Gusii - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Except as a unit of exogamy, the clan today seldom appears as a social group for coordinated action. In elections to parliament, county councils, and cooperative boards, clans provide voting blocks for their own candidates. The lineage is also losing its importance as a field for social action. Regular social and economic interaction is limited to the sibling group. Socioeconomic stratification is rapidly emerging, but there is no formal hierarchy. There is a marked trend toward intermarriage between persons of similar economic and social status.

Political Organization. Precolonial political power and authority were vested in local male elders' councils and in the big-men who dominated their neighborhoods. In the absence of crosscutting forms of social organization, political life was factionalized into descent-based groups of varying ramifications. Only the Kitutu clan cluster developed a rudimentary political office of chief, omogambi (lit., "giver of verdicts"). Women were alienated, and geographically separated, from their natal clans and were thus in a position of little influence and power during the first years of marriage; however, older women, who had gained power by dint of the number of their sons and daughters-in-law, were often in charge of negotiations between fighting parties. Men continue to dominate political life, and leadership is nowadays based on elected office in local government bodies and in administration as chiefs and assistant chiefs.

Social Control. During the precolonial period, disputes over cattle and land, crimes, and other misdeeds were handled by local male elders' councils and by big-men. Today local disputes are handled by a meeting of local male elders and the assistant chief ( baraza). Crimes and disputes can also be taken to the court system.

Conflict. During the nineteenth century, interclan relationships were often hostile and resulted in raids for cattle and pastureland. Gusii relationships with neighboring groups varied over time but were generally peaceful and cooperative with the Luo groups and perpetually hostile with the Kipsigis. After 1918, the British administration suppressed armed conflicts in the area. There was, however, a resurgence of armed conflict, over land, between the Gusii and the Maasai during the 1960s.


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