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Wambui, Conversations: Women, Children, Goats, Land Betty Wambui is a philosopher, writer, and professor from Kenya. She teaches at SUNY, Oneonta in Upstate New York. Wambui specializes in "African philosophies and social, policital, and legal philosophy" and she "is particularly interested in the questions raised by feminist philosophies, critical race theories, critical legal studies, social contract theory, discrimination, and morality" (Jeffers, 2013, 179). Wambui's article here was originally written in Gikuyu, the language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya and, like the Eze essay we read in our previous chapter, this article was also originally published in Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy edited by Chike Jeffers (Jeffers, 2013). The article was translated from Gikuyu by Evan Mwangi of Northwestern University. Introduction Some questions are born of, and some ideas emerge from, conversations held with people. Not so long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine, and she remarked that among the G˜ik˜uy˜u people of Central Kenya, women, children, goats, and land are regarded as one and the same thing. This comment has stayed on my mind and has prompted me to ask myself: What does such a claim mean? What is meant when one says that, among the Ag˜ik˜uy˜u, women and children and goats and land are the same? Furthermore, does this statement literally capture that which is the case? Let us try to unpack and unravel the comment together. So as to try to understand what my friend said that day, I have personally reflected on her comment as well as consulted with others, both young and old, because of the ambiguity of her words. First, I have asked myself and others: Does saying that women, children, goats, and land are the same mean that all of these things belong to the same category? In making the claim that they belong to one category what do we mean? Do we mean that each of the items on this list belongs to a group of its own, different from the others, even as the groups are similar in their lack of individuality and distinction; or, do we mean that they are all of comparatively equivalent value? Alternatively, do we mean to say that they are perceived as equivalent in society — that is, that they are perceived as and/or treated as the same in this space? Or in the household?1 Or, do we mean that they are the same thing in conversation and thought? Similar in practice and culture? If we understand these things to belong to the same category, is this then an assertion that children and women are seen or were in the past seen as the same as goats and land? Furthermore, that these two human categories are viewed as equal to livestock and inanimate objects? In addition, does this mean that women are considered equivalent to children among the Ag˜ik˜uy˜u? How can that be, especially when we remember that children grow up and leave behind their childhood to become adults? Is this assertion a claim that women do not develop to full human maturity? That women are really things, not property or even human beings?2 The questions that arise from my friend's comment are many and they may provoke many others. To begin to ponder them, particularly the ones that have occurred to me, it is necessary to familiarize ourselves with G˜ik˜uy˜u culture, because knowledge of this culture will help us answer some of the questions we have raised as well as serve to help us capture the meaning of the statement that got us started. Let us begin at the outset by noting that the G˜ik˜uy˜u, like any other cultural group, have progressed and changed over time. Given this fact, the comments and the questions raised by our original claim can be approached and answered from a variety of perspectives: study of the G˜ik˜uy˜u language, their history, or the culture of said people. This is a people who, according to mythology, began as a single house — the House of M˜u˜umbi, which then grew into a nation calling itself the G˜ik˜uy˜u, a large community made up of different villages belonging to the same nation, living amongst other nations. We could, if we had time, trace its development through the changes wrought by intermarriages between its clans and with other ethnic communities. We could, as part of this review, follow this community into its experience with the coming of the Europeans to Africa and the changes this brought. We could continue our study through the period when the community was engaged in a struggle for political independence, and even into the early post-independence period and then later into the postcolonial period. Let us add that, as we know, periods of time and events flow into each other. As such, it is hard to clearly determine where one period starts and another ends, just as it is difficult to state with certainty where one group of people ends, and another begins. Considering the dynamic temporal overlap and the intermixture of people, cultures, thoughts, and practices, we can say that, because of the limitations of our time, we cannot discuss in detail all the periods mentioned above, even as we know that those periods are there and that every period has its own distinct practices which at times intersect that earlier era influence, shape, and merge with later ones. For the sake of time, we'll heuristically divide all these periods into two major groups. Let's call them Tene (the past, traditional times) and r˜iu (the present or now). Culture and Tradition Let us then begin our investigation with a visit to an earlier time. In this process let us use the words we began with to open and expose G˜ik˜uy˜u community and society in that earlier period. Let us see if these words that we began with — ones that equate women, children, goats, and land in conversation — would have made sense to a speaker and listener of that earlier time. If they would have, let us articulate what these earlier conversationalists would have understood by them, conscious as we decode them that they may contain previously encoded meanings and practices that may have left traces that are felt even in our time. Our journey will be exploratory and explanatory in nature; it will try to weigh and explicate the meanings of these words within the context of the practices and traditions of the G˜ik˜uy˜u even as it tries to figure out that which prompts them and how we are to read them. Let us begin our journey at the very beginning — birth and nurture. Authors and narrators