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Cultural Spotlight: Kikuyu People of Kenya Funeral Traditions

by | Aug 2, 2019 | Cultural Spotlight, For Families

Kenyan hills

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

This article looks at Kikuyu people of Kenya funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Danish funeral traditions and Haitian funeral traditions, among others.

Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.

Kikuyu People’s Lifestyle

The Kikuyu people of Kenya make up about 17% of Kenya’s population, making them the largest ethnic group in Kenya. They live mostly around the capital city of Nairobi and the White Highlands. Although they have traditional customs, they also have modern-day influences. They’re a farming culture that grows vegetables and other crops, including sweet potatoes, peas, beans, sorghum, corn, coffee, and more.

Religious and Death Beliefs

As for their religious beliefs, some people have indigenous faiths. However, most people identify as Christian today, or they believe in a mixture of indigenous and Christian customs.

When it comes to death, mourners don’t typically believe in crying. Instead, they’ll loudly wail to express their grief for their loss and show respect to the deceased.

Kikuyu People of Kenya Funeral Traditions

Depending on a family’s personal beliefs and funds, they may have a more extravagant funeral or a quick one. An extravagant Kikuyu people of Kenya funeral celebration may include feasts, singing, and dancing. While others may opt for a quick funeral that’s not as elaborately planned but still honors the deceased.

For those who have a church service, there’s typically singing of traditional Kikuyu burial songs. The casket also is typically at the service, and everyone wears nice clothing. Then, there’s a funeral procession to the burial location.

The Burial

Today, the burial is at a cemetery or on the family’s land. Some people also choose a simple wood casket. Traditionally, the Kikuyu people couldn’t touch the deceased. They placed those who were dying in the forest or on the hillside. Then, they made sure they were a specific distance from their village and placed a leash in their right hand. Throughout the day, like at mealtimes, they tugged the leash to let everyone know they’re still alive. When there was no tug on the leash, everyone knew they passed.


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