Kenya glossary


(KENYA 16)












November 1996



Section 1
What are your names?
My names are Jane Rose Chepkeiyo Sichei

Where do you come from?
I come from Kapsokwony

Is that where you were born?
I was born in Kopsiro in a village called Cheptono

Would you tell me when you were born, and about your life as a youth?
I was born in 1960 in Cheptono village. I am a daughter of Alfred Naibei Sichei. I was brought up by my parents who were members of the Baptist Church. I went to school in Kamneru Primary School up to class six. I moved to Toiywandet Primary School where I completed my primary level of education and passed my exams. I then joined Kibuk Girls Secondary School, which was in Mount Elgon district in 1975. I completed my ordinary level education in the same school and did my final exam and passed. I was then employed by the Ministry of Education in the department of Adult education as an adult education teacher. I started teaching adult learners in Toiywandet. I was the first adult education lady teacher in the Mount Elgon region

How did it feel being the first female teacher of adult learners in Mount Elgon?
In the initial stages, I was not really happy because I faced the elimination of our culture. In the Sabaot culture, an unmarried lady is not allowed to mix freely with old men and women. I had to be taken to the interview for adult education teachers by my father (uncle) chief Bonji.

Your father is chief Bonji?
Yes. You know when he was taking me to go and attend the interview…on the way, he told me that I was going to attend the interview for the recruitment of adult education teachers, and I was not pleased, for I felt I had a better educational certificate which would allow me to get a better job. I just accompanied him because I could not question my father's decision. I did the interview and I was successful.
I was taken to Weko for training to be an adult education teacher. I was still not pleased by the prospect of becoming an adult education teacher, for I was young and I felt that my age mates would laugh at me for taking that job. After completing the induction course, I came back home and told our people that I had been posted to teach them. They were very happy and they came in large numbers, and I started teaching them. As time went by, I started liking my new job.
Section 2
Now that your culture does not allow a young lady to get so close with elderly men and women, how did you experience…feel in class with them?
Because we had been trained on how to communicate with the adult learners, I never had much difficulty. It was also a directive from the president of the republic of Kenya that adults join the literacy classes. The chiefs and their assistants campaigned for enrolment of adults in the literacy classes in their barazas (gatherings), and I also got involved in recruiting willing adult learners. Among those who joined the adult literacy classes was my grandfather Chebwesi who is the father of the legendary athlete Ben Jipcho, and many others.
There were still limitations in my work due to culture. Among the adult learners, were mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law of some of the adult learners. I was forced to divide learners into a class for males and females. I was not successful with this tactic, for their were old women and old men of the same age group, who felt more comfortable being together in one class, rather than being with the young adults. I had to divide them according to groups of those who felt comfortable with each other and I would put them in different classrooms. By that time I had a class of over seventy adult learners.

So you are saying that the people received you as their teacher and held you in the high esteem?
Yeah. They held me with high esteem for I was the first unmarried girl to teach adult education.

Continue telling us how you continued with adult education and the trend it took.
Adult education progressed well in 1979. In 1980, we were told that it was going to stretch for only five years. We were very much discouraged for we felt that we were being wasted for a project that was going to last five years. Most of my teacher colleagues resigned, and some joined Primary Education Training colleges. I did not like the government announcement, but I felt that I loved my job of teaching adults, for I benefited a lot through my interaction with the adult learners who taught me a lot about life in general. We continued teaching. Later, the government Ministry started a teacher’s correspondence course. We were given pamphlets to read in preparation for a final examination. This new incentive died off, so most of the teachers were de-motivated leading to a decline of adult learners attending the literacy classes. Most of my teacher colleagues resigned due to lack of motivation from the government.

What do you mean when you refer to teachers having energy or strength to perform their duties?
You know, at first, we were moved from school, and taken for the induction course. After the induction, we resumed teaching and later we were told that the project was to take five years. We felt proud that we were also just like the other government teachers. Later we were given training through C.C.U (Correspondence Course Unit). We could read and answer the written questions and send them through correspondence to be marked. We continued with this, but some pamphlets for the course didn’t have any good explanations. After 1983, most teachers were not sure of the future of the department of adult education. Most of them left the department of adult education. Most of them left this department for greener pastures elsewhere. Here in Mount Elgon, the only people who persevered were Stephen Kirui, Pricilla Chematui and I, Jane Rose. We were among the first teachers to be recruited but we still persevered. The others like Japhen Ongoro, Jores Simato left the department.
Section 3
What were the objectives of adult education?
The objective of adult education was to make adults literate. Even for us, when we started teaching we could not believe that an adult was able to learn to read and write. After we were introduced to the techniques of teaching adults, it is then that we realised that with progressive teaching, after a period of two or three weeks, he or she could be able to read and write. We were using the whole word method of teaching. If you were to write the word, ‘mother’, you could write it in foil. The adult learners do not like being taught on the basis like A,B,C,D, they feel that they are being belittled.
We could teach them on what they know, that is ‘Functional Method’. If you would teach them something in this way today, tomorrow you would find them doing it with a colleague. We used to collaborate with people from the ministry of agriculture who would come and teach our adult education learners on for example planting vegetables. When I could go to evaluate what they had learned in class, I would find that they had already applied the skill learned in class

