Monday, April 27, 2009

Facing Mt. Kenya - Land Tenure System

Our Kenya team is leaving in mid-June. One of the things we're doing to prepare is reading chapters of Facing Mt. Kenya, a anthropology study by a Kenyan (Jomo Kenyatta). Our assignment is to read our chapters, offer some kind of summary, and contrast this view with the biblical worldview. This will help us in our interactions in Kenya, particularly our teaching. (Just a note: I found myself contrasting the Kenyan worldview, at times, with how we live in America. Even that is a lesson that we need to be humble and open to correction when we're formulating our biblical worldview as we can easily confuse "American" with "biblical." Anyway, here it is, Giyuku (major tribe) Land Tenure System (chapter 3)...

I imagine this will come out more in Greg’s system, but there seems to be an animistic element to African culture (over-generalized, I’m sure). The land itself is seen as sacred because it feeds the child for life and nurses the dead for eternity (22). This sacred nature of the earth is also evident when someone wanted to buy land from another. They would approach it as if a man was seeking another’s daughter in marriage. They would respectfully haggle over the “dowry.” There would be a ceremony to ratify the agreement in front of the elders, but it was approached “matrimonially” rather than some kind of legal contract event as it would be in our culture.
Despite this sacred nature of land and the European misunderstanding of Gikuyu culture, the Gikuyu did believe in private property, but it was more communal than we’re used to. We’re used to one owner of space. Here the family will own the area communally, but that does not mean it is “government property” (27). The land was first claimed by the men who would clear and cultivate it. He could say it was “my property.” When the family grew, the men could say it was “our land,” but only the patriarch could call it “my land.” Once the men outgrew the current land, the most prosperous men would be sent out to purchase other lands. What’s important here is that there never was any tribal land, let alone “government” land. When tribal chiefs were given as “trustees” of land, it was in appropriate because the chiefs had no more authority over the land than the Europeans. It was the clan’s land, or the family head’s, not the tribe’s.
There are lands that appear undeveloped and there was a community aspect to its usage, but not its ownership. If there was land that was good for grazing, the landowner had no right to kick grazing animals out. This lack of development led Europeans to think they needed to develop this real estate. To the Giyuku, however, there was no unused land. They just had different values and usage for the land than the Europeans. He then concludes with a prophecy and a parable that described European creep and eventual conquest.

Helpful Insights
* As Europeans (once removed), we need to humble ourselves and come in as learners. I imagine we’ll have some credibility because of our association with Rich and Kathy, but it will be important to exhibit appropriate humility and respect.
* The land is “living.” This isn’t biblical, but there’s respect for land that we don’t have.
* Family matters. Even above tribe, it seems. When we teach and communicate, the family relationships may be important to apply Scripture to. And to consider what costs people have paid to follow Jesus if their family doesn’t agree with it.
* Even beyond the family angle, there’s a community values and hospitality that is more pronounced than our culture. Makes me think we should stay in homes, if available.

Contrast with a biblical worldview
* The strong relational ties are good to an extent, but not if they keep someone from following Jesus. They know better than our individualized culture, I imagine, what it means to leave father and mother for Jesus.
* Their respect for creation is admirable, but not biblical. The land isn’t “living;” it’s God’s creation that we’re stewards of. We would do well to have their respect for their land, but it can’t be overly-sacred to remain biblical.
* The community aspect of how they function has much to teach us when it comes to biblical community. I think we might learn a bit of what it means to hold things in common rather than grasping onto “our stuff.”

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