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A Complex Polity

Anne-Marie Peatrik

Introduction: The Hidden Criterion

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1Born of the encounter of Europeans with worlds they never knew existed, ethnology and anthropology seek to reconstruct and arrange the variety of responses contributed by humans to the common questions they ask themselves. One of the most important of these questions concerns the way societies are formed and come apart, and how their powers are organized. The range of modes of sociation observed by ethnologists and sociologists or reconstituted by historians is impressive; such is the multiplicity and sometimes unimaginable nature of the solutions used. The inventory is far from complete: other principles of social organization, hitherto overlooked or misunderstood, remain to be discovered while new ones are being developed.

1. Age and its manifestations in eastern Africa

2The principle of grouping together individuals of the same age has long been an object of reflection, since it can be found in one of the intellectual sources of Western thought. Combined with aristocratic, democratic or republican principles, the criterion of age was constituent of ancient Greek cities and Roman citizenship. The rivalry between Sparta and Athens and their respective successes and failures, colored by the issues specific to each epoch, have regularly been evoked in the debates surrounding the transformation of monarchies and the advent of modern democracies. Subsequent accounts of exotic populations followed by the first ethnographic studies strengthened the notion that the criterion of age was important: it was recognized as a universal criterion of social organization, and along with kinship and the family became a parameter of evolutionary syntheses and of the first anthropological reflections on the State (Schurtz 1902; Lowie 1920, 1927).

3The methodological ethnography of the 20th century did nothing to refute this pre-eminence. Age-set systems were discovered in various parts of the world, but principally in Africa, and were soon equated with “rites of passage” (defined by A. Van Gennep in 1909) and initiations. These descriptions in turn stimulated interpretations by Hellenists (Jeanmaire 1939; Marrou 1946, 1965), who compared black civilizations to those of the ancient world, and fuelled new sociological syntheses. This time attention was drawn towards the inverse relationship between the age sets and the family sphere, or another institution whose importance was beginning to be clarified, the descent group. According to these interpretations, age sets cannot be implemented where family and lineage are highly structured organizations; they emerge when these latter fade away, and take over the role of institutions that no longer fulfil their function, starting with the socialization of the young (Eisenstadt 1954, 1956). Analysis of the societies of western Africa, in particular the Lagoon Peoples of the Ivory Coast, made it possible to refine this approach, by incorporating the constraints specific to each mode of descent: while patrilineal systems were combined with barely nascent age sets, matrilineal societies possessed age sets with well-established principles that compensated for the weaknesses inherent in this form of descent (Paulme 1971). In the long run, the matter appeared to be settled; age sets, like descent groups, became accepted facts of the discipline, suitable for illustrating lectures on “traditional” forms of organization. Simultaneously, interest in initiations was growing; their study, separated from that of age sets, affirmed the disconnection between what was held to lie in the domain of sociology, about which there was no more to be said, and the anthropology of religions and analysis of rituals, where everything remained to be discovered.

4Meanwhile, monographs from the highlands of eastern Africa were piling up. The colonial conquest, in this case Anglo-German, had popularized the image of formidable warriors the white man had had to confront. The Borana and the Maasai soon became exemplary figures of this image and elicited the first theorizations. In these populations that appeared to be organized into regimental groups and rely solely on their livestock, raiding their enemies for cattle represented a means of survival. The constraints of the pastoral economy were believed to be responsible for the mobilization of the young men, the formation of age sets, and the exaltation of warlike virtues. The discovery of principalities in the south of Ethiopia founded by conquering Borana, and kingdoms in the region of the Great Lakes—of which the hierarchical organization, soon to be qualified as feudal, appeared to be composed of a mass of peasants dominated by an aristocracy of warrior-pastoralists—stimulated the drawing of comparisons and new perspectives. The association between age sets and war was strengthened and, just as certain researchers believed in the existence of a “cattle complex” (Herskovits 1926), so it was thought that an area of civilization existed in eastern and southern Africa in which the common denominators were the spear, the herd, and warfare (Fukui and Turton 1979; Maquet 1981: 144-173), an assessment on the continental scale that was not without interest but derived from a distorted perception of realities on the local and regional scale. However, in the aftermath of the Second World War, during the decades marked by the emancipation of colonized peoples, ethnologists fresh out of university and at long last authorized to visit hitherto forbidden regions, noting the absence of age-set societies in African Political Systems (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard [1940] 1978; Evans-Pritchard [1939] 1964, 1940; Schapera 1949; Bernardi 1952; Middleton and Tait 1958), set out to study remote groups that operated with age sets. From the study by P. Spencer (1965) devoted to the Samburu of northern Kenya (pastoralists related to the Maasai), emerge the details of a patrilineal descent group and an age-set system, in this case combined with sets of elders behaving as polygynous gerontes, and for that purpose maintaining the warriors in a lasting state of celibacy and social minority. Formidable warrior-pastoralists, the moran are demoted to the position of subordinate sons, the supervision of whom—an additional trick—is entrusted to mentors from a different set to that of their fathers.

5This promising interpretation, emphasizing age grades and the relations between sets of fathers and sons, was soon enriched by studies undertaken, among others, by C. R. Hallpike (1972) among Konso farmers and A. Legesse (1973) among Borana cattle keepers, both groups being Oromo speakers living in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. To disentangle the complicated web of generation sets and age grades (both called gaada)—where the “generations” have an astonishing composition since all the sets of this type, which exercise power one after another, necessarily include both old men and infants—the authors use computer simulations to explain variations in the transfer of power. Among the Konso, this transfer of power occurs at times every eighteen years and at others every nine or five years. Among the Borana, where each set of sons automatically accedes to power thirty-two years after their fathers’ set passed it on, simulation helps to explain the long term demographic effects of principles of recruitment that are extremely rigid and a priori unworkable, because generation sets tend to create a demographic drift that can rapidly become intolerable. The men in set A do not all father sons at the same time. Their sons in set B are therefore of heterogeneous ages, and their grandsons in set C even more so. If, over the course of time, nothing is done to contain the increasing dispersion of ages and overlapping of generations, then it is difficult to see how the exercise of power can be organized. Yet eastern African societies evidently do implement this principle of delegation of authority. Monographs on the Karamojong, agropastoralists living in northern Kenya and north-eastern Uganda (Gulliver 1953, 1958; Dyson-Hudson 1963, 1966; Lamphear 1976) recorded other methods of recruitment to generations based on the distribution of generation sets around two positions— that of the Fathers of the country and that of their Sons, and on the transmission of power between consecutive generations organized at intervals fluctuating between thirty and fifty years.

