Gender & Inheritance Among the Kuria People

james-m

— By James from Kenya

The Kuria community is a Bantu tribe found at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. Traditionally, Kurians were subsistence farmers and cattle keepers. But with the advent of modernity, they have greatly metamorphosed. They currently occupy every kind of profession such as finance, military, administration, medicine, engineering, business, etc.

Culturally, it’s men who inherit property among the Kurians. A woman’s position is with her husband, it was believed. And even this way, the inheritance of a woman who did not bear male children was a complicated issue. For such a woman, it meant that all her daughters would be married off and the woman would remain alone with no one to inherit her property or advance her lineage – for only a son could carry on someone’s lineage. So by extension, a mother without a son was generally deemed childless (which was not the case). Therefore, the Kuria community, just like many cultures in the world, values the boy. A sad thing according to me.

Due to these cultural complexities, there were some cultural practices allowed to compensate for the two issues: inheritance and lineage continuity. The “Nyumba mboke/nyumba ntobhu” was the savior. “Nyumba mboke” is a cultural arrangement where a barren woman (not necessarily that she was barren, for the problem could have been with the husband, but she remained faithful to him) or a sonless woman was permitted by the culture to take a younger woman and stay with her. This younger woman has the right to choose a man of her liking to sire children with her. The children of this union were assumed to belong to the older woman, thereby ensuring that the inheritance remained in this household and that the older woman’s lineage did not terminate.

Several points are worth noting here.

First, it should be noted that there is no sexual relationship between the two women as portrayed by some outsiders. It is not a lesbian relationship. Actually, the younger woman refers to the older woman as mother. A quick check on the internet yields articles that assume that a sexual relationship occurs between the women.

Second, this arrangement is only permitted under two circumstances – where there is no son, or where there is no child at all. Again, outsiders have erroneously come up with other circumstances under which the union can occur (e.g. where the husband is absent). *Read an article written by Gabriel Samuels of The Independent on July 29, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/…/straight-women-kurya-tanzani…

Third, the younger woman gets to choose the man of her liking to be her companion and whom she should make children with. It should be noted that the man has no claim whatsoever over the children born out of this relationship. *Read Marie Claire: http://www.marieclaire.com/cult…/a21668/the-tanzanian-wives/

Despite the fact that this cultural arrangement has given women some sort of peace of mind for a long time, it has several major challenges. Essentially, older women who take a younger women have usually reached menopause, meaning that they are advanced in age. Thus, a woman starts taking care of “her children” in her old age when she herself should be receiving care. This becomes a burden.

Meeting the daily demands (both social and economical) for such a household becomes a task. From my general observation, the young women who enter such arrangements are in most cases lacking in western education. Hence, making ends meet in a world that is dependent on western education becomes a challenge.

And, as Marie Claire notes in her article (above link), the biological fathers are not compelled in any way to take care of the children born from this arrangement. This breeds and cultivates irresponsible parenthood. And as it is, these households are more likely to lack a father figure. Thus, the development of the children is disadvantaged in some way.

The words “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” translate to “the weak house” or “the house of women”. These terms are derogatory in nature in a community that is predominantly patriarchal. The meaning attached to the words impacts how people view themselves or how they view others. So, this household is generally viewed as weak and incapable of supporting itself (which in some cases is wrong). Therefore, the children of this household may grow up thinking that they are inferior or that they are not as worthy as the other children in the community.

Although the “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” practice is decreasing (contrary to what outsiders have painted), property inheritance among women in Kuria culture still tends to cater to traditionally held views.

Girls and Science: Can ‘Boys’ Champion the Journey?

— By Ibrahim from Uganda

It is Saturday evening and the sun is scorching hot. There are already only four boys waiting for the event to begin. The guest of honor has arrived and everything seems blurry. They sit there faces chocked with half smiles as they hold on a little bit longer. Promisingly members start flocking in. In 20 minutes, they were ready to begin.

This November 26th 2016 Boy-Talk moment organized by Girls in School Initiative had unraveling surprises of its own. It’s not the pizza that they all enjoyed at the end but the thrilling talk from Concern for the Girl Child’s Executive Director, Catherine Opondo, the guest speaker. She first scribbles through her phone notes and then smiling poses that rhetorical question members didn’t expect; ”Will you be a Champion?” The whole meeting grew silent.

This month’s topic centered on whether girls education in science subjects helps bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of sciences, and as always, seeking to understand the greater role boys play in support of this initiative. Mrs. Opondo took a very firm stand on this, that indeed “Girls involvement in sciences helps to bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of science.” She drew examples from her lifeline and career experiences alongside places she has lived in like the Middle East. Mrs. Opondo made the members to re-imagine where science goes beyond the test tube to daily life experiences practices. To her, what is science and where is science? She imagines boys playing a leading role in challenging a girl on what her future plan/dream is in relation to science? Or is it simply, what is it that she likes in a lipstick? A lipstick is just a lipstick but she nuances it with this scientific aspiring girl who is made to rethink on ‘eco-lipstick’ and how it would revolutionize a healthier woman in a cosmetology world.

