Gender & Inheritance Among the Kuria People

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— 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.

The Most Misunderstood Part of my Community

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— 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 😉

Pawa 254 – Where Nairobi activism and art meet

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— By Millicent from Kenya

There is nowhere interesting like a place that brings out the giant in you. Pawa 254 is this place for me. A place that most Kenyans associate with human rights, activism, poetry and art. This is the office to one of Kenya’s renowned activist Boniface Mwangi. He is always on the forefront to fight oppression and through this place he has opened space for creative aspiring minds. This magnificent place shares the same road with where our president’s office is.

The main office which occupies the second floor is a work of art. The seats and the interior décor are creatively designed to give a warm welcome to visitors and work as a motivation to the people who work there daily. The office management has also invested in a nice conference facility. The rooms are vibrant and colorful and help spice up the meetings that are held there.

Pawa 254 is my favorite place but more specifically its rooftop has my heart. The rooftop is indeed a piece of artwork; graffiti on the walls will welcome you while, on the stairs before, the amazing view of Nairobi city steals your attention. On one of the walls, the graffiti is usually a picture of great people. The day I paid the rooftop a visit, the graffiti on the wall was for Mohamed Ali the great boxer.

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I felt that I was indeed connected to greatness and that I could do anything including flying from the rooftop. It felt good taking a picture next to it as how else would I document this moment? There is a small fish pond at a corner of the rooftop with a few fish in it. At the center of this pond, there is a fountain that supplies water to the fish. Looking at it while feeding the fish gives the feel of renewed strength. Sitting on this rooftop and marveling at the artwork is a great way to refresh one’s mind.

The view of Nairobi city is the highlight of this great place. Moving closer to one of the corners next to where Ali’s graffiti is, you perfectly see the city landscape. The architecture of the city buildings is clearly visible from this point with one being able to distinguish the tall ones from the short ones. The city skyline is also visible and beautiful from this point. Sunrise and sunsets are perfectly experienced from this place creating a perfect moment. Social environment in this place is so friendly that it is impossible to distinguish a visitor from the people who work here on a daily basis. People are ever happy and bubbly. On one corner you will see people cracking jokes and laughing hysterically while in another corner others will be discussing art and appreciating it.

Pawa 254 has a special place in my heart. I may not visit this place as often as I would like to but it is etched in my heart. It is my recommendation to anyone visiting Nairobi to pay the place a visit. It is open to everyone and without a doubt it is a second home.

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Was Christmas Part of the Change?

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— By Millicent from Kenya

A few days to Christmas and I can clearly say it is nothing close to the Christmas back in the day. Christmas used to be the in thing growing up. Shops and malls would have Christmas decorations from the first day of December, the radios would pay Christmas carols and in churches there would practice Christmas carols every day for the big day. If there was a voting process for the best holidays, it would shame the other holidays. Growing up in the city, I never had the chance to celebrate it in the rural areas like my other friends. A few days to Christmas, my other friends would pack and leave with their families for rural areas for Christmas celebration. Since I have never celebrated one in the rural area they would say it is crowned with feasting and slaughtering of animals. In most rural areas, farming and cattle rearing is the source of livelihood hence slaughtering animals is one of the ways to celebrate this day.

People like me who celebrated it in the city, it meant new clothes, shoes and a lot of eating. The clothes part is what many cannot forget especially with the memories from the photographs. Back in the day, our parents would buy similar clothes for all the siblings. Girls would look-alike and so would boys. Food was in plenty. Plenty meant that all the cuisines from our tribe and the country in general would be part of the menu. Chapatis would always be the highlight of this day. Chapati is a type of bread consisting of a dough that is made in round shapes and cooked on a pan with little oil. During the year, chapatis were often cooked on Sundays or when there were visitors. It is only during Christmas that it would come in plenty with no limitation. To top things up, Christmas would not be complete without the kids being taken for a day out at the amusement parks. Christmas was indeed a wonderful holiday. The whole family would unite on this day and the smiles on everyone’s face would indeed prove that it was worth the wait.

