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Foreword to the English edition

p. 13


Texte intégral

1Based on an ethnographic survey conducted between 1986 and 1993 in the Nyambene Hills—north-east of Mount Kenya—Anne-Marie Peatrik’s A Complex Polity: Generations, Initiation, and Territory among the Old Meru of Kenya was first published in France in 1999.

2Since the completion of fieldwork, the situation in Meru and Kenya (and elsewhere) has undergone tremendous change. However, updating the research on which the study is based would have been pointless. Quite the contrary, the passage of time has enlarged its relevance and historiographical scope. This long-awaited text has been preserved as it was originally thought through, written and edited in French, except for a few adaptations for English-speaking readers, and changes to the illustrations.

3Drawing on accounts from eyewitnesses and individuals who were active in the past—all now deceased—this study combines ethnographic observations, oral accounts, and various written sources to offer an in-depth analysis of the complex pre-colonial polity of the Meru of Kenya and its radical transformations during the colonial conquest, from 1908 through the 1950s.

4Weaving together anthropology and history, this book addresses the manifold issues of initiation and the politics of belonging, unravels the intertwined life courses of men and women, disentangles the web of family life and kinship, and the handover of power across political generations. Restoring two well-known instances of Meru politics to their rightful place––the enigmatic mûgwe and the famous njûûri ncheke––the book also offers a fresh reading of the controversial story of Mbwaa. It also sheds light on the 1930s crisis affecting male and female initiations, and establishes a link with the demographic transformations and the radical shift that occurred during the 1950s.

5This extensive study of the old Meru polity is a contribution to the hotly-debated questions of local powers and land issues, of ethnicity and adaptation to new gender and family roles, and of discontinuity in customs and the invention of tradition.

6It renews the issue of the historicity of political generation-set systems in Meru, as well as elsewhere in Kenya and eastern Africa. More broadly, it aims to promote comparative anthropology for a better knowledge of African pre-colonial democracies and polities, and a deeper understanding of social and cultural change in the longue durée, linking precolonial and postcolonial Africa.

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