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Patronage, Millennialism and the Serpent God Mumbo in South-West Kenya, 1912–34

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2011


This article traces the history of Mumboism, a millennial cult of south-west Kenya, 1912–34. Mumbo, the serpent god of Lake Victoria, promised to eject whites and chiefs from the region and usher in a period of prosperity. Mumboism gained followers, it is argued, because it mixed older ideas of patron–client relations with newer ideas of omnipotent, unseen beings, introduced by Europeans as Government and God. Mumbo challenged chiefs and missionaries, struggling to create patronage networks, by attracting clients, and threatened to unmask Government and God as impotent. Chiefs and, to a lesser extent, missionaries directed state power to the repression of Mumbo, eliminating it before it could undermine the very basis of European power.


Cet article fait l'historique du mumboisme, culte millénaire du Sud-Ouest du Kenya, 1912–1934. Mumbo, le dieu serpent du Lac Victoria, promettait d'expulser les Blancs et les chefs de la région et d'instaurer une période de prospérité. On prétend que le mumboisme aurait fait des adeptes parce qu'il mêlait des idées anciennes de rapports patron-client avec des idées nouvelles d'êtres invisibles omnipotents, introduites par les Européens sous la forme de Gouvernement et Dieu. Mumbo s'élevait contre les chefs et les missionnaires, s'employant à créer des réseaux de patronage en attirant des clients, et menaçait de démasquer l'impotence du Gouvernement et de Dieu. Les chefs et, dans une moindre mesure, les missionnaires ont orienté le pouvoir étatique vers une répression de Mumbo, l'éliminant avant qu'il ne puisse ébranler la base même de la puissance européenne.

Research Article
Copyright © International African Institute 2002

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