  • 1  These sets or “classes” attracted an abundant literature from Soviet anthropologists, who wanted t (...)

6Given such variations in the rules governing the constitution of sets, the statuses of age and generation, and the length of time between the handover of power (for certain groups too long and punctuated with crises) that seem to characterize the age and generation set systems of eastern Africa, one conclusion emerged. These combined age and generation sets that do not seem capable of organizing individuals and powers on a lasting basis, had a ritual purpose. This conclusion appeared all the more plausible because it was proposed by researchers trained in the British school of functionalism, even if it only shifted the problem into a domain—the ritual—where everything remained to be discovered. Other authors, adopting the Marxist paradigm of pre-capitalist societies, chose the hypothesis of the ritual function as the point of departure for their interpretations, and considered age and generation sets equivalent to superstructures, which is another way of denying them any organizational capacity. P. Bonte (1974) advanced the hypothesis that the different types of sets reflect the contradictions inherent in the domestic mode of production and variable importance of the pastoral economy1. M. Abélès (1979) suggested that certain dignitaries of the gaada generation sets could be seen as figures of sacred kings and the lineaments of the State. S. Tornay (1979), closer to the physical manifestations of these sets since he was researching among the Nyangatom (another ethnic group of the so-called Karamojong cluster) introduced a distinction between the criteria of age and those of generation, allocating age sets to the sphere of concrete relations in the family and generation sets to the management of imaginary relations within the realm of the superstructure. In the introduction to a collective work that presents new perspectives based on well-documented case studies, P. Baxter and U. Almagor (1978), noting the puzzling nature of the descriptions and proliferation of doubts, posed a pertinent question as to why so many populations would endeavor to recognize, modify, and multiply rules of recruitment if these rules had no consequence other than the organization of rituals.

7At the beginning of the 1980s, Serge Tornay suggested I should reflect, along with other students (Dugast 1985, 1995; Ville 1985; Bonini 1989), on the possibility of a sociological theory of African age-set systems: a vast project of which the scope was flattering to young ethnologists, but which also reflected the skepticism and incredulity that were, at the time, the prevailing attitudes towards these questions. The comparative study that followed (Peatrik 1985a), limited solely to eastern Africa, sought to take stock of the different approaches and to identify the presuppositions that hindered analysis. A sociology of the “generation-based polities” of eastern Africa—a term coined for the occasion (in French) using the concept of polity gradually developed by J. Baechler (1980, 1988), designating a social entity established and delimited by a political system—was conceivable, provided one knew all the principles governing the constitution of the sets, more complex and rewarding to study than implied by the qualifier of age. As a precondition to any analysis, and despite their shared characteristics, the criterion of age must be separated from the criterion of generation. The latter defines discrete units and immediately has a structuring effect that age cannot achieve: an individual cannot belong to two generations while he is always between two ages. The criterion of age originates from a continuous biological process; to become a principle of classification and organization, the age needs to be defined by a particular attribute, such as date or role, a distinctive feature that the collective work of M. Abélès and C. Collard (1985), seeking to draw original parallels between western and eastern Africa, refused to recognize, arguing that the criteria of age and generation are both ruled by a common principle of seniority or primogeniture.

8The separation of these two criteria reveals other, previously hidden aspects of the structure, while challenging the practice of considering age and generation sets independently from other components of social organization. However, looking beyond the variety of situations studied and the interpretations specific to each author, the available ethnographies all share the same shortcoming, examined by F. H. Stewart (1977) in a pioneering formal analysis of these systems, in that their descriptions are incomplete and they fail to bring to light certain devices. The reasons for these deficiencies, which Stewart records without further comment, are diverse and instructive. They do not derive so much from the quality of the ethnographies—which respect the rules of methodical investigation—as from the intellectual and political context that influenced the surveys in various ways. In societies with age- and generation-set systems, lineages are only roughly sketched out, if they exist at all. This has led ethnographers, trained in descent group theory, to consider that these societies have age-set systems in the absence of any lineage organization, and to shut themselves up in a kind of finalism that did nothing to encourage further investigations. The issue was further confused by a complementary and critical interpretation of descent group theory developed by advocates of the Manchester school, which was well-represented in southern and eastern Africa and whose theories on networks were beginning to gain ground. It was argued that lineages were intersected and weakened by age sets and that the groups resulting from this development, or from this history, had little structure. This analysis was also based on the experience of colonial administrators who found these populations difficult to understand, because they were faced not with chiefs but with elders who only represented themselves (Middleton 1965). In the 1960s, articles on age sets in these “acephalous” societies were invariably punctuated with phrases such as “cutting across theory” or “loosely structured”, trotted out as if they were self-evident and hardly encouraging ethnologists to investigate the rules of recruitment or correct the terms of the sociological argument. Before concluding that these societies were weakly organized, it would have been necessary, for example, to examine the margins of the system and consider the position and destiny of those born too early or too late in relation to the moment when their generation accedes to power. If it threatens the end of generation-based polities, the growing number of “too old” and “too young” individuals caused by the demographic drift also involves sociological treatment. The search for secondary rules and adjustments of the most diverse nature affecting individuals whose social position is incoherent because of their date of birth evokes a more dynamic view of the society, and of social anthropology.

Map 1 — Kenya and bordering countries

Map 1 — Kenya and bordering countries

9Specific difficulties of observation have also impeded the analysis. The rules are so complex that a large proportion of the survey time is devoted to sorting out the tangled web of principles and practices. Often, the populations studied operate several classifications, each with their own divergent modalities and uses, at the same time. As long as the ethnographer remains unaware of this situation, (s) he is likely to mistake one thing for another and overlook essential organizational features. It is also true that certain practical elements, not to mention rites, only find expression outside the sphere of the age or generation sets in the strict sense of the term: in kinship, organization of the territory or layout of the housing. Failing to find them, the researcher concludes that the set system is inoperative. The inescapably synchronic nature of the ethnographic study is an additional source of distortion. The state of a society varies considerably depending on whether it stands just before, just after or a long time away from the transmission of power from one set to the next, and many characteristics only manifest themselves over the long-term, which is why computer simulations have been so useful. It was only through the accumulation of monographs that these distortions in observation could gradually be identified and corrected.