tell us of how children were in this past period welcomed into G˜ik˜uy˜u community at birth. Many people are of the opinion that all children were highly valued and others go as far as to insist that they received equal treatment. In spite of such claims, whether another's or ours, we must accept that there was distinction in their first reception. There was, we note, disparity in the ululations uttered in celebration of infant arrival — three ululations for a girl and five for a boy. Be that as it may, we are told that this distinction was of no special significance or value besides its obvious informational one. Furthermore, one denying any implication of inequality in treatment may in corroboration direct us to what they insist was the equal treatment and nurture of infants after birth. Consequently, in support of their claim they may say that all infants stayed with their mother in her hut, and they were all known as twana (babies), regardless of their sex. Still, whether one accepts their claims or not, it is also appropriate to ask at this point when children changed or were changed so that children of one gender came to be seen as 3Let us also sidestep the question of whether history, culture, and development are linear or otherwise. or became persons while the other came to be seen as or became property or things, as my friend suggested. To answer this question, let us carefully observe the upbringing and socialization of G˜ik˜uy˜u children, so as to see if there is anything in its process that would bring about the kind of change or gender differentiation that the statement we are considering points to. As we remarked above, we are told that in traditional times, children started their life-journey on an equal footing in the hut of their nyina (mother). It was she who looked after them and nurtured them. In her house, a mother would start her children's education. Under her care they began to learn those things that she, their clan, blood-relatives, neighborhood, and village regarded as important for the welfare of the community. After early childhood, girls and boys were separated from one another — the girls to sleep in k˜ir˜ir˜i (the girls' room) near the mother's bedroom and the boys in kwer˜u (the boys' room) near where the goats slept. Although they continued to live together in the same house, this division in sleeping arrangements is significant. It is the second distinction in treatment that children experienced.4 Also, from this period on, there was differentiation in the way the children were brought up and socialized. Given the group's anticipation of children's future roles and jobs, and the honor that society placed on age, family, and social groups; children were apprenticed to older people5 among their kin in their homesteads, villages, and the nation. The units that were utilized the most in this process of growth and fostering were the mbar˜i (clans) and the riika (age-set). These groups were seen as important because they helped children learn and develop skills and mastery in many fields. They also gave children an opportunity to compete with one another and, in the course of this, forge independent identities. They provided children a chance to demonstrate their abilities so that the leaders amongst them could distinguish themselves, and the followers become apparent from the interactions they engaged in on the platforms offered. In these groups too, members made friendships in a community where such relationships were highly valued. Because of these important functions that these groups — and particularly the age-set — played in fostering children, age groups were as much respected as blood lineage. 4Second if we count the ululations made at birth. 5Hence the important role of grandparents in children's upbringing. Social Divisions of the Past Let us further discuss the age-sets as we review the steps that children took in and out of age-sets as they grew up. We begin by noting that age-sets helped individuals, homesteads, clans, villages, and the nation track and plan seasons and the activities of planting, growth, and harvest. In this role, then, the age-set was used to measure and estimate time and operate a calendar of events. Children on their part were grouped into various age-sets, so that their stage of development would be determined. Within age-sets, people took various steps as they grew up. A female∗ baby mwana) would grow into a kair˜itu (girl). After some years, she grew into a k˜ir˜ig˜u an older adolescent girl who is not yet circumcised.6 After circumcision, a female became a m˜uiritu. After circumcision and marriage, a female became a m˜utumia (a married woman). A woman with children was called kang'ei, that is, until her first child was circumcised. After her first child was circumcised, a kang'ei graduated and become a nyak˜inyua (one who drinks) because from this time on she had license to drink alcoholic beverages.7 The male child followed a pattern similar to that of the female. As an infant, a male was called mwana (baby). After a while, he would grow and be called kah˜i˜i (small boy), then with some more time and further growth, a k˜ih˜i˜i (big boy). After circumcision, a male would become a mwanake (young man). Young men were the ones that went to war. During this period of their growth, they were called njamba (warriors).8 After this stage and on marrying, they would be called athuri (elders). It is elders who sat in kiama (council of elders), passing judgment on matters relating to homesteads, villages, and the nation. There were different ranks among the elders in the kiama. Members were distinguished one from another by their property — wives, children, ∗While aware of the baggage the terms female and male carry in Western literature, I find it best to use these terms as the rest — that is, English synonyms — are loaded in G˜ik˜uy˜u language as will be shown by the following presentation of the stages of growth in this community. [Translator's note.] 6Remember, that among the Ag˜ik˜uy˜u circumcision was very important. No person would be called an adult or be seen to have matured without undergoing this rite of passage. 