Ngecha: A Kenyan Village in a Time of Rapid Social Change

Ngecha: A Kenyan Village in a Time of Rapid Social Change

Ngecha: A Kenyan Village in a Time of Rapid Social Change

Ngecha: A Kenyan Village in a Time of Rapid Social Change


Ngecha is the monumental and intimate study of modernization and nationalization in rural Africa in the early years following Kenyan independence in 1963, as experienced by the people of Ngecha, a village outside Nairobi. From 1968 to 1973 Ngecha was a research site of the Child Development Research Unit, a team that brought together Kenyan and non-Kenyan social scientists under the leadership of John Whiting and Beatrice Blyth Whiting.

The study documents how families adapted to changing opportunities and conditions as their former colony became a modern nation, and the key role that women played as agents of change as they became small-scale cash-crop farmers and entrepreneurs. Mothers modified the culture of their parents to meet the evolving national economy, and they participated in the shift from an agrarian to a wage economy in ways that transformed their workloads and perceptions of isolation and individualism within and between households, thereby challenging traditional family-based morals and obligations. Their children, in turn, experienced evolving educational practices and achievement expectations. The elders faced new situations as well as new modes of treatment. Completing this valuable record of a nation in transition are the long-term reassessments of the observations and conclusions of the research team, and a description of Ngecha today as viewed by Kenyans who participated in the original study.


Carolyn Edwards and Beatrice Whiting

Ngecha, with an estimated population of 60,000 in 2002 but only 7,000 in 1973, is situated in the Central Province of Kenya in the fertile foothills of the Nyandarua Range (Aberdares) on the edge of the Rift Valley. At an altitude of 6,000 feet, its climate is temperate and mild yearround. Gikuyu lineages came to settle the land around Ngecha in the last decades of the nineteenth century during a late chapter in the great migration of Bantu peoples who first moved into the Central Highlands of East Africa around 1500.

The region’s beauty and desirability also attracted the British and other European settlers who poured into Africa during the early part of the twentieth century in search of estates on which to raise coffee, tea, and cattle. the first European missionaries arrived around the same time, also drawn by its prime location 20 miles north of Nairobi, close to the trans-Kenyan railroad that connects the coast with Lake Victoria and Uganda. the missionaries introduced schools along with the Christian religion. in the following years, more and more land was alienated from the Gikuyu lineages who had settled Ngecha but who were now squeezed into an area that British colonial authorities demarcated as a native reserve.

When Kenyans achieved their independence in 1963, the new national government converted the native reserve into a fourth-level administrative unit called a location. (The levels are province, district, division, location, and sublocation.) the location of Ngecha included the village and its surroundings, the village of Kibuku, and seven sections of farm homesteads owned by members of the named Gikuyu patrilineages who had migrated from the area around Mount Kenya.

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