Isolated incidents in the past few days point to how cultural orientation and beliefs impede the fight against Covid-19.
First off was the saga of elders exorcising the demons of coronavirus through cultural rituals. Second, under the veil of the curfew, it is reported that the proscribed cultural rite of female circumcision is in full bloom in Samburu. This, despite the obvious dangers.
Third, there is nothing to mellow an individual more than a sombre, funeral procession. Even the most vile and belligerent police officers would not willingly stop a funeral procession because our traditions demand respect for the departed. Aware of that, a group of individuals organised a funeral that never was and drove past police roadblocks all the way from Nairobi to Homa Bay. At the end of it all, the driver of the van tested positive for coronavirus. The rest is history.
Fourth, the age-long, yet feeble argument that real men get to their houses long after dusk has led to open defiance of social distancing and stay-at-home exhortations. Men can be found congregating in market places without wearing face masks or being conscious of the need to keep social distance. Ditto women in residential areas who have now taken gossiping to new levels induced by foul-mouthed, nagging, idle husbands and boredom.
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Whether Kaya, Njuri Ncheke, Luhya or Kalenjin, there is no gainsaying the power elders wield in their respective communities. Whenever things happen beyond the scope of the mundane, elders have often been called upon to intercede with the gods and give directions. In that vein, some Elgeyo Marakwet elders miffed by the despondency caused by coronavirus sought to appease the gods last week. Post the ceremony, they declared the pandemic was no more and confidently assured Kenyans corona had, at that very moment, vamoosed.
The very act of ritualisation symbolised open defiance to government directives on curbing coronavirus. The wise men not only failed to keep social distance, they drank from the same beer pot; did not wear face masks or sanitise their hands. By claiming, even in their blissful ignorance, that coronavirus had been defeated by virtue of their intonations, they propagated falsehoods that could cause villagers to throw caution to the wind and act irresponsibly.
In their mindlessness, the elders exposed themselves to coronavirus in their futile attempt to drive it away using antiquated methods. The local administration, whether it gave the elders carte blanche
to proceed or not, stands indicted for gross dereliction of duty.
The curfew could have given new life to the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Samburu. On paper, FGM is outlawed, but we have not seen the last of it just because national government says it must stop. Chiefs, their assistants and village elders overtly oppose the practice, yet covertly encourage it. It is the only reason this cultural practice goes on in many areas despite the ban.
We can attribute the Elgeyo Marakwet and Samburu cases to the protagonists’ lack of a world view. They live in a time warp circa the 1960s and their worlds are confined to their villages’ outlook, outside which nothing exists for them.
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FGM is an age-old culture among certain Kenyan communities. It was, however, proscribed despite the recognition that the constitution gives our diverse cultures after its medical downsides became apparent. Similarly, the tomfoolery of councils of elders across the country should be put on a very short leash. Science and technological advances have exposed most elders as charlatans who purport to be divine authorities on things they do not understand.
Brute force employed to stem the tide of female circumcision has failed. We can only fight outdated cultural practices by pitting them against education, the greatest of equaliser of all time. Sadly though, the imbalance in the distribution of education across the country will continue to consign some regions to the darkness of emaciated cultures.
Religion has had its own role in propagating coronavirus. In Tanzania, a pastor bragged they were safe from coronavirus because President Pombe Magufuli had allowed churches to operate, unlike Kenya where there is a moratorium. But even here, some prosperity pastors tried to challenge the restriction on church services.
Karl Max opined that religion is the opium of the people. A look at the servile deportment of some Christians obviates any doubt they are high on something which, to be blunt, is ‘bad influence from rogue latter day pastors’. Many of these pastors exhibit ‘personality disorders indicated by patterns of manipulating, glibness, exploiting, cunning, arrogance and delusions of grandeur’.
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Mr Chagema is a copy editor at The [email protected]