There is no scarcity of irritants in Kenya. From marauding criminal gangs to a government in the grip of cartels; from pseudo Christians who turn churches into boxing rings to traffic police officers who criminalise vehicle ownership. From elected leaders who believe it’s their time to eat to unscrupulous businesspeople who feed us on chemicals. Then there are traditions and councils of elders stuck in a time warp circa 1900.
Cremation is a fairly new concept to us, but not so new it should baffle us. Kenyans of Asian origin have all along practised it, but it was always ‘their culture’ that many imagined could never supplant our own. But that was a false belief. People who coexist in a shared environment somehow find their cultures and beliefs fused at some point.
Thus, diehard Luo traditionalists must have been shocked by the cremation of Ken Okoth, Member of Parliament for Kibra Constituency. But those waiting for calamity to befall the Luo community or Okoth’s family on account of the cremation may have a long wait.
Traditionalists rooting for the inheritance of Okoth’s Caucasian wife did not learn from Wambui Otieno, wife to lawyer SM Otieno who died intestate in 1986. Wambui rubbished traditional demands for her to be inherited in accordance with the Luo culture, yet led a normal life until her demise in 2011 due to heart failure.
Another of the irritants was a decision taken by some Tiriki old men early this week. The geezers rejected a Sh40,000 coffin bought by women for a fallen colleague, ostensibly because it was an abomination. That, borrowing from British philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s view on human rights, “is nonsense on stilts”.
Did the old men consider what financial relief the coffin would have bestowed on the dead man’s family or that the women, out of compassion, denied themselves a lot to express their love for the departed? Did the ‘wise old men’ contribute anything towards the purchase of a coffin?
In my ancestral community, the sway that tradition had on society was loosened by the advent of Christianity. Those that conflicted with Christian values died a natural death, for their mere existence was an absurdity. I noted early on that most of the ‘don’ts’ in my community were directed at the young and women. I don’t have to remind you who the architects of the unwritten constitution were.
As youngsters, it was impressed on us that sitting on the grinding stone would turn one into a hunchback. That worked and served a specific purpose. In those days, little kids moved around naked, relieved themselves anywhere and did not have the luxury of toilet paper. Absentmindedly sitting on the grinding stone would soil it, hence the admonition not to.
Generosity and respect were enforced through another fable that if a young person neglected aunts, uncles and the elderly, they would suffer the curse of white ants coming out of their ears. The story tellers made such realistic stories we could visualise the insects crawl out of our ears, and that, in itself, made the young respect aunties, uncles and the elderly.
Selfish men declared that sharing a chicken’s gizzard was abominable because it turned friends into fierce enemies. That was balderdash; they simply did not relish sharing the small succulent piece of chicken, and that is why they also barred women from partaking gizzards and eggs on some silly excuses.
Female genital mutilation, in as much as it is valued by some communities but frowned upon by the Government, was devised by men unable to meet their marital obligations. To cover their frustrations and shortcomings, they picked on the lazy idea of shifting the burden to women by killing their libidos through the painful, harmful excision of the clitoris.
Wife inheritance is a culture that simply takes advantage of a woman’s emotional vulnerability upon loss of a husband. It worked, largely because men had conspired to disempower girls and women economically and academically. Women have suffered a lot of injustices in the name of traditions, thanks to conniving men unable to face reality.
In some cultures, it was taboo for a woman to bear twins, and even today, some communities resort to killing one of the twins to appease ‘ancestors’. Science has proven how ridiculous such a custom is, but more importantly, has demonstrated how dangerous lack of information and knowledge are.
Traditions, since they transcend centuries, were crafted by opinionated, but uninformed old men to simply satisfy their misogynistic nature. Right from the Garden of Eden, women proved how smart they were and, believe me, men later chose to get back at women through some useless traditions because of the prank Eve played on Adam. Only traditions that serve a good purpose should be retained.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The Standard. [email protected]