A lot has been said about Kikuyu women. In fact, of the women from the 42 ethnic communities, no other tribe gets as much flak as them. They have been accused of all manner of things; they not only ‘sit’ on their husbands, but also beat them up; they kill their men when bored with them to enjoy their property; they walk out of marriages old enough to produce grandchildren, and wags never tire of poking fun at their culinary skills.
Things seem so bad that some parents, including fellow Kikuyus, warn their sons against marrying these women. But why exactly are Kikuyu women so heavily stereotyped? Well, it is believed that more than females from any other community in Kenya, this lot conforms to the Western notion of ‘liberated’ women.
Sociologists argue that unlike other Kenyan women, most Kikuyus were emancipated from social shackles and domestic bondage long ago, and have perpetuated this ‘liberation’ from generation to generation. Could this be the reason why most Kenyan men date but fear marrying them? Is this why they have high expectations from men?
So much that most men can’t cope with them — or vice versa — that they run away (or get kicked out!), making them now produce the highest number of single mother households in the country (if an extrapolation of the 2010 population census is anything to go by)? Well, historical and anthropological facts reveal the Kikuyu community was, and partly still is, fundamentally matriarchal (led by women) and matrilineal (descended through mothers) and is suffering from the imposition of patriarchy upon it.
The dominance of these iron ‘ladies’ can be traced back to chief Wangu wa Makeri. Folklore has it that she was the first and only female leader, appointed by the British, in the entire colonial period. Wangu was a no nonsense leader who terrorized men.
The fate of many depended on her whims. Tax evaders peed and crapped on themselves at the mere mention of her name. Men feared meeting her, and always took cover when she was in vicinity. Reason? She rode on their backs, especially able bodied ones, as a means of transport! Would you believe that? Kiriro wa Njogu, a 76-year-old elder from Kiambu, humorously says Kikuyu women were liberated long ago and, pardon the pun, are used to ‘being on top of their men’, hardly ‘taking things lying down’.
“Kikuyu women were emancipated from shackles of oppression before Kenya’s independence. Many draw inspiration from Wangu wa Makeri. Things were so bad during her reign of terror that men even tried in vain to stage a ‘coup’ by impregnating all women so as to overthrow Wangu and the female leadership when all were expectant and vulnerable,” chuckles Njogu, adding, ..