John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
Studies of the Maasai, the Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
22. CHANGES UNDERWAY : 290-300
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290. Male circumcision is still considered normal, even required, but it now performed in hospitals, to avoid traditional circumcisers spreading AIDS. Young men who have not been circumcised are likely to be teased. Grouping men into age grades was common in the past, but nowhere near as restrictive as for the Maasai. Today, such associations are really only symbolic.
291. Female circumcision (or genital mutilation) is now illegal and was in any case characteristic of just one particular Luhya community. Women and girls still do most of the work -- around the home and on the land -- but their lives are less restricted than those of women in most nomadic societies.
292. Polygamy is still common, but less so than in the past. As more women gain an education, they can explore other options. Marriages were often arranged in the past, but a young man could also ask to marry the girl of his choice: and many now do so. Most marriages still involve a bride price, but not all ... though there is a stigma attached still to couples who ignore traditional practices.
293. Notwithstanding such modifications of custom, the greatest changes both in lifestyle and landscape have resulted from the progressive intensification of land use. This is due in part to  population increase and the fragmentation of farm holdings that were minute to begin with ... to the point that many young men are forced to look for work elsewhere.
294. But the expansion of the sugar industry has increased the pressure on food production and emphasized the need to make the most of every scrap of land available. A second mill was opened in the Shamberere district near Kakunga Market in 1985 and two more since then! (Distant view of the Shamberere mill.)
295. Cattle have long had to forage along field margins but much of this land is now cropped, so farmers practice “zero grazing” -- in which cows are fed in miniature feed lots.
296. Additional parcels of land, however small, have been saved by the substitution of barbed wire fences for traditional hedgerows, to exclude cattle from vegetable gardens and family compounds.
297. With the increase in the income of sugar growers, domestic architecture has changed also. Farm houses are now built to last. New round ones are rare, as they cannot readily accommodate modern furniture.
298. And, though rooms are still small by Western standards, the prosperity of their owners is reflected in more expensive furniture.
299. The provision of electricity to many rural communities -- used here by the barber at the Kakunga Shopping Centre -- has also led to a demand for a new range of electronic goods.
300. To provide the timber required, chain saws have replaced most of the cross-cut blades used in saw pits, and the few remaining remnant woodlands are threatened with extinction in the face of logging and firewood collection. Such has been the fate of the forest.


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