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.

My Lesotho

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— 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

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— 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

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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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A Game of Life and Death

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— By Thomas from Liberia

Dear Friends, I would like to talk about how Ebola has changed me and many Liberians and our centuries old tradition in just over a period of a year and a half. An experience I call a “Game of Life and Death.”

In every society, there are ways of life and things that inescapably bind people and society together. For centuries, habits like greetings – the special Liberian handshake – traditional rites and ceremonies, were known to Liberia. Various other signs and practices portrayed harmony and approval; upon which our African cultures are built. When the Ebola virus struck, anybody could tell from the start that controlling such an epidemic would be a long battle of Life and Death.

Before Ebola, there was a bloody war here for more than 14 years, but Liberians have never been as scared as during the one and a half year period of Ebola. Due to the strange restrictions, most Liberians, even authorities, were caught unprepared, shocked and confused. They could not imagine the magnitude of death at the end from this strange disease. Because of the unexpected fear and panic, the majority of the population finally got it that Ebola was a real crisis. By then, thousands had already died, due to ignorance or not believing what was happening.

In Liberia, like most African countries, we do not just greet each other; we shake hands, stand, talk for a while, and hold hands. Sometimes we walk down the street together. People just don’t leave the sick or the dead; true grief is not considered real unless it is emotional and actively displayed. Bathing and kissing the dead in some traditions, hugging them, rolling, and crying on the ground, are all part of the cultural norms of our society. Sometimes, relatives and loved ones will be require to bath with the same water that was used to bath their dead, especially in the case of a wife or husband of the decease, to prove your love and sometime innocence.

Our people survived for decades on things like bush meat; they used dance and performances for important events that usually bring crowds together. Parents carry their children on their back and usually body to body contacts are most frequent because many African kids are carried barely naked. In our society, there is usually a lot of free time, due to lack of social infrastructure, jobs, or other clean learning opportunities. Therefore, children and youth spend much of their time in groups across communities, either playing hand and physical games, or sitting together in congested rooms, sharing stories (in rural areas) or watching sports games in crowded video clubs (in urban areas).

During these strange events of the Ebola crisis, the unthinkable happened: citizens were given straight orders: Don’t eat “bush meat,” primates and other wild animals. Don’t shake hands, don’t touch dead bodies. Avoid crowds and report anyone who has a fever or appears to be ill. On top of that, families will no longer sleep close to each other.

The nature of transmission is particularly influenced by cultural and behavioral practices that occur at the household and community level and also within a hospital setting, including patient care, family involvement, health-seeking behaviors and responses. The precautions relied on the changing of habits and good sanitation as key to curtailing the disease.

In Liberia, the Ebola virus appeared and reappeared over five times. But because the disease is strange to Liberia, authorities did not take it serious at first. There were a lot of doubts and confusion about the actual cause, transmission and control. Response was very slow and interventions were initially uncoordinated. These circumstances left many Liberians asking many questions. How do we go to church? How do we even bury our dead? How do I care for my sick brother, sister, and mother if I am asked not to touch sick patients in the midst of limited health facilities and emergency response? The overly challenged health system, limited facilities and logistics further impaired the situation, causing the epidemic to spread more speedily and uncontrollably, and increased the level of panic and deaths. As a result, in mostly rural affected communities, dwellers still relied on traditional healers and family members for advice and care, despite the inexperience of the people providing information. Traditional healers may have positions of influence within the community and, therefore, command a level of trust, and can also have a significant influence on health-seeking behavior and delivery of health messages, factors that can directly affect rapid spread of diseases.

So many Liberians who died, did so first because of denial of the disease, as it was confusing, with so many restrictions, ignorance, and limited information. It took almost three months for effective awareness to reach communities. There were low or limited response efforts by central authorities. When a family member was sick and they called for an ambulance, it would take two to three working days before it turned up. People had no choice but to cater to their sick relatives themselves. At the end, either both, or the entire family, would contract the disease or die. There were times when those who had been in contact with an infected person were requested to quarantine themselves, due to the limited capacities of the health centers. To think that people will easily change from washing their dead bodies by hand, dressing them, and holding elaborate ceremonies, to having a corpse in a body bag and no goodbye could not be that easy; it was an impossible call.

Christians, Muslim and other religions started turning toward their respective faiths for solution. Against the warnings of authorities, churches were still congregating, Muslims where attending prayers and pastor still laying hands. “God will not allow me to die from Ebola,” was a common statement. But do they understand that inasmuch as God wouldn’t allow it, the necessary precautions must be taken? As a result, both Muslim and Christian communities were affected due to religious beliefs and reliance.

I personally lost a lot of friends during this period, a situation which led me to courageously challenge myself and get into the field with my organization to carry out awareness and distribution of preventive resources. I wrote about my experiences in two blogs: “Circumstances for Change: Era of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Liberia” and “Journey to Klehn’s Town, an Isolated Village of Over 1,000 Inhabitants Amidst Ebola.” Despite the sorrows and anguish, the Ebola virus left Liberians with key lessons: effective social mobilization, strengthening of sanitation activities in all communities, places of worship and health care facilities. The government’s preparedness for logistical readiness, and also psychosocial support to patients and their families during such situations, became a matter of consideration for political and policymaking.

 

The Houses Down the Hill

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— By Mcdonald from Malawi

Malawi is one of the countries in Africa which experiences disasters every year. Floods and draughts are great enemies to the country with interrupted developmental goals every year. In 2015 only, 146 people went missing and other discovered dead after heavy floods hit many districts across the country. Parts of the country known to be more vulnerable to disasters are those in lower shire in the South and some districts in Northern parts of Malawi due to their geographical position. But in 2015, an unusual phenomenon happened; some other districts that were not known to be disaster prone areas were also hit by fatal floods.

Among those new declared areas of disasters were Blantyre –where I live- and other districts in the Eastern region of the country. Blantyre is a commercial city of Malawi. Most of its topography is mountainous which makes it strange to be affected by floods.

Last year it was not floods on flat land that killed people but rocks, trees and other objects carried down from hills by running water. It was houses built on hills, along river banks and on foot of hills brought down and swept away by speedy water and rocks. In response to that catastrophic time, both national and international organisations, governments, individual and other groups pumped in millions in form of disaster relief support to affected communities.

A big question remains: Instead of splashing relief items to the so called ‘disaster victims’, shouldn’t these assistance bodies deal with what is actually causing these human made disasters?

This is 2016 and Malawi has already experienced disasters with the very first rains in some parts of the country. On November 17th  I had a chance to tour Bangwe community in Blantyre, where issues of deforestation is a major challenge despite some few nongovernmental organisations striving to promote reforestation in the area.

One of them is called Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI). This organisation is working with members of Bangwe Community to address issues affecting the community as a result of deforestation. The community is comprised of two villages; Mwamadi and Wisiki. The villages are at the base of Bangwe Mountain that has lost its natural vegetation and beauty due to human activities. I think that the mountain is now retaliating by posing disasters on communities with floods, strong winds and waterborne diseases outbreaks.

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