At the end of the 1700s, Bantu-speaking peoples were scattered in small pockets at the northern, southern, and eastern margins of the Kisii highlands and in the Lake Victoria basin.
Around 1800, the highlands above 4,970 feet (1,515 meters) were probably uninhabited from the northern part of the Manga escarpment south to the river Kuja. At that time, the lowland savannas (grasslands) were settled by large numbers of farmer-herders who were ancestors to present-day Luo and Kipsigis.
These farmer-herders displaced the smaller Bantu groups from their territories on the savanna. The Gusii settled in the Kisii highlands; other related groups remained along the Lake Victoria Basin or, as the Kuria, settled in the lower savanna region at the Kenya-Tanzania border.
The British invaded these lands and established a colonial government in 1907, declaring themselves rulers. Native peoples initially responded with armed resistance, which ceased after World War I (1914–18).
Unlike the situation in other highland areas of Kenya, the Gusii were not moved from their lands. The seven subdivisions of Gusiiland were converted into administrative units under government-appointed chiefs.
Missions were established to attempt to convert Gusii from their indigenous (native) beliefs to Christianity. This mission activity was not initially very successful, and several missions were looted.
After Kenyan independence in 1963, schools were built throughout Gusii lands, roads were improved, and electricity, piped water, and telephones were extended to many areas. By the 1970s, a land shortage had begun to make farming unprofitable.
Since that time, the education of children to prepare them for off-farm employment has become a priority.
Origin and Settlement
The Abagusii, like the Abaluyia (Luhya), claim to have come from areas further north. As these Bantu speakers migrated from the Congo, they split up into different groups with the Kisii ending up in Nyanza Province near Lake Victoria.
(The Kikuyu, Kamba, and other related Bantu groups in Kenya continued the hunt for richer soil for farming and moved on eastwards across the Rift valley to their current locations. They later settled in the now-called Central and Rift Valley Provinces of Kenya.)
The Kisii ended up in a geographical location unique among Bantu-speaking groups in that they were surrounded on all sides by initially, and later sporadically hostile Nilotic communities of the Luo, Kipsigis, Nandi, and Maasai.
Constant sieges resulted in the development of a war-like culture, unlike most Bantu communities, to defend against cattle-raiding neighboring communities. To this day, they have a reputation of being tough, emotionally labile, resilient, and very industrious.
There’s strong evidence, however, that periods of peace with neighboring communities must have led to intermarriages and consequent consanguinity.
This is evident in the greatly varied complexion and physique between AbaGusii from different subregions of Gusii. Some clans of the Suba (AbaSoba in EkeGusii) are said to have been completely absorbed by the AbaGUsii.
The Bantu community with a great many similarities with the AbaGusii is the Meru (Ameru) from the windward slopes of Mount Kenya, although the Kuria (AbaKuria) share a great deal in common with the AbaGusii in language and culture as well, and a history of intermarriage has led to prohibition of marriage alliances for specific clans of the AbaGusii with some Kuria clans.
The Kipsigis, the highland nilotes bordering the AbaGusii on the northern and northeastern frontier affectionately refer to the AbaGusii as kamama (an appellation connoting extensive marriage alliances between the two very dissimilar neighbors).
Indeed many Kipsigis can easily point to someone in their lineage (especially a matriarch) from Gusii.
Family & Marriage
Marriage is established through the payment of bridewealth (in the form of livestock and money), paid by the husband to the wife’s family. This act establishes a socially approved marriage.
The residence is at the husband’s family’s home. Divorce is rare and requires the return of the bridewealth. Upon the death of a husband, a widow chooses a husband from among the dead man’s brothers.
Until the 1960s, everyone got married as soon as possible after puberty. However, at the end of the 1960s, elopements started to increase.
Since then, the period between the beginning of cohabitation (living together) and payment of bridewealth has become increasingly long. In 1985, at least 75 percent of all new unions between women and men were established without the payment of bridewealth.
The lack of bridewealth payment means that a union has no social or legal foundation; this has resulted in a large class of poor single mothers with no access to land.
Households are based on nuclear (husband, wife, and children) or polygynous (multiple-wife) families. In polygynous families, each wife has her own household and there is little cooperation between cowives.
With the decline in polygyny, a domestic unit typically consists of a wife and husband and their unmarried children.
It may also include the husband’s mother, and for brief periods of time, younger siblings of the wife. Until the birth of the first or second child, a wife and her mother-in-law may cook together and cooperate in farming. Married sons and their wives and children usually maintain their own households and resources.
- Read more: https://www.everyculture.com/wc/Japan-to-Mali/Gusii.html#ixzz6oGGOX0Gy
- Kisii University