So you were using the functional approach?
Yeah. That was the main expectation of adult education.

Now if you look back to the inception of adult education up to now, would you be able to enumerate some of the benefits of this education to the earners?
Since 1979, adult education in Mount Elgon has greatly prospered. There are women who were adult education learners who have established groups with the money generating projects. It has been very easy for the adult education learners to manage these projects well. Most of those that have attended adult literacy class do pretty well as secretaries of women groups. They even have the personality to address a crowd of people. They are also able to apply the English language that we teach them in various functions or fora.
You know in the past, us the Sabaot used to view those who are illiterate as disabled people who could not manage much. Now there is no gap between the learned and the rest of the community for even if you say something in English, he would understand, even if you write to him, he is able to read.

You are saying that people are almost uniform?
Yeah. Almost uniform. If you are not told that so and so never went to higher levels of learning, you may not notice it by your self.
Section 4
When this education was initiated, how did the old people react to it?
Though it came as a presidential directive, it was never forced on the people. Us teachers were trained on how to motivate adult learners and we have a very good working relationship with them. Also there was motivation through individual excellence. I remember there was an old mother of about sixty years who I taught, and she learned how to read and write. She was never behind and she could even read and write. Also, there was another one by the name Aresho Kitiret. I taught her in my class. She learned how to write and has a very good handwriting. Her handwriting is better than mine. Through such individual performances, more people were motivated the more.

Could you tell me how far your adult learners have gone with their education?
In education, most of the learners proceeded with learning. There is an exam referred to as the proficiency test, if somebody passes this exam, he/she is known to have the ability to read and write. The biggest problem is that we don’t have a post-literacy scheme here in the Mount Elgon education department. After passing the past two exams, we were told to retain them in class. So even if you retain them, you are forced to use the same skills that they know in teaching them with other new adult learners. If we had this other scheme, then many of them would have gone far.

So you are saying you have not got that...
We have not got the post literacy scheme. In this scheme, we are supposed to register them as private candidates to attempt the K.C.P.E (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education). For now, we do not have this.

You have had the experience of teaching both male and female adult education learners. In your experience, among the two sexes, who are the faster learners?
All of them have the interest to learn but the women are faster in learning and more regular and numerous in class attendance.

What do you think could be the underlying reason?
The main reason is that most women are at home most of the time. Most elderly men are polygamous having three or four wives. When one of them joins the adult literacy class, the rest feel like they are being left behind and so if you find two or three illiterate women in the same family, both of them have to join the adult literacy classes, so that they can compete.
So you see, the ratio of women to men favours the women. Also women grasp things taught to them faster, and I think it is because they are more involved in buying and selling commodities. Women are involved in buying salt, soap and sugar daily or routinely. Also in the past, education for girls in Mount Elgon was not a priority. This led to most women being illiterate unlike men who were given priority in schooling.

Did you have any cases of men refusing their wives permission to attend adult literacy classes?
The problem we had was that of people not believing whether adults can really learn to become proficient to read and write. Even us the teachers felt the same, but we just taught and with time, people realised that it was possible for adults to learn. People here do not accept anything just readily. They have to look at it readily.
Section 5
As a teacher, why do you think girl education was not given a priority in your community?
It was because it was understood that when a girl matured, she was meant to be married. In the times of my mother, if a girl managed to go to school to some high level, it was felt that she may not become a good wife. They thought that if a lady gets good education, she will become promiscuous, moving from place to place.