Since you have a clear picture on how Christmas used to be back in my days let me also describe to you the current Christmas to know why they are nothing close. Lately they have neglected it unlike before. Very few people are paying attention to it from corporate, businesses and individuals. Businesses that would paint and put up Christmas decorations no longer do that. Could they be so money minded that they think it is an expense? People who used to travel upcountry no longer do that and they have jumped into my family’s bandwagon of staying in the city during the festivities. If you listen carefully you will hear them blaming the high cost of transportation as their reason for staying behind. It is not bad to stay behind but what will the people in the rural areas think about them? That they have abandoned them? Anyway, it is not in my place to dig deep on this.

New clothes are no longer a mark for this great day. People are always buying them with the pop up of new fashion so there is no need to wait for Christmas to do it. On chapatis which used to be the landmark for this day, they are now available everywhere and anytime losing their uniqueness. Years have revolutionized what Christmas used to be. The touch of family, great meals, carols and decorations are no longer there. It is nearly being turned to a normal off day where you take a two days rest and get back to work. I wish more would be done to restore the happiness and memories that came with this day. The lost glory of Christmas to be returned. It would be a shame if future generations in my society will not get to experience Christmas the Kenyan way. Hearing them say “Kenyans used to celebrate Christmas like this” will be a heartbreaking statement. I know change is inevitable but it is best we preserve each and every little touch that we can.

I’m not my complexion

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— By Samantha from Kenya

Today I logged into a popular photo sharing app, as I was scrolling down my feed I came across a photo that I really liked. I proceeded to clicking on the persons’ page and the first thing my eyes met turned my amusement into disappointment; ‘Only light skins allowed, No dark skins.’ was written in the persons’ bio. My self-esteem dropped. I felt inferior and I was really angered by that sentence but, unfortunately, that was not the first time I had encountered such a ‘phrase’. I have watched movies and documentaries where the ‘darker tone’ was never the preferable choice, where a child is asked to choose between a good and bad, or ugly and beautiful tone. For many of their choices, the dark doll was bad and ugly… while the light/white one was the good and beautiful one.

You see I am a dark-skinned girl here in Kenya, my complexion has been downgraded and perceived as both dirty and ugly. Social media has tarnished my complexion and made ‘us’ seem as some sort of prey to be devoured by ugly memes through which we are compared to light-skinned girls. Polls are created where people are asked whom among the two, light versus dark skinned girl, is prettier, or who seems to be likely more successful than the other. Because of this, more dark-skinned women lighten/bleach their skin to ‘look prettier’. They use bleaching or ‘lightening’ products that will have a more repel effect on them in the future. Such products only worsen their natural beauty! With the fact that they disguise their true natural complexions with industrial bleaching agents, that make them ugly and plastic, they become industrial pawns to be laughed at and ridiculed by society. I personally know this because I have a relative who uses this kind of products.

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examples of memes and comments on social media

In a time where racism is ripe in the West, here in my country I feel racism is germinating before our eyes. It is a problem brought during the Colonial Era, and then it sparked after colonialism was over. The Westerners discriminated us for being black, now we discriminate our own race based on our complexion. The fact that someone from your own race passes judgment on you based on of your skin tone is dumbfounding. It utters the fact that some people…well we all need a re-evaluation on how far we have come as a race. Systematic racism is a plague.

I have made peace with that really awful ‘statement’ and realized that, only what we allow to hurt us can pierce our hearts and minds. As much as it is someone’s preference to like a certain complexion, some hurtful statements should be said indoors and not publicized. Complexion or skin color is just a feature and not the centerpiece of who we are as people. People should be judged by their morals and never ever by their skin color that they did not choose at birth.

For example, the fact that people are hired based on whether their complexion is no darker than a brown bag beat the purpose of why we keep going to school to study in the first place; does a brown bag determine my intellectual capability? Is IT worthy enough to determine whether I am well suited for the job? Does IT reflect how many hours I had spent reading and sacrificing time with family and friends to ensure I get that good job? The answer is NO!!! Hiring a person should be based on their leadership skills and work experience, not on complexion.

I am a being full of masses of intellect, so please don’t judge me before I speak, don’t be disgusted if I haven’t given you a chance to be and don’t refuse to serve me because of the sold out perception that all dark people are poor and dirty. Be civilized. Be human. This vice won’t end but, if you are being discriminated against because of that, blessing the almighty above has given you, learn to build a wall between you and them. Keep a high self-esteem. Don’t mask yourself with industrial creams that may ruin you, rejoice in that blessing. Don’t be ashamed. Be happy and glad as I am, because if I could change my skin color now, I know I would wish I would never have changed it. But guess what, it’s irreversible!! This complexion is our identity for sure and for sure it is not the ‘liked’ one but it is the one I like, and you should like yours too!

