Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History




The controversy over female circumcision which occurred between the Protestant missionaries and the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya during the late 1920s, severed relations between the two groups and compelled the natives to seek their own religious and educational institutions outside missionary control. It was the rigid missionary stance on the issue of female circumcision which led to the establishment of the independent churches and schools in Kenya, and hence contributed to the growth of Kikuyu nationalism. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the reasons why the female circumcision controversy occurred, the nature of the problem, and its contribution to the rise and spread of Kikuyu nationalism.

The European missionaries did not adhere simply to their principal vocation, that of converting the natives, but insisted also on a total transformation of the whole social and cultural structure of Kikuyu society to conform to European standards. The "barbaric" custom of female circumcision was to have no part in this transformation.

The Kikuyu argument was not in defense of the actual surgical operation. Rather, they contended that the operation was the basis of the institution of initiation, an institution which had enormous educational, social, moral, and religious implications, quite apart from the operation Itself.

Events leading to the crisis of 1929 will be presented chronologically. African reactions to missionary policies will be shown, and larger implications of the controversy will be presented. Missionary demands for the eradication of the ceremony and total cultural transformation of native society were a deciding factor in the rise of Kikuyu nationalism, which would culminate in the Mau Nau revolt of 1952-1960. This revolt, of course, hastened Kenyan independence.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.