By: Joseph Roberts
“Mijikenda” literally means nine homes or nine homesteads (in Swahili) are a collection of nine related Bantu ethnic groups inhabiting the coast of Kenya, between the Sabaki and the Umba rivers, in a place stretching from the border with Tanzania in the south to the border close to Somalia in the north.
The nine Ethnic groups that make up the Mijikenda peoples are the Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Jibana, and Giriama. They are the northern Mijikenda while the Digo are southern Mijikenda. The Digo also are located in Tanzania because of their proximity to the common border. Among the nine Mijikenda sub-tribes, the Giriama and the Digo are the most well known, most populous, and therefore, most dominant along the Kenyan coast. Each sub-tribe speaks its own dialect of the Mijikenda language.
History and origin of Mijikenda people
Mijikenda oral history traces the origin of the tribe to the southern regions of Somalia. It’s far believed that the Mijikenda people escaped consistent assaults from the Oromo and other Cushitic tribes, and settled in the coastal ridges that were easier to defend.
Historically, the Mijikenda have had close interactions with the Persian, Arab, and Portuguese traders who frequented their home territory along the Kenyan coast. This interaction and next intermarriage with the Arabs gave birth to the Swahili tradition and language. As a result, the Swahili language – Kiswahili – bears a near lexical similarity with all dialects of the Mijikenda people.
Religion and culture of the mijikenda
The Mijikenda culture revolves around clans and age-sets. A Mijikend clan consists of several family groups with a common patriarchal ancestor. Traditionally, each clan lived in one fortified village built in a cleared region of the forested ridges. Someone’s age-set decided their function and social status within the clan and elaborate rituals were often held for members graduating from one age-set to some other.
Each Mijikenda clan had their very own sacred place known as Kaya, a shrine for prayer, sacrifices and different spiritual rituals. These Kayas were placed deep inside the forests and it was considered taboo to cut the trees and vegatation around them. The Kaya elders, often members of the oldest age-set, had been deemed to posses supernatural powers which include the capability to make rain.
Like different Kenyan tribes today, Mijikenda people have assimilated to modern cultural practices, resulting in the disappearance of many of their traditional customs. Most Mijikenda people are now either Christians or Muslims; however, some nevertheless practice their traditional culture or mix of Christianity or Islam with their traditional religion. Islam is more widespread among the Digo than inside the different Mijikenda sub-tribes.
The Mijikenda Kaya forests
The Kaya forest is considered to be an intrinsic source of ritual power and the origin of cultural identity. It is also a place of prayer for members of the particular ethnic group. The Kaya forest is considered to be an intrinsic source of ritual power and the origin of cultural identity. It is also a place of prayer for members of the particular ethnic group. The Kaya forest is considered to be an intrinsic source of ritual power and the origin of cultural identity. It is also a place of prayer for members of the particular ethnic group. The Kaya forest is considered to be an intrinsic source of ritual power and the origin of cultural identity. It is also a place of prayer for members of the particular ethnic group
Because of the Kaya taboo, the forest areas across the Mijikenda Kayas remained untouched for decades, therefore preserving numerous rare or endangered plant species. However, in more recent years; people have started destroying these Kaya forests to make way for agriculture, buildings and tourism activities. This compelled the government and conservation organizations to institute measures for shielding the biological diversity found in the Kayas by declaring them national monuments.
Mijikenda economic activities
Agriculture is the main economic activity of the Mijikenda people. Their most crucial coins crop is the coconut palm; whose products consist of oil extracts and palm wine. Its fronds are also used for roofing and as material for making baskets, mats, brooms and other weaved products.
Other important cash crops consist of cashew nuts, oranges and mangos. Where favorable climate conditions allow, some Mijikenda people also grow annual vegetation such as maize, sorghum, millet, and beans.
Fishing is another important economic activity for the Mijikenda peole. Mijikendas actively fish in the neighboring Indian Ocean, where their “daily catch” forms part of the seafood supplied to Kenya’s coastal hotels and residents.
The Mijikenda, and more particulary the Digo tribe, are considered some of the fine chefs among the Kenyan tribes. Wali, a popular Kenyan meal, is also a staple of the Mijikenda tribe. Wali is rice prepared with coconut milk, giving it a sweet taste. Fish and different seafood are also common in Mijikenda delicacies
Mijikenda dowry process
The parents of the bridegroom go to the bride to discus dowry. The parents of the bride asks for ”ndama”bull and ”kadzama mirongomiri na nane” eight liters of liquor (mnazi) that will be sent twenty eight times. A day for giving the bull and the liquor is planned, the visitors go to the bride and a ceremony is held. This time they take the bride with them.
They sing and dance. The main song is”Nangoza mwanangu, dama mwanaanenda, zho kwaatu, anenda kwamulumewee…dede, mudzungu wa utsunguni nau hambale”meaning — I am nursing my daughter dama,the daughter is going to peoples home, to her husband, my dear the cucumber of pain let it spread.
“The father in law asks for a blanket as a gift to bless the couple. The mother in-laws for an ”mkamba wa kurekeketa mwana” The kanga for carrying the baby. The bride is blessed and asked to agree with all that her husband tells her .The father in law takes water and swirls in his mouth then blows it on the chest of the bride and the bride groom. The mother in law does the same.
The bride groom is told that the bride is not a ball for him to beat all the time, he is advised to protect the bride in happiness and in problems.