chapter  3
43 Pages

“Without Land I Am Nothing!”

Kikuyu Women and Land Rights
WithEsther Kingston-Mann

This chapter suggests that reformers and scholars might benefit from a greater focus on the social sphere as a source of economic and political power for rural women. Before the colonial era, the lives of Kikuyu (Kenya's majority ethnic group) were governed by male councils that determined "the rules of the game" in a village's economic life. Councils guaranteed a variety of land claims for men, and rights to garden use for both women and men. After the British conquest, a series of race-based tenure transformations were imposed at the whim of settlers and officials, who seized supposedly "empty" Kikuyu land and converted its cultivators into plantation labourers and squatters. In contrast, the Central Highlands—the domain of the Kikuyu—was the most fertile and densely populated area of Kenya, and was the most attractive to colonizers. Communalism was presented as a reaction against "Kikuyu individualism". Colonial authorities now argued that productivity rates would increase if "tribal life" were strengthened and improved.