Kuria - Society
|See also Kuria marriage traditions. As ever, any more information about this, or on any other topic covered in this website, would be most welcome.
|In this page:
Agriculture and livestock
Clans and age-sets
Religion and beliefs
Originally cattle-herding pastoralists, the Kuria's history of flight in the face of stronger and more aggressive enemies has meant that cattle herding has gradually given way to farming as the primary source of subsistence as well as income for Kuria.
The reasons for the switch from herding to agriculture are simple: huge numbers of cattle were lost to Luo and Maasai raiders in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and their new location - in the well-watered hills east of Lake Victoria - made cattle-herding less viable than farming. Nonetheless, cattle are still kept and remain important, not only for food (mainly milk, and less frequently blood) but also for use in ritual ceremonies and in the exchange of bridewealth (dowry payments).
The slopes of hills are used for growing cash crops like coffee, sugar cane, tobacco - which is also taken locally in the form of snuff - and maize, which has gradually supplanted the traditional staple of millet. Bananas and a variety of vegetables are also grown.
Rainfall is generally continuous with little distinction between long and short rains (March-May and June-September respectively); annual rainfall averages 700-1800mm. Lake Victoria provides an additional source of revenue in the form of fish, which are processed in Migori.
Settlement patterns differ between the Kenyan and Tanzanian Kuria, as a result of both defensive requirements (the Kenyan Kuria were always at greater risk from Luo and Maasai than the Tanzanian Kuria), and climate/terrain, which in Kenya is mostly unsuitable for livestock.
Thus, the typical homesteads of the Kenyan Kuria were characterised both by their settled and defensive natures. The basic pattern consisted of closely clustered houses constructed around a central livestock enclosure. Between each homestead were (indeed still are) the family's fields and pastures. The homesteads were generally densely distributed, whether in the savannah or in the hills.
The houses themselves were round, with walls of mud-plastered upright poles and roofs made of thickly thatched grass. Although livestock were kept within the central enclosures at night, the granaries remained outside the stockades. This may appear strange at first, until one considers that their primary enemies - the Maasai, and historically the Luo - were historically extremely disdainful of agricultural foods, much preferring livestock. They may, therefore, simply have been uninterested by the potential bounty presented them.
As with all of Kenya's Bantu-speaking people, circumcision for boys and clitoridectomy for girls is practised to mark a child's initiation into adulthood, and thus full membership into the community, together with all the benefits and responsibilities this entails.
Unusually for Kenya, the ceremonies for both boys and girls took place almost simultaneously (the girls four days after the boys), and was followed by sexually mixed - as opposed to segregated -roaming through the countryside. I'm unsure whether this refers to the period of seclusion and healing, or to a later stage.
See also the Ukuhurania boys' circumcision song, and the Ekegogo dance, both in the section on Music & Dance.
The political government of Kuria society was originally based on a combination of territorial division by clan, and a system of age-sets in which the social and ritual conduct of each individual was ruled by the age-grade of his or her age-set. Each age-set comprised of all the people of a similar age, and usually changed every eight or ten years with the creation of a new age-set, when the already existing age-sets moved up one grade. So, for example, the creation of a new age-set automatically created a new age-set of warriors; the former warrior age-set would join the senior warrior age-set, and the senior warriors would in their turn become elders, who were the highest grade.
The initiation into elderhood was called Isubo, but was by no means automatic. To achieve this rank, a man needed to have children and grandchildren. Once initiated, he was responsibility became the rule of the Kuria or his clan in general. Laws were made and enforced by such elders, sometimes with the aid of curses or witchcraft.
Both the age-set and clan systems have been greatly modified or have simply disappeared since colonial times (under the Germans in Tanganyika, and the British in Kenya).
Someone please send me more information about this!
This is the only reference I have been able to find about traditional beliefs and religion among the Kuria, and it seems to touch in part on the disappearance of the age-sets, namely the ritual and religious importance accorded to elders: "The roles of rainmakers, of the dreamer-prophets and of elders are diminishing in the social and political lives of the Kuria. Except among the older generation, there is progressively less ritual and practical everyday dependence upon the traditional leaders."