It is generally said that the British colonial government appointed minor and lesser known persons to positions of chief and headman, as the Kipsigis wanted to hold their traditional leaders in reserve so they could be consulted in times of need. This essay reconsiders the attribution and authority of both colonial and traditional Kipsigis leaders: were colonial Kipsigis chiefs and headmen really unimportant among the Kipsigis in the early stages of colonial days? On the other hand, were the traditional leaders, in fact, very important and central among them? In fact, both types of Kipsigis leaders have marginality in common for two reasons. Firstly, many were from several marginal clans such as those originating from captured and adopted individuals from hostile tribes such as the Gusii. Moreover, most were not only bilingual but also so skilful in persuading both their own people in meetings as well as enemies in peace negotiations that their speech often made them look like the “playful persons” or tricksters of Kipsigis folk tales. The Kipsigis regard language as a mighty ultra-human power. They believe in the “reincarnation” of an ancestral spirit in a newborn baby, or, at least, they give it the name of a clan's ancestor in memory of the person. Language, however, can be invoked for malicious as well as beneficial purposes. The effect of speech can change according to the various modes of expression, including praying, blessing, cursing, taking an oath, bewitching, etc. Moreover, it may sometimes severely affect people regardless and independent of the utterer's initial intention. Thus, the Kipsigis believe, it is always desirable for an ordinary person not to talk much lest he should cause unintended mishaps to someone unknown. Both traditional and colonial leaders were excessively talkative due to the nature of their posts. This doubled their marginality and ambivalence concerning social justice. Therefore, the public always tried to control the leaders' authority through communal cursing directed by the elders belonging to particular clans that specialize in cursing. These clans are among those who are regarded by the Kipsigis to be the backbone of society. In short, the traditional political structure of the tribe was dynamically balanced between the potential antagonism between opposite and interdependent categories of people: i. e. those who took the roles of leaders owing to their marginality and the public as the central existence of the tribe, and also between the opposite and interdependent powers of operating language: i. e. professional and tactical speech and defensive communal cursing. The traditional political structure was hardly touched even when the British government and the Kipsigis themselves chose “minor” or “obscure” individuals as colonial chiefs, as long as they were chosen owing to their marginality and ambivalence. This being the case, British indirect rule was rather successful despite the fact that the Kipsigis had traditionally no centralized authority which might effectively assume the chieftainship on behalf of the British colonial government. In due course of time, the Kipsigis people rapidly adjusted to the colonial and capitalistic economy so well that they soon became called a “Kenyan model tribe”.
This paper is based on materials which were collected by the author during research conducted over a 10 month period between 1978-1979 and 1982, among the Bamun in Cameroon, Central Africa. Firstly, the author intends to describe the present situation of saving associations Puomsha Gba at Magenfa, a village 25km north of the capital Fumban in Bamun political domain. Here, it is necessary to make clear the geographical and political position of Magenfa where a saving association can be observed. The kingdom of Bamun has a three-graded political domain characterized by concentric circles with the center being the royal capital of Fumban. Fumban is in the central core of Bamun territory where the King of Bamun always stays. The second concentric circle, i. e. the second political domain is called shishet ngu meaning the nuclear part of the kingdom, where the past princes, the royal families and their descendents have always lived. The last and biggest concentric circle is called ngu meaning ‘a whole country’, where the last Bamun kings had conquerred many little chiefdoms. The village of Magenfa is located in the nuclear part of the Kingdom, shishet ngu. Although this political area has relations with the Bamun kingship, the village chief of Magenfa does not have the title of nji; a term used to identify the real son (s) of the king of Bamun. Therefore, Magenfa does not have direct relations with the Bamun kingship. Ultimately, the author intends to analyse the following items through the description of the saving association in a Bamun village. (a) the social organization of the saving association and constitution of its members (b) regulation and activities in a saving association (c) relationship between family structure and the saving association (d) relationship between inter-village relation and the saving association (e) whether or not there exists an ‘indirect’ relationship between the saving association in Magenfa and the Bamun kingship, regardless of an apparent direct relationship between them. Analysis revealed 4 principles summarized below. (1) The generalized reciprocity, observed among hunter—gatherers as defined by Sahlins, can be observed in the activities of the saving association, but with much more organized and much more ordered regulation. Each member pays attention to the others' poverty and requests for help in order that his own requests may be fulfilled in the future. (2) Activites of the saving association develops members' sociability and strongly promotes friendship and co-operation not only in daily village life but also in inter-village relations. Furthermore, these activities prevent members from displaying anti-social behaviour which might disturb the social harmony. They also prevent individuals from deviation or ‘drop out’ behaviour, as if members in a community were afraid of being accused of being a ‘witch’. (3) The saving association prevents social and psychological friction between husband and co-wives or amongst co-wives, because a large amount of money from a saving association fulfills the many requirements of co-wives each of whom forms an economic unit together with her children. Therefore, the saving association functions to complement distortion of family structure caused by the husband's inability to respond to the various needs of co-wives. It can also be said to support and strengthen the system of polygamy and the structure of polyandry. (4) From a cultural point of view, the people are able to identify with the king of Bamun or the Bamun kingship through the activities of a saving association; such as drinking ‘zu’ meaning palm wine, which is traditionally used in the King's coronation ritual.