Traditional society lacked chiefs. The political system was diffuse and unorganized beyond the local level of the homestead or neighborhood, where principles of kinship and age organized social and political relations. The imposition of colonial rule led to the appointment of chiefs, the centralization of authority, and the creation of political hierarchy.
Social Organization. Shallow patrilineages and complementary affinal and uterine relationships lay at the center of kinship organization. Classificatory extensions of lineage relations encompassed people of the patrician. Male age sets and generation classes also organized social relations. Exclusively male groups, determined by age and generation, formalized the influence of male elderhood, both in political and ritual matters. The age and generational systems proved very fragile under colonial influence and have not been viable institutions since the early 1950s. Lineage affiliation remains important, but its value has been turned toward protecting one's interest in land under the government program of land reform.
Political Organization. Male elders were invested with considerable influence, exercised formally in councils. The councils were not standing bodies. They were situationally activated by each dispute within the neighborhood. Elderhood, marked by membership in one or another senior age set, defined eligibility for participation in a council. Especially able elders, eloquent in speech and skilled at mediation, regularly were called by disputants to help settle their cases. Resolution emphasized arbitration and compromise rather than adjudication. Elder men enjoyed special powers of cursing, which insured that the effected compromise would be honored. A disputant violating the terms of settlement might fall ill through the effects of a curse. Councils continue to meet, but their functions and range of action have greatly diminished owing to imposed court systems and chiefs.
Social Control. informal mechanisms of social control, including ridicule and songs of mockery, are effective in limiting deviant behavior. Curses and the threat of sorcery also function to insure conformity by threatening illness, infertility, or death against people who might otherwise ignore the force of collective opinion.
Conflict. Cattle raids ended at the close of the nineteenth century, when Kamba and Mbeere warriors fought skirmishes on either side of the Tana River. Until that time, the Mbeere engaged in intermittent warfare against their Bantu neighbors and, occasionally, against the Maasai. Internal raids among Mbeere also ended at the same time. Food shortages usually prompted the warrior forays.