Giriama Life- Highlights
Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012
I have visited Kenya twice in the last six years. In 2005 after high school, I worked for six months with the social enterprise Komaza, based in Kilifi, Kenya. Komaza uses an innovative micro-forestry design to fight rural poverty. There I developed an inexpensive home water filter made of clay painted with colloidal silver, an effective anti-microbial. During this time I lived in the town of Kilifi and worked in the large city Mombasa, and so I was exposed to urban and sub-urban cultures. On this recent trip, I was most interested in the rural culture of the Giriama tribe in Ganze district; about 1 hour’s drive inland from Kilifi.
The Giriama in Ganze have a strikingly different lifestyle to mine, and very different to urban Kenyans as well. As complex and vibrant as their culture is, I would try to interpret and understand the photos I received by organizing their culture into sub-groups such as food, water, technology, home, school, work, friends, family, etc. Many of the photos I received can be classified into just a few of these large categories. I have chosen those I share here for their prevalence in the photos I received.
All photos posted in these blogs were taken by rural Kenyan high school students.
Giriama Food: Ugali is the staple food in much of Kenya. It is pounded cornmeal cooked with water until it reaches a stiff mashed potato-like texture, and it is in just about every meal a person in Ganze eats. Women pound corn into this meal for hours in large mortar-pestle constructions. Most families in Ganze grow their own corn to make ugali, while other crops may be grown to sell. While high in starch and therefore good energy in terms of calories provided, a diet of ugali with little else can still cause deficiencies and malnutrition. While it can be a bit bland on its own, its firm texture makes it very filling. It is picked up by hand in little balls, which are used for grabbing vegetables, chili peppers, meat and fish, or whatever the family may be eating. Ugali is also mixed with water to make a refreshing porridge for kids.
Giriama Home: A traditional Giriama home is cozy, well insulated, and can cost $300-500 dollars to make; building poles are sometimes foraged for, but often bought from town. The poles are inserted into deep holes in the ground and tied into a structure. Clay mud is inserted between the poles, and palm fronds are made into a “makuti” roof, which can be made or purchased. Unfortunately, because of rain, heat, and rot, makuti has to be replaced approximately every five years, just as the mud huts themselves have to be occasionally reconstructed and renovated. Sometimes granaries or fire pits are built into huts, and walls can be decorated with magazine clippings and tinsel.
Giriama Cool: I was very interested in what makes a student cool or “poa” at school. The amount of Western and American influence on Giriama youth and popular culture is amazing. While they appreciate traditional Giriama song and dance, students often prefer American rap and hip-hop. Omar is a self-proclaimed freestyle rapper (Swahili and English) although I never got to hear his work. He and the others took many photos of “poa” hand-shakes, gang signs, and poses, all of which I imagine have been imported here by radio, magazine clippings, mobile phones, and word of mouth. Pants are dropped, collars are popped, non-functioning clear sunglasses are bought, and the look is complete. At the coolest high school parties in the middle of the bush, kids drink palm wine and dance to Tupac and Beyoncé.