7Still, remember that the nyak˜inyua could only indulge in alcohol if she did not have a young child still dependent on her. 8Young men of battle or war. goats, cows, farms — and also by the number of he-goats they had offered as dues to the council of elders.9 They were also differentiated and ranked by their period of service to the council, to the village, and to the nation. In addition to one's wisdom, one's courage as a young warrior, the leadership positions one had earned within one's age-set, the skills with which one led one's homestead, and one's wealth all came into play in determining status. Besides the ranks that emerged in the council, there was also in every group a m˜uthamaki or m˜uramati (a leader). This was the man held in the highest esteem by all the elders in the group. Investigating the Stages of Growth and Emerging Divisions and Groups Now that we have talked about the steps that children took as they grew to adulthood, I think it appropriate to now ask: Were these steps equally valued? Were their experiences and roles equally respected? While many Ag˜ik˜uy˜u may respond affirmatively, there are equally many others who would answer negatively. To resolve the question, let us interrogate this matter further. Those who hold that all children were treated equally argue that a serious response to this question must take into account stages of human development as woven into G˜ik˜uy˜u culture. Such consideration, they insist, reveals them to have been engaged by all with a similar aim or purpose — the ambition of successfully achieving adulthood, marriage, bearing and nurturing children, and service to the village and the nation. Those making this kind of a claim argue that even if men and women performed different duties, their tasks and participation were equally accepted as crucial in society. Furthermore, they remind us that the importance of each task was clearly understood and well recognized.10 Some supporters of this position would go farther and argue that failure to see the veracity of their position is a consequence of looking only superficially at G˜ik˜uy˜u culture. In response to such a claim, a challenger may argue that boys, and even young men and male elders, received preferential treatment when compared to their female counterparts. Such a challenger may cite the fact that the graduation of women to improved status was determined by the use of women's bodies, as women were exchanged from father to husband in marriage, in marriage itself, childbirth, parenting, subordination and service to husbands. This is in contrast to a man's change in social status, which was determined by personal deeds and contributions in one's village, personal bravery at the battlefield, wisdom displayed at council of elders' deliberations, payment of one's required dues therein, as well as one's success in presiding over wives and children at home. While agreeing with this critique, advocates for the argument of equality point out that it is imperative that we remember that marriage and childbearing were as important to young men and male elders as they were to their female counterparts. A male's graduation to eldership and eventually the determination of consequent status required the measure of children and wives, of family and its organization, which was why, just as with women, these were used to determine one's worth and to grant respect and honor to those who met these general social criteria. Furthermore, proponents of this view hold that even if measures of value for women and men were different, the evaluations were related and similar. In addition, they say that the division of labor along gender lines was pragmatically necessary for the development of the homestead, clan, and village, as all tasks are important and valuable. Besides, this group argues, if we carefully consider the assessment of men and women in society, we would see that the standards of value were similar for both genders in the sense that just as a woman without children was considered worthless, so was a man without children. Indeed, some of the proponents of this position argue that a man without children would be treated more harshly than a woman in a similar situation. They observe further that if a man was suspected to be impotent, he would be derided and considered completely useless. We are told that such a man was advised to kill himself and, if he was unable to do so, he was assisted by other men in the taking of his life.11 For this reason, if a woman realized that her husband was impotent, she would look for an alternative sex partner (especially a man of her husband's age-set or her husband's brother) in an attempt to conceal this fact about her husband's conjugal incapacity, not only because of the danger such knowledge posed to him but also because such a failure would impact her own quality of life, since an impotent man would not be able to attract other women to their home, women who, if he successfully made them his wives, would help the first wife with their domestic chores. This argument could be countered with the claim that it is not true that men and women are equally important in society. These opponents may insist that there are now, even as there were in the past, some major and important differences between the sexes, that there were distinctions signifying inequality that existed in the past that have been sustained and can be traced and tracked to current time, distinctions that would have been apparent in the past to anybody looking at the different ways men and women were treated and perceived in G˜ik˜uy˜u culture. Let's start by recalling that since that legendary period in which we are told that Wang˜u wa Makeri, a woman, reigned, G˜ik˜uy˜u society has not been matrilineal (women did not marry but rather were married, as it is they who joined the husband's family upon marriage). In addition to this, they could not be married to more than one man if their husband was still alive or if they had not been divorced. Men, on the other hand, could marry as many women as they could afford. In observing this fact, it seems apparent, this side argues, that men and women were not valued or treated as equals in G˜ik˜uy˜uland. Words and Hidden Meanings — Interrogation and Exposure Let us also consider the words used to designate men and women in G˜ik˜uy˜u and how these words emphasize this difference. Earlier, we indicated that upon marriage, "air˜itu" ("girls") were called "atumia" ("women"). This latter word comes from another — "tumia." "Tumia" ("g˜utumia") brings to mind another word — "kira" — g˜ukira. These words — "kira"/"g˜ukira," "tumia"/"g˜utumia" — bring to mind silence or even further, not speaking one's mind, even when offended and especially when not given permission to speak. They bring to mind one who knows what to say and what not to say someone who knows "their place." They are