No bible verses nor Christianity at this burial

Elder Mathenge Wa Iregi, a Kikuyu high priest leads the Kikuyu traditional burial ceremony of Muhu Thuti in Kiamabara village in Mathira. [Ndungu Gachane]


At a normal burial ceremony in any Christian set-up, men of cloth coordinate the ceremony with Bible readings and gospel songs, especially dirges taking the centre stage.

But a burial ceremony of Mzee Muhu Thuti in Kiamabara, Mathira East in Nyeri County broke the practice as the sendoff was purely coordinated by uniformed elders of the Gikuyu Kiama Kia Ma while traditional songs rent the air.

In strict adherence to the Agikuyu traditions, there was no reading of the Bible and the prayers were conducted with men lifting their hands high while women lifted theirs’ halfway while facing Mt Kenya where the Gikuyu God Mwene Nyaga lives.

The rite, according to the Agikuyu tradition, must be conducted before the sunsets (riua ritanacoka ngo) and must be conducted by a high priest (Mugongoni) while coordinated by a ranking leader (Muthamaki).

This was because the deceased had accomplished certain rites that warranted him to be given such respect. Few in the community could be accorded such an honour.

Such a special traditional ceremony was a preserve of Athamaki and the very rich while the ordinary people were thrown to hyenas.

Elder Mathenge Wa Iregi, a Kikuyu high priest leads the Kikuyu traditional burial ceremony of Muhu Thuti in Kiamabara village in Mathira. [Ndungu Gachane]


According to Ngera Wa Boro, a ranking muthamaki, that kind of ceremony was commonly conducted 77 years ago before the colonialists infiltrated the traditions and forced the natives to ditch their culture and adopt theirs.

“It’s a major event to the Agikuyu community because it shows that we are slowly realizing our culture and understanding that he who ditches culture is a slave," the king said after the ceremony.

Locals milled around an open field near the deceased home to monitor the proceeding of the burial ceremony in awe and bewilderment, some mouths agape.

The deceased, 58, who has left a widow and a son wished to be buried under the Agikuyu customs and this was the main reason the church kept off the ceremony that started at 3.00 pm while the body was first placed at his home for about 30 minutes.

“The tradition dictates that the remains must be placed at his home before they are brought at the burial event,” Mathenge Wa Iregi, the Kiama Kia Ma high priest told the curious residents.

After 30 minutes, the remains covered with a brown cloth which is the theme of Kikuyu’s traditional attire were brought to the field where the ceremony went on.

Brief remarks were made about the culture and the traditions and about the deceased before Iregi, the main celebrant started the mass crystallized by Kikuyu prayers with the elders’ chorus of "Thaai Thathaiya Ngai Thaai" as opposed to responding with 'Amen.'

Not all elders could lead the ceremony. Only those who have reached the status of Athuri a horio (attained the second status of eldership) must carry with them pronged sticks (Muthigi) awarded to them by their seniors at the function lead.

Elder Mathenge Wa Iregi performs rituals during the Kikuyu traditional burial ceremony of Muhu Thuti in Kiamabara village in Mathira. [Ndungu Gachane]

After a counsel to the mourners and the family of the deceased, women and the uncircumcised were instructed not to go near the grave as they had no business in the activities of interring the remains.

Thuti’s remains were carried to a special tomb with a cave by his age mates but before the remains are interred, a ritual must be conducted to appease the spirits of the dead (ngomi) so that they can welcome their newest colleague.

A banana plant was planted on the side of the grave where the head would be laid while a traditional Mukungugu tree (a tree popular to support yams) was planted on the side of the grave where the legs were laid.

“The importance of the banana tree is to prophesy growth of the family and his property and to proclaim that the riches of the deceased or for his siblings may not be cut short by his death while Mukungugu tree signifies the unity of the bereaved members,” Boro explained after the ritual.

After the ritual, the elders surrounded the gravesite while his age mates went down the grave to receive the casket and bid it at the cave.

There was no wreath nor the cross at the grave. The ceremony ended at 5.00 pm so as not to antagonize the ngomi (the spirits of the dead).

Boro however maintained that conducting the ritual without involving the church did not mean that they were against the Christian teachings.

While castigating the emergence of religious cults that have been recruiting locals to the illegal sects and engaging in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Boro said there were no conflicts between the culture and Christianity.

“Most of the elders in Kiama Kia Ma are Christians and we don’t fight the Christian teachings. Those following archaic traditions must abandon them and preserve those that do not go against the law and Christianity,” said Boro.

The celebrant drew the mourners’ attention to similarities between the Bible and the Agikuyu traditions, especially where elders conducted sacrifices and rituals to appease God.

“Adam's children were asked by God to conduct a sacrifice of the burnt offering and in the Bible, the context of mountains is drawn just like the way we refer to Mt Kenya so there are no fights between us about Christianity,’ Iregi said.

Locals said they have never witnessed such a ceremony with most saying they will live to remember it.

“I’m happy to be alive to witness such a unique event. At first, I was afraid but as things went by I found it interesting as the elders were not going against the Biblical teachings but they kept emphasizing it,” Ann Kamande said.

“The government should document such occasions so that we may learn more about our culture which many people don’t know and fear as many think that anything associated with culture is a sect,” Julius Maina said.