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The historical anthropology of a mission hospital in northwestern Kenya (medical care).

Author: Bianco, Barbara A

Awarding University: New York University, USA

Level : PhD

Year: 1992

Holding Libraries: University Microfilms International ;

Subject Terms: Pokot (African people) ; Ethnology ; Cross-cultural studies ; Hospitals ; Missionaries ; Colonialism ; Irish Catholic Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary ; Catholicism ;


This study examines the shift from home to hospital care in an outlying district of northwestern Kenya during the late colonial period to the present. Drawing on field and archival data, it argues that the incorporation of a western medical institution into a non-western therapeutic landscape is best understood in terms of the changing politics of vulnerability that linked european newcomers and African natives. Like the provision of hospital care, the use of hospital services was also caught up in the tensions of empire. Ethnographically, the study calls attention to a place, a time period, and a kind of missionary that have received relatively little attention in the anthropological and historical literature on christian evangelism and colonial rule. The missionaries who ran the hospital in west Pokot were women rather than men of the cloth. Members of the Irish Catholic Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, they began working in the district in 1956 when the modalities of British administration had long been established and missionaries acted less as agents of empire than as envoys of God. The gender of the missionaries and the time of their arrival are critical to understanding how Pokot men and women made sense of the hospital and its medicines and staff. As a locus of inquiry, the hospital itself challenges commonplace understandings about the dynamics of colonial and cross-cultural encounters because it constitutes one of the few settings in which Europeans and Africans were drawn together by physical contact and mutual dependence. Analytically, the study seeks to determine what an historical anthropology of a complex organization in a non-Western setting might look like. By analyzing the explanatory vocabularies that British civil servants, Irish Catholic nuns, and Pokot cattle-keepers invoked to make sense of themselves, one another, and their various misfortunes, the study charts the changing public imagery of the hospital, along with the sociological imaginations of the men and women who gathered in and around its wards.