Christianity among the Nomads: The Catholic Church in Northern Kenya

By Imperato, Pascal James | African Studies Review, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Christianity among the Nomads: The Catholic Church in Northern Kenya


Imperato, Pascal James, African Studies Review


Paul Tablino. Christianity Among the Nomads: The Catholic Church in Northern Kenya. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2004. 312 pp. Available from Paulines Publications Africa, P.O. Box 49026, Nairobi, GPO, Kenya. Illustrated. Maps. Biographical Notes. References. Index. 600KS. Paper.

Paul Tablino, a missionary priest in northern Kenya since 1964, is also a highly respected ethnographer and historian whose previous works include The Gabra: Camel Nomads of Northern Kenya (1999). He brings to this current work not only the perspective of a missionary priest, but also the insights and analyses of an experienced ethnographer and historian well versed in the subdeties of social transformations in Africa. As the author notes in his introduction, the focus of this volume is on missionaries as agents of change. A chapter on the traditional religious beliefs and social organization of the diverse peoples of northern Kenya is followed by three chapters on the geographic and social origins and philosophical orientations of the various Catholic missionary groups that came to northern Kenya. Thus, early on in the book, the author sets the stage for a meaningful discussion of the outcomes of the encounter that ultimately occurred between Western missionaries and the people of northern Kenya. The focus of a second volume, now in preparation, will be on the responses of those who underwent change.

Although Catholic missionaries traveled to northern Kenya in the early twentieth century, a meaningful presence there was not established until well into the 1950s and 1960s. This was rather late relative to Christian missionary activity in other areas of Kenya, and is accounted for by several variables, including manpower resource allocations to more densely populated areas such as the Kikuyu highlands, the presence of a largely nomadic population in northern Kenya, and an extremely poor transportation infrastructure which made many areas inaccessible. In addition, northern Kenya had been a closed district during much of the colonial era because of periodic and unpredictable civil unrest and the regular incursions of livestock raiders over the borders from Ethiopia and Somalia. Following Kenya's independence in 1963, the presence of Somali shifta in the region and Somali territorial claims to northern Kenya led to serious armed conflicts against a background of weak administrative control on the part of a new government. Not surprisingly, some missionaries were killed by bandits in northern Kenya, including the Reverend Michele Stallone in 1965 at Baragoi and the Reverend Luigi Graiff at South Horr in 1981. …

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