10The history of colonial conquest in eastern Africa raised obstacles of another nature. Ethnologists concentrated their work on populations located away from the more closely-administered regions. Consequently, they studied Cushitic- and Nilotic-speaking pastoralists and agro-pastoralists and only later—perhaps too much later—turned their attention to populations directly exposed to the colonial conquest, who were mainly, but not only, Bantu-speakers oriented towards farming. This unequal distribution of in-depth studies lent further weight to the already well-established belief that in these regions, age systems were specific to Cushitic and Nilotic pastoralists, epitomized by the Borana and Maasai mentioned above, and any cases observed among Bantu populations were the result of borrowing or mixing among different groups. These attributions, shaped by the vagaries of the colonial conquest, appeared to be all the more self-evident because they supported the raciological and then linguistic divisions inherited from the 19th century (Sanders 1969, Chrétien 1977), whereby the non-Bantu languages were held to be the continuation of a Hamite branch of biblical descent. This was considered all the more plausible because it was supported by another supposedly relevant characteristic: circumcision, which researchers did not fail to associate with age sets. The conclusions of this circular and diffusionist argument—that circumcision is proof of biblical attribution, and that the particularity of non-Bantus is that they are pastoralists who organize themselves into age sets—were taken as established facts by G. P. Murdock in his handbook (1959: 342-347).

11Yet an examination of the literature refutes all these presuppositions. There is no correlation between language, social organization, and economic specialization. “Age” sets are just as likely to be observed among the speakers of any of the different linguistic families present in the region, and shape the organization of populations that live from hunting just as much as those that practice pastoralism or farming. Moreover, economic specialization is exceptional: the prevailing model is a combination of activities, usually a mixture of farming and pastoralism. My field research would focus on age and generation systems in a Bantu-speaking population that combines farming and pastoralism to various degrees. The research had two objectives: to test the hypothesis of a sociology of these systems and to fill in some ethnographic gaps. The authors who have worked on Bantu-speaking populations, H.E. Lambert (1947, 1956), B. Bernardi (1959), M. Ruel (1962), J. Middleton and G. Kershaw (1965), S. Saberwal (1970), O. Bischofberger (1972), J. Mahner (1975), J. Glazier (1976), N. Townsend (1977), and C. Brantley (1978) provide descriptions that certainly allow one to deduce without a doubt the existence of this kind of system among the Kikuyu, the Meru, the Embu, the Mbeere of the central highlands of Kenya, the Pokomo and Giriama-Mijikenda of the back-country bordering the Indian Ocean, the Kuria, and the Zanaki living in the west on the borders between Tanzania and Kenya. However, most of these authors present age sets as a structure isolated from the rest of the social organization; they adhere to the view that, in these “loosely structured” societies, age sets serve a ritual or vaguely political purpose—a presupposition strengthened, in the case of the Bantu, by the implicit theory of borrowing from Cushites or Nilotes.

Map 2 — Kenya’s central mountain range

Map 2 — Kenya’s central mountain range

2. The choice of the Meru Tigania-Igembe and the conditions of the study

12It was necessary to find populations offering the possibility of a rich harvest of facts and among whom it was possible, in terms of research permits and safety, to stay and carry out prolonged surveys. The few publications available on the Meru of Kenya—the works of H. E. Lambert (1956) on the populations of the “Kikuyu Land Unit”, the administrative division under whose jurisdiction the Meru lived during the colonial period, the monograph of B. Bernardi (1959) devoted to a religious dignitary called the mugwe, to which the innovative synthesis of age-set systems throughout the world written by the same author twenty-five years later was like a distant echo (Bernardi 1985), and the analysis of a dual division of the society by J. Mahner (1975)—all suggested that the northernmost Meru, the Tigania and Igembe, offered favorable survey conditions. Far-removed from administrative and economic centers, these populations live in the Nyambene Hills, high hills situated to the north-east of the Mount Kenya massif and surrounded by semi-desert lowlands roamed by pastoralists.

13The Igembe are essentially crop farmers, whereas the Tigania, who live at lower altitudes, keep more cattle. Among them, it would be possible to test hypotheses on the functioning of sets and the role of economic factors.

  • 2  Miraa is the Meru name for khat (Catha Edulis), popularized by the Yemenis and Somalis. This shrub (...)

14The gap between the picture painted by the literature and the reality discovered at the beginning of my first extended stay in October 1986 was striking. Populations that a good number of Kenyans described as “backward” displayed many signs of abandoning “tradition”; signs glimpsed like snapshots at each turn in the road: young, old and not-so-old in Western dress; crowds of children in uniform playing as they left school in a landscape of hedged farmland; “warriors” dressed in jackets and trousers hurrying in the early morning to deliver the bales of miraa2 carried on their heads; the geometric contours of fields of coffee or tea; preachers furiously haranguing the crowd in the marketplace; monumental churches standing in the middle of clearings, already too small to accommodate all the faithful for the Sunday service... Everything was too unexpected for me to feel disappointment or discouragement, yet what could remain of the traditions, and the “age” sets pertaining to them, in a population that had so obviously left them behind? My original line of questioning appeared rather absurd, and the comical aspect of the ethnographer desperately seeking structuring principles did not escape me. Unable to change sites, for material and political reasons, it seemed more reasonable to change the subject of study.

15During my first surveys, however, it became apparent that the “age” sets of the Tigania-Igembe had not been relegated to the rank of old customs now confined solely to the library. Certain signs, imperceptible to begin with but then increasingly more numerous, testified to their continued existence. All the men interviewed could name their nthukî (generation set) without hesitation, with a note of pride tinged with amused surprise that it was a woman, and a white woman to boot, who sought the answer. The same set names cropped up everywhere, throughout the Nyambene Hills. Circumcision, admittedly organized during the school holidays, and for young or adolescent boys rather than adults, still mobilized part of the population. Women of a certain age gave the name of their set of wives, a few roaring with laughter as they danced what I learnt much later to be the dance of the warrior women of the kaaria. But opinions varied considerably: some people asserted that sets no longer had any importance, others attached an importance to them clearly stimulated by the hope of some sort of gain, while yet others refused to speak of them, implying that to do so would be dangerous. Two dimensions gradually emerged. Discrepancies between the testimonies of representatives of successive sets were repeated and combined with heterogeneous temporal references. The customary dating method, based on the set being formed at the time of the event in question, is used jointly with the elements of another chronology: the First World War, the Second World War (presented as a war against the Italians and then against Hitler), and the Mau Mau Uprising. The nicknames of administrators—Kang’ange (“Little one always going”), Kîbun’ja (“the Destroyer”), Mutethia (“He who helps”)—are also used in explanations, and the term thirikari, designating both the colonial administration and the independent Kenyan state, harbors a confusion and a continuity that offer a wealth of insights. My original subject became more clearly defined while expanding at the same time. The social organization of the Tigania-Igembe had been transformed considerably during the colonial period: the administrative archives kept in Nairobi that I consulted after having made considerable progress in my field studies, showed that “age” sets had been at the center of a profound crisis in the 1930s, and that resolution of the conflicts surrounding this issue were a major preoccupation of colonial policy in the Meru District. It was therefore necessary to open up the classic synchronic survey to diachrony in two ways. The present state of the age-set system could not be explained without reconstructing the rules and long-term evolution of the system before the conquest in 1908. As a second step, it would then be possible to describe and analyze the decisive changes that took place between 1930 and 1960 and which shaped the particular view of the whole system held by representatives of successive sets. Observation would have to be combined with reconstruction, oral sources with written sources, and ethnology with history. The critical evaluation of the written sources, a decisive issue in this research, is avalaible in Appendix A.

