Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Gusii are a Bantu-speaking people located in southwestern Kenya. The Gusii live in dispersed homesteads of nuclear or polygynous families, and support themselves by a combination of farming, trade, and wage labor. Exogamy, patrilocality, and patriliny are major features of the society.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Gusii collection consists of 33 English language documents dealing with the Gusii people of Kisii District in southwestern Kenya. The major time span for this collection is approximately one hundred years ranging from about 1900 to 2001, with a focus on the years of 1950-1976. Only one study in this collection, Hakansson, 1994, no. 27, deals with the pre-colonial period (i.e., pre-1907). This work deals with the relationship between agricultural production and grain and cattle exchange. There are two studies in this collection that provide some degree of general ethnographic coverage, these are LeVine 1966, 1994, nos. 5 and 7. In addition the LeVines (Robert and Sarah) also provide a wealth of information on infant and child care and development, as found in LeVine, 1994, nos. 7, 10, 11, 12, and 13. Other ethnographic topics appearing in this collection are: bride-wealth as a significant feature of Gusii marriage arrangements in Mayer, 1950, no. 2, and Hakansson, 1988, 1990, nos. 26 and 30; kinship in Mayer, 1949, 1965, nos. 1 and 3; witchcraft and sorcery in LeVine, 1963, no. 15, and Ogembo, 2001, no. 23; gender in Hakansson and LeVine, 1997, no. 28, and Hakansson, 1994, no. 29; and sex offenses and social control in LeVine, 1959, 1980, nos. 25 and 32.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article "Gusii" by N. Thomas Hakansson in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9, Africa and the Middle East, edited by John Middleton and Amal Rassam. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co., 1995. The Synopsis and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in April 2005.

Overview by

John Beierle

ABAAMATE (pl. EAMATE) -- a clan - use SIBS (614)


ABAKO -- affines; people of different lineages - use KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602), LINEAGES (613)

ABAMENYI -- "dwellers"; immigrant populations settled among the Gusii - use ETHNIC STRATIFICATION (563)

ABANYAMATATI -- "people of shaving", a mourning group associated with the lineage - use BURIAL PRACTICES AND FUNERALS (764), MOURNING (765), PERSONAL GROOMING (302), SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571), KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602), LINEAGES (613) (all depending on context)

ABATURETTI -- a council of elders for the settlement of disagreements in a community EGESAKU -- a lineage - use LINEAGES (613)

administrative "locations" (e. g., the Nyaribari location) - use TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)

African District Council - use DISTRICTS (634)

African Tribunal Courts - use JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (692)

CHINYANGI -- the traditional initiation ceremony - use PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)

chiefs -- heads of the eight administrative "locations" established by the colonial administration and served by a number of headmen under the chief's authority - use TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631) (sometimes with DISTRICTS (634))

CHINSONI -- kin avoidance - use KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602), - use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)

daughter-in-law marriage -- a legal fiction whereby a married woman obtains a wife for a non-existent son - use SPECIAL UNIONS AND MARRIAGES (588)

EBIRECHA -- ancestor spirits - use ESCHATOLOGY (775), sometimes with CULT OF THE DEAD (769)

EBITINGE -- iron ankle rings worn by married women who have undergone the wedding ceremony known as ENYANGI - use ORNAMENT (301)

EGESAMO -- a simulated residential house constructed for a homeless individual at his or her funeral - use BURIAL PRACTICES AND FUNERALS (764), DWELLINGS (342), and OUTBUILDINGS (343)

EGESANGIO -- a cooperative work group in agricultural activities - use MUTUAL AID (476) EGESARATE -- the cattle village - use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361), PASTORAL ACTIVITIES (233)

EMECHIE (OMOCHIE) -- the Gusii homestead - use HOUSEHOLD (592), EXTENDED FAMILIES (596)

EMEGIRO -- avoidance - use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)

EMUMA-- magically unclean and dangerous - use PURIFICATION AND ATONEMENT (783), RELIGIOUS OFFENSES (688)

EMUUMA -- mystical danger - use SOCIAL OFFENSES (689)

ENDAMWAMU -- jealously - use DRIVES AND EMOTIONS (152)

ENYANGI -- the final marriage ceremony - use NUPTIALS (585)

ENYOMBA -- a "house" or lineage segment - use HOUSEHOLD (592), - use LINEAGES (613)

ESIRA -- the concept of debt - use BORROWING AND LENDING (426)

ETUGO -- the allotted flocks and herds belonging to a "house"; the wealth of a "house" - use PROPERTY IN MOVABLES (422) or REAL PROPERTY (423)


KEUMBU -- the administrative center of Nyaribari - use TOWNS (632)

NSONI -- mutual restraint on individuals who use kinship terms with one another - use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784), KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)

OBOROGI -- black magic or witchcraft -- - use SORCERY (754)

OMOGAKA -- the marriage priest - use PRIESTHOOD (793)

OMOGAMBI -- respected elders or judges - use JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (692), - use STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554), - use ACTIVITIES OF THE AGED (887)

OMONYAMORIOGO -- a medicine man - use MEDICAL PERSONNEL (759)

OMORERI (pl. ABARERI) -- "baby sitters" - use INFANT CARE (854), - use CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES (857)

OMOROGI (pl. ABAROGI) -- a witch or witches - use SORCERY (754)


OMOSEGI (pl. ABASEGI) -- an initiation sponsor - use PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)

RIBINA -- celebrations which initiate a new planting season - use TILLAGE (241), ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)

RIIGA -- a lineage, four generations in depth - use LINEAGES (613)

RISAGA -- a community work group - use COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621), MUTUAL AID (476), LABOR AND LEISURE (461)

the seclusion hut - use OUTBUILDINGS (343) (sometimes with DWELLINGS (342))

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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