Friday, 14 December 2012

Traditional / Cultural Mijikenda Dress....

Mijikenda oral histories relate that the ancestors of today’s Mijikenda people who migrated from Shungwaya; a place believed to be north of Tana River and South of Juba River in Somalia. Mijikenda is a Swahili word meaning nine tribes. They are closely related and speak almost similar Bantu dialects sharing some vocabulary. These tribes are: -
Giriama, Digo, Duruma, Chonyi, Ribe, Rabai, Kambe, Kauma and Jibana

The Mijikenda lived with other groups including wa-Taita, wa-Pokomo,wa-swahili, wa – Ghalla.

Hando – Women’s skirt
Shuka – Men’s Loin Cloth
Blue Hando worn by diviners
Hando is a popular traditional skirt worn by Mijikenda women. Traditionally it was worn as a knee length skirt, especially in the public to show respect by not exposing body parts that were regarded as private. The Hando was made from cotton fabric in the following process:-
  •   Pull threads along the grains of fabric in one direction to fray the fabric.
  • It is then soaked in water and while wet, beaten against a tough surface, mostly stone or wood and sometimes in a mortar & pestle to soften the thread strands.
  •  The tangled threads are then combed through to straighten using a wide toothed wooden comb (mkowa).

 There are 2 types of skirts
Hando – Regarded as special, dressed in any place at home and on safari. It is also reserved for very special occasions like community ceremonies. Elderly women prefer hando because it is longer and some of them posses special talents such as spirits and divining power.

Bandika  -This  is a less special type of hando made from mixed coloured fabrics referred to  as  f Calico and commonly worn at home, it is also gaining popularity as a dance costume, it is therefore made slightly shorter than the hando to ease movement when dancing. Younger women interested in exposing their bodies prefer this type of skirt

When visiting places where one needs to show respect by covering nakedness, bandika is worn with a longer wrap underneath. In the past, these skirts were worn without anything to cover chests, but with improvement, a matching cotton fabric is tied to cover nudity.

Women of any age can wear hando but restrictions are imposed on colours that are significant to practices that the community associates with as follows.
White Hando ( Hando ra ruhe/ Bafuta) – popular during cultural wedding/marriage ceremonies. It has no restriction to particular age groups.
Hando - Mijikenda Women's Skirt

Red Hando (Hando ra Ngundu/Tune) – this colour is associated with spirits; it is commonly worn by women who are thought to possess spirits. It is believed that a grandmother can pass over spirits to a daughter or granddaughter and recommend that they dress in the red coloured hando. (Women with spirits wear their hando with a mix of blue, white and red coloured beaded bracelets and sometimes with talisman (hirizi)

Blue Hando (Hando ra Msimbiji) - this is worn by diviners to enable the rest of community members identify them by their role of divining & traditional healing.

Hando ra Kaputula – this style of hando would be of mixed colors of lesso fabric, prepared like all the others but worn very short like miniskirts. It was popular among young girls and fashion conscious ladies who prefer short to long.

The hando was worn with other adornments such as:-

  • Aluminium Arm bangles /Bracelets – worn around wrists and molded from old aluminum cooking pans by traditional Mijikenda blacksmiths.
  • Tunda – this is made from strands of coloured beads( usually red, yellow and white) intertwined around the waist
  • Brass or bronze NecklaceMkufu
  •  Beaded Arm bands -  Vivorodete – worn in pairs by married women around the arms above the elbow during social meetings, ceremonies and festivals.
  • Ankle BanglesVidanga
  •  Tsango - coiled aluminium wire worn around the arm below the elbow by girls and unmarried women. Popular during dances and when visiting relatives.
  •   Earnings – Vifufu – molded from aluminium

Men wore white loin cloth called shuka and nothing else on top. However as a mark of recognition, elders with special responsibilities in the community also wore them. These are: - 

Shuka - Men's Dress

Vaya-elderly men who dealt with politics and governance 

Gohu – Elderly men of a secret society responsible for oaths & medicine men.  The elders wore kitambi/kaniki on the waist. Kitambi could be a blue colored kikoy with red bands on the top and bottom.

Kaniki – a plain blue or black colored calico strands tied around the waist to form a dress piece known as mkumbuu

Amba/yamba – A long white piece of Calico shawl flipped on the shoulders.

Both men and women styled their hair in dreadlocks.

