The need for speed: Contrasting timeframes in the social life of Kenyan miraa

Neil Carrier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


This article contrasts two very different timeframes in the 'social life' of the plant stimulant miraa - known elsewhere as khat - in Kenya and beyond. One timeframe is connected with the old miraa trees growing in the Nyambene Hills District of central Kenya: these are known as mbaine, and are greatly respected for their age and link to the past. The miraa from these trees is put to much ceremonial use by the Meru inhabitants of the Nyambenes. The other timeframe is the very different one of the harvested stems. These stems are highly perishable and so must reach the consumer quickly, leading to urgency in their trade and transportation: the 'need for speed'. The globalization of the miraa trade has intensified this urgency further: the stems are now desired as far away as North America. Miraa trees have not escaped this 'commercial' timeframe, and some farmers experiment with chemical sprays to speed up the production rate. The article concludes by arguing that such attempts to speed up the timeframes of the trees are met with resistance, and have not diluted the cultural significance of ancient mbaine trees and their ancestral links.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-558
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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