Sara Boulanger


In pre-colonial Kenya, women shared power and ownership, and conducted many important social and cultural ceremonies, in particular initiation. But with Britain’s colonial takeover of Kenya at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the steadily growing power of colonial rulers and growing status of missionaries, came a total restructuring of society’s gendered norms. By the 1920s, Christianity had created a divide among Kikuyu-speaking people in colonial Kenya over several issues. This study focuses on one of those: the circumcision of girls and young women and legislation passed in relation to the practice. Basing her study largely on documents in the Kenya National Archives, this paper argues that the “female circumcision crisis” affected the rise of African resistance to colonial rule, played a central role in the formation of independent churches and schools, and perhaps most importantly, led to the redefinition of what it would mean to be a woman in colonial Kenya.