I’m doing a historical memory project on people's experiences under British colonialism in Kenya. Thus, I’ve been interviewing old mamas and wazee in the village where I’m staying, and other villages nearby. I wanted to post some of their responses; most are translated from Dholuo. I tried to pick quotes in context and that well represented the general response that I've been getting.

Admitedly, most of the response are from men. Still I thought they were worth sharing. I've had a more difficult time interviewing women. Of the 11 Iv'e interviewed, 9 are men. The other two are widows, and I've labled their responses. I have yet to interview a married woman (who is old enough to remember colonialism). For those Kenyans on PulseWire, any suggestions on how I might interview more women?

On direct experiences with the British:

“During time, whites could not manage to be with black people…hated each other. Nowadays, we are together, we can share- not like the olden days.”

“There were no good jobs for Africans. No equal pay for equal work….Europeans were highly educated, Asians followed, Africans were last.”

"There were lectures by the whites, telling us the importance of clothing. There was not much explanation, but whites assured us that we would eventually realize the importance of clothes." (woman)

“When whites entered, they took junior Africans … tried to introduce them into the administration to cool animosity and rebellion. But the real intention of the whites was to take the country.

“Some would say colonialism over independence, because of corruption.

On Independence:

“People were not aware…everyone believed white people were supposed to lead and govern. But Jomo Kenyatta.. who lived abroad and got exposure, informed fellow Africans about freedom of self rule.”

“We expected free jobs, free education. Wrongly or rightly, people assumed Indians and Whites would go home and leave the wealth. Now, there are no jobs. Getting a job is hard labor… Leaders are busy nursing wealth for themselves."

“Everyone had a feeling that self rule by Africans would bring changes and a good life…we would live as brothers and sisters. But, since then, we have not seen that. We are living in a way that people don’t care much about each other.’ (woman)

On culture:

“ (colonialism) killed some of the African culture. Now…people are not free to share belongings with extended families. Now a brother is not prepared to spare pain for a brother…everyone for himself.”

"Issue of respect... there were things expected of men toward women: women respect men. White people changed this, encouraged equal rights, freedom of expression. (woman)

“We used to pay dowry. Everyone like it, everyone did it. But the whites discouraged it.” (woman).

“Before currency, we exchanged grains for fish…it was hard to find the person who wanted what you had. Currency, can be used to be anything- it’s easier.”

“We didn’t mix much with the whites and Indians. Each kept to themselves with respect to culture except for clothes, education and Christianity.”

Comment on this Post


Hello Karl,

Great job there! It is actually hard to get people talk on record especially in the village. Many think that they are actually in their present poor conditions because of 'mzungu' (whites). You first have to understand that many are bitter because of the stereotype and the attitude that they have grown up with, that whites came, contaminated their culture and took away their best hence left them poor.

As for old women not willing to talk, many might simply be intimidated by the mere fact that this is a mzungu, a white person who wants to talk to them. To most rural women, any white person is a genius and so they are simply wondering what you want from them yet you know everything. So you have to approach them with such an open mind, just try to change your strategy and be more friendly and coercive. If for example, you approach her compound and find her sitting on the mat, insist on sitting on the mat with her too... that way, her psychology will tell her that you are no different from her... that you are a human being too and she will be more open to talk.

Otherwise, great job there!

Hugs, Joanne.

We Can Do It! Joannes