How has this changed in the Sabaot society?
I will talk on adult education. People have started to realise that when a woman has good education, she can build her home (do good to her family). If she is employed, she gets a salary, which will pull together, with the husbands, other resources to develop the home.
People have now realised that if a girl receives quality education, she can also get a good job. The father has realised that when you educate a girl, even if she gets married, she will have to make frequent visits to her home where she bring sugar and other things, whereas if you educate a son, if he works for example in Nairobi, he goes there forever, he does not remember his parents. If a daughter is married, she will still help her parents, unlike the son.
There are those women who failed to go to school at their tender age, are now joining the adult literacy class. This is because even to be elected in a position of authority in the Maendeleo ya Wanawake organisation, (Women development), you have to be literate. They have realised that they can rise to positions like chair lady, treasure or even secretaries of this organisation and other affiliated organisations. As an elected member of this organisation, if a trip is organised to Nairobi, she will also have a chance of seeing Nairobi. So they are forced to compensate for what they had lost earlier.

As you have said, in the past an educated lady was not worthy to her parents for they received less or no dowry when she got married. In the present situation, who between the illiterate girls, and the educated girls, has more value to the parents?
The elite women are of more value to their parents and the community. We are living in a time of money economy. You know, when a woman works and gets her salary, and the same happens to her husband, it is rare that they will have money problems. Other than individual family differences, they live better than the uneducated ones.

This discovery of the importance of women education through the adult literacy programme…how has it affected the traditional attitude of the Sabaot towards the girl child’s education?
Most of those attending literacy classes are women. Those who are young but are illiterate are fighting to compensate for what they lost. Were it that we had post-literacy classes here, then most of our learners would have attempted the national examinations and even proceeded to university education.
Currently every Sabaot wants his daughter to go to school. No mother who never went to school wants to imagine the prospect of her daughter joining the adult literacy class in the future. But you know in a community, you can not miss those who leave school to become maids. We are trying to discourage this practice for even later in life this house-help gets married. She may not be able to communicate well with her husband or his friends, due to lack of literacy. By this time she is ashamed of joining her mother-in-law in adult literacy classes.
People are trying their best to educate all their children such that they will not lead the kind of life they are leading. If you do not know how to read and write, even your husband in some situations becomes ashamed of you.
Section 6
When you look at the Sabaot, what are the roles expected for the women and men in the family?
In the Sabaot community, a woman is meant to respect her husband and this involves taking good care of her husband by washing clothes, milking cows and doing most of the household chores. The husband is mostly involved in planning for the family. He does the planning and you do the implementation. That is how we the Sabaot live. The husband is the head of the family. Even if your money as a woman purchases anything, it belongs to the husband.

Now you as a supervisor for adult education, when you get your salary, who plans for the utilisation of the money?
For both of us, that is, my husband is elite and he too works, even if I plan for my salary, I have to inform him how I spent it. If I have a financial need, my husband has to chip in for we do things as people who have been to school. Even if I earn my salary, I have to respect my husband just like any Sabaot woman.

Do you notice any changes in the roles of a woman during your mother’s time, and the role of a married woman in the present society?
There is a great difference…in the past the husbands lived at home, unlike these days, when a husband may be working far away where it takes a long time, even up to a year, without him coming home. All this time, I as a wife (woman) take all responsibility of running the home without calling for assistance from neighbours.
During the days of my mother, if my father would go away for a month, his brother would come into our family to start controlling and running of the family. These days, I can stay for even two years without my husband. I will only be communicating to him and I will manage the running of our home very well. For example, at one time, my husband went for further studies abroad and I managed our home for two full years alone. The roles of a woman have changed, especially for the elite women, for they can plan for the family just like the husband. The roles are always the same for men.
These days, family members do not interfere just because the husband is away. In the past a woman belonged to the whole clan. If for example you wanted to sell a cow, you had to seek permission from your brother-in-law who would sell it for you. For now, all that I require is to write to my husband telling him what I intend to do, and he will communicate with me, though ties to the community bonds are intact
Section 7
If you look at the Sabaot community, look at their way of life in the early or late 60s, and the present day, what can you say about family ties in relation to these two periods?
Let me say, in the past, there was a lot of cooperation, for as I told you a wife belonged to a clan so she could get assistance from many sources. People then were very close. There was more family ties than now. Presently, a family comprises of a father, mother and the children.

How many wives did your father have?
He has two wives for he is still alive.

How did it feel like growing up in a polygamous family?
At that time, we felt happy, because there was nothing my stepmother would do that was bad to us for our father was available, and he had a lot of wealth. At that time, even children belong to the clan so there was no opportunity for my stepmother to discriminate between us. We were twenty children in the whole family.

