Ethnography of the Gusii of Western Kenya

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This book represents a contribution by scholars, who are primarily social scientists, addressing various aspects of the traditional history and culture of the Gusii people of southwestern Kenya. Today, the Gusii are the fifth largest ethnic group in that East African nation, but their past and cultural heritage have not been featured very prominently in recent scholarly studies. This book sets to redress this through contributions which range from a detailed summary of traditional history to an examination of pre-colonial social and political organizations to chapters which focus on such diverse topics as language, music, folklore, witchcraft, and land tenure practices. Particular attention is paid to detailing the indigenous Gusii system of education, including an account of initiation rites. This book fulfills a crucial function in setting out and analyzing the values and practices of the Gusii for the edification of contemporary readers in Kenya and outside.


“A people’s culture is always their means for social stability, and when that culture is abandoned, the people feel like they’ve lost their life’s rudder. This is how the Abagusii authors of this invaluable book feel about the vanishing heritage of their community. To be active and to engage in the modern world does not mean letting go of our traditional values ... The Gusii are one of Kenya’s small communities which has survived intact from the past; they play a pivotal role in the politics of Kenya ...” – (from the Foreword)

“This book represents an impressive piece of scholarship on a topic that is invaluable in the understanding of the Gusii community. The various contributors bring to bear an excellent mix of several viewpoints in the analysis and evolution and development of the Gusii cultural heritage. The contributors examine a wide array of topics, including history, demography, language, economy, culture and traditional medicine ... What is significant about this book is that it is anchored on a strong historical foundation and addresses the fundamental question not only of how the Gusii came to be, but also why the community’s cultural heritage is reflective of the changes that have impacted it in the last couple centuries. The importance of this book as a major reference work on the Gusii cannot be overstated ...” – Professor George O. Ndege, Saint Louis University

Table of Contents

Foreword by William R. Ochieng’
Part I: The Origin and Evolution of the Gusii
1. Historical Evolution of the Gusii. John S. Akama
2. Surviving Against All Odds: Gusii Movement into Their Current Homeland. John S. Akama
3. Gusii Demographic Trends. John S. Akama
4. Language and Its Usage. Nathan Oyori Ogechi
Part II: Social and Political Institutions
5. Social Organization and Administration of Justice. John S. Akama
6. The Indigenous Education System: the Making of a Gusii Man or Woman. John S. Akama
7. Ekegusii Folklore. Emily Bosire-Ogechi
8. Gusii Folk Music. Augustino Osoro Onkware
Part III: Initiation and Marriage Ceremonies
9. Circumcision Ceremony. John S. Akama and Solomon Monyenye
10. The Initiates’ Seclusion Period. John S. Akama and Solomon Monyenye
11. Customary Marriage. John S. Akama
Part IV: Land Tenure System and Usage
12. Evolving Land Tenure and Agricultural Systems. Tom M. Ndege
13. The Socio-economic, Philosophical and Spiritual Value Attached to Land. Michael Mabururu Ntabo
14. Traditional Land Tenure. Masese Rosana Eric
15. Agricultural Systems. Robert Maxon
Part V: Other Aspects of Gusii Culture and Ethnology
16. Gusii Traditional Medicine. Isaac Sindiga
17. Gusii Resistance to Colonial Invasion. Robert Maxon
18. Witchcraft Among the Gusii. Masese Rosana Eric
19. Controversy Over the Role of Initiation Ceremonies in a Changing Social Environment. Solomon Monyenye
20. Tourism and the Preservation of Gusii Cultural Heritage. Kennedy Ondimu Ingega
21. Urbanization. Robert Maxon

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