IndexAfricaKenya → Gusii


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“The Kisii tolerate extensive sex play among smaller children, although shame taboos require that after about age 7, such activities are not to be seen by parents” (Brockman, 1997)[1]. LeVine and LeVine (1963:p492)[2] noted the following verbalisation of Gusii parental conflict on boy’s heterosexual play: “I would cane him very badly; thinking, “After all, it is the natural thing to do”, but since I found them at it, I must cane severely”. Parental intercourse occurs only when children are supposed to sleep[3]. LeVine and LeVine (1981)[4] mentioned rape of prepubescent girls by adult men “who in many instances are the classificatory parents”. Mayer (1973:p132)[5] wrote: “Even little boys would play at “pretending to catch little girls”. Decency required that from about the age of seven they should not play sexually in front of parents, or other abansoni (respected people). They would have witnessed copulation of animals, if not humans, and would have slept in the mother’s bed until decency required them to move to the grandmother’s, or a saiga (boy’s hut). Circumcision took place in early puberty (13 to 15)[6], whereby the novices may be teased by girls exposing their genitals, causing painful erections. The first formal sexual experience is usually after initiation (girls: 8 to nine years; Boys: 10 to 12 years). Earlier intercourse would be forbidden and punished (LeVine, 1959). Initiated girls, “as young as they are, begin grooming themselves for marriage” (LeVine, 1959:p117)[7]. The Gusii practice clitoridectomy and excision of the labia minora (Meschig et al., 1983)[8]. Thus, “Female genital cutting is a traditional rite of passage performed on all Gusii girls at the age of 8-12 years old. The purpose of the operation like for boys is to mark transition period, from childhood to adulthood. During the circumcision rite the tip of the clitoris is cut off” (Tanaka, 2000)[9].


Marriage does not take place after circumcision or menarche (Kyewalyanga, 1977:p42).


Minturn and Lambert (1964:p247-8)[10]:


“One of the most serious offences is for a boy to attack a girl who is not his sibling. Such attacks are regarded as sexual in motivation even among young children. Preadolescent boys and girls do indulge in sex play when adults are not around. When the girls approach initiation they begin to spurn the advances of their male playmates, who are still several years away of their initiation. The attacks of herd boys on these girls are evidently the result, in part, of this rejection. One of the reasons given by the girls for desiring to be initiated was to avoid these attacks, since parents take strong action to stop attacks of uninitiated boys on initiated girls”.



Additional refs:


§         LeVine, R. A. (1963) Child rearing practices in sub-Saharan Africa: an interim report, Bull Menn Clin 27,5:245-56

§         Mayer, Ph.(1953) Ekeigoroigoro : A Gusii Rite of Passage, Man 53,1:2, 3-6

§         Meschig, R. et al. (1983) Klitoridektomie und Excision der Labia Minora bei den Kisii (Gusii) in West-Kenia, Medizinische Welt 34,19:579-83

§         Schaeffner, A. (1953) Les rites de circonsion en pays kissi, Étud Guinnéennes 12 [?]. Also cited by Erny (1972 [1981:p61])

§         Njue Carolyne & Ian Askew (December 2004) Medicalization of Female Genital Cutting Among the Abagusii in Nyanza Province, Kenya. Frontiers in Reproductive Health Program Population Council []




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Aug 2005



[1] Op.cit.

[2] LeVine, R. A. & LeVine, B. B. (1963) Nyansongo: a Gusii community in Kenya, in Whiting, B. B. (Ed.) Six Cultures: Studies of Child Rearing. New York: Wiley, p19-202

[3] Ibid. Also Esman (p67)

[4] LeVine, S. & LeVine, R. (1981) Child abuse and neglect in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Korbin, J. (Ed.) Child Abuse and Neglect: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, p35-55

[5] Mayer, I. (1973) The Gusii of Western Kenya, in Molnos, A. (Ed.) Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. University of Nairobi, Institute of African Studies. Vol. 3, p122-38

[6] Mayer (1923) states it occurred at an average age of 11-12. Female circumcision was done around 10-11, ideally before menarche. See Mayer, P. (1923) Gusii initiation ceremonies, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 81,1/2:9-36

[7] LeVine, R. A. (1959) An attempt to change the Gusii initiation cycle, Man 59:117-20; Gusii sex offences, Am Anthropol 61:965-90. Reprinted in Lieberman, B. (Ed., 1971) Human Sexual Behavior: A Book of Readings. New York [etc.]: J. Wiley & Sons, p336-57

[8] Meschig, R., Sundhaussen, E. & Schadewaldt, H. (1983) [Clitoridectomy and excision of the labia minora among the Kisii (Gusii) in western Kenya], Med Welt 13;34,19:579-83

[9] Tanaka, K. (March 2000) Medical Anthropological Study In Western Kenya And Its Implications For Community Health Development. International Development Center Of Japan Working Paper Series No.55, p29-35 []

[10] Minturn, L. & Lambert, W. W. (1964) Mothers of Six Cultures. New York [etc.]: J. Wiley & Sons