Home » Luhya People » The Maragoli » Kinagosi from Tanzania to Vihiga – The plant that was a taboo for women to touch, yet only a woman could heal those sick from its poison
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Kinagosi from Tanzania to Vihiga – The plant that was a taboo for women to touch, yet only a woman could heal those sick from its poison

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series The Great Maragoli Migration

Kinagosi, plural, vinagosi is an endangered plant of the genus Euphorbia. What follows is a look at the taboos surrounding this shrub of immense cultural value to the Maragoli of Kenya.

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With lots of nostalgia, a story is told by old men of a particular time, circa half a century ago. It was a time of plenty. They and their young families found themselves pushed out of Maragoli-land thanks to increasing land pressure. Thankfully, they had somewhere to go: acres upon acres of fertile arable land. Arable land that was now accessible to all thanks to the first East African community protocol.

Therefore, in search of a life, a group of young men with their families in tow, migrated from present day Vihiga to the Mara region of northern Tanzania, settling in the lands close to Mugumu town, just by the Serengeti. Today, these young men are octogenarians and nonagenarians. Theirs is a story rich with all manner of emotions – excitement, wanderlust trepidation, greed and the crashing feeling when it all came down.

Incredibly, when I spoke to some of these old men, they joked about how this particular migration by the Maragoli (into Mara region of Tanzania) in one way led to the collapse of the first EAC. Towards the break up of the community, Tanzanians under Makerere had increasingly grown weary of the capitalistic drive of Kenyans.

A feeling best summed up by this mzee who descried the situation as: “There was so much land to take, there was no need for kinagosi.”

Therefore, when more and more lulogooli speaking Kenyans appeared to their north, demarcating land for themselves, the anxiety of Tanzanians only grew.

Quick facts on kinagosi

Common NamesSucculent, milk tree, milk plant.
Scientific NameMember of the genus Euphorbia
CharacteristicsEvergreen succulent shrub like plant which produces a milk like substance when cut or snapped. Kinagosi has no leaves per se. It bears the appearance of mesh of twigs and branches.


It was believed, rightfully so, that if the milk-like sap of kinagosi got into your eyes, one could go blind. Further, the Maragoli believed that the only way to prevent blindness was by a lactating mother squeezing her milk into your eyes to wash out this latex.

However, in spite of this prescribed healing power unique to women, among the Maragoli, women were not allowed to cut or uproot kinagosi. There are two cultural reasons behind this. First, among the Maragoli, planting of any tree was a preserve of men. The text in the following image explains, how this taboo ties in with the story of women and kinagosi among the Maragoli.

Source: Gender, Land and Livelihoods in East Africa: Through Farmers’ Eyes – Ritu Verma, International Development Reaserch Center (Canada)

The second reason has to do with the role of vinagosi in marking boundaries among the Maragoli.


Among the Maragoli, the marking of land boundaries was an affair carried out by a clans elders. Therefore, it went without saying that women were not allowed to meddle in land matters. Moreover, the Maragoli consider uprooting of kinagosi, outside elder instituted action, as an act of aggression.

To date, this remains a fact of life among the Maragoli – a land stressed people. Be it that this treacherous act of uprooting a kinagosi is been performed by a woman or man, many a brother have employed machetes on each other over this.

Beyond that, if a woman was found planting kinagosi ostensibly to demarcate her land, the Maragoli at the very least would miserably laugh at her. This was because it is thought that such a woman wished barrenness upon herself.


In modern times, kinagosi is used as goat feed. It however can’t be used to feed cows because it spoils the milk as they say.

Back to the Mara region of Tanzania sometime leading up to the late seventies just before the breakup of the East African Community.

If there ever was a heaven that the Maragoli encountered in their modern migration history, it has to be their foray into northern Tanzania that promised the most, but ended up in the biggest disappointment. Truthfully speaking, for a land stressed people like the Maragoli, who even the slightest shift in land boundaries leads to long lasting conflict between kith and kinsmen, to finding themselves in a land where kinagosi had no use, was simply utopia.

For the days it lasted, it was great. Distressing and heart wrenching when it came to an abrupt end. This story on the lost children of Maragoli, tells it all.

About the Maragoli

The Maragoli or Mulogoli is a Bantu tribe that’s one of the larger houses of the Luhya supra-community that’s presently mainly domiciled in Western Kenya. Maragoli language or Lulogooli, Logoli is the tongue of Maragoli. Join us and learn how to speak Maragoli language. Start of with our free lessons in Maragoli language. Build your vocabulary with our stories from Maragoli culture whose narrative harnesses the richness of L’logoli in telling our origin, beliefs and way of life. Hop on our continuous search for the meaning of different Maragoli proverbs and sayings. Test yourself with our dalliance at the intersections, such as in our ongoing Kinyarwanda-Lulogooli and Lingala- Luhya discourse. Let’s get you started with Kimaragoli, with our mega post: Learn Maragoli Online: The Mulembe Nation list of 60+ common Maragoli words, their translation and meaning.

Series NavigationA cry for the lost children of Maragoli: The sad tale of peasant farmers dash to dreamy Ujamaa lifestyle in Tanzania’s Mara region, that ended in tears >>

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