  • 3  In 1989, out of a total of 21.5 million Kenyans, Meru District had a population of 1,150,000. The (...)

16Isolated to the north-east of the imposing massif of Mount Kenya, which rises to 5200 meters, the Nyambene Hills are a range of high hills oriented from south-west to north-east and more modest in altitude (2500 meters), but still clearly dominate the surrounding plains, the altitude of which fluctuates around 1000 meters. Fairly recent explosive volcanic activity is responsible for the rugged topography of the hillsides, with their countless reverse slopes shaped by craters, and the fertility of the soil. In these regions situated on the equator and on the eastern side of the continent, rainfall is triggered by the humid trade winds from the Indian Ocean meeting the mountains. As a direct result of the altitude and exposure to wind, precipitations can vary between 400 mm and 2200 mm, i.e. a factor of six, within the space of twenty kilometers (Bernard 1972: 19). In addition, there is high interannual variability in rainfall, which often modifies the annual cycle of two rainy seasons alternating, in principle, with two dry seasons. Diversified mixed farming with a combination of commercial crops takes advantage of the ecosystems that rapidly succeed each other as one climbs from the semi-desert steppe of the low plains through savannah scattered with trees, to light woodland and then to the thick, evergreen forests of the hilltops. The region is densely populated. In 1989, date of the last census, there were more than 400 inhabitants per square kilometer at the levels where tea is grown, 200 in the intermediate levels devoted to miraa and coffee, and there were still 70 in the more arid lowlands. The Nyambene Hills are located in two divisions of the Meru District (equivalent to an English county) called Igembe and Tigania, roughly corresponding to the pre-colonial territorial sections3.

Map 3 — North-east of the Mount Kenya mountain range

Map 3 — North-east of the Mount Kenya mountain range

Ill. 34a & b — Quiet days downhill (Lairangi North Tigania), 1989

Ill. 34a & b — Quiet days downhill (Lairangi North Tigania), 1989

Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.

Ill. 35a & b — Quiet days uphill (Kîgûcwa Market), 1993

Ill. 35a & b — Quiet days uphill (Kîgûcwa Market), 1993

Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.

17The field study lasted eighteen months, spread over the period between October 1986 and January 1989 and then from January to May 1993, added to which four months were spent scrutinizing the archive collections in Nairobi. The investigations were carried out in three localities sufficiently different to allow for the identification of regularities and variations in rules and practices, each located in one of the three former main divisions of the Nyambene Hills. Athiru Gaitî, in the Igembe section, on the eastern slopes of the Nyambene Hills below the small town of Maua—which became a boomtown with the advent of electricity in 1988—was the first site of detailed study. It is a sub-location of about 8000 inhabitants situated between 1300 and 1700 meters, an altitude at which coffee growing is very well developed. A few excursions, downhill to Igarîrûkû where the potters are concentrated, and uphill to Kiegoi in the tea-growing level on the edges of the forest reserve, helped to gain better knowledge of the links established, depending on the slope, among the populations living at different elevations on this particularly rainy and fertile hillside. Kianjai, in Tigania division and in the former section known as Athwana, was the second field study base. The climate in this locality situated to the north-west and under the lee of the Nyambene Hills is hotter, drier and more agreeable. The rural population density can be as high as 500 inhabitants per square kilometer. The rhythm of activities is regulated by the harvesting of crops (beans, peas and cereals) and cattle breeding, which is stimulated by a large weekly livestock market. In days gone by, a number of blacksmiths worked here. From Kianjai, I made several outings to the saltwater springs that attract herds of animals (Laaria to the north-west and Igombe to the north-east), and to the potters of Kunati, to the south of Mikinduri. The third and final study site was Kîgûcwa. Perched on the slopes of the Nyambene Hills facing the Mount Kenya massif, which can sometimes be seen completely free of cloud in the setting sun, this locality, in what used to be the Igoki section, is mainly tea-growing, which is perfectly suited to the very wet weather and shrouds of mist that often prevail.

  • 4  Thanks to financial support from the CREDU, which has since become the IFRA, I was able to use a 4 (...)
  • 5  My last study trip, which took place just after the first multi-party elections, was hindered by t (...)

18The dwellings of the Tigania-Igembe are doubly scattered, and one cannot hope to observe slices of life by taking up quarters in a village, as there are no villages. These populations are loath to group their dwellings together. In addition to the distance that separates each domestic unit, there is the dispersion specific to each of these units. As far as possible, each family head cultivates plots spread over the different levels, and to this end installs a family member in each plot: a wife if he has more than one, a grand-parent, or a boy who has finished school. People, among whom my interviewees, were constantly on the move: taking out the animals, fetching firewood or water, going to the gardens (where there are two harvests per year), visiting neighbors, going to market, to the dispensary, to school, to church, or to the office of the chief or district officer. Modern institutions are also scattered throughout the countryside. Travelling all over the locations is part of everyday life for these populations, and any ethnographer unsuited to long walks is strongly advised not to embark on field studies in these regions4. Finding accommodation is far from evident. In addition to the usual problems of supply—obviously, there is neither running water nor electricity—there is the burdensome question of security. The few white people established in the region live behind mission compound walls. People live in fear of robbery or attack—and not without reason. Here, the everyday insecurity that characterizes modern Kenya is exacerbated by an already long-running context of crises that have succeeded each other over the last thirty years. The Mau Mau Uprising, which turned into a sort of civil war when Kenya became independent, was followed by the secessionist movement of the Kenyan Somalis (the Shifta), who roam over an area stretching quite far to the north-east. The Meru Game Park situated to the south-east of the Nyambene Hills attracts more poachers than tourists, and the last rhinoceros was killed in 1988. The very wealth of the region, where the land reform has still not been completed, is another factor of tension. Revenue from coffee and tea may have benefited the whole population, which constitutes a relatively prosperous class of smallholders, but the profits from miraa are distributed very unequally, stirring hopes of getting rich quick and generating all sorts of trade bordering on trafficking, especially since the resurgence of the Somali crisis5. A person must take care not to arouse covetousness, thereby endangering oneself and those living nearby. On occasion, I was able to stay with locals for a short period of time, sleeping in the grandmother’s or daughters’ hut. These moments were most instructive and rich in memories, but the huts are overcrowded, and working on one’s notes on rainy days or after sunset proved impossible. At times I rented wooden shacks destined to accommodate teachers assigned to that area, while at others I resorted to one of the few country hotels. Though noisy at the end of the week and month when beer and grilled meat were sold, some of them were relatively safe places. These types of accommodation allowed for mingling with individuals who were modernist in outlook, but knowledgeable about the local populations. Some of them, especially the teachers, provided invaluable advice.

