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Power and Meaning in the Kaabuurwo – a Traditional Court among the Arror of Kenya
Emmanuel Satia, Rebecca Chepkemboi
Moi University, Kenya
Article 159 (2) (c) of the Constitution of Kenya provides for alternative forms of dispute resolution including ‘traditional dispute resolution’. Although the constitution was promulgated in 2010, traditional methods of dispute resolution are by no means new. Many communities, like the Arror, have used it for generations to settle civil disputes. However, the power and the legitimacy of such courts, depends on, among other things, a common interpretation of the main signs and symbols of such courts. This paper, therefore, examines how power is legitimized and how meaning is constituted in the Kaaburwo. The main aim of this study is to demonstrate why such courts continue to be preferred in modern societies in spite of the existence of more progressive court systems. Although different cases are brought before the Kaaburwo, this article focuses only on land disputes. Data was collected through audio-recordings and interviews with parties involved in selected cases either as litigants or as observers. A conceptual framework drawing on semiotics, Austin’s Speech Act theory and Theo van Leeuwen's Socio-cognitive approach to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) was used to analyze the key signs and symbols through which power is legitimized and meaning constituted. Accordingly, trees, the space around the trees and the supernatural were found to encode and legitimize power, while artifacts such as stones (used as boundary markers), the walking stick, and the Kirokto – a small staff held by men in the community, among others, were found to constitute meaning.