Gichandi: The news information centre of the Gikuyu civilisation

Gichandi: The news information centre of the Gikuyu civilisation

By Skeeter Wilson

The Gichandi were the scholars and keepers of knowledge of the Gikuyu people.

 It was their responsibility to keep and pass on the knowledge gained through the centuries.

Things like geography, where they knew each culture around them, and surrounding culture all the way to the coast in the east, past Tanzania to the south, north into Ethiopia and Sudan and as far west as the interior of the Congo.

 They knew the rivers and mountain ranges that had to be crossed, how to cross different rivers, how to negotiate around dangerous peoples (slave traders) etc. And that is just geography.

They had a number of scientific discoveries that were also the responsibility of the Gichandi to keep.

Also practical skills such as alternative fire making methods they had learned from others.

All and all, they were quite like a Gikuyu version of a PHD.

Once a person had earned recognition as a Gichandi, they were given one of these gourds (also called Gichandi).

The gourd functioned as a certificate of their status, it also had markings (the Gikuyu writing system) which gave a basic outline of the geography of the Gikuyu world, the major rivers, and four sacred mountains, as well as a basic instruction on human anatomy.

The gourd, as some have guessed was also a musical instrument which could be shaken (the shells rattled) or tipped (it contained heavy seeds inside and makes a rasping sound).

The Gichandi, would play the Gichandi, and sing songs (also called at times, Gichandi) to enlighten the Gikuyu people about different kinds of knowledge.

They also hung these gourds outside their compounds to let others know their status.

If a passing Gichandi saw one of these gourds, they could (and apparently usually would) challenge the resident Gichandi to a dual.

 Both would challenge each other with a variety of songs to show the depth of their knowledge.

 At times, if proven weak, a Gichandi would lose his status as a keeper of knowledge, so there was a real danger in these challenges.

A final purpose of the Gichandi, similar to the bards of the middle ages, is that they would travel throughout the Gikuyu world, singing songs, passing on news and information about events in the rest of the Gikuyu world.

 In effect, they were the news information centre of the Gikuyu civilisation.

The last known Gichandi passed away in the early 1970s. In effect, their role had ended by the 1920's and after that they were looked at more as entertainers at various dances. I would SO love to reconstruct the knowledge base of these individuals.

Finally, as I have long understood but never seen for myself, the Gikuyu did in fact have a written communication system, did have a rather sophisticated understanding of mathematics, and had a far greater understanding of the natural sciences than they were credited with at contact.

This, my friends, is so cool. So very wonderful. This is a big scratch on my historical itch.


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