words (tumia/g˜utumia), then, that connote composure and calm. And so atumia (plural of m˜utumia), as it is a noun derived from the verb g˜utumia, suggests that women are those who are expected to maintain silence, submit, and humble themselves. This expectation of women is made clear to girls, newly wed brides and all females even today. They are told often that an important feminine virtue is humility; another is care and commitment to their homes, devotion and service to their domestic duties and to their husbands. Let us now consider the antonym of m˜utumia (woman) — m˜uthuri (man). As we said above, after young men came back from war as njamba (warriors) and got married, they were called "athuri" (plural for m˜uthuri). The word "m˜uthuri" comes from the word "g˜uthura." G˜uthura is to select; the word brings to mind the idea that a person who makes choices is able to tell what is good and what is bad. The use of this word thus suggests that the choiceor decision-maker exercises agency. It appears then that the status of men as husbands is one that increases the extent of one's power, while that of women as wives promotes humility and subordination. The status of being a man or woman was brought about by marriage. After unpacking these words and the habits and customs or culture they promoted, I think it is fair to argue that they worked to diminish the status of the female and promote that of the male in language and society. Still, even if we admit this claim, let us also admit that marriage did not only do this. Let us also say that marriage and those other things that concerned it, such as parenting, did not serve only to limit and curb women nor did it privilege men alone. Rather, both gained status in its performance. Generally, both men and women were expected to journey down the path it signified, down this road that society had drawn, if they wanted to enjoy the privileges that were reserved for married people — privileges that were highly coveted in this community — so that they could have their voices respectfully heard at any level of society. Let us continue our conversation rather than stop here, as our task is not yet complete. We have many things to consider and evaluate, before we can say that we have answered the questions that prompted our discussion and fully traveled our own route in this discussion. Age-Sets and Related Matters Earlier on, we mentioned the honor and respect that was granted the age-set. I think it fitting to revisit this structure so as to remind ourselves of its function within G˜ik˜uy˜u culture. As we said before, the age-set helped the village and the nation to estimate time, and to plan and make judgments in the execution of social activities. Also, because of the way people were brought up within the age-set, fellow members in the group were treated with special honor. These young men with whom one was tightly bound were treated like one's own brothers and their friendship was first-class. These people, with whom one had been circumcised, addressed one another as "wakini," This friendship and bonding manifested itself in different ways. One of these ways is observed in the fact that when a wakini came to visit, the host would allow the visitor to sleep with one of his wives if he (the wakini) planned to spend the night at the homestead. When I hear this, I ask myself: How could this happen? Were women seen as lacking in intelligence, agency? What if a woman did not want to share her body with this man to whom she had been handed over? Were women's desires and choices not important? Were these not recognized and respected? Further, I ask myself: Is this practice an indication that women were considered inanimate objects that could be given out to any person? Is this not odd, that husbands would be chosen for women and then husbands could choose others with whom their wives "slept" with?14 Isn't this the kind of thing that leads to conclusions such as the one drawn by my friend that, in G˜ik˜uy˜uland, women are seen as mere objects, as things? And is it not now clear what she means? In response to questions like those above, individuals well versed in G˜ik˜uy˜u culture tell us that, when complaining about how women were disrespected, oppressed, and victimized, we must not be too hasty in our judgment. They insist that, when thinking about this issue, we should remember the culture of this period and the opportunities that accompanied it, especially those gaps preserved for women in relation to conceptions of the body and intimacy. Individuals holding such an opinion also remind us that perceptions of the body and intimate relations have evolved in the period between these more traditional times and now. For example, we are told that in traditional times in contrast to our own, young people were allowed to investigate their bodies and sexual responses, to engage in foreplay as long as one did not have sex, as this was reserved for marriage. Also, maybe because marriage was often not a love match, some people say that married women had a right to engage in a love affair on the side as long as the relationship met some established criteria. First, the relationship ought not shame her husband — for example, by being too openly conducted or being used to mock him or destroy their home. Secondly, the partner one took ought not be young enough to be one's child, and in this the age-set was used as a measure. Given this social attitude, it was well understood that if a man found a spear of an age-mate planted outside his wife's hut, he was not to make a fuss or accuse the wife of loose behavior. We will continue to seek gaps and spaces such as these in our discussion. Complicating the Discussion — Women and Their Experiences In addition to the discussion above, we may say that if our evaluation is to be fair, we must bring to the fore other elements of G˜ik˜uy˜u culture. Such a presentation will enrich our understanding of this society, particularly that of women, and so allow us to more accurately comprehend the perception of women that characterized this era. This may in turn allow us to unravel the words we started with and consequently allow us to more comprehensively answer and resolve the debate they triggered. Those who would agree with us on the value of this activity may at this point begin by saying that, while it is the case that, after the era of Wang˜u wa Makeri, men started taking more than one wife while before it was women who used to marry more than one man, that is not all there is to