Modernly known as Kisii people are Bantu together with Kamba, Meru and Kikuyu. They speak language of Kisii or as commonly known as ekegusii among native speakers. Meru in Eastern province are closely related to Kisii or Gusii people in language and culture.
Kisii is mainly known for Kisii soapstone which are curved into many items and later sold to tourist. They live on Western highlands East of Lake Victoria. Since they are a small group, they experience great pressure from the surounding Nilotic speaking community and in most cases they lose their land.
For inatance; after migrating to Mt. Elgon area around 15th century, Gusii people were gradually pushed south by advancing Luo, and over the next couple of centuries came in conflict with Maasai people and Kipsigis. They finally settled on the hills here as the high places were easier to defend.
Kisii people are regarded as one of the most economically active communities in Kenya, blessed with rolling tea estates, coffee, and banana groves. However, Kisii district has a very high population density. It is one of most densely populated areas in Kenya (after Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu cities), and most densely populated rural area.
Gusii family typically consists of a man, his wives and their married sons, all living together in a single compound. Large families serve two purposes: with high infant mortality rates, the survival of the family is assured and the large numbers facilitate defence of family enclosure.
Initiation ceremonies are performed for both boys and girls and rituals accompany all important events. Death is considered not to be natural but as a work of ‘witchcraft’. Gusii were primary cattle keepers but also paracticed some crop cultivation, and millet beer was often important at big occassions.
In that case with many of Kenya’s ethnic groups, medicine men (abanyamorigo) had a highly previledged and respected position. Their duty was to maintain physical and mental wellbeing of a group doctor and social worker combined. One of more bizarre practices was (and still is) that of removal of skull or spine to aid maladies such as backache or concussion.