  • 6  I could not find this pamphlet, but I did consult a subsequent work by the same author, devoted to (...)
  • 7  Kiswahili is the language spoken by the Islamized populations on the coast of the Indian Ocean. He (...)

19My intention to investigate the set system and “tradition” was often met with reticence or warnings, if not an unequivocal refusal to talk about the subject. Asking somebody the name of their nthukî was one thing, going any further in the questioning quite another. Individuals tempted to give me a warm welcome risked the condemnation of their neighbors. Those who were willing to grant me some attention often ended up claiming I would be making money from their customs. The modernists, anxious to save me from trouble, told a story present in everyone’s mind about a Catholic priest from Embu—a District to the south of Meru—who had published a pamphlet on the njuri ncheke, a tribal council both feared and respected, and had criticized certain aspects of the initiation6. One Sunday as he celebrated mass, a threatening crowd surrounded the church, forcing him to flee. The police station was nearby, but the police were careful not to intervene, and the priest was never able to return to the region. Two incidents indicative of the underlying tensions may offer some idea of the atmosphere surrounding these issues. The first of these incidents substantially impeded my work in Athiru Gaitî. It was shortly before the Christmas school holidays in 1986, and a number of men had met to organize the initiation session, and in particular to designate the lamalle responsible for fetching the circumciser. Having been denounced, it was said, by the owner of the field, they were arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for holding a meeting without consulting the chief representative of the administration. Under such conditions, it is no surprise my survey of customs did not immediately meet with the approval of local populations. During the same season, in the small town of Maua, I unwittingly revived the conflict between advocates of Kiswahili initiation, performed in clinics, and the “warriors” who support Kimeru circumcision performed on the public ground7. On the insistence of a Meru friend from another section, where these practices are in sharp decline, I agreed to take a photograph from a distance of a burlesque procession going from door to door imposing an ordeal on novices only just getting over their operation. I soon had cause to regret the photograph. Somebody saw us, and the procession rushed down to my hotel. I had just enough time to lock the door. The people in the procession, vexed, caused rather more disturbance than necessary as they passed, and eventually the police had to intervene to restore calm to the town, which is the head of an administrative division, after all. There were lively discussions over the next few days, and individuals with a modernist outlook despaired once again of the image the Igembe gave of themselves to the outside world.

20From then on, prudence and patience prevailed over the surveys, perhaps to an abnormal degree. My stays, interspersed with trips to France, my departures and subsequent returns, helped to establish the idea that I was a “student”, somewhat apart. With the help of time, other factors contributed to my integration. Raising the subject of nthukî (generation sets) became an excellent way to break the ice. Knowledge of nthukî allows people to position themselves in relation to others and to adopt an acceptable line of conduct. Eventually I became aware of the inadvertent bawdiness of my questions: a man and a woman make known their respective nthukî when they want to verify they are not subject to sexual prohibition. People rarely failed to ask me the name of my set, to which I replied Ratanya or Lubeeta, depending on the circumstances. With elderly people I found it relatively easy to play on the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, which is affectionate and frank. In days gone by this relationship was essential in educating the child, which is more or less the position of the ethnographer. Sometimes, however, it was decided otherwise: when I stayed with a Michubu (name of the family head’s generation set), I was seen as one of his daughters, and the Michubu in the neighborhood could deem it impossible to talk to us, because of the restraint and avoidance that characterize relations between individuals of adjacent generations.

21Learning a language that is difficult to speak because it is difficult to hear was another factor of integration: to French ears, the dialect of the Tigania-Igembe lacks the clarity of the Imenti Kimeru, in which I did my first exercises. Over time, however, things improved; the decisive gathering of information, in terms of ethnographic detail, was conducted with people who became privileged informants and with whom I could use a tape recorder. Kathure, a young woman well-versed in the codes of good conduct who was appreciated by the old people, provided help vital to this process. She accompanied my investigations; we then carefully transcribed and translated the taped interviews together, a process revealing that the informants’ replies contained as much material for new questions as it did information. Numerous and telling difficulties in comprehension arose: the old people used a vocabulary and turns of phrase that had become obsolete or referred to things we were not familiar with. This provided an opportunity to return to my informants to request clarification and ask further questions. This manner of proceeding—slow, meticulous and occasionally disheartening—allowed me to discover a good number of details, semantic or other, to carry out a sort of lexical rescue, and to measure just how perceptible the loss of knowledge and the modification of practices had been between one generation and the next.

22The choice of privileged informant is always the product of a special alchemy. Public rumor and the administrative authorities sometimes designate individuals who are reputed to be experts on “tradition”. With few exceptions, I found it impossible to get on with these people. The Tigania-Igembe were a society of collective and diffuse power; the appearance of “specialists” in tradition resulted from interactions with administrative authorities, who needed interlocutors, established by their own hand in a way, to settle some problem or other—a habit developed during the colonial period and of which the principle endures. It was necessary to find people who had kept away from these power games, and who were endowed with a good memory, patience, and a taste for these matters. That I was a woman had a double effect: it allowed me access to information that no Meru woman would ever have given to a man. H. E. Lambert, the British administrator who was a key player in the transformation of the old society, despaired of ever understanding the resistance he experienced on the part of Meru women, and he longed for the arrival of a female ethnologist. However, it is true that an experienced and patient male ethnologist could, in the long run, obtain this information, but he would have to overcome the same obstacles I faced when seeking to understand some of the details in male initiations. The search for informants always started with a rudimentary inventory of sets. In each of the localities studied, I began by asking where the representatives of the oldest sets lived, as a simple way to make contact and break the ice, since I introduced myself as a student of the Meru of days gone by (Kimeru karaya). It was also a way of coming straight to the heart of the matter, because it suggested I was quite familiar with such matters.