the matter. Those making this case may argue that even when married in a polygamous setup, G˜ik˜uy˜u women were respected. For instance, let us mention the fact that after marriage a man's head was shaved only by his first wife, known by the honorific title of "m˜utumia ˜ur˜ia m˜uk˜ur˜u" (the senior wife) by other adults and in the homestead among the children as "mait˜u m˜uk˜ur˜u" (our senior mother). Let us seek to determine where the respect that we just mentioned lies, in this view. When shaving each other, husband and wife in this symbolic act seemed to say to one another that they were equals. To demonstrate the significance of this act, let me add that, during council meetings, only this wife could represent her husband if he was away on a journey, had taken ill, or, due to any other unforeseen circumstance, was absent. In addition, it is this woman who chose the other women with whom she would share her husband. This is to say that even if the man identified a female that he wanted to propose to, it was understood that he needed to consult with and gain the consent of this senior wife.15 If this claim is true, I must pause right here and note that there is, here, in this claim, an interesting opening, a gap and breach, even as there is also an obstacle, a trap and obstruction, in the culture and tradition we have talked about. We will discuss both. The obstruction first16 — let's remember that men had their first wives chosen for them by their fathers (I imagine that their mothers' views were sought in the choice). Here in the mores of the period, let us note that, a man could not choose the wife that he wanted to marry freely. The opening now17 — it was expected that a man would come to some agreement with his first wife and eventually with those that followed her on any new marriage partner. This being the case, I think that we can say that men were restricted in really significant ways even though at first sight it may appear as though they were at great liberty and exercised free choice while women were constrained and subject to them. Have the scales just been rebalanced? Before we reach a verdict on our discussion, let us also factor in how rape and sexual harassment were taken among the Ag˜ik˜uy˜u. These acts were greatly feared and despised because of their potential to disrupt the lives and traditions of the community. Consequently, if a person wanted to swear and thus demonstrate the truthfulness and seriousness of one's words, one would say: "If I ever do such and such a thing, may I have sex with my own child"; or, to further add weight to an oath, one might say that if one ever did or did not do such and such a thing, may he sleep with his own mother; or, even more seriously, if he failed to keep his word in some regard, become a k˜ih˜i˜i again, that is, may he be uncircumcised. These oaths give us another opportunity to see how women, and children as well, were viewed in this culture. Let us start this part of our discussion by emphasizing the fact that these oaths were never uttered in vain. They were said only when one wanted to convince others that what one was saying was true and not a joke or a lie. Because they were not a game or prank, by and in these oaths people put at stake those things and people thought to be of the greatest value then went farther and invoked activities that were culturally taboo. And so men swore by a child. A child, however powerless today, has the potential to become a thriving a member of society tomorrow. Also, a child in its birth, naming, and nurturing offers one an opportunity to present one's parents with a chance of rebirth and, in the process of parenting, one gains the hope of being reborn as well as the security of loving care in their old age.18 Just as an adult cannot literally return to her mother's womb, so too is it impossible to become uncircumcised. One would swear by one's mother, that is, the person who carried one in her body so that one would be born. and the person by whom one was raised. One would swear by mentioning the idea of repeating circumcision because, as we have said, circumcision was very important to these people.19 To invoke either of these "returns" is to ask for regression. It is to ask that one return to their childhood and forego all the gains and privileges of adulthood. In these oaths also is a reminder20 that to be human is to act a certain way, that one who acts in any of the ways mentioned is just like an animal or an ogre — a beast or some other unnatural thing, not a human being. Let us also then say that because of the seriousness with which these oaths were viewed and the emphasis placed on the things and people they referenced; they also serve to reveal how this community viewed personhood. According to this community's view, a human person is one who keeps their word, one who recognizes that they are social beings who live in community with other beings, one who recognizes that there are certain actions that such beings do not engage in, such as forgetting oneself to the point where one loses respect and care for children, women, and even for oneself. Gaps and Spaces — Limits and Opportunities I find this is an apt moment to examine the opportunities available to women in G˜ik˜uy˜u tradition and culture, a chance to discuss how such junctures were utilized by those women who chose to chart different, sometimes unusual, even unique life paths; in contrast to those dictated by society and history. Let us discuss these extraordinary women who dared to chart a unique way of being and the strategies they employed.21 Such women were seen as special and different from other women because of the uniqueness their special abilities exemplified, for example, that of prophecy (women seers), or competence in special skills that allowed them to perform important duties within the community (such as female circumcisers and medicine women), or hard work (self-reliant women), or courage and heroism (warrior women). These special unique women were of two categories — married and unmarried. All these categories of women commanded respect because of their actions and character, their capabilities and enterprise. The honor accorded them granted them opportunity to participate in special committees and earned them room in the ultimate political office — the council of elders. Still, and especially if they were married, they would sit behind their husbands in council of elders' meetings as they exercised these special rights.22 Before we finalize our discussion of exceptional women in G˜ik˜uy˜u culture, let's talk about two other groups of exceptional women, as they are also relevant to our discussion. Let us first start with a discussion of barren women.