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Karangi, Matthew Muriuki (2005) The Sacred Mugumo Tree: Revisiting the roots of Gikuyu cosmology and worship: A case study of the Gicugu Gikuyu of Kirinyaga District in Kenya. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The aim of this thesis is to examine the Gikuyu traditional cosmology and worship, taking the Mugumo (Ficus natalensis / Ficus thonningii), a sacred tree among the Gikuyu as the key to understanding their cosmology. The research explores in depth the Gikuyu religio-philosophical world-view as an advent to preparing the ground for understanding why the sacred Mugumo played a paramount role in the life of the Gikuyu people. In the study of the sacred Mugumo the thesis examines a three-tier relationship relevant and integral to understanding Gikuyu cosmology: Ngai (God) as the Mumbi (the creator) together with the Ngoma (ancestors); the Gikuyu people, and finally with nature. The thesis focuses on the sacred Mugumo tree, taken as the axis of the Gikuyu religio-political configuration. Consequently, crucial questions are asked: what are the characteristics of this tree? What religious and political role does it play in Gikuyu cosmology and worship? In other words, what are its religio-political functions? What ceremonies and rituals were conducted around it and how does this sacred tree and the rituals associated with it validate the Gikuyu claim to land, political power, religious hegemony and identity? Using mainly the theories of V.Y Mudimbe, B. Berman, R. Horton, and an analysis of data collected in the Gicugu Division, Kenya, the thesis contends that the Colonial government, the Missionaries, the African scholars and the Gikuyu elders collaborated in the forging and invention of the Gikuyu identity. Thus emerges the present image of Ngai and the Gikuyu as we know them today. The crucial question addressed is whether this conception is congruent to the original Gikuyu understanding of Ngai. The findings indicate that the sacred Mugumo was mythically veiled both with religio-political power and used by the elders for social and religio-political control of the group. They also strongly indicate that it was this religio-political symbiosis which was celebrated, ritualised and revitalised around the sacred Mugumo tree. Finally, following the research findings, the thesis shows that the sacred Mugumo prepared the ground for the evangelisation in the Gikuyu land and the continuation of political hegemony based on power-knowledge and control. This critical analysis will lead us on the one hand to demythologise the colonial and missionary discourses based on epistemological dynamics about Gikuyu cosmology and worship which were in fact meant to create an identity of the oppositional "Other", and on the other hand provide conceptual tools for a contextualised evangelisation and the study of local religions.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:02

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