Drawing the family tree

I am currently involved in two researches, no actually three when you think about the thesis dissertation I am working to complete and graduate University this December.

The first research was suggested by a good friend, a historian, and in in the line of that book Mary pointed me to ( The Darkening Age). If you have read that book, you know the extent to which the Christians destroyed artifacts of the old religions.

In the same line, I would want to find out

  • how far did mission Christianity try to capture or delete previously sacred landscapes in Kenya?
  • how did my/our forefathers respond to such desecration of religious sites and knowledge?

I am calling for help on this from the universe 🙂

My second area of research isn’t informed by the first one but is an idle curiosity. I am researching on my family tree. I have information up to my grandfather 4 times removed. I also have a bit of history on the eponymous father of the clan Onyango son of Ogiri and I want to trace the line both forwards from him to me and backwards to any of the early Luo migrations into Central Nyanza.

Here is where you come in. If anyone from Asembo Kanyikela reads this and has information that would help me in reconstructing this tree, backwards especially, say something in the comments or reach me on the contacts page. Help yours truly satisfy this idle curiosity.

 

 

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consider the fork

by Bee Wilson

Many people think of technology only as involving computers, cars but I repeat myself, robots and such ignoring such things as tool making around cooking- cutlery, pans, cups, pots, spits- name it, that humanity has been in the business of improving since the first man/ woman learnt to cook and serve food to more than one person. The changes in how we cook, eat, store food and all examples of technological change.

And this is where the book by Bee comes in. She has set out on a journey through the evolution of technologies for cooking and eating. Have you imagined who it was that discovered it was possible to boil food? Is this technology intuitive? But beyond that, imagine making a vessel that would withstand heat from fire and not disintegrate because of the water at different temperatures? How much ingenuity was employed in coming up with such a vessel? What thing in nature gave itself to them as an example?

Or think about the first person to light a fire or happen on a fire, and use it to roast food. It is one thing to happen on or light a fire, it is another to think it can be used to make food delicious. It must have taken a lot of trial and error to arrive at the point where we know almost instinctively how to make a good bbq.

Think about the cutting appliances from the different continents and how these affect the way we eat. Of how the Chinese cut their food in cubes suitable for eating with a chopstick or the way of the Europeans where food is served with a thousand appliances, included among them, is a knife that can’t cut gruel! And the anxiety this brings: did I use the right fork? Am I holding the knife properly?

How do you use your microwave? Is it just to defrost and warm food or do use it to cook? How do you measure the potions in your recipe? In a cup or using a weighing machine?

Do you use non stick pans and pots to cook or are you like me who relies on good old stainless steel pots? Or is your pot lined with enamel?

More interestingly, for me, is has the apparatus you use to cook changed what is in your diet? Are there things you don’t eat now because the method or the appliance you used to make it has changed? Or have you introduced new things in the menu because the cooking appliances have been refined allowing for greater possibilities?

Since Bee’s book is concerned mainly with what happens in Europe and just a bit about of Asia, I am interested in the knowledge of how our ancestors cooked, what they ate and all. I know for a long time there were pots for different foods, for storage, for refrigerating water and all. Maybe I should visit the museum to see if these artifacts exist somewhere.

Another question of interest to me, is how much kitchen technology has changed in African homes, especially in the villages where electricity penetration is low, and liquefied petroleum gas is not abundant. Has the construction of the hearth changed to be more economical and efficient like the one at our home (note to self: maybe take a picture next time you go home)

And maybe, the final question, can we, even given the fact that our literature is mainly oral, develop recipes from what our parents made? Are there such special recipes? You know, the Italians have their pasta, the Brits their beef, the Americans their obesity pies.

Burying Okoth, reflections

I am using Okoth here to stand for the African. This, therefore, is a reflection on African customs around death and burial with specific reference to the Luo of Central Kenya. In the last post, I did ask who owns the dead and if it is possible for one individual to lay exclusive claim of the dead. These questions, I think, we will continue to grapple with for a long time to come.

