People & Culture

Exceptional History . Welcoming People

Becoming a Man: Traditional Meru Circumcision

Young men and women would hold a disco called Othi the night before the circumcision day to hype the boys up. Early on The Day, the boy would be given the parents’ blessings complete with an anointing with white soil on their forehead (Ira) before he left to the Circumcision Field (Itiiri).

They would be stripped naked and taken to the ice cold river – to wash their uiji and the flour in their foreskins this was for two reasons: cleanse the boys of their past to signify a new beginning and secondly, the cold water was like anaesthesia – numb the penis for the mighty pain that would follow.

They would then be led back to the Field, sit in a semi-circle facing Mbwaa East- and brace themselves for the knife. The circumcisor (Mutaani) would start with the first boy on the left, moving right.


Meru traditional wear

The male type of dress was passed around one shoulder and fastened at the waist with a rope made from the same cowhide. Women wore a skirt tied around their waist fastened by a rope of course made of cowhide.

Death in Ancient Meru

When someone dies in your household you were not allowed to visit anyone or be visited by anyone. For that season you would not be allowed to cut off any hair on your body. That’s for all family members. You would be drowning in your sadness. In line to this there was no ceremony around death where our ancestors were concerned. When the grim reaper hit there were designated “undertakers” who would carry your dead body into the bush for animals to devour.


The role in the Meru Community – in the past


A wife was expected to feed her family. The role of food provision fell squarely on the wife’s shoulders. When a woman got married she was in charge of the land where the family got their food from. She was expected to till the land, plant and harvest food that would feed the family and sometimes sell or share the surplus. The soil, the trees and livestock in the family belonged to the man. No woman was allowed to own land in the olden days, the land was a preserve of the men. The man planted yams and the woman was not allowed to handle the yams. The man would tend his yams and harvest them when they were ready. He would graze and hunt but he wouldn’t farm the family land. He worked outside the home. The other role of the woman was to advise young women and girls on the ways of the community.

Meru Age Groups

Here were the 8 age groups for men (and their wives):

  • Lubetaa – (Ncororo)
  • Miriti – (Nkoyai)
  • Guantai – (Nkoroi)
  • Gichunge – (Nculubi)
  • Kubai – (Thirindi)
  • Ithalii – (Ncencenga)
  • Michubu – (Mukubu)
  • Ratanya – (Nkirinathi)

Each of the groups was divided into three circumcision age sets (our point of contention):

  • Ndiguri
  • Kobia
  • Kaberia

The first bunch to be circumcised for each age group was always Ndinguri and then wait for the next lot to grow and get circumcised. Mark you, the period between one circumcision was usually long (between 4 and 6 years)

Qualities of a Meru Leader

They came up with the first rules regarding the office of the Mugwe:

  • Future Mugwes are to be the first descendants of the first Mugwe.
  • The Mugwe had to be a son of the first wife or the first son of the subsequent wives.
  • The leader must be physically fit with no scars on his body.
  • The leader must be an upright man, of good reputation and discipline.
  • The leader was banned from any type of labour, involvement in wars, excessive alcohol or indulgence in sex outside marriage or anything that is regarded as unholy in the Meru tradition.
  • The leader was banned from practising traditional medicine or taking part in witchcraft.
  • The leader was to be maintained by the tribe.
  • The 9 elders of the Njuri were to assist and deputise the Mugwe in all matters of administration and religion. To this day, only the descendants of the nine elders are allowed to perform sacrifice.

The official attire of the Mugwe was designed and cut. It consisted of a skin cloak, a hairy band/belt for the head, a black rod, sandals and a fly whisk.

The people

The main people who live in meru comprise sub tribe of the Ameru community. These include the Imenti, Tigania and Igembe sub tribes. Besides Kiswahili and English,kimeru is the ethnic language spoken by this community.

Meru County is mainly a Christian stronghold consisting Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican faithful with the Methodist church commanding the largest following in this region, with the Muslim and Hindus most of whom live around meru town comprising the smallest religious groups.

Culturally, the Ameru believed in an ancestral god called murungu or arega kuthera. There was a deep reverence for the spirit of the living dead. The Ameru believed in the offering sacrifices to the dead ancestors. The divine leader of the Ameru was called the mugwe.these were respected persons who made sacrifices and performed healing on behalf of the tribe. However, with the arrival of Christianity, the cultural rites and functions have become obsolete.

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