Gusii - History and Cultural Relations

At the end of the 1700s, Bantu-speaking populations were dispersed 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 1,515 meters were probably uninhabited from the northern part of the Manga escarpment southward to the Kuja River. At that time, the lowland savanna was being settled by large numbers of agro-pastoralist peoples ancestral to the present-day Luo and Kipsigis, dislodging the smaller Bantu groups from their territories on the savanna. The Gusii settled in the Kisii highlands, whereas other culturally and linguistically related groups remained along the Lake Victoria Basin or settled in the lower savanna region at the Kenya-Tanzania border (as did the Kuria, for example). The establishment of the British colonial administration in 1907 was initially met by armed resistance, but it ceased after World War I. Unlike other highland peoples in Kenya, the Gusii were not subjected to land alienation. The seven subdivisions of Gusiiland were converted into administrative units under government-appointed chiefs. The first missions were established by the Catholics in 1911 and the Seventh Day Adventists in 1913. Mission activity was initially not very successful; several stations were looted. Since Kenyan independence in 1963, schools have been built throughout the area; roads have been improved, and electricity, piped water, and telephones have been extended into many areas. By the 1970s, a shortage of land had begun to make farming unprofitable, and the education of children for off-farm employment became more important.

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