In this reflection, I want to do the reader some justice by introducing Ken Okoth and Luo customs regarding death. I will then look at some scholarly articles on the conception of death in Africa and the associated rituals, the meanings attached to them and so on.

I want also at this point to correct some form of disinformation that has been repeated ad nauseum on twitter by unread Kenyans that burial rites was introduced to Africa by the colonizers that we all left the dead to die in the forests. While this is true for certain nationalities like the Kikuyu, the Nandi, there were elaborate funerary practices in many places in Africa depending on the social status of the dead.

It is necessary that we have a working definition of culture before we can proceed. It has been defined as that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society or as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively or the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It should be noted also that culture has these basic characteristics

  • learned
  • shared
  • based on symbols
  • integrated
  • dynamic

With definitions behind us, we can briefly look at how the Luos dealt with issues surrounding death. But first, a cautionary note. Paul Mboya wrote about Luo Customs in 1938, that is half a century after the colonialist first set foot in Western Kenya. I mention all this because it will be evident in a short while how culture is dynamic. And this is an important point.

When an old man died, Mboya tells us, the first wife stripped her clothes followed by all others in the homestead to signify the death of he that clothed them home. If however, the man did not respect his first wife, she would refuse to strip and had to be persuaded but the cat was already outta the bag. A pre-burial (buru) ceremony was conducted in the wilderness where the enemy was fought. The grave was dug in the centre of the house of the first wife, or if she had died, a small hut was built. Burial took place on the fourth day for a man and third day for a woman after which there were several days of plays, tugo, to celebrate the dead. There was a public dress for the widow(s) of the dead. During the mourning, if any of the widows had bracelets, these were to remain covered until on the day of tero mon (when a widow got a guardian).

After several days of celebration and cleansing, bulls were slaughtered for elders, brothers in- law, and if the deceased was a wealthy man, a he-goat or ram was slaughtered for people from the homeland of his mother. If he had been a village elder, an elder was chosen on this day.

From the moment the family gathered in the house of the first wife following the death of the man, no one had sex. Nobody was allowed to go back to their houses until all the conditions set by custom were met. Then and only then did the bereaved members have sex.  At this point, I would just add that mourning period lasted from several months to a year and different ceremonies were performed in this period.

It is evident from the foregoing that among the Luo, there were elaborate ceremonies surrounding death. In a manner of speaking, there were no private funerals. The question of whether you had lived with your villagers or whether you had been estranged does not arise in death.

In Funerals in Africa, Jinra and Noret write

These events continue to provide crucial insights into the state of society, as they are integral to social, economic, religious, and political life. For Westerners, among whom death is normally a private and family affair, this is sometimes hard to fathom, but in the African context, funerary rites are oft en the communal event sans pareil, with ramifications going well beyond the events themselves.

The contestation of Okoth’s body and his cremation, can be understood, in the words of Jinra and Noret as representing social breakdowns brought about by religious changes, colonialism, urbanization, economic and others. Funerary practices should be seen as a link between the living and the living dead. We are told death is a crisis, it shakes the society and requires ritual treatment.

In The African Conception of Death: A Cultural Implication, Baloyi argues that the misunderstanding and conflict that
often arise in multicultural context especially the workplace, is due to the different conceptions of experiences
such as death, its cultural implications and meanings of the rituals performed during and after death. He notes, to the African, death is conceived not as discrete event but as part of the life cycle. The dead continue to exist among the living dead or ancestors. The dead live in community with the dead.

He writes

The mourning or grieving process cannot therefore be linked or limited to some time span in a discrete sense. It is for this reason that Africans take time off from work when their loved ones are dead, to perform rituals that eternally connect them to the deceased. Therefore from an indigenous African ontological viewpoint, death does not imply an end to life, instead, it marks the beginning of another phase of being.

