Kikuyu Music and Dancing

Discover Kikuyu song and dance, an essential element of this community's cultural heritage

By National Museums of Kenya

Blacksmith wedding headbandNational Museums of Kenya

Meet the Kikuyu

The Kikuyu are a community found around the slopes of Mount Kenya. Like many Kenyan communities, they traditionally celebrated ceremonial occasions – such as weddings, initiations, and the birth of new member into the family – by singing and dancing.

Witch Doctors Musical Horn (1966)National Museums of Kenya

Musical instruments

The Kikuyu did not have many musical instruments because most of their songs and dances did not require elaborate accompaniment. The main instruments were the drums (kihembe), small rattles (njingiri), large rattles (kigamba), horn (coro), and flute (muturiru).

FiddleNational Museums of Kenya

Wandindi

The fiddle (wandindi) was usually played by someone who specialized in playing the musical instrument. 

FiddleNational Museums of Kenya

One such musician would go round the countryside playing the wandindi and singing in markets and at dances. A small bow with a string of sisal (muthage) was used to play it.

Leg BellNational Museums of Kenya

Kigamba

Large rattles (kigamba) were made by blacksmiths, and worn by travelers and dancers just below the knee during special occasions, such as war dances, initiation ceremonies and other ceremonial dances.

Large Leg Bell (1919)National Museums of Kenya

This large leg rattle was made with four long bells on each, sewn on a thick pad of leather. It was worn by older men for dancing as a sort of musical instrument, and was made by a blacksmith from iron sand. Nowadays, such bells are made from scrap iron and ball bearings.

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