Luyia - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Although some clans were known for particular roles and strengths during the eighteenth through early-twentieth centuries, leadership has come from a variety of clans and subnations over the years. The range of social stratification among the Abaluyia extends from the landless to poor, middle-level, and rich farmers, depending upon such factors as the size of the plot owned and the number of animals kept. There is a developing class system but no formal hierarchy.

Political Organization. Prior to the colonial period, the highest level of political integration was the clan, and the clan headman was the most powerful figure. In some of the subnations, patron-client relationships developed between powerful clan heads and landless men who would serve as warriors. These big-men later gained power through alliances with the British, but there were no precolonial chiefs among the Abaluyia. Nevertheless, some clans and individuals were viewed as having particularly good leadership abilities. In Kenya, the traditional headman system changed in 1926 with the institution of milango headmen (usually, they were also luguru headmen), then the ulogongo system in the 1950s. Currently, villages are headed by luguru, sublocations are headed by government-hired and -paid assistant chiefs, and a paid chief leads at the location level.

Social Control. Crimes, misdeeds, land disputes, and the like were originally handled by the clan. Nowadays, in Kenya, these matters proceed initially to the headmen and assistant chiefs, who deal with local disputes at a monthly baraza (community meeting). Unresolved cases may be taken up by the location chief, district officer, or district commissioner; final recourse may be sought in the Kenyan court system.

Conflict. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Abaluyia subnations and clans often raided and warred against each other and against their non-Abaluyia neighbors (see "History and Cultural Relations"). This warfare accelerated toward the end of the nineteenth century with the arrival of the British and the introduction of firearms. Pax Britannica was achieved in 1906, but feuds and rivalries continued within clans and subclans even into the postcolonial era. The Marachi and Wanga eventually formed military alliances with the British, but others, such as the Bukusu, waged wars of resistance. Conflicts are now rare, although political events in Kenya in the 1990s have resulted in some interethnic fighting at the margins of the Abaluyia region.

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