Meru Tribe Overview
Meru Tribe is an ethnic group of Bantus living in the fertile agricultural land in the northeastern part of Mount Kenya . The Meru people arrived in the area from the coast sometime around the 14th century following invasions of that area by Somalis from the north.
The meru tribe consists of nine sub-tribes of which, each speaks its own version of the Kimeru language.The most common version is the Imenti which is used by the majority in the tribe. The other sub-tribes include the Mwimbi, Miutini, Tigania, Igembe, Igoji and Muthambi. The other two sub-tribes are Chuka and Tharaka but they have oral histories differences and mythology.
History of The Meru Tribe
The meru people believe that they originated from the far north and magically crossed the big water body called Mbwaa . They also claim to have been slaves to the “Red people” and its after their successful escape that they crossed Mbwaa to settled at their present homeland.
Meru People – Njuri Ncheke
The group was led by an elected/ nominated council of elders right from the lowest level (clans) up to the main council that ruled over all the clans called Njuri Ncheke. The Njuri Ncheke was led by the senior chief known as the Mogwe(Mugwe) until 1974 . The Njuri Ncheke members had power to administer justice to anyone accused and found guilty . The meru lived as one great community up to the year 1992 when the great Meru was divide into three districts, Meru, Nyambene and Tharaka districts. They were later divided further into counties after the promulgation of the constitution in 2010 Tharaka-nithi county and Meru county.
Meru Tribe – The Seer / Prophets in Meru Culture
Meru people strongly believed in the prophets of the land, Mugwe/ agwe who was their overall leader. He guided them spiritually and physically and they believed he could never mislead them in any way. The mugwe was the only person with the power to offer sacrifices to the gods at the tribal shrines where they believed the spirits resided.
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The position of a seer was inherited by the next of kin to the acting mugwe. the next mugwe started to prepare and learn all the skills at a very tender age so as to ensure perfection when his time comes. He was supposed to lead a very pure life without any kind of blemish either physically or emotionally.
The Meru people practiced different kinds of cultural practices, among them circumcision of both boys and girls. Once one had gone through circumcision, the boys could no longer have a close relation with their mothers, and girls had to stay away from their fathers. Other curious practices included holding a newly born child to face Mt Kenya and then blessing it by spitting on it. The women had their palms open and the men had their palms facing Mt Kenya during the prayers. At the birth of a boy child women would ululate four times in joy while at the birth of a girl child they ululated three times.
Circumcision in the Meru Tribe
Once a certain group of boys and girls had attained the ideal age for circumcision, the clan elders would organize a big dance for them the night before the circumcision day. The young boys would dance all night together round a huge fire as they await to be initiated to the next stage of life. The next day early in the morning they would all go to the river for a cold bath to make the body numb. Later they would face the person trained traditionally for the circumcision job.
The group is then led home by elders and the young persons who have already gone through the rite to respective areas set aside for them . the area was usually a big room called “Gaaru” away from their respective homes with beds for all of them, and would stay there until fully healed. Girls too had a place set aside for them. During their stay in the rooms they would undergo a serious section of guidance and counselling with the elders and youths older than them.
Meru Tribe – Agricultural practices
The Meru tribe is also known for its intense farming skills majoring in Miraa, coffee and tea as well as bananas. Other than the above named they also practiced growing of cereals. They were also livestock keepers though this was done in very little numbers.
Meru Culture – Marriage
In most cases the marriage partners were selected by the parents of the boy when the girl was still at a very tender age. The marriage between the two would officially take place after the circumcision and when the girl is fully healed.
The man would arrange for a visit to a girl’s home with his father and his kinsmen to declare his interest and later the girl would follow him to his home and stay for four days before going back home for the official marriage ceremony and dowry payment. On this first day the man would come with a ewe and a container of honey.
Meru Traditions – Dowry
Dowry was mostly paid inform of livestock and guards of beer. 48 goats and 12 cows was the official price set by the Meru people but could be negotiated on. The man seeking a wife would also come along with elders from his clan carrying four guards of beer to offer the other elders from the girl’s home. After the bride price had been paid in full and to satisfaction the elders would bless the girl before she left the home and women would dance in joy.
Meru Tribe – Meru Women
In the old days the women in Meru were treated as the least important members of the community. They were expected to be totally submissive to the men and never to question any decision made by the men. Only a few lucky women were given leadership in the society. Women had a responsibility to train their daughters on how to be a perfect wife once married.
Religious Beliefs of the Meru People
Starting from the word go the Meru people have traditionally believed in existence of a supernatural being (God). They believed that God was always good to them and would never do them any harm. They also believed in both the good spirits and bad spirits. The bad spirits (referred to as Nkoma) were believed to be responsible for all the bad calamities in the land while the good spirits (ancestral and protective spirits) were there to guide and protect them from the evil ones.
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They believed that God (Murungu) passed by Mt. Kenya and that why they face the mountain when praying. The prayers were always done with the women’s palms spread out to receive blessings while the men had their hands raised with palms facing the mountain to ask for blessings.
The Beauty of Meru Land
Though meruland isn’t as large in size as most of Kenyan tribal land, it is equipped with amazing sites that would leave you amazed if you visited them. If you are a tourist either from within or outside kenya purpose to visit this amazing land someday.
Some of its beauties include: Lake Nkuunga which is situated at the end of the Meru forest referred to as Nkuunga forest. The forest is a home to many wild animals but the most common ones are the great elephants. Though Lake Nkuunga has greatly reduced in size over the years, it has not yet lost its sense of beauty which is so appealing to the eye. Another beautiful site in meru is the King Muuru which is the largest oak tree in meru, its so amazing to look at and enjoy the cool breeze in its environs.
Did I tell you about the amazing Mutonga, Kathita and river maara water falls? The view is just so beautiful that you would wish to spend days just staring at them. The feeling one gets from just staring at them is just like that of being in the middle of a torrential rainstorm,just breathtaking.
Threat to Meru culture
Though the Meru people have somehow managed to maintain their culture over the time , there are great threats to it due to the western way of life being emulated by the people, who now see the cultural practices as outdated.