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Title: The cultural politics of bridewealth : marriage, custom and land in colonial Mubang'a.
Author: Kannan, Joyce Anwera.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3594 6160
Awarding Body: School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2000
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In 1948 Kikuyu women in Murang' a district staged a protest against compulsory labour for soil conservation works. The protest emerged as a result of women's frustrations and increasing insecurity produced by the drive for peasant accumulation in the reserve, and accordingly has been viewed in terms of the growing gender conflict within the household over resource control which became an aspect in the internal debates over land which culminated in the declaration of a state of Emergency in Kenya in 1952. The aim of the thesis is not to disprove this, but to point, by way of examination of the key institutions and ideologies defining the lives of Kikuyu women; marriage and the kinship network, which combined under the single principle of bride wealth, at some of the processes by which women came to be divested of their rights in land. Until the 1920s, the principles of pre-colonial social organisation, mbari and riika, which together had acted to mediate the distribution of primary resources among adult members of Kikuyu society continued to uphold the control of female and younger male reproduction by male elders. The failure of the change-over in tribal government which should have taken place throughout Kikuyuland during the 1920s, is identified as the point at which the ideology of community and kinship which had supported the survival and growth of society in the pre-colonial period began to unravel. The overwhelming significance of the event known as ituika to the development of the Kikuyu polity and its centrality in sustaining the ideology of riika and the relationships which it supported, is undermined by the insufficiency of the archival and oral data. Nevertheless, the coincidence of the emergence of ituika, with the intensification of inter-generational debates over political authority and control over new agencies of resource distribution in the reserve, are linked to the conflicts over land, and what many writers have identified as the redefinition of land rights in favour mbari interests which began in the late 1920s. Of the ideologies which had traditionally supported women's rights in the household, it was the notion of kin contributions to, and receipt of, bridewealth that invested kin interests in the survival of a marriage, which provided women with the assurance of security and support in the household. The demise of riika ideology and the increased use of more exclusive forms of wealth as bridewealth, led to a more restricted definition of kinship, and what colonial observers decried as the commercialization of the bridewealth negotiation. By the 1920s, while money had come increasingly to replace livestock in the equation, the role of women in defining male control of land had become enhanced by the greater emphasis on the land allocating powers of the mbari. Indeed the thesis argues that by the 1920s, for rich and poor men alike, control of female reproduction had become of overwhelming importance as a means of securing claims to land, and of making that land more profitable. Furthermore attempts by the British administration from the 1930s onwards, to modify customary marriage by imposing certain restrictions on the performance and practice of the bridewealth custom supported the development of more exclusive ideas about marriage and kinship which for women, sharpened the insecurity produced by land hunger, over-population and modifications in customary practice.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available