In this sense therefore, death rituals become very integral parts of society living. They perform important functions of linking the two worlds; that of the living and the living dead (those recently departed and are still remembered) and are seen as important in maintaining balance and harmony between the living and the living dead. These rituals include, but are not limited to, bereaved family members shaving their hair, and the slaughtering of a domestic animal.

Baloye continues to argue that Ubuntu and Umuntu are ways of life of the African, that is, being-with- and- for-others. This being transcends death. He writes

Providing food to the masses of people who come to the funeral including slaughtering an animal is an Ubuntu philosophy imperative. The process of burying the dead, the accompanying rituals and the veneration of the living dead constitute performances and conversations as authentic.

It’s been argued elsewhere that nearly all African communities believed in burying the dead in their ancestral
land, where the spirit of the dead would join with the spirit world. Among Ghana’s Ashanti, families,
relatives, and members of the community would mourn at the homestead of the deceased (Owino, Bereavement and Mourning in Africa). He says the Luo usually buried the fruit of the yago (Kigelia africana) tree in a grave in the dead soldier’s homestead in the same manner they would have buried his body.

It appears to me, then, that the decision by Okoth and those close to him to consider cremation and a private funeral is an anathema to the people of Luo Nyanza and goes contrary to beliefs held by many Africans, however, since we can agree on culture being dynamic, a time may come when cremation will become part of culture. Maybe we will have public cremations, I don’t know.

Maybe, a new set of questions arise

  1. How do we reconcile the African philosophy of Ubuntu/ Umuntu with the individualized culture of the west?
  2. What compromises should be made between an individual’s wishes for after death and those of the community?
  3. Can the rituals around death be separated from the contestations around property inheritance to allow a public burial for a private individual?

 

Burying Okoth, the politics of individualism vs communalism

In this earlier post, we were reflecting on the 1986/7 saga pitting the Kager clan vs Wamboi Otieno over who should have control of the body of the deceased. In that particular case, the Court of Appeal granted the prayers of the clan, allowing them to inter the body of SM against the wishes of the bereaved wife.

We again find ourselves in almost a similar situation, albeit, with minor variations. The body of the late MP Kibra has already been cremated and so there is no contest on where it will lie. But there are certain similarities; like SM, Okoth was married to a non-Luo. Both were successful at their trades. Both lived their lives mainly in Nairobi.

The issue we have at hand is whether our bodies belong to us in death, and by extension to our nuclear family or whether the clan has a claim to the dead. Are we right, the urbane African, in demanding as part of dying wishes that we be granted private funeral, when like in the case of Ken OKoth, he led a public life? Do those who birthed us have a say in how we are disposed of? Since when we are dead we can’t do nothing, should we be the ones to determine how we will be sent off, who will be present or should this question be left to those who we have left behind to determine?

On a related matter, during nuptials, those who go to church say “until death do us part”, as part of their vows. What does this imply in the face of death? Should it not mean that death frees us of the obligations to the other? Can the society, in a sense, lay claim to this person who was yours by law, but is no longer?

Or is this, in a sense, the logical conclusion of the individualized lives we live today where Ubuntu- I am because we are- as was eloquently put by Cannon Mbiti?

So I think, I can ask these questions again?

 

  • Who owns the dead?
  • Can any person claim to exclusively own the dead?

Contra Larry

There is the popular phrase

“Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

which when applied in this case means Africa must tell her stories. As long as our stories are told by others, here the western media but this could be the case also with the media in the Arab world, we will always come out badly- which has been the case for ages- but then telling a different story when there are glaring dysfunction is not helping our case. It is in this view of the hunt that my country man attempted to tell the story of Africa.

The article has generated quite a bit of heat since its publication. There are quite a number of people who agree with him. There have also been those voices that opine the piece lacked nuance and there are those who think the reporting is flawed. For those disagreeing with the post, the main issue is that it is not supported by facts, paints a glossy picture while ignoring the glaring structural problems in Africa.

