History

Mumboism


The drought and “Mumboism” clearly demonstrate the inherent weakness in food supply laid down by colonial capitalism in Gusiiland. The famine of 1918/19 illustrates how the Gusii pre-capitalists economy had been systematically destroyed. Gusii granaries that stored food for a hungry day were destroyed by the monetization of the economy. The surplus food that had been stored as security against famine was now being sold to acquire tax money. The conscription of labour meant less food production. Maize could not be stored as long as wimbi, and yet it had virtually replaced wimbi as the staple food crop. The need for money essentially destroyed the Gusii pre-capitalist agricultural economy to the detriment of the Gusii. In other words, the 1918/19 famine is testimony of the extent to which colonial capitalism had underdeveloped the Gusii economy, destroying the various social and economic mechanism and strategies, as well as ecological reserves (including forests) formerly meant to reduce the impact of food shortages. It is therefore incorrect to cite drought and mumboism as the only causes of the Kengere famine. In any case the mumbo cult’s emergence had been prompted by the need to resist and reverse the colonial order.

The adverse consequences of the colonial system went further. Having been hit hard by the famine, the Gusii became more prone to the influenza epidemic that swept through the reserve, “disorganizing everything and causing the death of some five thousand natives” (KNA/DC/KSI/1/2/1919). The same year, 1919, is remembered among the Gusii as the year of a strange disease which ate the private parts of the people (or the year of amaikanse). Apparently the disease was brought by the returning porters and carries corps. In the words of the Medical Officer of Kisumu; “…now with the conclusion of hostilities many thousands of porters have carrier the infection into districts previously health” see van Zwanenberg, 1974:109).

It is therefore imperative to re-examine colonial famines and other such calamities in the light of the contradictions inherent in the capitalist system and absolve the weather which according to Ochieng’ (1986) only acts as “ a catalytic precipitant”.

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