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Modernly known as the kisii people are Bantu together with the Kamba, Meru and Kikuyu. They speak the language of Kisii or as commonly known as ekegusii among the native speakers. The Meru in Eastern province are closely related to the Kisii or Gusii people in language and culture. Kisii is mainly known for the kisii soapstone which are curved into many items and later sold to tourist. They live on the western highlands east of Lake Victoria. Since they are a smalll group, they experience greate pressure from the surounding Nilotic speaking community and in most cases they lose their land.
For instance; after migrating to the Mt. Elgon area around 15th century, the Gusii were gradually pushed south by the advancing Luo, and over the next couple of centuries came in conflict with the Maasai and the Kipsigis. They finally settled on the hills here as the high places were easier to defend
The Kisii are regarded as one of the most economically active communities in Kenya, blessed with rolling tea estates, coffee, and banana groves. However, Kisii district has a very high population density. It is one of the most densely populated areas in Kenya (after Nairobi, Mombasa and kisumu cities), and the most densely populated rural area.
The Gusii family typically consists of a man, his wives and their married sons, all living together in a single compound. Large families serve two purposes: with high infant mortality rates, the survival of the family is assured and the large numbers facilitate defence of the family enclosure. Initiation ceremonies are performed for both boys and girls and rituals accompany all important events. Death is considered not to be natural but the work of ‘witchcraft’. The Gusii were primary cattle keepers but also paracticed some crop cultivation, and millet beer was often important at big occassions.
As is the case with many of kenya’s ethnic groups, medicine men (abanyamorigo) had a highly previledged and respected position. Their duty was to maintain the physical and mental wellbeing of the group doctor and social worker combined. One of the more bizarre practices was (and still is) the removal of skull or spine to aid maladies such as backache or concussion.