There is a tradition in the west, exemplified by Hegel when he wrote

Africa must be divided into three parts: one is that which lies south of the desert of Sahara–Africa proper–the Upland almost entirely unknown to us, with narrow coast-tracts along the sea; the second is that to the north of the desert–European Africa (if we may so call it)–a coastland; the third is the river region of the Nile, the only valley-land of Africa, and which is in connection with Asia.

and continues to say, the negro

“exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state and has no knowledge of an absolute Being, an Other and a Higher than his individual Self.

To him therefore, the African proper, to use his phraseology, is not a subject of history.

We spend so much time responding to the descendants of Hegel instead of challenging the systems at home that oppress us with support from the western governments and their mouthpieces- journalists and media houses with bases in Africa.

It does seem to me that Larry’s article is no different from Mbiti’s African Religion and Philosophy where he attempted to to assimilate African thought to western categories, not for consumption by Africans, like this article, but for consumption of those who had removed Africans from the stage of history. I don’t think we have to justify ourselves to anyone.

Well, we have banned the use of plastic but done shit on the part of solid waste management. In many urban centres in Africa, close to 50% of all generated solid waste is not disposed of properly. There is a lot to do at home instead of wasting time telling our stories, flawed as they might be to an audience that may really not give a rat ass about what we do. Or how we do it.

Europe or the Americas are not trying to defend themselves to anyone. We know most of it is racist and some of them wear their racism on their sleeves. We know there is a homelessness problem in NYC and other cities across the US. But it seems their elite take these for granted. It is, for lack of a better way, taken for granted that to be white is to be.

Africa must work for us first. The western press, for all I care, can say all the shit they want. Our governments must do all the must to make the African proud of his place in the world. No amount of story telling will do this if we still die from preventable ailments, have no access to sanitation, weak financial markets and all.

But for those who want to tell stories, or as they set the record straight, it’s a free world.

on why we need social infrastructure (parks and recreational facilities) in Nairobi

Public parks and recreation facilities are any and all buildings, lands and waters, including roadways, recreation equipment, structures and the flora and fauna therein, owned, leased or operated under the jurisdiction of a county or public institution as a park or recreation area and open to the general public for park or recreation purposes.

In Nairobi and other towns, majority of the residents live in slums and informal settlements where there are no parks or recreational spaces which harms the residents and creates substantial costs for the nation as a whole.

The benefits of parks and recreational spaces include but are not limited to

  1. public health benefits
  2. quality of life
  3. environmental benefits
  4. economic benefits
  5. social benefits etc.

If you are wondering why I am writing about open spaces, wonder no more. On Sunday I happened to find myself in a space an entrepreneur has created as a children play area and was astonished at how many parents (thank goodness there were as many fathers as there were mothers) had taken their children to play and I realized how much our planners, developers and counties have failed us in provision of places for rest and recreation.

While I laud this particular business (wo)man, I noticed also that they have opened themselves to a million and one lawsuits. And the county as a licensing agency would also be liable in the event there were any accidents. There is not one equipment on that site that could pass as safe for children’s use but I think the parents would rather a place for their kids to play than nothing

a mama pushing her baby on a pushcart

the only safe equipment was this inflatable whatever

even this one was not safe

the less said the better

parents and children having a good Sunday

And in other related news, yours truly had a great Friday evening with friends where we did a demonstration of how hell fire would be and other interesting things. All the furniture is made by my friend who played host.

demonstration of how some of you will burn in hell

if you rotate this photo, I asure you, you will see your gracious host

we had a sermon by candle light just before we tossed those who were to burn into the furnace

the miniature version of hell

And in very interesting news, my other friend has a farm in Nairobi and we visited.

from here, we got very fresh vegetables. watu wa nairobi you can all eat all the sewage mbogas you want, as for me and my family, we will eat organic

the yoghurt from these cows was delicious

i have not seen healthier hens in a long time