The Unusual Link Between Kikuyus and Igbos


Editor’s note: Pius Muriuki writes about the unusual link between Kikuyus and Igbos.

It is intriguing how much other Africans and the world know about Kenya. For many who read the news, it is commonplace to hear references to the 2007 post-election violence.

In the same vein, when the same postelection violence happens to be the reference point, it is commonplace to hear wazungu pose: “Are you a Kakuyu or a Luwo (sic)?” This is always in reference to the rivalry between the Kikuyu and Luo communities, which culminated in the post-election violence that left over 1100 dead.

What’s more, it is always intriguing how the world perceives Kikuyus. For instance, I was in Nigeria when my host smiled broadly after I told him I hailed from the Kikuyu community.

“Kikuyus? Your people share some characteristics with my Igbo people,” he said.

I would later realise all he meant was that my Kikuyu people are famed for being go-getters, just like the Igbo.


Igbo girls in traditional attire. Photo/courtesy

What’s more, he reasoned, the two communities had been accused of exclusionism, selfishness, and superiority.

“If you are Kikuyu, then you have the same zeal as Igbos,” said my host.

He added that both communities are famed for being enterprising. The Kikuyus are said to put a top priority on money, just like their Igbo counterparts.

But here comes the interesting part: My host shared with me an article that showed common Kikuyu names and their supposedly Igbo equivalents.

Mwangi is Nwa-gi (ngi is also gi) in Ibo.
Murungaru is Muruga-niru in Ibo.
Ndereba is Nderebe in Ibo.
Wanyoike is Nwayo-ike in Igbo.
Wanjiru is Nwaji-iru in Ibo.
Njonjo is also Njonjo or Njo in Igbo.
Kagwe is Kakwe in Ibo, an abbreviation of Chi-kakwe.
Uhuru in Igbo means Ohuru (new).

Kenyatta in Igbo is Keyata (divide it today!)

Kikuyu women

Kikuyu brides. Photo/courtesy

I found the Igbo equivalents of the Kikuyu names not only amusing but also interesting.

This is because a week earlier, I had read a similar article that drew comparisons between the Luo and Igbo communities.

For instance, one commentator noted that both communities share names like Okeke, Okoye, Okore, Okeno, Oneya, Amadi, Anayo, Akomo, and many other such names.

The Gikuyu or Kikuyu people speak the Gikuyu language as their native tongue. Additionally, many speak Swahili and English, the two official languages of Kenya.

The Gikuyu are closely related to the Meru, Embu, Mbeere, and Kamba people who also live around Mt Kenya.

The population of Gikuyu stands at 10 million people and is the largest community in Kenya.

The Murang’a district is considered by many to be the cradle of the Gikuyu people, and therefore Kikuyus from Murang’a are considered to be of a purer breed.

The Igbo are perhaps one of the best-known communities in the world. The Igbo are known to be enterprising and go-getters.

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They also adapt quickly, and the community of 30 million people is spread across West Africa in Nigeria, Benin, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon.

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