An Overview of the Gikuyu People
Anyone familiar with the migration patterns of the Bantu people will appreciate the difficulty of tracing the origins of the Gikuyu. However, it seems certain that at least by the 1500s, the Gikuyu people were settled in a small area of what is now considered their land in the Kenyan highlands.
At that time the Gikuyu were a minority culture, with the highlands occupied by four primary peoples: the Gumba (a pigmy people), the Athi, and the N’dorobo (also called Dorobo) and the Maasai. The Gumba no longer exist. The Athi and N’dorobo, have a very complicated history beyond the scope of this summary but it may be helpful to understand that most modern N’dorobo are outcasts from neighboring cultures and their connection to the original N’dorobo is difficult to determine.
At some point slightly before the Gikuyu expansion, the Maasai people pushed into the area and continued to occupy large parts of it until early colonialism. Both the Maasai and Gikuyu highly valued livestock, in fact, it was their currency. The Maasai, however, were very capable warriors and lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle. The Gikuyu were, on the other hand, farmers. The Gikuyu both feared and respected the Maasai, imitating much of the Maasai culture. For the Maasai, however, their ideas of warriors was aggressive, while for the Gikuyu, fighting skills were more valued for their defensive value than any notions of military aggression.
Through a complex process of land purchase and assimilation, the Gikuyu expanded throughout the region and eventually became the majority culture of the area.