, or men from that other ridge came and took our girls by force, or it is that family from that other ridge that bewitched the young boy who died recently, or women from that other ridge has been looking on our ridge with bad eyes and that’s why it failed to rain on our ridge, or for whatever reason. The groups/clans would eventually fight each other, and if the situation was conducive, they would swear with all gods and the strongest witchcraft available that any member of that other group crossing this river or that valley will meet his/her death instantly. With that, the rivers and valley readily created almost a permanent separation line which was conducive for formation of dialects. Whilst the people never understood the dynamic of rivers and valleys in formation of dialects, they could at least reason that the rivers have played a part and no wonder they believed that it’s because of drinking water from different rivers that dialects were forming.

With the introduction of a unified English system of education, the Kiswahili language, the influence of the radio, television, newspapers, mobile telephone, and a highly mobile population due to trade, the formation of new dialects have been halted.

In dialectology, it has been proven that the group that tends to change the least and retain the older forms of a language is the group that is most isolated from the mainstream. It's natural for the mainstream groups to look at anything to do with the original earlier ancestry as primitive and inferior. Between the Agikuyu, Akamba, Aembu and Ameru, the group that is most isolated from the mainstream is the group that speaks a language closer to the original language of their earlier ancestors.

The Actual Point at Which Kikuyu Separated From Their Ancestors

Scoresby Routledge estimated the population of Kikuyu people as 500,000 by the year 1900. This population had increased to over 5 million by the year 2000. This is an increase of ten times in 100 years. If we factor out an estimated 30% growth due to education, improved health care, improved agricultural productivity and improved life expectancy that happened between 1900 and 2000, we can safely say the Kikuyu population has been increasing about 7 times every 100 years. From this we can say the population was as follow:

  1. Year 2000, population equals 5 million
  2. Year 1900, population equal 500,000
  3. Year 1800, population equals 70,000
  4. Year 1700, population equals 10,000
  5. Year 1600, population equals 1,500
  6. Year 1500, population equals 200

With a population of 200 at year 1500, the Kikuyu people are likely to have just been a clan of their ancestors. From these statistics, it would be logical to assume that between 1500 and 1600, the Kikuyu separated from their earlier ancestry and became a separate and independent people with their own unique sense of identity.

This estimate is in line with the 1571 documentation by Father Monclaro, a Portuguese, of Thagicu having been a numerous and barbarous group. Being numerous, barbarous and wealthy with cattle are strong qualities of survival, but 400 years latter, the Thagicu are hardily traceable. What happened to this numerous group? Did they break into different dialects, renamed their new groups, and decided to forget their past as they looked at their earlier ancestors as primitive and inferior, or were they assimilated by Kamba and Kikuyu people?. The Thagicu issue is indeed very complex.

Important: A Myth Is Not a True Story

A myth is a myth. The actual event about Kikuyu myth of origin only happened in the thoughts of a guy, say, a trusted seer. Repeat, the actual event about Kikuyu myth of origin only happened in the thoughts of a guy – and that the actual events may never have happened physically. The thoughts of this guy were in an attempt to answer pressing and meaningful questions the Kikuyu people had in their minds about their origin. Once the guy was through with the story, complete with a plot and characters, all what the guy did next was to make the story sacred and then unleashed it on the Kikuyu people to keep on passing it from one generation to the next. The answers provided by the seer may have had less than 35% truth, but by that time the answers were convincing enough to explain the origin of the Kikuyu nation as well as providing a framework for the self-identity of the Kikuyu culture. From the fact that the Kikuyu people accepted the story, it means the kikuyu people of those days understood very well the meaning of the word ‘nyagathanga’. Today, the word ‘nyagathanga’ is a big problem to the very same Kikuyu people.

Unfortunately, many Kikuyu people will today get trapped into delusion when discussing the Kikuyu myth of origin as if it was an actual physical event that truly happened.

Jack Handey

And there was this American guy called Jack Handey who found a skull in the woods. The first thing Jack Handey did was to call the police, but then he got curious about the skull. He picked it up for a second time and started wondering who this person was and why he had deer horns. So, you see, Jack Handey looked at the skull and insisted on seeing a skull of a human instead of roebuck.