Fig. 1 — Position of the Ithalie, the oldest male set in 1986-1988

Internal chronology

External chronology


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1855?


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1870?


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1885?

1892: arrival of the first whites people


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1900?

1908: colonial conquest


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1915

1914-1918: First World War


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1930


Set (warriors class) closed circa 1945

1939-1945: Second World War


Set (initiatory category) closed circa 1960

1963: Independence of Kenya


Set (initiatory category) closed circa 1975

1978: death of Jomo Kenyatta


Set (initiatory category) closed circa 1990

1978-: presidency of D.A. Moi


Set (initiatory category) closed circa 2005?

Ill. 31a, b & c — Old men from the Ithalie set, Athiru Gaitî, Kianjai, 1988.

Ill. 31a, b & c — Old men from the Ithalie set, Athiru Gaitî, Kianjai, 1988.

Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.

  • 8  The last Kiramunya died during the famine of 1984 (called Butatira).
  • 9  Three expeditions arrived in quick succession: W. A. Chanler and von Höhnel stayed in the Nyambene (...)

23In 1986-1988, the survivors of the oldest sets were the Ithalie (see fig. 18): these were the men initiated between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the 1930s. The oldest of them were about twenty years old in 1918, and so about ten at the time of the colonial conquest in 1908. At that time, the Kiramunya warrior set was in activity. The Ithalie were raised by parents of the Gichungî set, who had witnessed the arrival of caravans from the coast, followed by that of the first whites persons in 18929. Some of the Ithalie grandparents, from the Miriti set, were born in the 1830s. Several Ithalie were still alive in 1986- 1988, but it was still necessary to find those who were willing and able (in terms of recollection) to collaborate with me. The knowledge of a few of the Ithalie was crucial, and I had the good fortune to meet a number of individuals of an exceptional intellectual capacity. The set of Ithalie wives was the last to receive and transmit the kaaria following all the rules. The Michubu represent the generation of all the upheavals. Their set recruited members from the mid-1930s up until the end of the Second World War. Many of them went to fight, as far afield as Europe and Asia, and many never came back. Their wives received the kaaria but never transmitted it publicly; some of them did so in secret, following neo-traditional esoteric procedures. The Ratanya recruited from the end of the 1940s until the beginning of the 1960s. Initiated and married at an earlier age, some having received schooling, theirs was the generation formed during the Mau Mau Uprising, while Kenya was achieving independence. The next set, the Lubeeta, represents the first generation of the independent state marked by Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency. Among the Lubeeta were the first Meru to go to university (English regime). The Miriti, initiated between the end of the 1970s and the end of the 1980s, benefitted from spectacular progress in primary school education (an “eleven-plus” style school-leaving diploma), and above all lived under the presidency of J. Kenyatta’s successor, D. A. Moi. In 1987-1988, I witnessed the gradual closing of the Miriti set. On my return in 1993, all the new recruits were in the Gwantai set (sons of the Lubeeta). The first multi-party elections had just been held. The newly elected representatives were all from the Lubeeta set.

  • 10  In the location of Kianjai, the St. Kizito secondary school—a co-ed boarding school no different f (...)
  • 11  Thirty years later, for various reasons, we think it less of a problem to indicate in the Acknowle (...)

24So many details about the conditions of my field studies may irritate readers used to more restraint on these questions. The ethnography of ethnography is not the theme of this research; the difficulties evoked are to some extent the lot of every survey, to describe them would be a waste of time. Yet times have changed, and it is impossible not to mention things that are no longer obvious. The difficulties encountered provided information and were revealing of the singularly acute crisis the Tigania-Igembe are currently living through. Ancient and neo-traditional structures of mediation no longer function, the face-to-face meeting of opposing parties prevails, and violence erupts at the drop of a hat. The Kenyan state authorities, long capable of controlling the situation with the means at their disposal (which are admittedly not exempt from criticism), can no longer cope, dispatching their most experienced administrators. History appears to be repeating itself, and the current crisis is a distant echo of the crisis in the 1930s. My research addressed one dimension of this state of affairs, one among several that are questions of economic orientation and general policy, but a dimension I hold to be important in the anomie that currently characterizes the Tigania-Igembe. During my last stay in 1993, I angered a “warrior”, in suit and tie, by trying to guess his generation set, a childish game (for anyone who knows the system well) that my interlocutors, dressed in a similar fashion, used to invite me to play on previous visits. Thus I realized that the nthukî, hitherto held to be public knowledge, after the tragedy of Saint Kizito10 had passed into the realm of matters that should not be disclosed, the net of secrets of a tribe in the process of re-inventing itself. And as this book deals with facts that rumor might one day hold to be criminal to disclose, the desire to remain anonymous expressed by some of my informants comes to mind. So it goes. Recently, ethnicities have fed on all the frustrations so numerous that it is hardly difficult to aggravate them. The works of ethnologists are called to witness by non-ethnologists. It is therefore useful to recall how the ethnographer’s workshop functions. It is to be hoped that one day, the Tigania-Igembe will have access to a work of research that reconstructs an entire section of their past and provides the essential keys to the crisis in which they are embroiled, but at the same time, one must not reveal the names of those who have seen fit to contribute to its realization11.

