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Julie Gichuru explains Kikuyu custom ‘Ithemba’ as son comes of age

Renowned media personality Julie Gichuru has in a recent Instagram post shed light on the profound cultural celebration of ‘Ithemba’, an Agikuyu tradition marking the homecoming of young men from their initiation into manhood.

With captivating images and insightful commentary, Gichuru provided a glimpse into this age-old ritual that continues to shape the lives of countless individuals within the community.

“For those who have asked what an #Ithemba is, I’ve shared a few pictures to help build more understanding. Ithemba is an Agikuyu cultural celebration marking the homecoming of young men from their initiation,” read her post in part.

Ithemba, rooted in Agikuyu customs, holds deep significance as a rite of passage for young men. The journey begins with a group of boys forming a ‘riika’, embarking on a transformative experience that involves separation from their families. During this period, they delve into their histories, offer support to one another, and forge lifelong bonds that endure beyond the confines of the initiation.

“The group of boys who go through the initiation together is known as a riika. They separate from their families for this journey into manhood, where they also explore their histories, support each other through the process, and build strong bonds. The bond of a riika lasts a lifetime.”

Central to the ceremony is the celebration upon the return of the young men to their homes. It is a joyous occasion that not only welcomes them back but also acknowledges their growth and transition into manhood. Over time, the event has evolved to encompass elements of faith-based teachings, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to partake in the festivities.

The symbolism embedded within Ithemba is profound. Mothers play a pivotal role in offering blessings to their sons, symbolically entrusting them into the care of their fathers. This moment signifies the end of childhood and the commencement of adulthood, marking a pivotal milestone in the lives of the initiates. Fathers and uncles, serving as pillars of support and guidance, assume crucial roles in shaping the journey of these young men.

“The ceremony is highly symbolic. Mothers pray blessings upon their sons and hand them physically to the custody of their fathers – marking the end of childhood and the start of manhood. The role of fathers and uncles is crucial as a key source of support and guidance for the young men,” shared the mother of five.

One intriguing aspect of the celebration is the tradition of Gūthembera, meaning to gift. As part of the festivities, the young men receive gifts intended to assist them in establishing their own herds—a tangible symbol of their transition into adulthood and the responsibilities that accompany it.

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