The Gusii community of Kenya is a tribe that speaks Ekegusii a Bantu language originating from the Niger-Congo group of languages. They are an agricultural community but also involved themselves with batter trade during the pre-colonial period.
The trade took place between the Gusii and their neighboring community who were the Luo located at Lake Victoria basin. The community was made up of polygamous homesteads which housed the husband, his wives, his unmarried daughters and initiated and uninitiated sons
Economically the Gusii community were agricultural people who did subsistence farming where finger millet was their staple crop. Sweet potatoes, beans and sorghum were planted among the finger millet to maximize land usage.
However, by 1920, maize farming had replaced finger millet farming therefore acting as a subsistence food and as a cash crop. Other than the above, the Gusii people also planted cassava, green grams, bananas, onions, pigeon peas, tomatoes, and potatoes. The Gusii also made iron tools, wooden implements, and decorations.
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During the late nineteenth century, the community was organized in such a manner that there was a division of labor. The primary responsibility of women was food cultivation, brewing, cooking, cleaning houses, fetching water and fetching fuel. The men in the community, on the other hand, were responsible for building houses, constructing fences, waging war, herding and clearing new fields for women to cultivate. By the 1990s, men had become more involved in cultivation than women. Herding during this period was undertaken by young men who had not yet married and boys. The initiated girls who were yet to be married assisted in cultivation. After colonization, most of the farm work was left to women
Land during the pre-colonial period was owned by lineage and clan where there was communal grazing, and division in plots for arable land commonly nowadays know as ‘Esikimu’ (Settlement Schemes). However, after colonization, the land was registered to individual men which gave them right to manage it. Women do not have a birthright to inherit from their fathers but instead can only access it through marriage. The husband however, divides land equally transferring ownership to his wives and sons after his firstborn son acquires a wife. The land is to be division of land is supervised by male village elders.
It is the mothers role to take care of the children, but when boys turn eight, they are taken out of the mothers house. At the age of 10 or 11, the young boys are circumcised and can no longer be allowed to sleep in their mothers house. Girls, on the other hand, when they turn 6, they start sleeping in the stepmothers house or grandmothers house. Initiated girls, on the other hand, sleep in post menopause w omens house in the family, usually the paternal grandmother
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Childhood activities among the Gusii people
During the development stages of an infant in the Gusii community, the children hardly ever leave their mothers sight. It is between the age of one day and ten months that the child receives all the attention from the family. It could be attention from the mother and the other siblings. Unlike an American child who some parts of the day are spent in isolation, Gusii children hardly leave the mother. An American child will spend the entire night on a bed alone while a Gusii child will spend the entire night sleeping next to his/her mother and probably another sibling (LeVine et al. 1994).
A Gusii child will also spend most of the day in social interactions happening around him/her even though the child does not talk yet. Due to the family size in the Gusii land where there are more children in the house, the infant gets to share a little less time with the mother as compared to the American setup where the mother if not with her other one or two children has all her time devoted to the infant.
It is also worth to note that, the infants with less than two years of age are sometimes left with their sisters aged between 6 and 12 when the mother leaves to attend to various activities that need her attention, therefore acting as their caregiver.
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By the age of two, the physical contact between the child and the mother declines, however, vocalization increases as the child is taught how to speak. It is at this point that the child crosses the line from infancy to childhood. There is also a decline in crying by the child and more movement in the house and around the compound.
Given their visual access to everything that is happening around them, the Gusii children get to learn a lot. Between the age of 9 to 11 mother, the child is more attached to the mother than the rest of his/her siblings this may intensify when a sibling is no longer assigned to take care of the child (LeVine et al. 1994).
In a recent research conducted in America by Levine Researchers comparing the teachings of mother to an infant for a Gusii and that of an American of between six and ten months, it was observed that avoidance of complement characterized Gusii teachings based on demonstration. The Gusii mother would take time to show the child what to do. She would also repeat it several times for the child to master the process.
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The American mother, on the other hand, would teach the infant and at the same time encourage them. The process sparked some difference in how the children reacted. The American infants showed some distress through crying and moving away from the setting more often than the Gusii infants (LeVine et al. 1994).
The teaching process of the child shows how cultures are variant. For the Gusii, they believe that the child should learn by emulating the elder one’s actions. For the American culture, they encourage personal exploration and discovery which in turn helps in shaping and development of an infant to a child and ultimately in life (LeVine et al. 1994).
Eric Bosire is the Editor Gusii Star, Founder CAM TWO KREATIONS A firm that deals with Multimedia Production, Video & Photography consultancy Services and Supply of ICT application in New Media Technology. He is a Multimedia Producer, Videographer & Social entrepreneur.