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Kikuyu Age Sets: The Latest Developments   

According to historians, the Kikuyu community consists of 9 clans collectively forming the ‘House of Mumbi.

However, the ethnic tribe still shared (and continues to do so) fundamental traditions and practices that united the community.

For instance, the highly organized concept of age sets, known as ‘Mariika,’ is among those traditions that continue to link and unite the community regardless of one’s clan, kin, or familial membership.

The Main Purpose of ‘Mariika’

The age sets ‘Mariika’ acted as the main political institutions.

 Since the age sets united the community’s members of the same age, they would be assigned different roles and responsibilities according to their age.

For example, young Kikuyu men that had already undergone circumcision and had qualified to join the community’s warriors age set were responsible for defending the tribe from external threats.

On the other hand, elders of the same age would act as advisors and settle disputes among their respective regions.

An Overview of the Community’s Age Set (Mariika)

Before the British colonization that disrupted the community’s tradition, the governing age set was the ‘Riika Ria Irungu.’

According to the Kikuyu dialect, Irungu is from the term ‘Kurunga’, meaning the act of rectifying.

The political authority in the community was decentralized.

Therefore, after the current warrior age set matured, they would graduate and form the council of elders to help the headman (the community leader) govern and settle disputes.

It’s essential to note that a specific age set would rule for approximately 20-30 years before the other was fully matured and qualified to take over.

After the Riika ria Irungu, the age set that took control of the community’s affairs was ‘Riika ria Mwangi’.

Unfortunately, this age set did not last long compared to its predecessor.

It is due to the country’s colonization which forced all Kenyans to submit to the colonial authorities.

The age set has also faced criticism from several elders of the community.

 It’s because most of the members of the age set collaborated with the colonizers instead of fighting back.

The critics believe that the actions of these elders caused the degradation of the community’s tradition.

The Current Governing Age Set

According to Agikuyu elders, the current governing age set is ‘Riika ria Maina’, which took over from ‘Riika ria Mwangi.

The warrior age set next in line after ‘Riika ria Maina’ concludes their term is known as ‘Riika ria Wathani.’

The term ‘wathani‘ in Kikuyu means the act of ruling since this age set was initiated when Kenya was under Kikuyu Presidents (the late Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta).

Also known as ‘Kiama Kia Ma’ (council of elders), ‘Riika ria Maina’ is heavily involved in the country’s political activities, especially those concerned with members of the Kikuyu community.

For example, after the 2022 general election that exposed the bad blood between the former President Uhuru Kenyatta and the current Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua; on January 2023, the council held a media conference urging the two leaders to reconcile since their political feud was dividing the community.


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Kenyalogue Contributor


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