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Chapter Eight Muigwithania (The Reconciler) In the beginning of things, Mogai (Ngai, God) took the man Gikuyu (Kikuyu ) to the top of Mount Kenya and bequeathed to him the bountiful land below. Mogai provided Gikuyu with a wife, Moombi (Mumbi), and they had nine daughters. When the daughters had grown, Mogai provided them with nine husbands, and together they prospered and had many children of their own. After the passing of Gikuyu and Moombi, the nine daughters divided their families into separate mbaris, or clans, and spread across the land of their father. To sustain kinship ties and preserve bonds of unity, they organized themselves under a common tribal identity—­ Rorere rwa Mbari ya Moombi, or Children of Mumbi. After a time, a system of generational bonds—­ riika, or age grading—­ was established to ensure cooperation in times of need, and to sustain harmony in political, social, religious, and economic life. The people living below Mount Kenya became known as Kikuyu. This story appears near the beginning of Jomo Kenyatta’s classic work of anthropology and cultural representation, Facing Mount Kenya.1 Published after Kenyatta had spent nearly a decade in Europe, a period during which he had sought alliances with—­ and absorbed lessons from—­ an eclectic group of liberals, communists, Marxists, and pan-­ Africanists, Facing Mount Kenya nevertheless sustained the project of group identity and nation building that Kenyatta had embarked upon as a young man in Kenya. As Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale have brilliantly illustrated,Kenyatta—­ joined by a group of mission-­ educated colleagues in the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA),the forebear of the Kenya African Union—­ worked to discursively resolve the internal contradictions of Kikuyu ethnic community (“moral ethnicity ”) in favor of an outward-­ looking posture (“political tribalism”) that simultaneously renegotiated the relationship between Kikuyu and Western traditions, projected a harmonious unity of group interests, and bolstered Kenyatta’s own claim to political representation in the altered landscape of colonial rule. If the logic of indirect rule ceded Kenyan politics to white settlers and their imperial enablers, and the preservation of local African Muigwithania (The Reconciler) • 213 “custom” to a group of government-­ appointed chiefs, Kenyatta and his colleagues would construct a new platform from which to project a competing authority. Faced with a tribal history of porous boundaries and competing moralities, their embrace of the story of Gikuyu and Moombi became an act of cultural nationalism.2 The outlines of this story—­ not to mention the broader narrative of Kenya’s independence struggle of which it is a part—­ have been well drawn. Nevertheless,in viewing the politics of Kikuyu “invented tradition”through the prism of local and national frames,scholars have missed an opportunity to explore the extent to which interwar Kikuyu nationalism was forged in the context of broader African rhythms. In particular, interwar Kikuyu activists joined their brethren throughout the continent in pursuing contacts with Garveyist and other pan-­ Africanist organizers,absorbing the lessons of African Garveyism, and implementing those lessons in conversation with their particular needs, grievances, and opportunities. After the brief and explosive attempt to organize a pan-­ African insurgency under the leadership of Harry Thuku in 1921–­ 22, Kikuyu activists pursued a more cautious strategy of fictive unity,consciousness raising,self-­ help,and separatist institution building that both mirrored the political activism of Garveyism in other parts of the continent and reconstituted it as tribal politics. Their outreach in 1935 to the Garveyist religious leader, Archbishop Daniel William Alexander of the African Orthodox Church, both sustained the tradition of Kenyan Garveyism and demonstrated the extent to which Kikuyu activists, engaged in the intensely local politics of central Kenya, were simultaneously participating in a more expansive project. The Kikuyu Central Association and the Politics of Garveyist Tribalism It was nearly a decade after the Thuku massacre before a second wave of crisis hit central Kenya. The controversy that enveloped the colony surrounding the Kikuyu rites of initiation (irua), in particular the practice of female circumcision, has received a considerable amount of scholarly attention.3 In 1929, frustrated by years of half measures and enraged by the forcible circumcision of a fourteen-­ year-­ old girl who was seized from her dormitory at the Gospel Missionary Society’s (GMS) Kambui mission, John W. Arthur of the CSM led the bulk of the Protestant missions in Kikuyu country on a righteous crusade to stamp out the custom among Kikuyu Christians. Heavy-­ handed tactics, in particular demands that church members declare oaths of loyalty...


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