† These were often married women who could not themselves bear children. As we already mentioned earlier, childbearing and rearing were valuable, honored activities among the G˜ik˜uy˜u. Children were considered to be of the utmost importance. In the first place, it is children that would form the nation's defense force, they who would maintain and sustain the community in the future. But, secondly, before appealing to this more abstract and distant role, let us look closer to home and remember that more intimate value attached to children that we mentioned earlier, that of future care. One with a child had hope and expectation of a loving source of care in their old age. Also, with the birth of a child, one gained a steward who would inherit that which one had spent one's life accumulating and an opportunity to keep one's name in living memory. Hence, in the birth of one's child, one achieved several good things: first, one fulfilled one's own parents' hopes of continuing life and, secondly, one established the possibility of one's own rebirth. Given these reasons and the important role of children in this community barren women were allowed to marry other women so that they could get their own children. This point — that women could and did get married to other women — allows us to discuss property and ownership in G˜ik˜uy˜uland especially as a way of addressing those who insist that women in this culture did not and could not possess property, and even more urgently, those who equate women to property in this community. For a woman, barren or otherwise, to marry another woman, she would have to pay bride-wealth with her own property. When we consider this fact, it seems to me as if it by itself clearly indicates that women could and did own property legitimately. When we contextualize this claim, situate it within the background of other practices, and compare it to these, it seems to accurately represent that which was the case. Let us consider those other practices that I am referring to, or at least how they are remembered, as those who deny that women could and did own property, those who assert that all family property was owned by male members of society — husbands, fathers, and sons — must respond to the challenge posed by these practices and procedures surrounding the phenomenon of childless women in traditional times. Consequently, let us mention some of these practices so that we can give a rejoinder to those who reject the idea of females owning property and, if we are unable to provide a compelling rebuttal, accept our opponents' argument on this issue. Our first and most obvious rebuttal is that if women did not and could not own property of their own, these barren women would not, in a community where the marriage contract required an exchange of property have the means to marry another women and hence this practice or even its claim, would be like a fairy tale or a form of nonsense without any basis in reality. But, as we know, the practice is real. We are matter-of-factly told about womanto-woman marriages and we have seen living testament of the practice in their offspring. We are also reminded that traditional law demanded that if one's wife got married to another woman, the latter was under the authority of the dowry-paying wife, not the husband of the homestead or any other person.23 Let us also remember that the authority such a woman exercised in this relationship was hers because she was the one who had paid bridewealth and she could not have paid such if it was not known and understood that she (and women in general) could own property and was authorized to make the kind of exchanges this practice entailed. Second, let's also remember that other exceptional group that we mentioned earlier — that of self-reliant women. Economically independent women had worked hard to accumulate personal wealth, and for this reason were highly respected. In discussing them, let us also note a related fact, that many would agree with me that in every household, each woman had her own personal granary which she used to store her agricultural produce. Such produce could not be used without her permission. Also, during the construction of a woman's hut, room was always made for a "kwer˜u — a kraal in which her goats would spend the night. Let us note that even if the cattle and most of the tilled land belonged to men — husbands who used their cattle to "buy" wives for themselves24 or for their sons — it was accepted that women owned the produce of the land and their goats.25 They used these resources to finance their own activities and to meet or at least contribute to the fulfillment of their personal obligations such as, for example, the circumcision and weddings of their children. If one takes the time to put together all this information and considers its significance, I think one will agree that women had a right to property, one that they exercised, even if men in general held more wealth. Besides barren and self-reliant women, the category of exceptional women had other members that are of interest to us. For example, it included females who for various reasons never left their parents' homes, ones who never married. The reasons why a female may have remained unmarried are varied and include certain illnesses, duties and responsibilities that they were committed to in their parents' homestead, or even an inclination against marriage. Those females who could have participated in marriage but were averse to it were allowed to pay bride-wealth for themselves and purchase themselves from their father so that their father lost the right to accept bride-wealth for them from a suitor.26 A female would slaughter a goat for her father, which he would share with his age-mates and other elders. Upon accepting this payment of a goat, a father would start treating his daughter just like a son," which meant that she gained a right to inherit his property just like her brothers. She became part of the inner circle of that household in that interesting way that men were not "persons of the outside" as she, unlike her sisters, would not eventually be married outside of it; nor like her mother or mothers the wives — "who had come" in from elsewhere, that is, married into the home. I think that our discussion of exceptional women, their lives, and the cultural