Meru Justice: How Murder and Assault were Dealt With

meru traditional justice

Remember our previous stories on the 2 fearsome justice-inducing Meru curses Kithiri and Kûringa Nthenge? Well, those, or fear of them was enough to keep the community members behaved. But there were crimes, because watu ni wale wale.


Murder in any form, whether willingly or not, was and remains a taboo in Meru. It was known as KURÎKA NYAMURU and was the biggest crime among the Ameru. Okay, not really crime because murder was treated as a civil case by the Meru justice system. Yes, there was no punishment apart from payment of compensation. Or revenge by the aggrieved clan.

The family of the murdered victim was highly compensated, with livestock. They would get not less than 20 heifers, 12 goats and one cow. The cow had to be a good milker and was given to the mother of the deceased to wipe her tears. Actually, it was called NKIRIA.

All members of the clan of the killer were liable to pay the compensation , so they had to contribute…and they could negotiate to pay over time.

When all compensation had been paid, a bull would be paid to Njuri Ncheke as confirmation of the payment, known as KWAUTHIRWA I NJURI and marked the matter as settled. If the debt was left unpaid for too long, the clan would be ordered to pay with 100% interest. To cover for the offspring that would have been born.

Here is the shocker. If it was a girl killed, some families would ask for payment in form of another girl plus just the NKIRIA cow!

Assault and Personal Injuries.

Assault was also treated as a civil case and there was different compensations depending on the injured part… And it was very straight forward:

  • Eye – a heifer, bull and a goat.
  • Ear – a heifer, bull and a goat.
  • Testicles – 2 heifers, 2 bulls and 2 goats.
  • Arm – 2 heifers, 2 bulls and a goat
  • Front teeth – a heifer per tooth.
  • Other teeth – a bull per tooth.
  • Toes – a heifer and bull for each toe.
  • Leg – 5 heifers, 3 bulls and 2 goats.
  • Fingers – a heifer and bull for each finger. (If it was the third finger of the right hand, it would be 2 heifers, a bull and goat – because that was the finger used to anoint circumcision initiates).

Minor injuries – a he-goat.

In all cases, the offender had to pay a young she-goat to say sorry and had to slaughter a he-goat for the injured to eat, take soup and regain the lost blood.
Insulting or beating a parent or parent’s age group.
This was also a serious crime, though it was not entirely punishable by human beings. It was left to God and ancestors to deal with you. And the dealing would be ruthless because God and ancestors don’t mess with such disrespectful people.

To avoid the supreme punishment, the parent would have to forgive you. And not just by words! You had to pay a he-goat if it was your father and a ram for the mother.

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