Age Set: The Life Stages of Meru Males

What’s your age set?

Meru Age set system
Men going through oathing

After our Gichiaro story, we received requests for a post on the Meru age groups (nthuki). We will tackle that very soon, but first, let’s look at the more straightforward, and important component of age groups, and that’s male age sets.

Kiiji/Mwiji (No Age Set)

You are, generally, a mwiji if you are uncircumcised. These are boys within the Ameru culture and is a range between 0 and around 15 years. If you are much older than that, you are a mukuru mwiji and can be forcibly circumcised.

A kiiji is between 0 and 7 years and you graduate into a mwiji after you get your second set of teeth, and now you are ready to be circumcised. Unaweza kula nyama za uzee sasa kama Uhuru. 🙂

Nding’uri/Ntaane (Miriti Age set)

That circumcision age is called Nding’uri. That’s when you are ready to be circumcised. Back in the days, Meru males used to get circumcised at around ages 15-18. And when you have been circumcised, you are, of course, Ntaane until the next circumcision season.

Oh, once you get circumcised, now you are an official member of an age set – called Miriti.

Remind us to describe to you how boys and girls got circumcised., one of these days.

Muthaka (Murungi age set)

Maasais have morans and Merus have nthaka. This is the age between getting circumcised and getting married. These were the guys who would defend the community from enemies and escort girls and boys to the rivers/herds fields.

The ages here are between 18 and 29 and these bad boys belonged to an age set called Murungi and this terminated after you got married.

See Also:  The Meru Story: The Escape

Muruau (Kiramana; Kiramunya age set)

Once you got married you now graduated from a nthaka to a (not Mukuru as many people say), but a family head or apprentice elder. You know, like an intern. You could be called to be an observer in elder meetings but you were not allowed to solve any issues. If your opinion was asked for, it was a test to establish if you could sit at the table of men. (sorry, Guinness)

This continued until your first son became a circumcised man, which could have been around age 45. You were either a Kiramana or a Kiramunya here.

Mukuru (Kaburia Age set)

Here is where the ruling elders and community decision makers were. The community was basically ruled by these elders as the hands, or rather, ministers of the Mukiama. Whereas not everyone was qualified to be a Njuri Ncheke, these were respected people who used to run their clans, villages, or the entire community.

The ages here were between 40 and 51 when people are said to be the wisest. Age set, Kaburia.

Mzee (Kubai/Nturutimi/Thamburu  Age Set)

This next age set was known as Ritual Elders because they were now relinquishing their ruling power to the new Kaburias, and training them to run the community. They would attend meetings but only on advisory roles and not necessarily to make any decisions.

At ages around 52 and  60, this age set called Kubai, Nturutimi or Thamburu is like a fresh retiree. They weren’t working but could be called upon to pass on some knowledge.

See Also:  Meru Prayers: How Traditional Merus Worshipped

The next stage after this was, of course, death, and the elders were rested as they grew older, and taken care of till they became ancestors.

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This said and done… if you are a Meru man, what is your age set? Tell us in comments below. If you are not, write what it would be.

29 Comments

    1. m'kirera

      since time in memorial age set names were used for men only and no age set ever used nto(m’).women didn’t have age sets

      Reply
  1. patrick munyua

    Thanks for your work, you have tried but that is not how age groups were based or grouped, You seem to have two to three groups in a span of 50 years which is not correct according to what juuju told me, any age group went for only 10yrs, my advice to you is you find a person who is over70yrs you can find two for accuracy and you will get the right thing, if contacted i can help you, thanks.

    Reply
    1. Hello Patrick,

      These are age sets, not age groups. Age sets are simply life stages… mwiji-muthaka-mukuru… When we write about age groups, you will notice they go much longer. And, we will contact you for as much help as we can get to revive our culture.

      Reply
  2. Oliver Mugambi Mwirichia

    Nice work Mr.Mwenda but as you can see a number of people disagree with your categorisation of the age groups and age sets.This however doesn’t mean you are wrong. Disparities exist on this matter and have been allowed overtime.Why so? First, before coming with a conclusive categorisation of the same it is essentially necessary to have in mind that meru has sub-tribes;Igembe in the far North, Tigania ,Imenti,Igoji ,Chuka and Tharaka on the south.If you happen to intersect each of the subtribes concept of the same you will come to agree that differences and similarities exist alike.
    Secondly,your work isn’t conclusive. The difference between an age set and an age group hasn’t come out clearly.Allowing me draw reference from the Igembe sub-tribe where I come, an age set comprised of men circumcised within a duration of 15years. Each of this were further sub-dived into 3 age groups 5 years apart.
    Contrary to the opinion of women having no agesets,though controversial, women were grouped in the groups and sets of their husband’s and potential husbands for the unmarried.
    So am for the idea this an area requiring more detailing to incorporate the diversities of the larger Meru to avoid it being viewed as vague.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for your kind remarks, Oliver. That is how we grow, learning every day. In coming up with the article, I read a lot of literature and interviewed a Meru mzee. So, the facts are not wrong, as you have attested. But due to the diversity of the Meru, it is difficult to be totally conclusive.

