The Meru tribe or Merus is a Bantu ethnic group. They reside on Mount Kenya’s agriculturally rich northeastern slopes, in Kenya’s Eastern Province. The name Meru refers to both the people and the location. Merus are primarily agrarian, raising a few domestic animals.
The Meru tribe is divided into seven sub-tribes, namely: Tigania, Igemebe, Imenti, Miutuni, Igoji, Mwimbi andMuthambi. The Chuka and Tharaka are now considered part of the Meru but they have different oral histories and mythology.
The Meru have a somewhat detailed, confusing and intriguing history and mythology compared to other Kenyan tribes. Their history states that the Meru were once enslaved by the “red people”. They eventually escaped and, in their exodus, came across a large body of water called Mbwaa, which they crossed by magical means. They later followed a route that took them to the hills of Marsabit, eventually reaching the coast of the Indian Ocean. They stayed there for some time, however, due to poor climatic conditions and threats from the Arabs, they were forced to travel further south through the Tana river basin, until they finally reached the Mount Kenya area where they reside today.
Culture and lifestyle of the Meru people
The Meru tribe is a fairly homogeneous group composed of nine sub-tribes, each of which speaks its own dialect of the Kimeru language. The Imenti dialect is common among the sub-tribes. Differences in the dialects reflect their varied Bantu origins and influences from the Cushites and Nilotes, as well as their Kikuyu and Kamba Bantu neighbors.
The Meru are agriculturalists who have done well due to the good climatic conditions of their land. The majority of Meru people are subsistence farmers who live on small family plots where they raise food and cash crops. The fertile land produces a large variety of food crops, including staples such as corn, beans, potatoes, and millet. Coffee is the most popularly grown cash crop, along with tea and cotton. Merus are also best known for farming miraa, a stimulant plant.
Male circumcision is still one of the most significant rituals in Meru culture. This rite of passage transforms a young man into an adult, giving him the right to marry, acquire wealth and property, and make independent decisions. Just like other Bantus, a bride price in the form of cows, goats and sheep is paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family before marriage. A man is considered the head of the household and has defined roles and duties. Women tend to the farms and raise the children.
Traditionally, Merus had a strong clan (family) system that controlled the basic operations of all families within the clan. Although the clan system has nearly vanished, the extended family still retains a very powerful influence on the lives of individual family members. The entire family is tasked with making important life decisions on behalf of each family member, such as during marriage ceremonies.
The Meru tribe also have a strong educational foundation provided by Christian mission schools and are among the most influential ethnic groups in Kenya. The main education institutions were started by the Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches who settled in the district in the early years.