MY great, great, great, great grandparents lived about 200 years ago in a quiet paradise of peace , prosperity and good health.
Has the civilization of the past two centuries brought harm or good? This question can only be answered by a careful assessment of the likely socio-economic set up of 1814 kenya as compared to that of 2014.
The land was abundant, free and fertile. The planted crops produced bumper harvests. There was sufficient grazing land. It was not uncommon to find one family with over 500 heads of cattle. This is equivalent to todays ten million Kenyan shillings without counting the granaries full of sorghum, millet, cassava, dried bananas and several hundred bales of dried locusts for stew. The guys were wealthy.
No title deeds. No ministry of lands. No national land commission. No district land offices and the baggage that goes with it.
What amazes me most is the simplicity of the system. Hard work paid. In the book, ‘Things fall apart’ , The late Chinua Achebe makes an attempt to illustrate the point. Unoka was lazy, he ended up poor. Okwonkwo was hardworking, he became wealthy. No middlemen. No con men. No businessmen. No cheap labor. No exploitation.
There were far fewer diseases then. Lifestyle diseases were non-existent. Mr Chitayi (the seniormost) walked distances of over 100km regularly. Wake up time was about 4 am, followed by a long trek to the gardens. Toiling would follow for the next 8 to 10 hours. Those folks were simply healthy and strong.No bicycles. No motor cycles. No cars.
Access to health was 100% for 100% of the population. When one suffered a flu, you just informed your grandma and she could point to the ‘okemba’ bushes in the compound. A few minutes of enduring the extremely bitter taste and you are sorted. No more coughing. No long queues. No side effects. No needle pricks.
Serious ailments were treated by the experienced medicine man whose skills had been horned through apprenticeship. The knowledge was refined through many generations of practice. Payment was made through a hen or a goat depending on the nature of the ailment. No huge bills. No admission to the wards. No ICU. In todays Kenya few genuine traditional healers exist.
Education in the year 1814 in Kenya was a continuous process. It was a rich mine of proverbs, riddles and songs depending on the age of the learner. The process of education was inextricably intertwined with life. Everyday was a learning day. The process was intensified during initiation into adulthood when the candidates would be separated from their family for about 2 to 3 months to be taught lessons of adulthood. The focus of the education system was in nurturing wisdom that is a pre-requisite to peaceful co-existence in society. Specialised skills like metalwork, medicine and construction were learnt through apprenticeship. No fees. No certificates. No vain memorization of volumes of useless facts.
Most African cultures were monotheistic. There was one almighty God who was the creator and sustainer of life. Worship was done through sacrifices of animals and various other foods. Prayers were made at shrines . Most communities had a mediator who was in some cases also the medicine man. Ancestors were considered infallible hence prayers were often made through them. Importantly , no African village ever took up arms against the next village because of religion. No wealthy preachers. No choppers. No miracles for cash. No schisms. No explosions.
The laws governing marriage and family life were written in the hearts of the people. Parents played a major role in the selection of a spouse. Marriage could not proceed if one of the parents rejected a spouse. Most often there were solid reasons for rejection some of which the parents were often reluctant to share. Marriage was not just another business venture with divorce as a desired end-point. Virginity was revered. No show weddings. No pretentious monogamy. No divorce. No court cases.
When I look back 200 years, I hear my ancestors laugh. This laughter could be one of the reasons why they are healthier and happier than me, but that’s a story for another day.