procedures and processes that accommodated them offers us an opportunity to think about women in a fresh way in G˜ik˜uy˜u society. In the first place, if we accept the existence of the routes we have revealed, if we see these as actually present and as actually used by women in that time, then we can claim that there were opportunities for women to choose, shape, and experience their lives in unique and interesting ways. We can go farther and claim that while there were prescribed life choices that women were encouraged to take and live, one did not necessarily have to adopt those, as one could construct other options. This latter alternative was the one that the rebel embodied and took. The rebel's choice of customizing one's life, of utilizing the potential opportunities these spaces and gaps represented was not easy, just as it is not easy today; nevertheless, it was there, the choice real. Secondly, the gaps unveiled by our discussion put into question the popular conception of women in G˜ik˜uy˜u culture, tradition, and procedure. They also stand to ask if it is just that some members of society — mainly women, who often do not have much power in the affairs of the village and the nation, in peace or war — are oppressed. In addition, these gaps stand as reminders that people are not the same even as they remind us that lack of similarity is not lack of humanity. They remind those willing to be reminded that society and each individual have a task to seek and create spaces of accommodation for all members. They are reminders that we can never police and order human beings efficiently enough. That however carefully we try to discipline human beings, they will always explode and exceed the limits and boundaries we attempt to enforce and will always reorder the order at play. These, I think, are considerations we ought not forget. Weaving Loose Ends Having arrived at this point in our discussion, I think that we are ready to return to the claim that prompted our discussion, ready to ask ourselves, especially in view of our study of G˜ik˜uy˜u culture and tradition — if we understand it and to what extent we are in agreement with it. First, let us consider if upon the reflection we have engaged in, the claim means that all things are made equal — or were made so — by the fact of male ownership.27 Also, let us ask if the claim made by that original statement is that all the things mentioned — land, children, goats, and women — belong to men and that, as such, a man could and can use or treat them as he pleases. Besides pointing to the one who has jurisdiction, there are those who may say that the value of the words we started with is their truthfulness. That to comprehend these words is to understand how in the operation of this community, at every level, man stood, and perhaps still stands, as the one with first right to the use and disposal of the things mentioned. Are such persons correct in their reading of the statement? To this kind of a reading, we respond that on one hand to hear these words in this manner, as only pointing to and reinforcing subordination submission, and oppression, is to fail to see or maybe, even more, is to fail to accept those other aspects of the Ag˜ik˜uy˜u that our discussion has revealed and unpacked. It is to fail to see the gaps we discussed above and the distinct value, status, and respect that each of the things we mentioned especially women and children, enjoyed. Such a view is one that observes G˜ik˜uy˜u culture and traditions only superficially rather than taking the time to engage in a sympathetic in-depth analysis from all sides. A person who tries to do that, as we have, would find the practices and procedures of the Ag˜ik˜uy˜u are more complicated than some would pretend and that this complexity is the deepest measure of the statement with which we began. Secondly, we could ask, as we originally did, if the things we mentioned are themselves equal, that is, share equal status. In responding to this question, we can say "not so" as each of these things had, separately, distinct and differing values and functions. It is true that these values and functions were related that goats were exchanged for women, who gave birth to children who helped women till the land and graze the goats and other animals that belonged to the home, which was in many cases a man's property28 — but still, all these things were not equal. Even that being the case, let us not fail to take into account and to emphasize the distinctions that characterized G˜ik˜uy˜u society even as we reflect on their role and function. As we draw to an end let us keep in mind that the groups and divisions present in this society, the boundaries and limits they signify or signified, played or continue to play an important role in the construction and main. tenance of power in the home, the village, and the nation. Let us remember that this work of gaining and maintaining power, of subjection and domination, is difficult and that there are always those who remain outside groups and categories created by a system, those who do not easily yield to it and who resist its work. Such individuals — rebels, and the culture of rebellion that emerges from their resistance — issue challenge and have in part been the focus of our conversation. As we have seen, they and their lives can also help us think about the words we started out with. They can serve to help us contextualize these words and then to move beyond this exercise to interpret and reinterpret them, to invent or reinvent these words, ourselves, and our world, to investigate culture and sentiments to discover that which gives birth to words such as these even as we find ways of challenging and critiquing them, of taking over established boundaries, of finding ways to test and track for traces of the tensions and possibilities that such words feel for and point to as these are felt and found in culture, tradition, and history, promoted in sentiments, myths, songs, proverbs, and conversations. Concluding Caveat Having said all of this, let us remember that it is the case that women were often, in the past, as is often still the case, powerless within the nation, village, and home. Even if women gained honor, influence, and status, they still had/have to humble themselves before men — their husbands, their fathers, their brothers, or even the council of elders; before men and patriarchal institutions. Let us remember that the importance of children was to a great extent (and often still is) their