Kenya glossary














20 November 1996



Starts after an informal conversation

Section 1
What is your name?
Zipora Bikedi

Bikedi. OK. And the other one you said was...?
Nasimiyu. That is mine. Zipora Nasimiyu

OK. And Bikedi...
Bikedi is my husband's. Laurence Bikedi.


Well, thank you. Let's test this and see if it's working. [Tests the tape]. Where is your home?
It was here in Kamusendi, not far from here. That's where I was born.



OK. And this place is called...?
Here? This place is the Chibukuyi area.

Chibukuyi? OK. Now madam, you were telling me, is this your first marriage?
My first marriage was...I was married at Visina in Ayanja.


Is that in Mount Elgon or in Bungoma?
No, it's in Bungoma.

There in Bungoma?
Yes. And my husband was working Telitedi.

Section 2
When I was living with him, I found that he was making my life a misery.

Yes. That's what made me decide to go back home.


How was he making your life a misery?
You know there was a path through the homestead. Now if he used that path, and if when he returned, he found some footprints or bicycle tracks, he would say that a person had come to flirt with me.

And at night he would begin fighting. And if you put on the light...

You know, as he passes. Like you, you see what appears when you pass?

On the house it would appear...

Eeh...shinini (shadow)?
Eeh shinini (shadow). He would say that is my boyfriend coming here. And when you refused, denying the accusations he would begin fighting.

He fought all the time. And then he would start beating you for stopping him from eating.

With that every day, I finally said, “Aaah! So this is what young men do when you marry them, or what?”

Unfortunately, I conceived quickly. And I said that when I went home to deliver I would not return. I would go for good.

So when I went to deliver, he followed me, asking me to return. Ah! Ah! I explained to baba na this what you do as you live together...? They marvelled, and said they had never heard of such a thing. That is when I decided that even though I have a child, I cannot return there.

So I just stayed there, and I stayed at home for a year and a half, almost two.

During that old were you when you married this young man?
I was born in ‘49.
Section 3
Eeh. I got married in ‘69.

OK. I got there and then left, that's when I spent two years at home and then married this mzee (old man). I decided myself. I used to ask, is this what young men do?

I could not go to another young man. Let me marry an old man. Maybe there I will live in peace. I came to this mzee in 1970. In 1971 I gave birth to my own - the one who is now in prison.

[She explained earlier that her son had been a victim in a fraud case with a stolen battery and was currently in prison serving a 2-year term]

OK. So that is the first son?
The first one.

The girl who follows him is married. I bore this one in 1974 [pointing to a small child] (?).

OK. So, how did you meet your first husband?
I was just in Standard 6. At the beginning of Standard 7, my father, who was already an old man, couldn't raise the fees. He was born in 1908.

Eeh! He was quite old.
He was circumcised in 1914. Well, the fees we had were expensive, although those with means managed it. So I tried going to Standard 7 and found there was no fees. So I thought I might as well get married.

At that time, the parents themselves would tell you [whom to marry]. He would say, “Mama, my child should marry this boy. He's not bad.” Now my father told me to marry that boy. So when I got into trouble, I told him, “Well, you yourself are the one who told me to marry him. And yet he had problems? Was it I who decided to go through all this trouble?”

Now, I have children, six children.

That one and then these five.
Section 4
Five from this one?
No! All from this one. Altogether they were six. But this one [from the first marriage] died. I came with him when I got married in 1971. He was walking. Then I was here for...

He was walking?

I was slowly taking him back home.

He! He! He!
When we left here, he fell sick gradually, and remained sick until he died.

It was a girl.

I'm so sorry.
So here, I have had the big boy, followed by two, three girls.

Hmm, OK.
And the boys are two.

My last born is in Standard 2.

OK. And your husband now, how old is he?
This mzee has gone on in age, he is 78 years old.

Because he was born in...where has the year disappeared to? But I know he was circumcised in 1926.

Now he has become an old man.

He is a very old man. Even if you saw him here, you would say, “Ah! Is this really your husband?”

And how did you meet him?
The way I met him...

This one...
I had a mlamwa (in-law) married from this area.

So she's the one who came and told me: “Eh! In-law, you are going through so many problems here...Let's go...Why don't you marry my brother.” So...she is the one who brought me here. And the mzee himself was working in Kamusinga at the Boys' school.
Section 5
OK. OK. Alright. And what tribe are you?
We are Bukusu.

OK. Both you and mzee?
Even mzee.

