Newsletter November 1 2003

hello again from Kenya, Western Province. The rains are coming to an end and we shall soon be in the hot, dusty dry season.

The newspapers are still full of the corruption in the judiciary at all levels from magistrates through lawyers up to High Court judges. The examples cited would fill a book and you would never believe them. Many of the hundred or so on the judicial "List of Shame" have decided to retire rather than face a tribunal.

One of the problems here is that firstly judges are appointed by the President (an open invitation to influence peddling and nepotism) and secondly, there is no jury system, so the judge hearing a case is all powerful.

One of the offshoots of the "War on Corruption" is to make every civil servant, no matter how lowly his or her job, file a statement listing their assets. Interestingly enough, many men have listed their wives and children as property along with cars, furniture etc. This only underlines the grave injustice done to women here. They cannot inherit property and while they can buy their own car, or even a house, if they are married the property will most often be listed in the husband's name.

Since only men or boys can inherit land, it has led to some interesting customs amongst some tribes to ensure the property stays in the 'family.'

One tribe allows a woman who has no sons to 'marry' another woman. This is usually after widowhood, but can be during the husband's lifetime. The 'bride' works for and looks after the elderly woman she has 'married' but is free to choose male partners as she pleases. After all, the purpose is to have sons. Any children born belong to the family group, and the sons will inherit the property. In one case, a woman had 'married' two other women, who between them had produced seven or eight children. The woman's married daughters approved because they could not inherit anyway.

Amongst the Maasai a woman is allowed to have a boyfriend outside marriage as long as she does not get pregnant. A seventy year old man who has married a twelve-year-old girl (yes, it happens) could allow her to have male friends, but if she conceives she will reap the husband's wrath. (I'm not sure why they consider a man of seventy impotent.) If the man has a forgiving nature, he could allow her to keep the child, but would have nothing to do with it. While distributing his farm and cattle, the child would be left out. The child might also become a full time herds boy as the man's biological children go to school.

There are no childless Maasai couples. If a woman has not born children, a woman who has several children is expected to give away at least two of her children as a permanent gift to her childless sister, with the consent of her husband. If the childless woman has no sisters, any member of the community could donate their child.

If two women are married to brothers, whichever family has children first will loan their second born to the other family. If the other family then has a child, they will return the 'borrowed' child. If they remain childless, the 'borrowed' child becomes theirs permanently.

In another tribe, the Kamba, a woman was encouraged to have at least one child outside of marriage in any case where the family was known to have a history of mental illness or genetic disorders. Or in case a curse had been put on the father's family. If a man was cursed by his father, there was a possibility that the curse could result in the death of the entire family. So it was necessary to have a child from a different man so there would be at least one survivor.

A man could be cursed by his creditor or over a land dispute. Once such a curse was in effect it was unwise to have all your children by the same man.

A jealous neighbour could visit a witchdoctor to ensure the family went into decline. The children could suffer incurable diseases or go mad.

It should be noted that the belief in witchdoctors and curses still exists amongst some people, although not as strongly as in the past.

The Kikuyu also encouraged their women to have at least one child, especially the last born, outside of marriage in case of mental or genetic problems. The agenda had to be specific and it was meant to be strictly one child, and nothing after.

Amongst the Luo who live around Lake Victoria, a male child born before marriage was believed to possess a spirit that suppressed the intelligence of his stepbrothers once his mother married. Allowing such a child into the marriage automatically destroyed the family as the child usurped all the luck meant for the others. Such a child was usually left under the care of his grandmother, or killed before the age of five by his stepfather's people, if the mother intended to take him to the new home.

There was a survey asking what modern Kenyans would do if they found their wife had a "secret" child. Here are some answers:

- The woman would have to go, together with all her children, even my biological ones.

- I would treat the child like my other children...The child is innocent..

- the father would have to take financial responsibility for the child, especially school fees..

- A person who chases away an innocent child is cursed

- if you throw away such a child, you throw away your own luck.. Any child acquired within my house is my property and belongs to me..

- if the child is a boy I will send him away immediately. If it's a girl, I will keep her because she will get married anyway (thinking house help & bride price here, I believe) I will then chase away the woman, but stay with my blood children. If their mother wants to see them, she must do so as a visitor, not a wife..