anticipated future value and that they were (and are) seen as full human beings only upon gaining the age of majority — adulthood. That the value of goats and farms, of land and animals was (and still is to a large extent) their utility as a form of material insurance and security against, for example, hunger in the community — one often signified as "man" or a certain man's family. That all of them — women, children, goats, and land — were/are used to measure the wealth, maturity, honor, and status of men; and maybe in this were seen and perhaps still are seen — as "one thing," as similarly linked to "man" even as they attempted/attempt to evade and escape, divorce and separate themselves from such characterization, even as they (as we have particularly seen with women) continue to rebel, invent, and reinvent themselves. Minh-ha, Preface to Woman, Native, Other Trinh T. Minh-ha is a Vietnamese literary critic, writer, and filmmaker who is deeply critical of the European tradition of anthropology. European anthropology, which had its real beginning in the 19th century, created many interpretations and narratives about non-European people around the world that deeply distorts if not outright deceives about the worlds of non-European peoples. This short piece is the Preface to Minh-ha's excellent book Woman, Native, Other (Minh-ha, 1989) which we will read more from in the second half of the term. I think this piece makes an excellent introduction to this course as a whole. Notice that Minh-ha includes men here, but she is mostly speaking to and about women. Why is that? What is she saying? What is she doing with what she is saying? Why do I think this piece is so worthwhile? The Story Began Long Ago... This is the world in which I move uninvited, profane on a sacred land, neither me nor mine, but me nonetheless. The story began long ago . . . it is old. Older than my body, my mother's, my grandmother's. As old as my me. Old Spontaneous me, the world. For years we have been passing it on, so that our daughters and granddaughters may continue to pass it on. So that it may become larger than its proper measure, always larger than its own in-significance. The story never really begins nor ends, even though there is a beginning and an end to every story, just as there is a beginning and an end to every teller. One can date it back to the immemorial days when a group of mighty men attributed to itself a central, dominating position vis-à-vis other groups; overvalued its particularities and achievements; adopted a projective attitude toward those it classified among the out-groups; and wrapped itself up in its own thinking, interpreting the out-group through the in-group mode of reasoning while claiming to speak the minds of both the in-group and the out-group. In a remote village, people have decided to get together to discuss certain matters of capital importance to the well-being of their community. A meeting is thus fixed for a definite date at the marketplace at nightfall. On the day and at the time agreed, each member eats, washes her/himself, and arrives only when s/he is ready. Things proceed smoothly as usual, and the discussion does not have to begin at a precise time, since it does not break in on daily village life but slips naturally into it. A mother continues to bathe her child amidst the group; two men go on playing a game they have started; a woman finishes braiding another woman's hair. These activities do not prevent their listening or intervening when necessary. Never does one open the discussion by coming right to the heart of the matter. For the heart of the matter is always somewhere else than where it is supposed to be. To allow it to emerge, people approach it indirectly by postponing until it matures, by letting it come when it is ready to come. There is no catching, no pushing, no directing, no breaking through, no need for a linear progression which gives the comforting illusion that one knows where one goes. Time and space are not something entirely exterior to oneself, something that one has, keeps, saves, wastes, or loses. Thus, even though one meets to discuss, for example, the problem of survival with this year's crops, one begins to speak of so-and-so who has left his wife, children, family, and village in search of a job in the city and has not given any news since then, or of the neighbor's goats which have eaten so-and-so's millet. The conversation moves from the difficulties caused by rural depopulation to the need to construct goat pens, then wanders in old sayings and remembrances of events that occurred long ago . . . A man starts singing softly and playing his lute. Murmurs, laughter, and snatches of conversation mingle under the moonlight. Some women drowse on a mat they have spread on the ground and wake up when they are spoken to. The discussion lingers on late into the night. By the end of the meeting, everyone has spoken. The chief of the village does not "have the floor" for himself, nor does he talk more than anyone else. He is there to listen, to absorb, and to ascertain at the close what everybody has already felt or grown to feel during the session. The story never stops beginning or ending. It appears headless and bottomless for it is built on differences. Its (in)finitude subverts every notion of completeness and its frame remains a non-totalizable one. The differences it brings about are differences not only in structure, in the play of structures and of surfaces, but also in timbre and in silencer. We — you and me, she and he, we and they — we differ in the content of the words, in the construction and weaving of sentences but most of all, I feel, in the choice and mixing of utterances, the ethos, the tones, the paces, the cuts, the pauses. The story circulates like a gift; an empty gift which anybody can lay claim to by filling it to taste, yet can never truly possess. A gift built on multiplicity. One that stays inexhaustible with in its own limits. Its departures and arrivals. Its quietness. Its quietness. As our elder Lao Tzu used to say, knowing ignorance is strength, ignoring knowledge is sickness; if one is sick of sickness, then one is no longer sick. For a variation, I would say knowledge for knowledge's sake is sickness. Let her who is sick with sickness pass on the story, a gift unasked for like a huge bag of moonlight. Now stars shine white on a black on a colored sky. Question; Based on the information Need a summary for this article

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