Ageing in Kenya

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***** Location: Kenya
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


grandfather, grandmother

Ageing in Kenya implies growing in status from age group to successive age group. From childhood to initiation and adulthood... From adulthood to marriage and parenthood... With marriage come certain rights and responsibilities.

With parenthood comes a new name since, traditionally, Kenyans call themselves “father of so-and-so” or “mother of so-and-so” rather than using their own names. A Kenyan parent is eligible to be an elder in the community, the church, and other institutions. As their children grow, Kenyan parents may relax a bit more and allow the children to carry out some of the family chores.

Grandparents are highly respected and cared for by the younger generations. Even today, their story-telling skills are often sought, and they are frequently surrounded by groups of small children enjoying their company.

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Grandma Nelly enjoying the afternoon with her neighbours’ children

All this is obviously a gross generalisation, and the many exceptions may totally disprove the “rules”! Everything is not the same for women and men, for urban and rural dwellers, for one ethnic group and another, for married people versus single parents versus single people of the same age group, etc.

Looking at old age in Kenya, the highly respected elderly citizens, who have survived beyond the average life expectancy of about 55 years, do not have it easy. Medical services may be far away, and too expensive for them. Public transport makes few allowances for citizens of reduced mobility -- but the kindness of friends and strangers often makes up for this. The elderly may suffer from missing teeth and poor eyesight and may need special meals cooked for them. If living alone, they will depend on the support of others for their tougher chores, such as fetching water and cultivating the fields. With urbanisation, grandparents living in the rural area often find themselves bringing up their grandchildren, whose parents are busy struggling for a living in the city.

But there are some opportunities that do not stop with old age. Thus, Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge became famous throughout the world when he took up the new opportunity of free primary education and went back to school at the age of 84, studying together with some of his grandchildren! He was invited to speak before the United Nations General Assembly and has become a role model for elderly people in many countries.

Text and photos © Isabelle Prondzynski

Worldwide use


Respect for the Aged Day, Keiroo no Hi

Things found on the way


The haiku below were written as part of the
Shiki Kukai of March 2008 :

They were appreciated and discussed by the Haiku Clubs of Nairobi at their Arboretum Kukai of 29 March 2008.

Discussion of haiku on ageing at the Arboretum Kukai

my grandfather --
using less and less
of his cane

~ Abraham Muuo

my grandmother
looking at me closely --
the frown on her face

~ Anne Wairimu

sunny evening --
my grandmother talking
to herself

~ Solomon Kilelu

breezy evening --
my grandmother

~ Wandera David

Medical chit for elderly ladies’ visits to the dispensary

my grandmother
brushing a toothless mouth--

~ Joseph Kilunda

my grandfather
holding onto my hand --
a slow walk

~ Onesmus

my grandfather
chewing soft vegetables --
his toothless mouth

~ John Mwangi

grey beads swing
an old man rides a bike
across a pine road

~ hussein haji

my grandmother
struggling to chew meat --

~ Martin Kamau

my grandfather
searching for his specs --
grey eyes

~ Fatuma Katana

Ever active in community affairs

my grandmother --
cap tightly covering
her bald head

~ Bilha Wanjiku

my mother
looking for dye --
more grey hair

~ Irene Muthengi

my grandmother
searching for tobacco --
a new pipe

~ Lucy Nyambura

Related words

***** Bukusu Initiation / Circumcision

***** Arboretum Kukai of the Haiku Clubs of Nairobi


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1 comment:

Frances O'Keeffe said...

Hi Isabelle,

Lovely to see this site and I enjoyed learning that some of the haiku on the March Shiki were from your group.
I'm honoured to see that your group liked my haiku and I plan to visit this site again.
Frances McCarthy