OK. And who are the people who live here?
Here, we are surrounded by Teso, but on the other side, up to this area are Maasai.

Are they Maasai or Sabaot?
Yes [Sabaot].

They are the ones who burned us out. You can see even these houses were recently built.

Ooooh. OK. I'm very sorry.
Hmmm. And originally, this house was in the banana plants.

Hmm they burned us. Everything burned...not just... It is just now that we have really struggled to get clothes and others things. Even the bananas were burned to ashes. When you are fleeing, can you carry anything? You just save...

Your body.
Hmmm. Your body and your children's.

I'm sorry.
Everything was burned to ashes.

Hmmm. OK. But madam, this is where the clashes were, but you still live here?
Right here. Right here in those bananas.

Hmm. And how do you find live with your neighbours now?
They are just there, and now that we hear that children are about to close schools, I've heard that just wait...we won't even get to the 12th [December], they will start again.

Eeh. They have been talking about how they will come to the homesteads. And when they want to burn they will chop up the owner.

Hmmm? Gosh.
Eeeh. In fact, we live in fear. We say that if we could find another place to go, we would have moved there.

Sorry. So they are saying...who is saying?
The Sabaot.
Section 6
Oh, Sabaot?

And why are they saying that?
I don't know.

Their leaders say that the matter I don't understand what these ones are saying again.

Hmmm. Sorry. Now, what I wanted to talk to you about madam... is about being a girl...

When you were a girl, did you learn about hygiene? Like even during your menstruation...did you...who taught you? Have you seen a change in the way people took care of themselves between those days and these days?
Yes. There was. In those days, girls did not get pregnant easily. Even if you were a schoolgirl and you went to a dance, you only talked to the boys.

But you didn't go to sleep with him. No! That didn't happen easily.

OK. And what about hygiene...and so on...?
Eeeh...well, you just need to take a bath.

Hmmm. When you are menstruating, you must wash. And if you know you are bleeding, you must bath twice a day.

Hmmm. OK. And things like that, in those days did they teach the girls?
Well, they would teach them. But some would catch on and others no. It depends on whether the girl herself was still childish, for when she was maturing, you would see her bathe frequently. That's how it goes. Some who don't like to bathe more than once would do it hurriedly.

With those ones, you would see stains on their clothes.

Hmm. Well, it also depends on their mothers. Don't you see that some were very dirty?

OK. And when people saw such a woman, they...maybe...if like a man sees that his wife is dirty, what would happen?
He would abuse you.
Section 7
He would abuse you?
Like, when I came to this mzee, he was a cook. It depends on how you live with someone. If they are dirty, that's just how it is. But like this old man, if he sees that you work but you are not quick to take to the water, you see him bringing you water himself.

He puts it in a basin and says, “You look tired. You need to take a bath.” Doesn't he shame you? It'll shame you into saying, “Ai! Why haven't I bathed...”

Now, I'm very used to bathing. After lunch, it's almost certain, you see I had gone to fetch water for bathing?

Hmmm. Now, I don't know whether the Bukusu did this, this smearing oneself with cream from milk?

You did it?
Eeh, we called it livondo.

Yes, they put it in a gourd and then they shake the milk frequently.

Now, even when you pour out that milk, you don't pour it all out. You add more milk in it that you have just milked.

Then you shake it again. You shake it again.

You warm it. Now that is wonderful milk, and it is even better than these oils we buy in shops.

Hmm. OK.
They used it smear on each other...

Smear it on each other?

On the body?
You take a little and smear it on each other.

And these days, what happens?
Ah. Not these days. These things from the shops, people just ape (copy) each other. you say this aping is bad?
Section 8
Why, because it depends on whether you can afford it.

And if you can't afford it and you lack things, it is as though you are not even a person, and as though you are very dirty.

OK, OK, alright.

Maybe...if a girl wanted to make herself look nice, what would she do?

In those days?
Well, a girl...but we found when what used to happen, ...cowhide clothes...had disappeared, but we girls used to stay at home.

We found when the modern clothes had come.

Now, in those days, you would buy a dress and wash it, bathe and smear yourself with that oil. Then you'd go out to walk.

OK. And have you seen any changes these days or, or...
Yes, there are. Now, a girl is required to smear herself nicely with oil, for her hair she must buy...she must put piece (popular plastic hairpieces woven into hair)...put on...

Hmm. Now when a girl sees her peers having what she lacks, she begins to desire the things. She now won't want to sit at home. She goes out looking for how to get those things.