That; when girls are pushed to think, they too can progressively become better like boys. Her emphatic ideal was “Boys can point girls to hope,” plus “raising aspirations is really important” in any human lives especially girls. Mrs. Opondo stressed out three main wayshow boys can help: Through, (a) Socialization; where they can help bridge the cultural gap; (b) Protection, where boys protect girls against ill derailleur’s by acting as ‘Big Brothers’ and, (c) Advocacy; where boys become champions for change.

In these modern times, there has been a lot of rumbling and calling for girl’s education. But where do we place the men and what is their role in all this? There is still a lot that ‘boys’ can do to champion the cause, more so in the world of science. Mrs. Opondo gave pointers from leverage the using of the existing structures to get organized and seek support through networks; spear heading men’s groups in informing about both the urgent and long term need/impact for promoting girl child education as well as acting as ‘changemakers’ where they promote and encourage girls to pursue sciences in schools.

As the meeting drew to a close, members were already battering with ideas from their own their experiences afar. They agreed that its high time men stopped giving girls dolls but surround them with gadgets to harness their imagination, i.e., procreating a science mind. On a sad reality, many girls drop out of school when they become pregnant and so are giving up on their dreams. This is where men can come in as supportive and counselors that having a baby is not the end of one’s career aspirations.

The whole event seemed quite mind boggling and yet mind changing. It stems from boys’ testimonies of how they perceive the concept of gender while relearning anew. The talk by Mrs. Opondo was nothing less but exploratory, inspirational and more so, relational. The Boy-Talk Moments have had one important impact sofar; continuous dialogue even after culture shock. Muslim boys who are members are battering with perceptions about ‘who is a woman’(both at a personal, religious and societal level) than ever before. The greater hope that seems to looms allover is that members are endlessly questioning while seeking answers of their own without failing to commit themselves to the cause. Wholly, they all seemed to agree with Mrs. Opondo in her assertion that, “The power imbalance cannot be ignored. We maybe different physically but we are all equal”.

Tears from Lake Volta

theodora

— By Theodora from Ghana

As a fresh journalism graduate, I was enthusiastic about my future. I envisioned myself addressing thousands of crowds, hosting talk shows on national television and authoring bestselling books. This dream of mine was so real in my mind that I looked forward to seeing it in reality. Being the 5th child of 6 children and the only child who had successfully navigated through tertiary institution, it felt like heaven on earth. Ready to storm the media landscape, I was shocked at the news I received few months after completion from the citadel of communication – The Nigerian institute of journalism.

It was a sunny afternoon. I was on campus to check my name for national service postings as was the norm in Nigeria and surrounding African countries; National Service is a compulsory one year service to the nation upon completion of tertiary education. While I was seated in front of the Student Affairs officer, inquisitive about why my name was not on the board, I received distressing news that my name wasn’t inclusive since I’m a Ghanaian citizen. My heart sank like a ship sinking right in the middle of a deep sea. I had looked forward to serving in the northern part of Nigeria. I had planned to learn to speak Hausa – a northern language.

I couldn’t bear the pain of not experiencing the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) orientation camp. The three-week camp is aimed at preparing ‘corpers’, as they’re known, for the year-long scheme. Being a corper is a part of the Nigerian experience. It’s seen as the last stage of tertiary education, the final hurdle and the key to the world of employment. I took solace in an African Proverb from the Hausa Tribe which says that “However long the night, the dawn will break”. And just when the caterpillar thought life was over, it began to fly. All hope was not lost as I got the chance to serve in Ghana a year later in a foremost child rights organization. I served as a field support officer.

One cold morning at about 4:30. I set off with a team of field officers on a 14 hours journey to the popular lake Volta. Volta Lake is the largest reservoir in the world by surface area and a main destination for trafficking children; an estimated 7,000 – 10,000 child slaves work in the fishing industry.
After a 14 hours ride, we had to travel for another 2 hours on the Lake to Tomato Akura – the village where we hoped to rescue trafficked children. It was my first time travelling on water in a boat and I was the only female. Stephen, the field operation manager had made sure to coach me well about the mission prior to our take off so that I did just fine.

On arrival at Tomato Akura, everywhere was dark, no electricity. I had to use my phone light. There was no hotel to lodge. No internet connections. Our host family who lived in a tiny hut made from palm fronts willingly sacrificed their wooden bed for me. I was thrilled by the show of hospitality but I had to refuse since they had three children. I couldn’t let them lay on the bare floor while I lay on their bed. I spent the night at the lake side on the boat with the worst experience of discomfort I had ever been through. At dawn, I met Kwesi, a 6year old boy who had gotten up as early as 4am to start fishing. Kwesi, along with his master and other children, would toil the lake from 4am till 3pm. Kwesi was unclothed on that chilly lake where I, at 25 years old, struggled to sleep even with quilts and blankets. He ate garri and smoked fish once a day and the same meal every day of the week.