Information collected from
Emmanuel Munyaya
Kadzo Ngumbao Nzai (Tetemeko dance group).
Compiled by Doris Kamuye – Librarian – Webb Memorial Library, Malindi Museum

Monday, 10 December 2012

Wood Carving in Ukambani...

Nickson M. Mwania

Wood carving started in Ukambani at a small village called Mwamunyu after the 2nd world war.  Nickson M Mwania said that his grandfather Mutisia Munge was send to Mozambique during the 2nd world war to fight and it is during the world war two that his grandfather learnt from the indigenous people of Mozambique how to do  carving using the horn.
Nickson Mwania said when his grandfather came back home from world war two,he had already gained the knowledge and wanted to put it in to practice so his first carving was on a tree just nearby his house (a face of a human being).  

The tree still stands to date with the carving work of Mutisia Munge in Ukambani – Mwamunyu village.

Nickson Mwania said the grandfather was selfish with the knowledge, he did not want to share and therefore he did his carvings in secrecy, he first build a house but with stairs from down, and to go in to that house he had to use a ladder which would be removed by his wife after he entered the house to work and he would call for the ladder when he is done for the day. 

Mutisia kept the knowledge to himself for a long time; however he decided to share the knowledge with one of his best friends in the village, later the friend shared with others who were interested in wood carving. And this is how wood carving spread to other parts of the country.

Nickson Mwania is still doing wood carving to date and he said he uses

  • A small shoka
  • Kisu cha kuchongowa
  • Msasa


  •   Hard wood
  •   Ebony


  •  Natural color
  •  Dye (Brown/Black


Engagement In Nandi Custom.....

Roseline Cherotich
In Nandi traditions, girls are engaged when they are already circumcised (in doors). Girls get circumcised between the ages of 14 – 18 years.  In most times, girls will be circumcised in groups of even up to about 5 – 8 especially during long school holidays but there are special cases that needs urgent attention
  • When a girl is proposed then she has to be circumcised before the grooms family bring the proposal
  • When a girl is impregnated before getting circumcised then she has to go through circumcision before giving birth to her baby.
  •  If a girl is being suspected to have started having sex at an early age
Circumcision Excercise Ceremony in Nandi Traditions:
Circumcision ceremony was a very important activity in Nandi tradition and culture, especially for those girls who still maintained their virginity it was made big and even honored by the society. For those who‘s already broke their virginity, they are always circumcised in silence because it was believed to be a taboo and shame. Fortunately for those girls who maintained their virginity the whole village has to witness, the girl/girls will move from one village to another one house to another in full traditional special attire singing and dancing inviting neighbors and friends for their circumcision ceremony. The invitation would go on for a month or two before the big day.

The Circumcision Attire:
  • A red cloth decorated with beads (all colors) shining like 50 ct. pasted on it a little black. The red cloth is tied around the waist tightly and (mini) to allow dancing and showing off her beauty.  
  •  Necklace made of beautiful beads (red, green and white) was the main colors.
  • A nice long kofia made of monkey skin and decorated with beads
  •  A fly whisk believe made of Horse tail 
  • The dancing is done bare footed and this allows them to jump even high and dance in style
  •  On both legs at the ankle they wore (bells)  
The D. Day
The entire village would be celebrating outside with the elderly men drinking Busa far away from the operation place and women and children would also be celebrating with drinks, food and praise songs for the girls. The circumcision starts very early in the morning at around 3.00am – 4.00am in the morning and should be finished before sun set.
The girls who went through it successful and were brave will get praises and a sign to show their braveness will be put on top of the roof and right near the door called (SINNENDET) a special leaf associated with happiness during the weddings and circumcision ceremonies.

After the circumcision the girl’s would be together during the day with their grandmother’s elderly women in the society and their aunties for a month or so and during this time they will be taught on
roles and how manage their homes
  • cleanliness
  • natural family planning
  •   respect to their husbands and elderly people
  •  their role and participation in the society and community work
During the one month or so the girls will wear skin and sleep on the same.