      I hope when we write about nthuki, it will come out more clearly. And since you seem knowledgeable about this topic, would you like to help?

      Reply
  3. Kristin Kanaa

    Nice work!..we have always been deemed the forgotten people who are just known for their temper and miraa..it’s good now there’s more to us being published than meets the eye..keep up the good work!!

    Reply
  4. Kuwirua baimuiku,m'mwereria constantine wa Mpekethu

    I love your passion on Culture of Meru.
    However, I noted a the way you use terms will confuse many…

    You put life stages describing them with both age set and age group names.

    Caveat: the way it was before we got confused… by white man ways .. now few young men in there twenties know their ageset

    For starters
    Life stages for Meru men were mwana, kalunge/lunge, mwiji umukuru, ntaane, nthaka, mukuru wa wa muruau, njuri ncheke, njuriimpingire, kúaríka(when you pierced your children ears)

    The Njuris were institutions you joined according to your means and leadership capability

    Age groups were only 3 for each age set.. ndinguri, kobia, kaberia

    Agesets were as follows; kiramunya, will be followed by ithalie, michubu, miriti, buantai, then gichunge and back to kiramunya in cycles up to 12 yeares with each age group taking 4 years.

    So kiramunya is
    Buantai ya kiramunya 4, kobia ya kiramunya 4 finishing with kaberia ya kiramunya 4.

    NB.. These agesets have different names in imenti but those are names in igembe and Tigania..

    Reply
    1. Kuwirua baimuiku,m'mwereria constantine wa Mpekethu

      Correctiion … the age grous were ndung’uri, kobia then kaberia..
      Sorry for the confusion..

      buantai remains an ageset not agegroup..

      Reply
  5. Ngutiku Jn

    Looks good and well researched, I’m not an authority on that subject however I believe there were distinct variations on how age sets were named among the different sub-tribes of meru. Where I come from have heard of the following age sets/groups: Mwiji, Ndinguri, Ntaane, Nthaka, Kaburia, Mung’atia, Mung’atia okiro, Mbaya, Kiruja, Kiruja Gikuru. I believe it’s quite different when you go to: Chuka, Tharaka, Tigania, & Igembe

    Reply
    1. Kuwirua baimuiku,m'mwereria constantine wa Mpekethu

      You have the right imenti agesets but you are mixing them up with life stages..

      An age set was obtained after circumcision.. so all circumcised persons including ntaane belonged to an ageset..

      When mungathia were ntaane who were their circumcision father.. múgwati? What about mbaya?

      Which ageset is currently (2017) being circumcised ..

      answer these questions and this confusion will end.

      Reply
      1. Kuwirua baimuiku,m'mwereria constantine wa Mpekethu

        Or better still, there was a time mungathia, mbaya and kiruja were Ntaane, then nthanka then akuru…

        Reply
  6. Kuwirua baimuiku,m'mwereria constantine wa Mpekethu

    I seem to have forgotten the Ratanya and lubetaa agesets our fathers.. they came between michubu and miriti..

    Kiramunya
    Ithalie
    Michubu
    Ratanya
    Lubetaa
    Miriti
    Buantai
    Ichunge
    Kiramunya

    BTW in the 1890s to date
    Buantai begat ithalie and michubu Ithalie mostly had ratanya and lubetaa has their children ratanya begat miriti, lubetaa begat buantai and ichunge miriti begat ichunge, buantai begat kiramunya… hopefuly agesets will still be there in 2020s

    Reply
  7. Ritchiekings

    I think ‘ndinguri’ is a transition from ‘Nchuna’ not from mwiji to ntaane.
    From the imenti knowledge I have.
    And the rituals was Gatuuri/Gaikumi..performed buy older boys(ndinguri)..

    Reply
  8. Ritchiekings

    I think ‘ndinguri’ is a transition from ‘Nchuna’ not from mwiji to ntaane.
    From the imenti knowledge I have.
    And the rituals was Gatuuri/Gaikumi..performed buy older boys(ndinguri)..

    Reply

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