Seed Preservation:

One of the primary duties of seers was the storage of planting seeds. The community entrusted them with this duty because they were well versed in meteorological observations. At night as usual they studied the positions of the stars, for instance the Pleiades, a cluster of loose stars in the constellation Tauras consisting of six visible stars to the naked eyes. Pleiades are associated with weeding periods hence Kirimiri, the weeding stars. The direction of the wind and the cloud formation has a special message to the seers as to the general public. The most effective instrument s in the study of rains are the insects. Seers are very much aware of this, more than any one of us. The insect’s behavior tendencies are controlled by instincts created by their biological clocks. In anticipation of a long drought, it awakens the insects to an active role of collecting and storing the food.

The food is stored for the dry spell. Other insects like the termites come out devouring woods. As the drought persists the termites become more active. The effect of a prolonged drought to the people is eating up of stored food reserves in their barns and every tuber in the gardens and finally eating up the planting seeds.  In the end many come to die of hunger. When the rain comes there would be no seeds for planting.

There is a Gikuyu anecdote about the Ndorobo hunters. It goes thus; long time ago, Ngai of the Mountain endowed the Ndorobo hunters with great skills in hunting. As time went on he felt pity because they followed animals as they went. Mothers and children were not left behind. The whole family was on the move. Ngai saw their hardships and granted them the farming skills. In a few seasons, they became farmers of repute. They sold their farm produce far and wide. At time bartering their produce with the Gikuyu community who bought it to add their food security, unfortunately rains stopped for seven years in Ndorobo County. In the seven years, they ate all the food in their barns and finally ate the seeds they had stored for planting. When the rain came, they did not plant, because they ate the planting seeds. Finally they went back to hunting wild animals. Hence the Gikuyu saying, he who ate the seeds became a burden to his neighbor who stored his.

In every bumper harvest in the Gikuyu country, a small fraction of grains was donated to the seers to be preserved in cold storage. The exercise made sure even if the planting seeds were all eaten up still there were seed reserves that would guarantee a continuous agricultural venture.

Using moist and soft clay, women prepared special earthen vessels with narrow mouth and fitting earthen lids, and then they were hardened by heating in a kiln. Thus hard, impermeable vessels were made.

Inside they were smeared with a film of wax to protect the seeds from air and water. Dry grains namely black beans, sorghum and local varieties of millet etc were each filled in the vessels and they were covered with lids. They were tightly sealed with wax. The vessels were carried in special leather bags by women escorted by the worriers towards the Mountains, either Mount Kenya or Nyandarua Range to a designated place. The men took over from women and took the vessels to higher up. But to the final destination only the twelve seers knew to avoid theft. The seers placed the pots in dry underground caverns whose top was covered by sheet of ice. The seeds thus preserved were known as kigina meaning in archaic Gikuyu seeds coming from Ngai.  Otherwise ordinary seeds in Gikuyu are mbeu.

When the rain comes, after a very long period of draught, the seers ascend the Mountain and bring back the seeds. The appointed elders in either Matathi or Maturanguru hierarchy and other elders of notable characters carry back kigina and oversee the distribution of kigina. Kigina was placed at night at the crossroads, and each family could collect its share for planting after the planting rituals were performed. Gikuyu people were very religious; they could not cheat on seeds associated with their Ngai. Each was contented with whatever he got.

Copyright: Gikuyu and Mumbi Cultural Museum