What are Ndai na Gicandi? The Art and Mystery of Kikuyu Enigmatic Poetry
If you are interested in learning more about the rich and fascinating culture of the Kikuyu people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya, you might want to explore their ancient tradition of enigmatic poetry, known as Ndai na Gicandi. This is a form of oral literature that involves a poetic duel between two singers, who challenge each other with riddles and enigmas, accompanied by a musical instrument called Gicandi. In this article, we will explain what Ndai na Gicandi are, how they are performed, and where you can find some examples of this unique art form.
What are Ndai na Gicandi?
Ndai na Gicandi literally means \"riddles and Gicandi\" in Kikuyu language. Gicandi is a small gourd that is decorated with cowrie shells, beads, wires, and thorns, and contains seeds or pebbles that produce a sound when shaken. The gourd also has symbolic drawings on its sides that relate to the text of the poem and help the singer to remember the stanzas. The singer of Ndai na Gicandi is called Muini wa Gicandi, meaning \"owner of Gicandi\".
Ndai na Gicandi are composed of over 150 stanzas, each containing an enigma that has to be solved by the opponent. The enigmas are usually based on metaphors, proverbs, myths, or historical events, and require a deep knowledge of Kikuyu culture and language. The singers have to learn the stanzas by heart and recite them accurately and fluently. The poetic duel takes place in public places, such as markets or villages, where an audience gathers to watch and listen. The singers take turns to propose an enigma and explain the previous one. The competition goes on until one of them fails to give the correct interpretation or runs out of stanzas. The loser has to hand over his Gicandi to the winner.
How are Ndai na Gicandi performed?
The performance of Ndai na Gicandi is not only a display of poetic skill and cultural knowledge, but also a form of entertainment and social interaction. The singers use humor, wit, sarcasm, and irony to engage the audience and challenge their opponent. They also use gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to enhance their delivery and convey their emotions. The audience plays an active role in the performance, as they cheer, clap, laugh, comment, or intervene in the dialogue. Sometimes, they can also join in the singing or propose their own enigmas.
The performance of Ndai na Gicandi is also a ritual that involves some rules and customs. For example, the singers have to wear traditional attire and accessories that identify them as Muini wa Gicandi. They also have to respect their opponent and avoid insults or personal attacks. Moreover, they have to follow a specific structure and rhythm in their recitation. Each stanza consists of four lines with eight syllables each. The first line is the enigma itself, followed by three lines that give clues or hints about its meaning. The last word of each line rhymes with the last word of the first line. The singers have to recite their stanzas in sync with the sound of their Gicandi.
Where can you find examples of Ndai na Gicandi?
Unfortunately, Ndai na Gicandi are a dying art form that is rarely practiced today. There are very few Muini wa Gicandi left who can perform this poetry with authenticity and mastery. Moreover, there are not many written or recorded sources that preserve this oral tradition for future generations. However, there are some ways that you can access some examples of Ndai na Gicandi if you want to appreciate this cultural heritage.
One way is to visit the GÄkÅyÅ Centre for Cultural Studies, a website that promotes and documents various aspects of Kikuyu culture and history[^1^]. On this website, you can 0efd9a6b88