Nthuki: Meru Age Groups

Meru Age groups
Traditional age group dance

Sometime ago, we did a post here that drew a lot of criticism (which we love, btw – that’s how we know you are reading. The story was about Meru age sets. Most of the comments were that we had left some out, and included others that don’t exist. It could be true, we are a very diverse community and each sub-tribe has it’s names. I spoke to a few elders who agreed that many confused age sets with age groups!

So, why not talk about age groups?

TBT: In ancient Meru, there were only two age groups, known as Baine and Ntangi. But there was a problem with this – there was no demarcation to know who was Baine and who was Ntangi. I think they did it like we did when we played football in Primary School – Panda, shuka… Baine, Ntangi. 🙂

Anyway, the Mukiama and Njuri Ncheke had to kuitisha kikao and come up with proper grouping, for both men and women. They decided that age groups were to be determined by the period of circumcision.

Here were the 8 age groups for men (and their wives):
  1. Lubetaa – (Ncororo)
  2. Miriti – (Nkoyai)
  3. Guantai – (Nkoroi)
  4. Gichunge – (Nculubi)
  5. Kubai – (Thirindi)
  6. Ithalii – (Ncencenga)
  7. Michubu – (Mukubu)
  8. Ratanya – (Nkirinathi)

Each of the groups was divided into three circumcision age sets (our point of contention):

  1. Ndiguri
  2. Kobia
  3. Kaberia

The first bunch to be circumcised for each age group was always Ndinguri and then wait for the next lot to grow and get circumcised. Mark you, the period between one circumcision was usually long (between 4 and 6 years) unlike now when people get circumcised every school holiday.

So, for instance, we would have Ratanya e Ndinguri (1946); Ratanya e Kobia (1952); and Ratanya e Kaberia(1956), before the Ratanya cycle ended.

Women did not get their age groups when they got circumcised (ouch!) but rather, who they married, and since there was chronology of when people got married, the women age groups often matched cleanly.  No man married an older women back then, sorry Ben 10s.

That’s settled, and these are the official Ameru age groups.

Now, there is the issue of fatherhood. You see, the age groups were automatic fathers of other age groups, not necessarily by birth, but, well, by age group – and it was often two age groups after theirs. For example, Michubu were the sons of the Kubai, Ratanya were the sons of Ithaliis , et cetera. The sons were suppised to respect every person in their ‘fathers’ age groups like they would a parent, and the fathering age groups were responsible for the ‘sons’ – bring them up, counsel them, and even lead their circumcision and marriage rites.. as fathers.

What’s your age group?

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5 Comments to “Nthuki: Meru Age Groups”

    1. Kuwirua Mmwereria

      Mwenda you are doing a good job..

      How about you add a meru boy and girl Names catalogue with name meaning (where posible) and we can contribute to it and make it comprehensive and good reference.

      Also a meru english/swahili dictionary is a good idea..


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