Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya

Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya

Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya

Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya

Synopsis

Growing up in the Maragoli community in Kenya, Kenda Mutongi encountered a perplexing contradiction. While the young teachers at her village school railed against colonialism, many of her elders, including her widowed mother, praised their former British masters. In this moving book, Mutongi explores how both the challenges and contradictions of colonial rule and the frustrations and failures of independence shaped the lives of Maragoli widows and their complex relations with each other, their families, and the larger community.
Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, rates of widowhood have been remarkably high in Kenya. Yet despite their numbers, widows and their families exist at the margins of society, and their lives act as a barometer for the harsh realities of rural Kenya. Mutongi here argues that widows survive by publicly airing their social, economic, and political problems, their "worries of the heart." Initially aimed at the men in their community, and then their colonial rulers, this strategy changed after independence as widows increasingly invoked the language of citizenship to demand their rights from the new leaders of Kenya- leaders whose failure to meet the needs of ordinary citizens has led to deep disenchantment and altered Kenyans' view of their colonial past. An innovative blend of ethnography and historical research, Worries of the Heart is a poignant narrative rich with insights into postcolonial Africa.

Excerpt

Approaching Maragoli from Lake Victoria requires a sharp northwest climb to 4,800 feet until you cross the equator. On the hills in the near distance sit boulders the size of cars and houses, strewn randomly as if dropped from the sky by some careless god; occasionally you run across haphazard markets crowded with goats, chickens, and cows and with people in every state of dress (or undress) hawking fruits, grain, vegetables, earthen pots, pans, and secondhand clothing. Behind and between the markets are small plots of land, rarely more than an acre, in which tea bushes, maize, cassava, potatoes, or beans grow timidly between the larger clusters of banana, mango, guava, and eucalyptus trees. Near the gardens stand resolute mud huts with thatched roofs or, at the well-off homesteads, with corrugated iron roofs. Occasionally you will pass the brick house of a professional man, a lawyer or an accountant, who works in one of the major Kenyan cities and keeps a “home house” that he visits a few times a year and where he plans to be buried. Only ninety-five square miles in size, Maragoli is a land of peasants, a heavily settled land whose soils are, unfortunately, rapidly becoming depleted of nutrients; it is, in other words, a land where people, animals, and plants struggle to survive. It is, in fact, a fairly typical rural community in Africa today.

Maragoli is also my home, and the setting for this book. I grew up there right after Kenya's independence, in the late 1960s and 1970s, in one of the brick houses with a corrugated iron roof, in a fairly well-off peasant household, surrounded by goats, chickens, and cows and a few acres of tea bushes. My father, who died when I was five years old, had been a teacher at a local primary school. In those days, teachers were respected men who earned enough money to build brick houses that were almost but not quite as grand as the “home houses” of the professionals. Though I grew up without a father . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.