When she goes out, in what ways can she get them?
Now that, in the process of doing that is how many children get this bad disease (HIV/AIDS) because she wants the money to buy these things. Yet she has gone to look for that disease.

Hmm. OK. And when you say that as a girl you would put oil on yourself, wash you clothes and go out like the young people these days...

When you saw a smart boy, how did he look?
He would be well-dressed.

Well-dressed how?
Maybe a shirt and trousers. But then, trousers were not common. Shorts were the ones common.
Section 9
OK. And these days?
These days, trousers are [worn] more.

Even with a small child, you see him wearing trousers. You think it’s an old man, yet it's a child.

Ha ha ha! Do you think its better for children or old men to wear trousers, or what is your opinion on this trousers issue?
Well, it depends. These days everybody has them.

If a child is uncircumcised he should wear shorts.

But a circumcised person in trousers will look good.

OK. And at what age do they circumcise a child?
It depends on which child has the desire. One could be circumcised at 12 years, another at 15.

OK. When you say he has the desire...
Eeh the desire...desire that makes him say, “Ah. I will now be circumcised.”

OK. Is it he himself who decides that he wants to be circumcised?
Yes, he is the one who decides. If you force a child and he embarrasses you out there, what will you do? That is undesirable.

OK. And do you see a lot of children wait until 15 or do they go when they are 12...?
13, 14.


Ooh. Alright.

As you live on the mountain...

This mountain, this Mount Elgon, what does it mean in your life? When you look when you come here and look at this mountain, what does it have...when you look at this mountain, what do you feel in your heart?
I just live here. There is no feeling that this is a nice place to live because we are completely in the forest. It's also very cold. When it rains, you find it gets very cold.

Hmm. OK. And when you are on this mountain, in your heart do you say, I like living here because...or...
I don't like living here...because whether you like it depends on where you are. We couldn't get a piece of land and that's how we ended up here. It was not because we thought this place was good.
Section 10
The people on the other side, there...they have good land. When you plant maize there, you harvest well. So, it depends and I say, “Aah! Let's just live here on our land.” And here there is nothing, except the house.

But when I think about renting. Paying monthly. We wouldn't be able to. It's just the house. It's only the house that [if we moved], we wouldn't manage to pay monthly.

OK. Alright. And how did you get this farm?
We bought it.

You bought it?

When did you buy it?
We bought it in ‘75.
OK. In ‘75?

And then you lived here with mzee?

And is the other wife still alive? [she was not the first wife]
The wife died.

This young man's mother.

But mzee married another one who was separated from a big man. Near Kamusinga.

OK. And children?
It was after that one died that he married...

Married another one?
It was him and the one who died. Now, I found when she was already dead.

So you were the third although another one had died?
Section 11
OK. And what do you think about being two...wives with one husband?
What your life is like depends on whether he is still young, and also whether you work ther, since each one has their own home. But now that this mzee has become very old, he has no way of feeding you.

Now, it seems as though I am his husband, because I am the one who caters for his needs. And also, since he has become sick, he has ailed, and ailed since 1987.

Almost 10 years?
Of ailing?

Ninety what ... now it's been a year...

‘95. June. That's when he got sick. Not some alarming disease, but he was unable to urinate. So to deal with that blocked urine system, they took him to Misikhu hospital...That is where they gave him rubber implements, which he has up to now.

So that's what made him, when he left yesterday, he was returning to Kitale where he gets his treatment.

So that is how it was - he left [the hospital] while he was still ailing...when he heard that someone was coming to visit us.

To visit you. OK. OK.
So he went yesterday.

And your co-wife, did you live harmoniously or do you you live...?
That depends, because you must have some disagreement. That is what made us move to this side. She refused to allow us to farm on the other side saying that we could not farm there with the children of the dead wife.

She chased us away. So we came and bought five acres of land here with the children, that is, my husband's son who has since died, four children, and myself.

Why did your co-wife refuse?
She doesn't want us all living there together, mixing with each other. That land, she says is enough for herself and her children. She has three sons.

OK. So, since you told me that you bought this farm, does mzee live here or...?
Yes, he lives here.
Section 12
He lives here?

And does he go to...where does your co-wife live?
Kamusinga...Kamusinga at the Boy's [school].

So mzee goes there?
He only goes there to check on their welfare. But since he's been sick, he doesn't go there.