I had to refrain from crying. The look on his face, his skinny and malnourished body, his innocent and pure countenance, the cold and freezing mornings he worked all day and the silent cry I heard in his voice as I spoke to him were moments that turned my life around. Kwesi is one out of many children who had been trafficked to engage in hazardous child labor. His face particularly left a scar in my heart. Just then, I realized just how lucky I am even though I had always thought other kids who lived with their parents had better care and opportunities than me. Prior to my experience with Kwesi, I thought the worst thing that can happen to any child is to have his or her parents separated.

With indefinable resentment in my heart over my parent’s separation, my encounter with Kwesi thought me that no pain could compare with what a child slave had to go through without both his parents. Kwesi told me that his only dream was to go back home to his parents.

My YALI Experience

lena

— By Lena from Malawi

It was late afternoon on 3rd May 2016. Lilongwe was not as cold as it would be around this season. Being a Tuesday there wasn’t much work related pressure as most of the work was done on Monday. As usual, emails kept trickling into the inbox but this particular one caught my attention; “CONGRATULATION! YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE YALI REGIONAL LEADERSHIP CENTER” was the title. Opening the email for more details, a deep content and proud smile that couldn’t go unnoticed was all over my face. The heading was self-explanatory, I finally got into YALI! I remembered having tried to get in the previous cohort but did not make it. However the motto “I will keep trying” helped me succeed.

The next day was colder, I envisaged South Africa being very cold this time around, but shoving the thought aside, I started imagining how fascinating this experience will be. I will finally meet 134 other young African Leaders from the SADC region. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was launched by President of the United States Barack Obama to invest in grooming strong, results-oriented leaders through bringing them together to learn from one another and network into fruitful collaborations that will assist their societies out of poverty, which will then replicate to an Africa that is poverty free.

Days passed by so quickly, it was already Sunday May 14th, the departure date. A few hours later I was in South Africa. The YALI banner was positioned, a tall, white medium sized lady was standing next to it. “Welcome to YALI Southern Africa” she said as she smiled and continued with a roll call. It turned out everyone she was expecting was there. Situated in Midrand SA was a 4 star hotel called Premier. A medium sized dark lean guy was waiting at the door, “Welcome to Premier hotel” he said, while signaling to a room where everyone was expected to register. As envisioned I thought it was sure going to be a roller-coaster ride.

The orientation room was packed; it seemed that almost everyone had arrived. Orientation took almost 2 hours. I noticed some air of highly achieved leaders and also some scent of competition. Self-introductions were coupled with selling oneself, the positions they held, boards they sat in, impact they have made in the community, their political positions and all the success that one could adorn themselves with. It was evident from the courage and the composure in the speech that these people were sure leaders in their domains.

It was Monday already; class day. The day was coupled with speeches and introductions and motivational talks. The day ended with a welcome Cocktail party where all were decorated in their African attire. They beauty of Africa was manifested in the people and their appearance. It was a day to remember.

The week continued with crosscutting issue i.e. Gender, HIV & Aids, and Leadership. In this week I went away with this phrase “think big, start small and act now”. This phrase motivated me and I ended up collaborating with a fellow fundraiser on a joint proposal. I also learnt that, only when I understand where one is coming from and what they have gone through, I can fully understand why they act in the way they do. For instance, I have always thought Nelson Mandela was a great leader but I was shocked to learn that South Africans think otherwise. From the reasons they gave I agreed with them that to some extent the media has really created a brand that most of us outside South Africa have found flawless.

Going into the second week to fourth week we had to disband into our respective Track choices. I chose Civic leadership track along with 44 participants. I learnt a lot of things and through sharing of experiences I gained more of it. It felt like I had been to all countries in the SADC region. I got to know different techniques of communication and fundraising, which I knew in theory, but since the program encouraged practicing I got to practice in groups. In fact, assignments started the first day; we were expected to make a group presentation for the day after. Too much work too little time was the order of the day. The intensity of the program meant teams work together almost all the time which made it easy to know each other in no time. This style of working also made me realize that big groups can be hard to manage, there were dominant characters who usually suppressed the ideas of the introverts.

In no time fourth week was here and it was graduation. I came out inspired, challenged and ready to bring out the best of my game. I was awarded a Certificate in Civic Leadership. An association called Youth Development in SADC (YODESA) which is currently in its last phase of registration but currently operational in all countries. Representatives were selected from each country with an executive committee taking lead. All in all it was very sad to see the new friends I had just made go back to their respective homes as I was coming back to Malawi.

