Emmanuel loves researching Kenyan culture and history. He is also an artist and likes to share what he knows with others.
King Menes Conquers the North
In 3100 BC, King Menes moved North from the South of Egypt probably from an area that is in today’s East Africa.and conquered the Delta. Before this conquest, Egypt was not a single state but two independent nations known as Upper and Lower Egypt. The Hieroglyph that identifies him has a mud-fish, signifying that he was the Great Fish, conqueror of all of Egypt. From then henceforth, the Rulers of Egypt carried the title of Nsw Bity, which has been transliterated by Egyptologists to mean The Lord of two lands. I tend to think otherwise. It is more likely The Great Fish. The reader should take note of the first Egyptian word Nisw, which will be explained in some detail below.
Mũthamaki - a Kikuyu leader
This noun, Mũthamaki is a compound word. The prefix Mũ denotes something with a spirit like in Mũndũ and Mũti – Person and tree respectively. The term Mũthamaki was reserved for leaders of sections of Kikuyu or leaders of war councils. The word is intriguing because it no doubt has the same roots as the Arabic wore Samak, which was borrowed by Swahili as Samaki - meaning fish. The archaic Swahili word for fish was niswi. Today the Kikuyu call fish Thamaki, a word that has been borrowed from Swahili. Though the Kikuyu called a fish Kiũngũyũ – the wiggler, it would appear that at sometime in the past, they did know fish by the Arabic term if indeed a leader was associated with fish.
As we have seen, a Pharaoh went by the term "NSW BTY". Let us look closely at the word NSW, that is spelt in consonants only following the tradition of hieroglyphics. The word NSW when written with vowels becomes Niswi, which was the archaic Kiswahili word for fish now only used in poetry by the Kiamu dialect. This can be attested by Swahili scholars, one of whom is Mohammed Sheikh Nabhany who has written many books on the Kiamu dialect of Kiswahili. The Swahili dropped the word Niswi and adopted Samaki from Arabic. Today the Kikuyu no longer call fish Kiũngũyũ. They have also adopted the Arabic term Samak which they render as Thamaki due to the lack of the Phoneme ‘s’ in Kikuyu phonology. It would appear that the ‘Fish meaning’ was lost in antiquity but the word was retained to mean the Great Fish – leader. Later with the coming of colonialism and free trade, the original meaning was regained.
Jehovah-nissi in the Bible
In the Bible, Exodus 17:15, God is referred to as Jehovah-nissi. There is every reason to believe that the Nisi in Exodus and the NSW of Pharaoh Menes have the same roots and meaning. God, being greater than all earthly rulers is the ‘Great Fish.’This is in defiance of the concept of Pharaohs as “good gods” as they were known in Egypt. They were really Gods on earth, so any firm believer in the true God would rather transfer those honours as the Jews did. The term Niswi was most likely an export commodity from Egypt to Palestine through the Jews during the exodus.
We can see therefore that NSW, Nisi, Niswi and Mũthamaki have the semantic field of a venerated leader, who is associated with fish.
As stated earlier,fish is called Kiũngũyũ in Kikuyu and ikũyũ among the Kamba who are cousins of the Kikuyu. Sir Johnstone writing in 1919 remarked that the root of the word Kikuyu seems to have come from fish though LSB Leakey (1977) indicated that it came from Mũkũyũ, a fig tree.
Sanehat, son of the Sycamore
In the 18th Dynasty, there is the story of "Sanehat, Son of the Sycamore." Apparently, after a change in leadership, Sanehat had gone into exile fearing assassination. While in exile he had become home sick even though he had done well for himself and become wealthy. From our understaning of Kikuyu mythology, the founder the Kikuyu tribe was called "Gikuyu", which translates to "the great sycamore." In the article, Akhenaten and the Kikuyu, it has been theorised that Akhenaten, who was a Pharaoh has a strong connection with the Kikuyu, and is probably the "Gikuyu." Sanehat's title of "Son of the Sycamore" implies that he was of royal lineage, since he considered himself a son of the Pharaoh. We can safely conclude that Sycamore was a Pharaonic title.
Fadiman (Ogot BA ed, 1976) stated that the Meru people who are Kikuyu neighbours to the North, encountered people whom they called Ikara, Ukara, Athamagi and Mwoko in the Mount Kenya area. Athamagi is a word that corresponds to Kikuyu Athamaki (plural for Mũthamaki) and samak in Arabic and samaki in Kiswahili. Was the Mount Kenya area the abode of retiring Pharaohs or did the Kikuyu arrive earlier than the Meru and settled under the leadership of the descendants of a Pharaoh, who like Sanehat were sons of the Sycamore – a Mũkũyũ?
Fish and Leaderhip - Ancient Connection
In conclusion, the association of a leader with Fish is very ancient, obviously occurring much earlier than the reign of Menes in 3100 BC. Because a Great ruler was also associated with the Sycamore tree, we see here a semantic shift where the word for Sycamore in Kikuyu – Mũkũyũ, is also associated with fish – Kiũngũyũ (Ikuyu in Kamba). This has caused confusion among early scholars some of whom like Sir Harry Johnstone thought that the Kikuyu derive their name from the word for fish.
I hope this post will help to clarify that linguistic evidence can be used to settle inconsistencies in the history of a previously non literate ethnic society.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Emmanuel Kariuki
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on October 12, 2020:
Thanks for taking an interest in my writing. In regard to Thoth, I have only made a connection with the age set, Mathathi. I would need some time to ponder over the name Thotho.
Leluata on October 08, 2020:
-Is there any connection between Thoth the god of writing in ancient Egypt and the kikuyu male name Thotho?
-Mt Kenya was known by ancient Egyptians as Tanateru could you please help decoding the meaning of the name.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on March 24, 2014:
Penevam, I saw that link after some readers directed me to it, but frankly my thoughts have been independent of it and that points to an element of truth in these "conjectures."
Penevam on March 22, 2014:
Have you seen this website
They also seem to have come to the same Egyptian link conclusion- very intriguing
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on October 30, 2012:
Thanks for your opinion mimi2222. With that information, other readers will be able to make their own judgement.
mimi2222 on October 30, 2012:
As a Kenyan, I think all this is idle speculation. Any serious student of Africans in antiquity will immediately realise that the only connection between ancient egypt with the rest of Africa does not extend beyond what is sudan and parts of west africa. For example wolof and ancient egyptian are very closely related. Links with what we call bantu groups is tenuous at best and mostly non existence, mainly due to the fact that the bantu are historically very young. Nilotes are much more ancient.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 16, 2012:
Thanks Alaa Mattar,
Am checking that link out pronto
Alaa Mattar from Cairo on May 15, 2012:
Hi Emmanuel, greetings from Cairo!
a comment is not enough to express my point of view so please check this out!
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 04, 2012:
Egyptians just like Europe have de-linked from Black Africa.
Patrick Kamau from Nairobi, Kenya on May 04, 2012:
Keep them coming Emmanuel Kariuki, I agree with you that this could be 'some of the secrets that were denied us when the Brits banned the Ituika, who knows.'
Let the scholars come and agree or disgree.What do the Egyptians have to say?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 03, 2012:
Thanks Patkay. I have this information and I have to get it out of my chest. Perhaps these are some of the secrets that were denied us when the Brits banned the Ituika, who knows.
Thanks also for staying with me
Patrick Kamau from Nairobi, Kenya on May 03, 2012:
Your hubs are intriguing and very enjoyable to read. Let us see what the scholars will say. Thanks for writing.