educating the gikuyu children -- 1/22/19

Today's selection -- from Facing Mt. Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta. The Gikuyu tribe is the largest ethnic group in Kenya. Here we read how Gikuyu children are educated:

"The father has to teach his boy various things. As an agriculturist he has to take him in the garden for practical training. He makes a digging-stick, moro, for his boy to play with while the father is doing the actual work of weeding or turning the soil. Through watching his father in these activities, the boy gradually learns how to handle his digging-stick, and thus becomes a practical agriculturist. While this training is going on, special attention is paid to acquainting the child with the names of various plants and roots and their uses, especially those which are used as antidotes for insect or snake bites. If the father is a wood-carver, smith, hunter, bee-keeper, etc., he will teach the boy by examples in the same way. Through moving in the forests and jungles with his father the boy learns about numerous wild fruits and flowers, and comes to know those which are poisonous and those which are edible. Along with these special tasks goes a very important general training. The boy is taught about family, clan and tribal lands, and their boundaries are carefully pointed out to him.

"Care is taken to teach the boy how to be a good observer and to reckon things by observation without counting them, as counting, especially of sheep, goats, cattle or people, is considered as one of the Gikuyu taboos, mogiro, and one which would bring ill-luck to the people or animals counted. For example, a man with a hundred head of cattle, sheep and goats trains his son to know them by their colour only or by their size and type of horns, while every one of them has a special name. ...

"The mother also takes the same responsibility in teaching her daughter all things concerning the domestic duties of a wife in managing and harmonising the affairs of a homestead. The girl's training in agriculture is the same as that of the boy. The mother is in charge of the co-education of her children. In the evening she teaches both boy and girl the laws and customs, especially those governing the moral code and general rules of etiquette in the community. The teaching is carried on in the form of folklore and tribal legends. At the same time the children are given mental exercises through amusing riddles and puzzles which are told only in the evenings after meals, or while food is being cooked.

Gikuyu women and children.

"There are children's dances held occasionally at which praise songs are sung. ... These dances are at­tended by almost every child in the district. Among the spectators parents are prominent, their chief interest be­ing to observe the conduct of the children in public dances and to judge how much they have absorbed the things taught by the parents. Very strong criticism is directed at the parents whose children do not behave according to the approved tribal law of conduct. Such parents are considered to have neglected the important task of preparing their children to become worthy mem­bers of the community.

"Special care is devoted to physical development, and many of these dances are the means of providing healthy and bodily exercise. In this respect boys have more facility than girls. For apart from these dances, the boys have their games of wrestling, running and jumping, sparring with sticks and shields, lifting weights and stones and clubthrowing. They have district fights, when one gang is matched against another, or cham­pions are put forward in a wrestling match. It can be said that through work and play both sexes get their physical training. ...

"There is health-teaching for both boys and girls; they learn early that certain things are not safe and regard them as taboos. Children are trained not to go into a house where there is small-pox, not to touch clothes of a leper, nor touch a dead animal, or the bones of a dead man. These and countless other prohibitions are part of the instruction in health and bodily hygiene. ...

"It is with personal relations, rather than with natural phenomena, that the Gikuyu education is concerned right from the very beginning. Growing boys and girls learn that they have one thing to learn which sums up all the others, and that is the manners and deportment proper to their station in the community. They see that their happiness in the homestead, their popularity with their playmates, their present comforts and their future prospects depend on knowing their place, giving respect and obedience where it is due."



Jomo Kenyatta


Facing Mt. Kenya


Vintage Books, A division of Random House


Copyright 1965 Vintage Books Edition


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