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Bringing in Voices of the Elders – Mijikenda; Kenya

The abuse of elders amongst the Kenyan coastal Mijikenda community is not a new phenomenon. Elder Abuse is a global issue that affects millions of older persons around the world. Just like most rural communities in Africa, the Mijikenda communities have suffered as economic and educational opportunities move to the urban centers. The young are forced to find alternative ways to make a living. Cash-poor but land rich, the opportunity to improve lives has come at the expense of cultural knowledge keepers who in most instances are the elderly.

These elders are stewards of community lands that are many times sacred. With the traditional knowledge, they carry and sometimes practice they are sometimes labeled as witches and wizards and seen as evil by the rest of the community. In 2015, it was reported that in Kilifi where the Mijikenda community is based, 104 suspected “witches” were killed – all of the elders! The loss of these individuals is significant as the knowledge they carried is lost with their lives and the rift between culture and contemporary life for Kenyans in this part of the country continues to grow further apart.

TICAH based in Kenya is one of Voices partners that has been for the last three years working to demystify the cultural assumptions that the older generation of the Mijikenda community practices witchcraft. Instead, the organization shines a light on culture in contemporary life. Through conversations between the young and the old, TICAH has been identifying ways to bring Mijikenda traditions and cultures into sync with the opportunities of the world in 2017.

In one instance; Youth from Rabai and Kauma within the Mijikenda community had expressed fear that elders who use plant medicine practise witchcraft and so many times they had profiled people who have knowledge of plant medicine. In Rabai TICAH hosted a joint meeting for elders and youth who shared their fears and knowledge around plant medicine. Role models shared their knowledge and an ointment was made. This activity helped to bridge the gap between elders and youth and demystify that myth. Here are some of the quotes that were collected on that particular meeting.

…We used to have fear because we used to see things that are unusual happening to our age mates. For example, if I developed some fever and previously I had an argument with an elder, it is automatic that, that elder spell a curse on me. Most of us believe that elderly person can bewitch you if you meet along the way especially in the evenings, some of the youth say if you see an elder is coming from an opposite direction you have to change your route or give way by hiding in the thicket…

Just seeing an elder in the bush plugging leaves from the herbs for medicine preparation, we did not think they were going to use for making medicine, we used to think that he was going to mix them with his own concoctions and bewitch someone. Therefore, we used to have opposing views from theirs but since the entry of this organization, we have come to understand that we also can get into the bush, pick some herbs and mix them to make medicine for treating and not related to witchcraft.” - Mohammed Lenga, Youth from Kauma.

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