OK. Hmm. And what difference do you see between marriage to an old man or a young man...looking at some of your friends who have married...who have married younger men than your husband?
There are many differences. Because they can sit around...she does a little digging and cooks. Her husband gets everything for her. But me, there is a very big difference. Sometimes I sit and think, “Aah! You mean I should have stayed at home? And found another young remarry.” So when I begin saying manyandi (had I known), I feel pain.

Sometimes saying I wish I had waited. But I have persevered regardless of what I say. And when I hear the children all say, “Why didn't you marry a young man?...”

“Why are you complaining, when you get these problems because father is old, there is nothing he can give us?” At that point, I remain silent.

So your children tell you that?

And have you had, during these years you've lived with mzee...15 years...15, 25?
25 from 1970. 26.

Have you at any point thought about leaving mzee?
Thoughts of...

Leaving here to go home?
But if I had said that, I wouldn't have given birth to all these children. Yes. I persevered and said, “I cannot be a wanderer. Let me persevere and stay on.”

Because if I had thought of remarrying, I would not have wanted to have children. I would have gone for family (family planning clinic) to stop. Otherwise now, I would still be suckling children.

And where did you go to the family?
I went, I went to Kapsokwony?
Section 13
You went to Kapsokwony?

When did you go?
I began going in 1970...ei...I began going in 1984.


And what did they give you there?
They gave me oral tablets. Then I changed them because I said that this business of swallowing medicine every day is not good. Then I went to Kisembe.

Why did you say oral medicine is not good?
I think it will help make your stomach full (pregnant) or what...

So then I said, let me go to Kisembe. They checked me there and said they should give me a 3-month injection.

OK. So every 3 months you go there?
Yes. Now that I've seen the symptoms of mzee's sickness, I decided to stop going for the injections since I don't have a husband.

Hmm...OK. Traditionally, did people think of preventing conception?
Yes, they did. Like if a girl was menstruating, if her mother knew, she would take that blood, and put it above the door.

She puts it on the door?
Yes. At the top of the house. Now when you passed underneath as you went out, you wouldn't conceive. If she slept with a boy out there, she could not get pregnant.

So, the mother would do this before her daughter got married?
Yes. Before she married.

If she knew that her child...
Was promiscuous.


And did it really work?
Yes. It worked.

In the past, girls did not get pregnant easily. Now on the day she got married, her mother would remove those things.

Did she take that blood every month or...?
No, just once.
Section 14

So did she plan it with her daughter or did she do it secretly?
She did it secretly. She didn't want her daughter to see...if I know I can't tell you to know.

OK. And where did she get that blood?
She would just get it.

And were there also women who did not want to have children?
To have children? No it wasn't common.

Like if a mother felt she had enough children. Were there women who thought like that?
Yes, there were some who would give people medicine so that they would not have children again. But it wasn't easy for a person to give it to someone else. They didn't want to.

I don't know.

Even between women.
They knew, but they didn't want to give it to someone else.

No matter what you said they would not. They would say, “God will hold it against me because I have spoiled her eggs.”

That she will spoil another's eggs.
So she would only give it within her clique. Only someone close to her. But it wouldn't be known that she knows.

Now, she says God will hold it against her that she has spoiled another's eggs.
Yes, that why are you preventing this woman from having children?

So, did they think that God is the one who brings children or...
I don't know, they just thought like that. Some really had many children. My mother bore very many, altogether she bore 21. But some died. She would give birth, the child would stay two months and die, and already she would be expecting another one.

Hmm. Only 8 have grown up. The rest died completely.

OK. Were they sick?
No. They became sick when they started getting bigger. But some died as children.
Section 15
OK. And what did a woman who did not have children do?
One who can't have children?

She just stayed like that.

Would she remain with her husband or...
Yes, she remains with her husband. In the past, people didn't commonly chase away their wives for not having children.


When did the habit of chasing away women begin?
That depends. It began around nineteen sixty something and expanded to this side.

Hmm. And why do you think it began?
I don't know. They would get the idea from others. “You say you have a wife, yet you have no children? What children has she given you, why not chase her away?”

Eeh. And the one who was steadfast would say, “No. When I married her, I didn't know she would not have children. Let me live with her.” But others, no.

OK. Traditionally, how did people view this woman who was not giving birth?
They didn't see her positively. Even in these traditional functions, people would not feel good towards her if she showed up.

Like you perhaps, if you were unable to have children, how would you see yourself?
I would feel bad.

Because without a child, if you say you need something, you see that someone with her own children has many things. You wish, “If I had a child, I would have received things like those.”

