Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

African Womanhood in Colonial Kenya, 1900-1950

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

African Womanhood in Colonial Kenya, 1900-1950

Article excerpt

African Womanhood in Colonial Kenya, 1900-1950. By Tabitha Kanogo. East Africa Series. Athens: Ohio University Press; Oxford: James Curry; Nairobi: EAEP, 2005. Pp. x, 268. $49.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.

In this study, Kanogo tackles the history of the challenges faced by Kenyan women and their struggles to exploit new opportunities in the colonial epoch. New regulations imposed by missions, colonial officials, and African men limited women's choices, but women found that from the contradictions of colonialism emerged new arenas in which they could (attempt to) shape their own lives. As Kanogo summarizes: "By following the effects of the all-pervasive ideological shifts that colonialism produced in the lives of women, the study investigates the diverse ways in which a woman's personhood was enhanced, diminished, or placed in ambiguous predicaments by the consequences, intended and unintended, of colonial rule as administered by both the colonizers and the colonized" (p. 1 ). Of particular importance was the opening of frontiers-political, economic, cultural, social, and physical-previously closed to them. For example, greater freedom of movement: some women looked at Nairobi and mission stations as a means of breaking out of strictures on their lives. Kanogo traces changes in women's lives by focusing on a series of themes: the legal status of women and of marriage; sexuality; circumcision and ethnicity; maternity; and Christianity and education. Some of these topics have been well trod-the Gikuyu female circumcision crisis-but others had yet to have been broached, such as local traditions of rape as a cure for venereal disease.

Despite Kanogo's extensive research, her footnotes do not always provide evidence enough to support her broader claims. For example: "By 1919, elders considered it necessary to introduce a bill" to control women (p. 26). The reader might take this to mean elders across the colony, but the footnote refers to one public meeting with 300 senior men at Ganzi, Coast Province, in 1919. She draws heavily on minutes of district-level Local Native Councils, but the (male) councilors were chiefs, tribunal members, and other elites, and did not necessarily speak for all men.

Kanogo considers most of the main ethnic groups (Gikuyu/Embu/Meru, Luo, Kamba, Luhyia, Gusii, Kipsigis), but leaves out others or mentions them only in passing, e.g., other Kalenjin groups, Masai, Swahili, Kuria, and those of the colonial-era Northern Frontier Province. …

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