The trend towards polygamy is...
Is diminishing. I was born and brought up in a polygamous family. It felt good for we were many, but when I look at the difficulties my father is having in educating the large numbers of children he has, I sympathise a lot with him. Now he has grown old and he has very young children. He does not have the vitality he had for looking for resources to pay school fees. I would like to assist him but I can not manage for I am also married and have children who need my support. Those of us who grew up when he had the vitality, we are the ones who benefited the most.

You as a woman, what is your personal feeling on this practice of polygamy?
I do not like polygamy. I am going to talk from two viewpoints. I as a woman would prefer a man to have only one wife for this way he will be able to satisfy the needs of his wife and his children. I am talking as a woman of this present time (modern woman). I am also worried for the children that we have. There are more girls than boys presently in our community. For those who will remain single, it is not their problem for there are fewer men than women. I do not know what to say, for I feel that men could marry more wives to curb the imbalance but I realise that life will be still difficult for them. I do not know where these other unmarried girls will go, but I leave this to God.

Do you have single mothers in the Sabaot community?
There are those separated from their husbands. There are also those who divorce, and we also have widows.
Section 8
How does the community view these single mothers?
If you look at single mothers in the Sabaot community, they are leading hard lives. For those who get children outside wedlock, they really get frustrated. You know, in the Sabaot community, if you have a child before you get married, your importance or value diminishes. You can only be married as a second or third wife.

If I am a young Sabaot man, and I want to marry, if I get one who has already delivered, I can not marry her as a first wife.
Even if you marry her, the society looks at her scornfully. If she is lucky, she may get married as a second wife. Even if she is employed, she will not enjoy life because she will never be respected by the community.

If a Sabaot woman has a good education, even up to the university level. She has a good job, has one or two children outside marriage but decides to live single. What will be the attitude of the society towards her?
She is respected in the education lines, but when people move away from her, you will hear them saying, “Now this woman, with her education and her kind of money, she has failed to get married.” When we look closely, we realise that these ladies do not just decide to remain single. Possibly she thought she will get married but men come into her life and go.
Another problem with the Sabaot lady elite is that they do not want to be married to men below their class status. By the time she realises this, she is getting old, she only finds those who want to marry her as a second wife. She finds it hard to swallow her pride so she stays single. In this single life, she fails to get respect in the community.

In the present day, are you Sabaot giving girls and boys equal educational opportunities?
Most Sabaot families look at the son as the cornerstone of the family. If there are two children in an examination class, that is a girl and a boy, the family will prefer to take the boy to secondary school even if he has not performed as well as the girl, and leave the girl at home or ask her to repeat. They believe that a girl will grow and get married and will take her wealth to her husbands home. She also will not carry her father’s name.

Is this trend persisting as...
It is prevalent, especially for the families with less resources,. If I may give an example of Kibuk Girls Secondary School, you find that there are only a few Sabaot girls learning in the school. When we tried to investigate the cause, we realised that even those girls who had performed very well in their primary examination and chosen to join Kibuk, they could be left at home and told that there is no school fees for them. On the other hand, their brothers would be taken to Kapsokwony Secondary school to proceed on with their education. The girls stay at home and eventually the parents start showing hatred to her, to force her to get married, so that the dowry that will be paid can be used to educate the boy. That is the great problem that girls have.
Section 9
Do you Sabaot still circumcise girls?
Yes we do.

Why do you circumcise your girls?
It is part of our culture. That is the best time old women get to teach the girls on how to be responsible women. You know, sometimes the girl has been schooling far away, and she has not time to talk with her mother or grandmother. So during circumcision, we advise her on how it will be necessary to behave and show her how to respect her future husband

Is the trend changing?
The trend is changing slowly. This is because for those families that work away from the Sabaot land, they live there until their children grow big. There is also the influence of the Church. The Church is against female circumcision. So when the child comes home, she does not know that circumcision’s importance. She has no interest in circumcision. Those who live with their parents at home are the ones who mostly have to undergo the ritual.

Does this practice of female circumcision affect their education?
I do not see how circumcision would affect a girl’s education, for this practice is done in the December holidays when the schools are closed. Especially in our generation at least, every parent understands the importance of education. At the same time, the girls being circumcised are too young to be married, unlike in the past when female circumcision was a gateway to marriage

In your own view, what is your feeling about this practice of female circumcision?
For now, I do not see the difference between those girls who were circumcised and those who do not, for even the uncircumcised ones live and thrive. In the past, we used to be taught that if a girl was not circumcised, she would not be able to bear children and other funny things. Personally, I feel if my girl desires to be circumcised, I will let her be circumcised. If she does not want, I will leave her like that. Though I would like to advise her that it is not a very important thing.