That’s it about the Kikuyu deity, the crown (headgear) and the Nyagathanga. The content contained in this article is just my opinion. My opinions may be different from yours, but its alright as each one of us is entitled to one’s own opinion.


Sammy Gitau on August 19, 2019:

Great reading that introduces interesting creative angle into an opinion, challenging and entertaining. The question of Kikuyu seem to refuse to fit in many presented boxes, personally I think the journey into understanding and exploration is the true reward!

wanjiru on February 14, 2018:

''nyaga ''; can be an ornament, tradition dancers used to wear 'inyaga 'ornaments ,

nyaga can as well mean a ''sport, a mark '' if you break an egg and drop it , lets say on your head it will be nyaga,

on mount Kenya it is like a dropping ,

and that used to be a white powder they collect and paint themselves with , when on a dance.

Lui on January 18, 2018:

According to a DNA map, the Kikuyu are the base of the human Tree, meaning the oldest, with a another Namibian dessert people.

KadaFaya on November 16, 2017:

Nyagathanga is a bird called the 'Streaky Seadeater in English

Kariuki Mbigi on November 16, 2017:

I like your analogy on Gikuyu that i would respectfully fault.

Ma(a)ra and (ma)nyaga mean one and the same thing and not really an ostrich as most most people allude.

Nyaga is a plural word for Runyaga ( as Ngu is for Ruku) and means a surface whose color contrast is different from the main surface. just like is Mara. (like spots of a Leopard)

Nyagathanga is the African Steaky Seed eater and not a heron as alluded.

Man on September 05, 2017:

How much cost the golden crown like as the one in picture for the real one

afrigun on November 26, 2015:

So that the mountain is not "kiri nyaga", " of ostriches", but rather "kirìnìaga", "which shines".

afrigun on November 26, 2015:

Was following your train of thought and think you were on the right track so long as you were dealing with the mountain as "a shiny/shining object".

Shiny = kenia (kamba) = kirenia (embu)

What if that was rendered as "the one that shines"?

Kenianga (kamba) or kirenianga (embu) and thus possibly kiríniaga in kikuyu?

Thus kiima kienianga (kamba), kirima kireniaga (embu) and kirima kiriniaga in Gikuyu?

What do you think?

Disclaimer: am not a natural speaker of any bantu language and am basing my thoughts above on very rudimentary knowledge of the three languages! So excuse any errors.

Njau on June 28, 2015:

According to "The southern Kikuyu before 1903", Nyangathanga is commonly known as Streaky seedeater

Rohina on March 23, 2015:

well i have a fake crown!

Karanja Wa Githii on May 19, 2014:

Ngureco, as you have aptly put it, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Thus allow me to say this: My ancestors told me about Ngai, Gikuyu and Mumbi and I believe it whole heartedly. And about KiriNyaga?? It is not about the ostrich! Manyaga in Gikuyu is sports, black or white or whichever color. Since the Mountain was further on from Mukurwe wa nyagathanga, the view looked black and white: rocks and snow - hence manyaga. The bird - Ostrich name, has same origin, white and black spots, Manyaga, Nyaga. Agree?

mbugua on April 05, 2014:

Where did the name bantu originate

irene on June 17, 2013:

Thank you for your information. What do you suggest, should I take it to an antique shop and get it appraised or whom should I contact.

ngureco (author) on June 16, 2013:


I don't know but it can be as low as $100 or as high as $100,000. But you have the option of smelting it to produce the gold used in making the crown. The price of gold is $48/gram. If you can get 50 grams of gold, then you can end up with about $2000.

irene on June 15, 2013:

I have a korean gold crow a.d 500-513 silla dynasty about how much will this item cost if i want to sell it?

ngureco (author) on January 13, 2012:

Kamau ( I have looked at that site. When your write up on "explanation of Nyaga and Nyagathanga" is ready, then, I will have a look at the site again.

Kate P from The North Woods, USA on December 06, 2011:

Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, and interesting. This is an insanely detailed, thorough, and fantastic hub!! I've learned so much, the descriptions are wonderful, and images spectacular. Two thumbs way up!

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