Once the girls are circumcised then the interested parties on the girl will throw the (SINENDET) on top of the house a sign to show their interest on the girl, and this is done before the sun rise by the grooms father and then he would go back and sit at the (KOKWET) a specific place meant for family meetings under a tree.  Already the (Sindendet) is a sign but still the girl’s father after seeing the sinnendet he would ask what is the purpose of the early visit? And the grooms father would politely answered him that “we have come to ask for your daughter’s hand)

The groom’s family will come and sit at the Kokwet and the girl’s family will come to meet them. The grooms family include uncle’s, aunties, Grandfather, Grandmother, Father, Mother and Clan (ORET)
The family clan from both families meets and discuss engagement preparation but before talks on preparation both families would want to know each other well. Proper introduction is done to prevent getting married to your own. And as for that each clan has a name of an animal to present their clan, in kalenjin they call it -  (TIONDO) or ORET

Once both families are aware of their Tiondo and Oret the two families get ready to discuss the dowry. The dowry is discussed based on:
  • Domestic animals that’s Cow’s
  • Money  (cash)
  •   If there will be sheep (automatically this goes to the bridegrooms mother)
The cows to be given as dowry are discussed in deep describing each and every detail eg:
  • The color of the animal (white & black, Black, Brown e.t. c.)
  • Name of the cows to be given as dowry (Salat, Cheptilit, Legina, Chelel, Siwat  )
The groom family has to be specific without missing even a point for example one has to mention if it is a heifer or (TUPKIER) almost giving birth.  Every detail mention of the animal is noted down during the proposal (GOITA).   And this will guide both families to identify the cows when the time is ripe (when the groom’s family comes for their bride the same day they are required to pass by the boma and identify the cows for the bridegroom’s family to see).

Once both families agreed on the proposal and dowry, both families will share and drink milk from the Calabash (SOTET) and the milk shared is in the form of sour milk (MURSIK) and fresh milk (GEYANIK). Ointment from ghee is used by both families to smear to each other all this exercise is known as covenant between the two families this brings them to one family together and strong and from there on words the two families would refer to each other as (KABAMWAI) the In laws.

The Nandi’s celebrate proposal by slaughtering animals, food, traditional drinks, they also sing and dance in tradition in traditional styles to make the occasion special and entertaining.

Bride dressings:
  •  Skin (CHEPKAWIYET) decorated with red ,green, yellow  beads
  •  Silver bangles
  •   Flat shoes
In beautifying the bride the red soil (NGARET) OGRE is applied to the bride.

If the bride happens to be virgin “a three stool legged with milk is given to her to sit on it” once it is approved that she is really a virgin the information is shared and celebrated by all and gifts from relatives, friends, elderly people of the society with praises. Likewise if the bride is not virgin she will be calls names and no respect for her.

Roseline ended her story saying circumcision ceremonies does not exists (the act) however in some communities girls are gathered during the long holidays to get some few lessons in life.


Malindi District Cultural Association, MADCA....

Sada Mwarandu

Malindi District Cultural Association (MADCA) was started on the 3rd August 2003. Madca was started with the main objective of reviving culture and cultural activities among the Mijikenda Community. It came to life after the founders of this organization realized that there was a fast deprivation of the Mijikenda culture due to the influence of foreign cultures and religion in the Coastal Region among the Mijikenda people. This association has gone a step further to trace the history of the Mijikenda and to highlight and promote the Mijikenda culture to other communities.

Some MADCA Members
In 2004 MADCA managed to start a cultural festival (Mekatilili Wa Menza Cultural festival at Bungale) to honor the heroin of the Mijikenda community called Mekatilili Wa Menza.This cultural festival was followed by the official launching of The Kiuyeuye Movement in 2005 at Magarini chiefs camp (Kilifi County) where this launch brought together the entire cultural activist among the Mijikenda community.
In the year 2006 Madca established cultural centers starting with Bungale (Kilifi County) the burial site of Mekatilili Wa Menza, Magarini cultural center, Mekatilili Wa Menza cultural resource center, Kaloleni (Mepoho Site), Rabai, Mwijo, Hadu and Gabina (Mrima Wa Ndege) all found in Kilifi county. The main reason of establishing these cultural centers was to help the circulation of information among the community from its headquarters that is Mekatilili Wa Menza Menza Cultural Resource Center. All this time, MADCA has been able to collect vital information about the Mijikenda including the history and the bringing back to life the Mijikenda cultural activities. 

Mzee Katana Kalulu showing Vigango
You can find activities concerning the Mijikenda ceremonies which include birth, naming, age group knowledge and marriage without leaving behind the literature part of the Mijikenda which include songs, dances, poems and storytelling.

Story by Sada Mwarandu.
Presented by : Doris Kamuye – Librarian, Webb Memorial Library
Malindi Museum