3. A Summary of the book

25The PhD thesis entitled “Génération meru, modes d’emploi. Une enquête sur les implications sociologiques d’un système générationnel bantou (Meru Tigania-Igembe, Kenya)” (Peatrik 1989) constitutes a first analysis of the data, written upon returning from the field. The title reflects the unfinished state of the project, insofar as it affirms the sociological importance of generations and underlines the difficulty in doing anything other than observing its pre-eminence: far from the loosely organized societies mentioned by previous authors, the Tigania-Igembe polity displays a disconcerting entanglement of phenomena. What is more, it conceals intriguing data about kinship, matrimonial regime and fertility. It was necessary to conduct comparative studies to find out whether the Tigania-Igembe represented an exceptional configuration, perhaps one of a kind, a result that would steer the conclusions to be drawn in the opposite direction. The works that followed (Peatrik 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995c), some of whose results are derived from comparison with the analyses of S. Tornay (1989b, 1995) and H. Müller (1991) on the generation-set system of the Nyangatom and the Karamojong— which, by fortunate circumstance, was the exact opposite to that of the Tigania-Igembe—established that not only were the Tigania-Igembe not an isolated case, but that their configuration provided a new frame of reference for the analysis of all the age and generation-set systems of eastern Africa. Examination of the situation of individuals on the margins of the system proved to be particularly fruitful, because the way incongruent individuals—the “overaged” born too early and the “underaged” born too late—were treated reveals the principles that differentiate and organize generation-set systems in eastern Africa (Peatrik 1995a). Undertaken after this long comparative detour, the analysis that forms the substance of this book, reworked and enriched with data hitherto delicate to incorporate, aims to give an account of a primary model of social organization and polity in the form of an age and generation system specific to these regions, but of which the impact is probably wider.

26The body of the text is divided into eleven chapters, in four main parts. The first part deals with the system of sets and seeks to describe the inner workings of the generational machinery of the Tigania-Igembe. Starting at the scale of degrees of age, it is explained how and at what socio-demographic price balance was kept among the successive generation sets (nthukî) and ages of the individuals within them, except during the phases of transmission of power. These are heralded by increasingly frequent confrontations between “overaged” and “underaged” sons, whose respective ages are no longer congruous with their generational positions: sons waiting for initiation, getting old without moving forward because their fathers’ set has not yet reached the echelon of power, physically dominate the younger sons, initiated prematurely by fathers who have been in power too long. This inversion of precedence and status, whereby uninitiated sons have the upper hand over initiated sons, was a sign that it was high time for the set of ageing fathers to transmit powers to the next set of younger fathers.

27The second part of the book examines the subject from the perspective of domestic organization and kinship. The double dispersion of habitat and residence, the strange presence of Omaha terminology associated with preferential marriages, a mode of cognatic filiation issuing from the pair of siblings of opposite sex, cumulative patrilinearity induced by initiations and ascendance through the echelons: all these features become coherent when we relate them to the generational system and the historico-mythical traditions surrounding its origin. They testify to the close and therefore long-established integration of the family and kinship networks within the system of sets, by means of marriage rules stipulated at the level of the generation system, and the pivotal institution of territorial organization constituted by the gaaru, or warriors’ dormitory.

  • 12  From time to time, the past tense placed in brackets serves to remind the reader that the text mos (...)

28Part three analyses the main rites involved in the progression of the sets— male and female—and the transmission of powers. Foremost among the rituals marking the development of individuals, the initiation of boys and girls appears both as the focus and the driving force of the system. A succession of “measured steps” (mataalia) that must be taken in the right order and at the appropriate time, life according to the Meru is (was12) a sequence of rebirths following periods of gestation, from which the individual emerges with a different state of age. Ageing is (was) not associated with decrepitude, and even less with sickness. When they reach the last echelon, “the completed” (Accomplished), almost sacred, display the successful combination of individual and social time. The Fathers of the country—a council of elders responsible for making legal and political decisions—embodied a collective sovereign, upholding the territorial integrity and general prosperity that depend on the vital, but always temporary, concordance between two conflicting symbolico-ritual cycles: on the one hand the cycle of rain, earth and harvest, and on the other hand the cycle of the sun, humans and cattle. One set of Fathers handed power to the following set when the rivalry of the discordant sons reveals the loss of synchronization between the life cycle of individuals and the progression of the sets, and the deleterious competition between generational divisions (gîtiba), which are to each other like the sun and the rain. This helps to explain the presence of the enigmatic—and famous—figure of the mûgwe, holding sway within the Council as the passive opposite to the blacksmith, whose intrinsic ability to control the cycles is thereby counterbalanced, and it also prompts us to reconsider the myth of Mbwaa, which is not so much a narrative of historical origin as an allegory on the passage of time and the need for initiation.

29The last part of the book relates the fate of the generation system after the colonial conquest, which, among other consequences, appeared to manipulate almost experimentally some of the hidden devices of the age-set system and, in return, to shed new light on the functioning of this “demological” polity. The administration of Tigania-Igembe Meru by the colonial bureaucracy, invalidating some of the principles of the generation sets, provoked a crisis of authority and exacerbated the rivalry between concurrent and consecutive sets of men and women. The abandonment of rules limiting fertility, and the simultaneous adherence to new values the Meru deemed to be the values of modernity, led to the redefinition of age thresholds and initiations, modification of the demographic regime specific to the generation-set system and spectacular population growth. Within the span of a few generation classes that had become initiatory categories, the Meru changed from a stationary demographic state to one of strong growth: between 1939 and 1989, the population rose from 90,000 to 500,000 individuals.

Ill. 30a, b, c & d — Old women, from the Ncencenga set, Kianjai, 1987, Kîgûcwa, 1993

Ill. 30a, b, c & d — Old women, from the Ncencenga set, Kianjai, 1987, Kîgûcwa, 1993

Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.

4. Ethnonyms and languages in use

  • 13  In northern Tanzania, to the west of Kilimanjaro, there are populations called Meru who live on th (...)

30Together with Gikuyu, Kikamba and Kiembu, Kimeru and its dialects constitute the branch of Eastern Bantus known as the “Thagicu group”, which is characterized, among other things, by the use of seven vocalic phonemes, opposition between long and short vowels, and lexical tones (Nurse 1982, Philippson 1982). These languages form a continuum reaching from the northern Meru through the Embu-Mbeere and Kamba to the southern Kikuyu. Mutual understanding exists between neighboring and nearby groups, but disappears between more distant groups. The prefix ki- designates the language; Mû- (pl. A-), as in Mûmerû (pl. Amerû) designates people, and the radical Meru designates the country. The ethnonyms used by linguists are composites based on native terms and designations that have been in vogue since the colonial administrative division of the land. The ethnonym Meru is a modification of the name of the territorial section (in Imenti) in which the first administrative post was established in 1908: Mwiriga Umwerû literally means “White Territorial Section”13. Meru became the name of the District containing the Igembe, Tigania, Imenti, Mwimbî, Chuka and Tharaka. The definition of a group of Bantu languages with seven vocalic phonemes does not imply that the Thagicu group is a homogeneous entity from cultural and historical points of view. Beyond the characteristics they indisputably share, striking also are the differences that exist between the Kikuyu, the Embu, the Kamba and the Meru, and the similarities that each has with speakers of Bantu languages with five vocalic phonemes or with Cushitic and Nilotic speakers. It is up to the linguists to elucidate this constitution with seven or five vocalic phonemes, and up to the ethnologists to treat it as a point of reference and not as a division on which to base a line of thinking.