Now, I wanted to ask you about the environmental in the forest. What changes have you seen during the period you have lived here? When you compare with the past, what changes do you see on the mountain?
Yes, there are some. Like when you hear this talk about people coming to burn you here, or to kill you. You think about packing your things, or saying, “Let me do this (move), and I'll be better off.”

And have you seen changes in the trees, or aren't there any, are there still trees today or not?
Well, it seems right now that there are still trees.
Section 16
More than before?
But before there were more because people didn't farm much, they didn't clear the land and there was forest everywhere. But what I've seen since we've been here, someone farms and plans what he wants to do so that the people at home don't lack food.

And are there still animals here?
Not much.

OK. And in those days did you see animals?
I would meet them there in the forest.

And if an animal came, what would happen?
Well, they didn't come until our home. They would go to the mountain peoples up there.

OK. This is....
They (the mountain people) don't farm much. We are much lower down on the mountain.

OK. Alright.

Could you perhaps sing me a song, even a traditional one about...
Even a church song? There are many but they have disappeared from my memory so...

When did people sing, when they came together, did they sing during circumcision, or when?
For girls, they sang wedding songs.

OK. Like what did they sing?
If you are getting married people sing...
[begins singing]
vuno vuyanzi
vuno vuyanzi vo mwana
vuno vuyanzi
vuno vuyanzi vo mwana
vuno vuyanzi
[repeats the song and then stops]

And what does that mean?
That means that my daughter, blessings on my daughter...

OK. OK. So when you are for you...when you daughter got married, did you sing her that?
No! She...this child...[laughter] She didn't wait for me to sing. She herself decided, “Ah!” She took a short-cut.

Which do you think is better, the short-cut style or...?
Waiting to be sung for [the formal wedding] is better.
Section 17
And what happens during when a girl waits to be sung for?
That one is good, joyful, and they give the child many things to go with to her new home. So when she gets there, she is not bothered with having to buy household utensils. depends. Because some get married with those things, but in the end they don't live harmoniously with their spouses. They argue and fight and they return home.

But even when someone gets married, it's dependent on her fate. One can go, you see her go and she ends up with a good marriage.

Now when we go back to how you met your mzee, the one you live with, when you came here, did you know him?
When I came here?

We...after my in-law told me, she informed him that I would be coming. So I came from my home in Kamusinde, and came here. That's when they told me...

Where did you meet?
Kimilili town.

You met in the town?
In my in-law's house. That in-law, the woman. So that is when he and I agreed, and I said that on a certain day I would come to Kimilili since I didn't know his home. So when I got there he waited for me and we went home together. Then we reached home fine. You see I only needed to know how to come here from Kimilili. So, as it was, he left work at Kamusinga and came to see me that evening.

OK. And when you saw him, what...what made you say, “Perhaps I can marry this man”?
Well, in my heart, after I saw how a young man had troubled me, I thought, “This one is like a father, let me go live with him.”

Did you...was there any love or did you feel that, “This one, this one is old”, was enough?
No. The blood flows, and it must show you whether you have agreed. If that agreement wasn't there, I would have returned home.

So you married before you loved each other. Later, how did you know that you did?
Yes. Well, after I had stayed here for some time, just as we are talking, you keep talking until, when you talk about something, you agree.

OK. Alright. OK. Thank you, I don't know whether you have anything else you would like to talk about?
No. There are many things. And if you talk about many things...

Well, just talk...
I was asking you about my son, and you said you were in Kakamega. Can you see him for me?
Section 18
Actually, I live in Nairobi.
You are in training?

Yes. We live in Nairobi, and we are just here for this then we'll return to Nairobi.
When you came to the old man who showed us to you...

Yes. What happened to your son?
He married this girl in June.

How old is he?
He was born in 71.

And this girl?
This girl, when I asked her she said she was born in 78.

Now, when he married her, he sat here for months, and he thought, “I'm living with someone's daughter, but what will we eat? Can I buy her soap, or oil?” Then he began looking...he began looking for work. Now when he went there (Bungoma), he found the son of his elder uncle. And he slept there. Then he took a bicycle from him to use for riding around...riding around the town. He met a boy carrying a battery, who stopped him and said, “Help me carry this battery.” Actually the battery was stolen. So my son was arrested by the police and taken to jail. He was in Bungoma, but he's been transferred to Kakamega.

I'm very sorry. This is a heavy burden.
I sold my goat to [get the money to] go look for him. But now he is in Kakamega, far away and I can't afford to go.

I'm sorry.
Thank you, we are recovering.