Evil spirits were believed to be the cause of epidemics in Kikuyuland but there was a ritual to drive them away.
They hid in the bushes around homes and manifested in form of whirlwinds (Ngoma Cia Aka).
If an illness failed herbal treatments, elders and seers recommended a ritual to chase the spirits away towards the river to end the miseries.
This tradition was similar to Luo’s ritual of driving out wicked spirits to the lake (Riembo Nyawawa) and likewise done at night with drum beats and screaming as residents headed to the waters.
Kikuyus waged war on the spirits in the evening especially when moon was out and involved all people from several villages.
When the dusk fell war horns were sounded and people emerged from their huts armed with sticks and rungus but spears, swords and knives were not allowed as it was feared they would lead to shedding blood of the spirits, leading to a bigger calamity.
While screaming, shouting and walking towards the river they beat their sticks in rhythmic note. They also struck the bushes to drive out the spirits. Panic engulfed the ritual.
All groups merged at the river ban and on confirming they have thoroughly smoked them out they made a deafening yell, intensified the beating of sticks then threw all their weapons into the river.
Kenyatta wrote about the ritual in his book “Facing Mount Kenya”, saying it was concluded with a unison utterance thus;
“Evil spirits and your illness, we have crushed you. We now sink you in the river. Let the water drive you far away from us. You will go for ever and never return again”.
They dusted their attires and feet to remove remaining spirits before heading to their respective homesteads singing happily.
They were not supposed to look back not to bring the spirits back. The following day small children who were not in the ritual were shaved by their mothers leaving some hair that formed a cross on their heads to frighten wicked spirits. They were also painted with red ochre.