Early History of the Meru of Mt Kenya

June 6, 2023

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

The Meru are a people who live on and adjoining the N.E. slope of Mt. Kenya. Their oral traditions, collected from the oldest living members, suggest that the group originated on Manda Island, part of an archipelago off the Kenya Coast. During the early 1700s their ancestors were conquered by a neighbouring people, probably Arabs from one of the nearby trading principalities. In consequence, the Meru chose to flee.

Existing evidence suggests that their subsequent period of migration lasted approximately thirty years. During the initial stage, they crossed the River Tana, somewhere near its mouth, then followed its southern bank inland. Later, the group left the river and moved northwest through a basically arid region, where water was obtainable only from seasonal rivers or swamps. Initially, the migrants moved northward, crossing these wet areas. Subsequently, when changing ecological conditions forced them westwards, they followed one of the seasonal river systems to the foothills of Mt. Kenya.

Available data provides little to link the Meru experience with other migratory trends. There is no evidence, for instance, to connect it either with the Bantu migrations from Shungwaya (S. Somalia) or that of Kikuyu-speaking peoples towards Mt. Kenya. Further research will be required to resolve the problem.

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