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de Wolf, Jan Jacob (1971) Religious innovation and social change among the Bukusu. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The problem of this thesis is the relation between the acceptance of religious innovation and other processes of social change among the Bukusu of Western Kenya. The theoretical framework which was adopted was borrowed from Mary Douglas who recently introduced the terms 'group' and 'grid' to denote two independent variables which characterize any social system. It appeared the only approach which could explain the incidence of a millenarian movement in a satisfactory manner and it also allowed a better description and fuller explanation of other facts. Traditionally Bukusu society had strong grid and weak group. There were no corporate groups or state-like institutions, but social organization depended on the manipulation of roles based on ego-centred categories. These characteristics facilitated the introduction of a hierarchy of political offices through which a handful of British administrators could control many of hundreds of thousands of Africans. This new system was differentiated through the need to introduce further checks and balances. Independent courts of justice and representative councils which assumed responsibility for public services curbed the discretionary powers of the chiefs and allowed greater African participation in decision making. Bukusu took advantage of the new opportunities which the system offered and tried to change criteria for recruiting chiefs and allocation of money for education to make it even more advantageous for themselves. Christianity was important for these developments because African participation in denominational competition gave Bukusu the experience and the organizational framework to agitate for the replacement of alien chiefs in Bukusu locations. Missionaries also encouraged semi-political welfare organizations which acquainted Bukusu with techniques necessary to set up and operate large scale formal organizations effectively. Thus they could form the Bukusu Union which wanted to use Bukusu wealth for Bukusu development. The emergence of a millenarian movement focussed the attention of the administration on these aspirations and resulted in the setting up of a new district in which the Bukusu were dominant. The first education provided by the missionaries helped individual Bukusu to qualify for the new posts in the administrative system created by the British. Enduring commitment to mocogamy enabled Christians to save money which they could invest in commercial farming. Money saved in the form of bridewealth cattle and/or earned from the sale of cash crops helped to pay for expensive boarding school education of children in the nineteen forties and fifties. These children were therefore proportionately more important among the national elite which emerged in the nineteen sixties than children with a different background.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:01

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