Colonialism by Wangari Maathai

To Cristina F. pour nous avoir ouvert les yeux

maathai_unbowed“My parents were peasant farmers, members of the Kikuyu community, one of the forty-two ethnic groups in Kenya”. p. 3

“I am as much a child of my native soil as I am of my father, Muta Njugi, and my mother, Wanjiry Kibicho, who was more familiarly known by her Christian name, Lydia. Following the Kikuyu tradition, my parents named me for my father’s mother, Wangari, an old Kikuyu name”. p.4

“The daughters made the clans matrilineal, but many privileges, such as inheritance and ownership of land, livestock and perennial crops, were gradually transferred to men. It is not explained how women lost their privileges”. p.5 Continue reading

A swahili place: Lamu town

I had been told by several people that Lamu and Mount Kenya were the highlights of Kenya. There are so many highlights in Kenya that I was really wondering what Lamu would be like!

The problem is reaching… it’s located on the Northern Coast : there are three Lamus; Lamu town, Lamu the island itself and Lamu archipelago. It seems the most beautiful thing is apart from enjoying the atmosphere to navigate from one island to another and enjoy the nature around. In fact there are mangrove forests and the islands are surrounded by turquoise water. I didn’t do that myself, because it wasn’t what I would call a highlight: Diani for me is more of a highlight having a coral reef at 200 m from the shore!

When I arrived a guy took my suitcase and asked me what my hotel was and took me there; I had just landed… I had no time to breathe: people in Lamu assault the tourists that come especially in low season: they are hungry for clients. No tourist goes unnoticed in Lamu. The inhabitants greet you, ask you if you need or want something… They probably thing they are being nice by doing so but it produces a contrary effect in me: all I want to do is run home! And I become really unkind to whoever is trying to make a living, because after all, all they are doing is looking for clients.

There are no cars in Lamu: they use donkeys instead, and there are 2200 donkeys on the island. It’s a multicultural city: Indian, Arabian, Kenyan influences merge. It is what they call the Swahili culture. Like the rest of the coast it’s an Islamic territory.

In the evening the children jump into the water from the “main road” … a main road which reminded me of Pondy’s promenade. Their games include also are boxes which become cars, and even I saw them playing with a dead baby donkey which they threw into the sea they were swimming in again and again… Ok this is definitely a different culture I thought.

The streets are narrow, the houses and buildings are made of corals, and the sewerage runs through the streets itself. Yes it can seem relaxing in the sense that we are on an island where there are no cars. It could seem like a voyage in time … if only people didn’t assault every single tourist!

What I did enjoy in Lamu was my beautiful hotel : a Swahili house made of coral with a beautiful green patio in the centre, and I think it was the cutest I’ve ever experienced.  Three windows and a bed like the one I dreamt of when I was a child. There is was really fun to do all the writing I had to do: calm and relaxing, just what I needed! Another thing was watching the tides: the difference is huge so huge that when some people attacked Lamu, they got stuck when they wanted to leave because there boats which they had left in the water were now stuck in firm land… and also the food: fresh snapper, fried bananas with honey and the amazing, truly amazing fruit juices that are as creamy as smoothies.

But I have said enough: as we say in France an example is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the video and get a sense of what it is like.

The Rift Valley

Kenya Great Rift valley (8)In Kenya there is an area South of Nairobi called the Rift Valley. The earth cracked and as a result of that it created a depression that is now a 6000km geographic trench which starts in Lebanon and goes all the way down to Mozambique. Africa has thus been separated into two plates: the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate.

In the Rift Valley, the mountains are purple, the sky is strong blue, the well-shaped clouds always hang on the horizon, never just above your head, and the the bark of the trees is golden, the earth is at times of a vivid orange colour, so strong it can hurt your eyes.

Kenya Great Rift valley (1)Here, yes, indeed, it is true the clouds look like the ones we drew when we were children, cotton clouds or like the skins of the sheep that are sold along the way. It’s the place to see the world through the eyes of a child and here indeed we can understand why artists portray things in ways that would otherwise seem naive to us, because here we can see by them ourselves through the eyes of artists or children. If we want to understand art, we need to come this natural temple.

Kenya Great Rift valley (71)

As Karen Blixen had stated, here the trees, the golden trees, grow horizontally. Continue reading

The Maasais

DSCF4066The Maasais are a tribe of shepards who still preserve their culture as it was hundreds of years ago. Last century they suffered the biggest expoliation of land in the British colonial history. They are nomads and when they were asked for they fertile lands, they invited the British. In the Maasai’s perspective everything is temporary. So they thought they would be given back their lands. But instead they were pushed up the hills and then to the Mara river, which is why the southern lands of Kenya towards Tanzania are called the Maasai Mara. This is where the main Kenyan game reserve is located.

DSCF4034The Maasai  live in huts made of cowpat, and branches. Their fences are made of branches and they are circular. It looks so beautiful. This is where their cattle sleeps at night.

Each hut has five rooms, the main room where they light a fire and cook one for the parents, one for the children one for the guests and one for the baby cattle. There are tiny window in each hut that mesure around 15X15 cm.Inside the hut

They sleep on a cow skin. In each lande enclosed by branched fences where ten families live.

Their diet consists of cow blood and milk. Continue reading

Documentary ” Beads of Bondage” about the Samburu people

The Samburus are a tribe living in the remote northern areas of Kenya. Yesterday there was a short documentary on them and one of their customs considered retrograde for the Kenyans. The documentary was called “Beads of bondage”. Young girls, aging from nine to fourteen are selected by a Moran – Morans are warriors under 30 years of age- who is a relative of them. He then sells a cow or a beef to buy beads for them, and mentions his interest about the girl to her brothers. It is an honour for the family to have a beaded girl and some of the girls feel their beauty is enhanced with the beads. Then they build a hut for them and the Moran can come to visit her whenever he wishes to. This custom is supposed to help regulate the Morans’ concupiscence and prevent them from seducing the elders’ wives.

When a girl gets pregnant, the elder ladies – or traditional doctors go to the forest, to get rid of the child; they say they are going to fetch water of wood. If the Moran finds out, she is abandoned as it is considered to be her fault if she becomes pregnant with this unprotected sex.

These traditional methods of abortion cause dreadful pain to the girls; some have undergone three abortions and some don’t even survive this practice: heels and all kinds of pressure are applied. She girl is held still by other women.

However if the child is born he is either slain within an hour or abandoned in the forest. The documentary showed one middle- aged lady who went to pick the new-born  to then raised them as her children. “One might become a president or even a MP’’ she said. “ When they are older they might protect me”. By doing this she becomes an outcast, which means getting little support if any from the community. However it seems there was another woman supporting her; a lady that had been beaded as a child and who was against this practice: she was forced to abort after a five month pregnancy and mentioned the excruciating pain.

Some of the girls are happy with this practice, and others run away to the nearest school –located 20 km away- where they get assistance. Some of the elder ladies are against this practice, some say it’s an honour. Some of the ladies say that it is a sin to have sex without the girls being circumcised. However this practice gets much reprobation from Western cultures. As for the Morans themselves, they say they can’t survive without a woman and can’t be expected to survive without a woman.

Beads of Bondage on NTV, click on this link