In the traditional religion of the Kikuyu, the elders, or the older people within a clan, were considered to be the authority of God (Ngai). They used to offer to Ngai propitiatory sacrifices of animals, in chosen places that were considered sacred, usually near a fig tree or on the top of a hill or mountain. Even today there are large sacred trees where people sometimes gather for religious or political meetings or particular feasts. Mount Kenya, especially for the clans who live on its slopes, is considered the home of God.
The medicine man was a powerful person in traditional Kikuyu society. People would come to him to learn the future, to be healed, or to be freed from ill omens. The primary apparatus of the medicine man consisted of a series of gourds, the most important of which was the mwano, or divination gourd. It contained pebbles picked up from the river during his initiation, as well as small bones, marbles, small sticks, old coins, pieces of glass and any other object that might instill wonder in the eyes of his patients.
With European contact and the arrival of missionaries at the end of the nineteenth century, conversion of the Kikuyu to Christianity began with the establishment of missions throughout Kenya. Conversion was slow for the first thirty or forty years because of the missions' insistence that the Kikuyu give up a large part of their own cultures to become Christians. Although many Kikuyu became Christians, resistance to changing their customs and traditions to satisfy Western religious standards was very strong. Many Kikuyu took a stand over the issue of female circumcision. Missionaries insisted that the practice be stopped, and the Kikuyu were just as adamant that it was an integral part of their lives and culture. The issue eventually became tied to the fight for political independence and the establishment of Kikuyu independent schools.
The Kikuyu have no unique written language; therefore, much of the information on their traditional culture has been gleaned from their rich oral traditions. The oral literature of the Kikuyu consists, in part, of original poems, stories, fables, myths, riddles, and proverbs containing the principles of their philosophy, system of justice, and moral code. An example of Kikuyu music is the Gicandi, which is a very old poem of enigmas sung by pairs of minstrels in public markets, with the accompaniment of musical instruments made from gourds.