Writing Gikuyu : Christian literacy and ethnic debate in northern Central Kenya, 1908--1952.

Author: Peterson, Derek Raymond

Awarding University: University of Minnesota, USA

Level : PhD

Year: 2000

Holding Libraries: French Institute for Research in Africa Library ; University Microfilms International ;

Subject Terms: African history/Language/Presbyterian churches/Kikuyu language/Kikuyu (African people)/TumutTumu, Nyeri District/ ;

Pages: 212

Advisors: Advisers: Isaacman, Allen F/Allman, Jean M

Abstract:

Historians and theorists of literacy have taken uncritically the legitimating myth of European colonialism: that modern schooling made rational citizens of colonized subjects. This dissertation argues instead that Gikuyu 'readers' remade the techniques of schooling for their own moral purposes. Focusing on the rural schools connected with the Presbyterian Mission of Tumutumu in Kenya's Nyeri District, the dissertation shows that literacy was never a modern mindset for Gikuyu readers: writing was rather a rhetoric, a way that literates and illiterates alike argued about old ethnic virtues in order to meet the moral challenges of colonialism. Gikuyu had long called themselves Mbari ya atiriri, the 'clan of I say to you'. Political solidarities emerged from oral debate. Missionary texts and materials extended the imaginative language with which young debated with old, offering converts a powerfully compelling stock of stories with which to claim a hearing from their fathers. It was as a rhetoric that the first converts at Tumutumu adopted missionary dress and ideology in the dreadful aftermath of World War I. Youthful converts argued in the translated bible that the soap they washed with, and the redemption they earned in baptism, amounted to ituika, the process of public cleansing in which youth purchased government from elders. Schooling was a vocabulary of generational debate. It became the proving ground for a new polity in the 1930s, when women's wage work and men's landlessness made rural people worry about social decay and sexual strife. In their public writing literate male converts shaded bureaucratic ideas into the vernacular, hoping that new political models would guard families from dissolution. Women also used missionary ideas to redress social disorder. In the vocal confessions of the East African revival, women blamed men for domestic strife and demanded moral discipline of husbands. Women's talk and men's writing were contending gendered answers to widespread Gikuyu fear of social decay. 'Mau Mau' carried Nyeri people's debate over moral order into the forest, where guerillas used bureaucracy give shape to the moral cleansing promised in ituika .