Tuesday, July 21, 2020

World's Great Anthropologist: Jomo Kenyatta (by Johnny Coleman II)

"To Moigoi and Wamboi and all the dispossessed youth of Africa; for perpetuation of communion with ancestral spirits through the first for African Freedom, and in the firm faith that the dead, the living, and the unborn will unite to rebuild the destroyed shrines."
--Jomo Kenyatta
The Dedication to Facing Mt. Kenya 


Did you know that Jomo Kenyatta was one of the world's great anthropologists?  Anthropologists study people through archaeology, culture and also biology.  He is remembered as Kenya's first prime minister and first president after colonialism (1963-1978).  

Born Kamau son of Ngengi, in 1929 Jomo Kenyatta left Kenya for London.  His goal was to lobby for the human rights of the Kikuyu people.  To support himself he started work and classes at the University College London (UCL) and then the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and finally at the London School of Economics (LSE).  Facing Mt. Kenya was Kenyatta's master thesis.  The full title is Facing Mt. KenyaThe Tribal Life of the Gikuyu.  The Gikuyu are better known as the Kikuyu.  

His book gave a human image to African people by showing them to have their own established history, culture and traditions.  The book also dealt with sensitive topics such as female genital mutilation and applied anthropological functionalism', taught by his Dr. Bronislaw Malinowski.  Functionalism in anthropology is intended to describe the different institutions of an ethnic group.  Then to explain their social function and show their contribution to the overall society.

Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa. It is over 17 thousand feet tall.



Photo Credit: Mount Kenya (World Atlas)

"ANTHROPOLOGY begins at home"
--Bronislaw Malinowski
Introduction to Facing to Mt. Kenya

Photo Credit: Bronislaw Malinowski (LSE)

Malinowski made a career as a serious ethnographer and is called the 'Father of social anthropology.'  Cultural anthropology is called social anthropology in England.  An ethnographer is the old-school anthropologist living among traditional people and documenting their life.  


When he met Kenyatta they became friends and he welcomed him because he wanted to support the work of an indigenous student and is quoted to say: “one of the first really competent and instructive contributions to African ethnography by a scholar of pure African parentage.”  As an anthropologist who traveled and wrote about other people Malinowski was not part of the groups he wrote about like Kenyatta.  During that time Kenyatta's work was revolutionary.

Malinowski was a world famous anthropologist before World War II and was known to regard his students as part of a team to teach the world.  As a sensation and leader in the world of anthropology he taught leading thinkers in the field.   


Kenyatta's book challenged the Europeans, especially 'white' Kenyans who firmly believed that the indigenous Kenyans were "primitive savages" who needed whites in order to be civilized.  Once published, the book received positive reviewsWhen the book was sold the cover showed Kenyatta in his traditional clothing, a skin cloak, and carrying a spear.  This was also the first time he used the name Jomo Kenyatta.  Jomo means burning spear.  This was Kenyatta's way to show pride in his traditional culture, with no shame or need for explanation.  

Jomo Kenyatta is one of the world's great anthropologists!