You can also find this story -and many others- on YaLa Press !

Empowering the Youth through Agriculture

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— by Hellen from Kenya

There is so much negativity in communities, particularly involving the youth. Perhaps it is because we chose to focus on the negative elements that we miss out on the positivity and the things that make a difference. My community, just like most communities in developing countries, is characterized by a large population of young people, both employed and unemployed. Despite their levels of education, or even their employment status, the zeal to dream and succeed is a common factor shared by every young person in my community. The young person who wakes up to go to work in a government office does so because he/she has a dream that he/she wants to achieve. The same case applies to the young person who wakes up to take care of his small farm, or sell his supplies in the village market. Apart from the dreamers, there is also a group of young people who may have given up on their dream or on the zeal to dream again. I am a strong believer in trying so many times, dreaming over and over until the dream placed in the heart is achieved. Perhaps that is one of the things that ignite my passion for youth empowerment.

Whenever I think of youth empowerment, I remember an agricultural club that was started by a group of young people in Nyamninia primary school, in my community, Sauri Village (Western Kenya). I was a journalism student and would therefore spend most of my long holidays at home in Sauri. I know that journalists have an eye and nose for news, and maybe it is that curiosity that prompted me to have an interest in the club at Nyamninia Primary school. The head teacher of the school started an agricultural club after noticing that the school population was largely made up of vulnerable children, who were mostly orphaned at early ages and being taken care of by neighbors and relatives. She noticed that, as much as most of the students loved school, they would miss class often.

They were mostly absent from school because of hunger.

13246178_10207953377965687_4902748585856367755_oWith agriculture being a common mean of livelihood in the area, the head teacher, who also doubled up as the patron of the club, decided to train the older students on how to farm, with the aim of introducing a school feeding program for the rest of the school population. The club started with about 20 young people aged between 10 and 13 years old. They began by growing vegetables, mostly for school lunches, to ensure that the students would get at least one meal per day.

After three months, the club membership had more than doubled, and this prompted the club patron to lease a bigger piece of land around the school in order to increase the farming activities of the club. The hardworking youths produced more than enough, and began selling some of their produce to the villagers. At the beginning of the project, the proceeds from the sale of their harvest were used in purchasing books, school uniforms, and even shoes for some of the club members, who had never owned any pairs of shoes before. From vegetable farming, the youths decided to venture into poultry farming, and later into dairy farming after receiving a number of dairy goats from a well-wisher.

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As the club grew, the members gained administrative and record keeping skills, in addition to the farming skills that they received during their faming activities. A year later, the club benefited from the Millennium Villages Project, which decided to use their club as a model for educating the farmers in the village. The project donated a green-house structure and the young club members were trained on how to improve their produce using the green-house technology. As time went by, the club became a hub of agricultural activities, and the members’ efforts further attracted other agricultural enthusiasts, prompting visits and support from organizations such as the National 4H Council, which steers similar agricultural clubs all over the United States. The 4H council even sponsored two club members and their patron to an all paid trip to the US, where the club members were introduced to various agriculture techniques.

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One of the notable leaders of the club is 18 year old Duncan. Duncan has been a member of the club ever since he was 7 years old. He was orphaned at an early age, and he sought refuge at the school after his relatives could no longer provide for him. Being the youngest members of the club, Duncan grew, gained skills and developed the confidence to later take on the leadership of the club. Thanks to the proceeds from the club, Duncan went to primary and high school, and in a few months’ time, he will join a group of young students for a pre-university course at the University of Delaware in the United States.

His story is just one of the inspiring stories that keep on reminding me that it is never too late to dream. To date, the Nyamninia Agricultural club has been able to sponsor close to 30 club members through their high school education. What started as humble club with the aim of feeding vulnerable young orphans at school, has now grown to give hope and bright futures to young people. To me, the club is a perfect model and definition of what it means to equip young people with skills that enable them to grow and sustain themselves.