Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu

In This Review

Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu

By Jomo Kenyatta
Secker and Warburg, 1938
339 pp.
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Kenyatta, later Kenya's first president, wrote this vivid collection of essays for Bronislaw Malinowski's anthropology seminar at the London School of Economics and published them in Britain in 1938 as a monograph on the life and customs of the Kikuyu people before colonial conquest. Challenging the racist assumptions of settlers, missionaries, and colonial administrators, Kenyatta set out to show that Africans were "conditioned, by the cultural and social institutions of centuries, to a freedom of which Europe has little conception." Ignoring customary laws governing individual land ownership, described by Kenyatta in expert detail, the colonists had seized African farms on the pretext that tribal land was communal. From a prosperous, virtuous, and healthy way of life, colonial rule had reduced the Kikuyu social order to ruins and its members to serfdom. Like Chinua Achebe's masterful novel Things Fall Apart (1958), this classic conveys the pain of colonial "culture contact" from the African perspective. It also stands up well among the major works of African ethnography, notwithstanding its author's political subtext.