MUNGIKI (Religious Movement)

Founders: Maina Njenga and Ndura Waruinge Country: Kenya

Mungiki (Muingiki to be accurate) is a popular, illegal movement, mainly of marginalized young Agikuyu, for whom the modern church and state of Kenya has afforded little hope. The lexical root of Mungiki is the Gigikuyu, muingi (the public) and -ki (fully), or the whole Gikuyu community. ‘Mungiki means the masses,’ says the leader. It is at once ethnic, but more significant is its use in Mau Mau politics, when Muingi was itself used as a synonym for the unity movement. In 1958 the Kiama Kia Muingi (Council of the Community) was proscribed, but a series of ethnic opposition movements evolved.


In 1987 a sect called the Tent of the Living God started to salvage Gikuyu culture from ‘confusion by Christian missionaries’. This at once influenced two schoolboys Ndura Waruinge, the grandson of Mau Mau General Waruinge whom he consults on Kirinyaga, and Maina Njenga, who saw a vision in which, he says, Ngai (God) ordered him to lead his people out of bondage to Western ideologies.

Association and aims

Most Mungiki are between 15-25 years old with little education, because they are unable to afford school fees. Some were street-children. They have successively claimed a registered membership of 1.5 million, rising to 6 million, with a third being female. No one would deny them 300,000, and they are capable of raising 700 in any highland town. They seek to convert three-quarters of Kenya, that is ‘the masses’. Uniting the Agikuyu, as all tribes of Kenya should unite, is for a grander purpose. ‘We (Mungiki) have Mau Mau blood in us and our objectives are similar. The Mau Mau fought for land, freedom and religion…and so do we.’

Traits and tactics

Mungiki have been blamed for some 110 deaths and raiding police-stations among other things. Their dominance in a locality may lead to control of thieving and thuggery. Any means may be used to ‘improve’ their ‘discipline’, including male and female genital cutting campaigns which force Agikuyu women off the streets to avoid being forced to undergo these risky and dangerous punishments. Those caught wearing mini-skirts or trousers may be stripped and whipped to prevent the evil of prostitution. Spokepersons explain that Mungiki is a morally upright movement and totally opposed to the satanic western culture.

Males wear dreadlocks, take a non-alcoholic drink (mukara) and snuff kept in dry banana skins, when not hiding from the armed forces. They avoid all European-type beer and tobacco. Illicit sex is forbidden. They feel they have no more freedom than in the 1950s with land again being taken from them by foreign interests.

Bitter diatribes against the immorality of school, church, and even the Bible have provoked mainstream churches to respond with descriptions of them as Satanist and devil-worshippers. Since Ngai is seen as God of the nations, there is no conceptual barrier to sharing beliefs, but as the church is seen always to have been importing mental slavery (gikonjo), Islam is perceived to be a more congenial resource.


Seeing themselves as the sons of the Mau Mau movement, they use an oath, but it presupposes initiation as a Mugikuyu by genital cutting. The dominant meaning of this rite of guthera is one of cleansing from the pollutions of the West, and may include baptism by immersion, demonstrating bricolage.

Oathing is illegal, so oath-takers are sworn to secrecy. Like Mau Mau it may be forced and registers have been kept. Naked men have been discovered, sacrificed lambs, and bowls of blood. Wherever Gikuyu independence is alive, Christians see allies in a more traditional religion such as Mungiki. A senior clergyman with the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa allegedly attended several Mungiki oathings. The priest himself had at one meeting been given water and a piece of meat. Dual belonging is still possible.

Prayers and songs

Mungiki prayers are interspersed with traditional chants of Thaai, thathaya Ngai, thaai!’ (Mercy, pray to God for mercy, mercy!), beseeching him to hear their prayer as they face Mwene-nyaga on his snow-capped seat of Kirinyaga (Mount Kenya). Communication with Ngai is vital to the movement since it ‘was started by God. He is our chairman and decision maker.’

Their songs are a mixture of Kikuyu traditional and Mau Mau protest songs. Some of the music in a cassette released in 2002 describes their battles with the police. If blood has to be mixed with soil to achieve justice, then it will be little more than following the tradition invented by the grandfathers.

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