This article analyzes an instance of collective panic about gangs of killers called Watu wa Mumiani (‘Mumiani People’) in Digo District, Kenya in 1945. Popularly believed to work for the colonial government, Watu wa Mumiani were said to abduct Africans from roads and kill them for their blood. I offer an interpretation of this episode in terms of the history of a medicine called Mumia, a nineteenth-century ritual called Mung'aro, regional strategies for surviving famine (including ‘pawning’ kin), and a wartime labor conscription campaign. Rather than emphasize the alterity of ‘vampires’ like Watu wa Mumiani, I show how the 1945 panic articulates concerns about powerful intermediaries, arguing that the stories told about them encode a history of concerns about predatory patrons, especially under conditions of ecological distress.
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