My Lesotho

lealimo

— By Lealimo from Lesotho

Lesotho is a very mountainous country, blessed with rivers, waterfalls and valleys. Lesotho depends on water and animals, its our biggest economy.

I recently came back from my father’s home village, one of the remotest and very rural places in my country called Thaba-Tseka. It is about 8 hours’ drive from the capital city and then 2 hours ridding on a horse to get to the village since it’s inaccessible by car.
Before technology and everything else that comes with it, before “stilettos and make-up” and the current lifestyle, there’s culture and family, where I grew up and came from.

The pictures below portray a good story of where I come from. They represent culture and family. These young girls draw water from this spring each day for domestic purposes and the young boy herd sheep riding a horse. They are my cousins. They do all this chores after school, which is an indication that education is important to them. I am not an exception as I went through the same route. This woman is our grandmother and she prepares dinner for everyone while they also offer assistance to her.

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My great grand parents and I grew up in this village and under the same circumstances. The roundavels you see is the original plan of Basotho houses in rural villages made of mud. In the capital city the same house is built in a modernised way and its part of Lesotho’s emblem. The very same culture and family lifestyle moulded me to be a proud Mosotho woman who knows where she comes from.

Here are other picture from rural Lesotho, my Lesotho:

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Somali Heroes

adan

— By Adan from Somalia

Here is Somalia; a country located in the horn of Africa which experienced many years of political turmoil, corruption, and instability. These photos below are statues of some respected persons who were responsible the freedom of our country. I was told that, originally, there were human shape pictures (especially the Hawa Taka statue), but they got erased because of time and lack of repairing. Today only the buildings remain.

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This monument represents the Somali Youth League. It was a league of thirteen young men and women including poets, intellectuals and other elites, who fought against the colonization with words and written poems. They negotiated with the colonial leaders by telling them that it’s indispensable to let Somalia be an independent country. Simply if you ask any Somali guy “who led Somalis to their independence?” He/she will always answer: the Somali youth league

 

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This blue statue is for a great and brave woman called Hawa Taka. She was killed by colonial armies while she was fihting them.

 

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This statue is for Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan. he has been fighting against the British colonial power fo more than twenty years. He was a mullah and poet. After many times that he defeated the enemy, he was eventually defeated himself, and died of malaria. What a loss!

Because of the struggle of these people, we got our independence on July 1st 1960, but the country had re-destroyed in 1991, when Mohamed Siyad was overthrown by armed groups. Starting from 1991 till today we live in insecurity.

Private owned cars can’t pass near these statutes. It was a bit risky to take these pictures that’s why they’re not perfect.  A picture you took while you are looking on your sides can’t be a fit, and the reason is that, these statues are near to presidential palace and the security forces are so in attention because of fear from opposition attacks.

Our former braves did great, but still we don’t live the life they wanted us to be in.

The Most Misunderstood Part of my Community

james-m

— By James from Kenya

I am a Kenyan citizen with a keen interest in my country’s cultures. I come from the Kuria community which is found in both Nyanza province of Kenya and Mara province of Tanzania, thus falling within two countries. The Kuria community has many cultural practices; some commonly shared among African communities but some are uniquely Kurian.

For instance the way we give names to our children is quite unique. Our community has 6 distinct names reserved for first born. There are three names for the first born sons and three for the first born daughters. These six names happen to be our most common names. These names are Chacha, Marwa and Mwita for sons, and Boke, Gati and Robi for daughters. To this end you may think that anyone bearing any of these names is a first born. Hell no! The Kurians also have the practice of naming after their relatives. For instance I am called Marwa, an obviously first born name; which I am not. Actually I am named after my grandpa. My surname is Mwita because my father is my grandpa’s first born son.

Among the Kurians, it is also a normal thing for names to cross the gender boundary meaning you can find a boy bearing a traditionally female name such as Boke, Gati or Robi. Equally a girl may bear a traditionally male name such as Chacha, Marwa or Mwita. My younger brother is named after my grandma. Still following, Good so nominally, since I am named after my grandpa and my brother is named after my grandma; my brother is my wife! Yes. I know. It gave us a great deal of embarrassment during our childhood for older women would always refer to us using our grandparents’ relationship—husband and wife. Sorry I digressed. Back to our six names!

Due to our naming practices, the six names easily dominate other names. And as I move around the region, I always encounter a very curious question whenever I introduce myself to people: “Why is it that every Kurian name I know is either Chacha, Marwa or Mwita?” Should I be answering this question with the history of our naming practices? No! I always tell the askers that they should learn about the Kurian culture.
I tend to think that our naming practice is the most misunderstood part of my community—easily the most misunderstood until you encounter the Nyumba Ntobu.

PS: The Kuria community has thousands and thousands of other names 😉