31Kiswahili has never been a lingua franca in this region. It is known to certain notables and to educated Meru, but some of the young people take malicious pleasure in not using it, even though they readily speak English. Kiimenti, a dialect of Mount Kenya spoken in the territorial section in which the town of Meru is situated, has been the subject of certain works (Giorgis 1964, Kinoti 1984) that are useful for finding one’s way in the dialect spoken in Tigania and Igembe and its nuances. However, much remained to be done. I made use of the transcription code developed by the administrators and which represents a compromise between the use of English and the use of the typewriter. Admittedly, it is approximate, since it does not take into account tones and intonations, but it is used by the Meru who write their language, and for teaching, both in primary school and adult literacy courses, how to read in the mother tongue.


1  These sets or “classes” attracted an abundant literature from Soviet anthropologists, who wanted to see them as the African equivalent of the “Asian mode of production”. This view was essentially based on the confusion caused by the term “class” and the “stage of feudalism” that the kingdoms of the Great Lake region would have attained: the pastoral State that scholars thought they had identified in Africa echoed the hydraulic State specific to Asia (Vladimir Arseniev, conference “The state of Soviet anthropology”, Nanterre, Centre for Ethnology and Comparative Sociology, May 1991).

2  Miraa is the Meru name for khat (Catha Edulis), popularized by the Yemenis and Somalis. This shrub, the young shoots of which contain natural amphetamines, grows spontaneously in the drier parts of these regions; it is the object of traditional arboriculture that developed, legally, from the 1950s on. Formerly reserved for the elderly people, the consumption of miraa has since become widespread and supports a lucrative trade. The miraa must be harvested early in the morning and transported as fast as possible to the cities or to the airports for export. The variety grown in the Nyambene Hills is particularly appreciated because it is rich in active substances and is quite resistant to transport. In the Nyambene Hills themselves, only the bark of the young branches is delicately stripped with the teeth and chewed; the leaves are discarded.

3  In 1989, out of a total of 21.5 million Kenyans, Meru District had a population of 1,150,000. The Tigania-Igembe accounted for 455,000 individuals, in other words 40 % of the population of the District. In 1993-1994, Meru District was divided into new Districts, one of which was the Nyambene District.

4  Thanks to financial support from the CREDU, which has since become the IFRA, I was able to use a 4WD vehicle from time to time. This helped me to save time in moving from one location to another and in organizing the logistics. But due to the poor state of the road network and the difficulties of the relief and soils—sometimes rocky and sometimes muddy—beyond certain limits, the paths are impassable to everything except foot-traffic and donkeys.

5  My last study trip, which took place just after the first multi-party elections, was hindered by the numerous precautions that had to be taken against an armed and motorized gang of young Meru who were extorting money from the inhabitants of Kîgûcwa.

6  I could not find this pamphlet, but I did consult a subsequent work by the same author, devoted to initiation and other rites and published in Kimeru (Nyaga 1988). This is an anthology of customs, of little ethnographic value: it is never specified where or how the information was collected; the work mixes external elements with explanations that aim to isolate practices likely to favor enculturation and conversion. It is one of several attempts to Christianize Meru customs (see for example Ndegwa Ngunyura 1977). A simplified version published in English (Nyaga 1997) is slightly better, but still suffers from the same shortcomings.

7  Kiswahili is the language spoken by the Islamized populations on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Here it is used to refer scornfully to circumcision carried out in a clinic under anesthetic, and thus alludes to Muslim circumcision. Local nurses estimated that in 1987, in the Nyambene Hills, 70 % of circumcisions were performed on the field of initiation by traditional circumcisers. It goes without saying that circumcision, whether Kiswahili or Kimeru, is obligatory.

8  The last Kiramunya died during the famine of 1984 (called Butatira).

9  Three expeditions arrived in quick succession: W. A. Chanler and von Höhnel stayed in the Nyambene Hills in 1893; they were followed by A. H. Neumann, who made a few brief halts in 1894 and 1895; lastly, A. Arkell-Hardwick stayed there in 1899-1900. The accounts of these voyages (Chanler 1896, Neumann 1898, Arkell-Hardwick 1903) are the oldest written testimonies we have on these populations, and are the subject of a critical presentation in Appendix A at the end of this book.

10  In the location of Kianjai, the St. Kizito secondary school—a co-ed boarding school no different from many others of this type in Kenya—was the scene of a tragedy that shook the nation. During the night of Saturday 13th to Sunday 14th July 1991, boys who were staying for the weekend carried out a mass rape of girl students who had taken refuge in one of the dormitories: 19 girls were killed and 71 were raped (“The Meru Tragedy”, The Weekly Review, 19 July 1991, pp. 5-13).

11  Thirty years later, for various reasons, we think it less of a problem to indicate in the Acknowledgements the names of some of the many people who helped me in the course of my fieldwork.

12  From time to time, the past tense placed in brackets serves to remind the reader that the text most often refers to a past state of the polity. Indeed, text in the present tense (the famous ethnographic present), though more comfortable to read, opens itself to potential misinterpretation, hence the brackets.

13  In northern Tanzania, to the west of Kilimanjaro, there are populations called Meru who live on the mountain of the same name. This homophony between two different groups of Bantu-speakers is a coincidence (Spear 1997: 18) and has nothing to do with any common ascendance.

Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1 — Kenya and bordering countries
Fichier image/jpeg, 59k
Titre Map 2 — Kenya’s central mountain range
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Map 3 — North-east of the Mount Kenya mountain range
Fichier image/jpeg, 37k
Titre Ill. 34a & b — Quiet days downhill (Lairangi North Tigania), 1989
Crédits Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.
Fichier image/jpeg, 364k
Titre Ill. 35a & b — Quiet days uphill (Kîgûcwa Market), 1993
Crédits Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.
Fichier image/jpeg, 300k
Titre Ill. 31a, b & c — Old men from the Ithalie set, Athiru Gaitî, Kianjai, 1988.
Crédits Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.
Fichier image/jpeg, 398k
Titre Ill. 30a, b, c & d — Old women, from the Ncencenga set, Kianjai, 1987, Kîgûcwa, 1993
Crédits Photos by Anne-Marie Peatrik.
Fichier image/jpeg, 539k

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