In yesterday’s post I discussed how Emmanuel, a member of the Maasai tribe, received 24 cows at two Maasai rituals. He’s now using some of those cows to buy land, but he told me that he first used some of those cows to finish paying for high school. Without them, he said he never would have been able to complete high school and go to college.
The reason his parents couldn’t pay the school fees is that Emmanuel is just one of 43 brothers and sisters! His father had four wives and had around ten children with each wife. His siblings range from just babies to 44 years old. Emmanuel explained that there were three main reasons for the massive family size.
First, the Maasai have always been a nomadic people, moving with their herds to find grazing land. As the herds get large, they must be split up, and people prefer to entrust their cattle to family. Second, children are often thought of as a retirement account. When you’re too old to work, your children will provide for you. As many children die young, having many children ensures that some will be around to support you. Lastly, the Maasai tribe is largely patriarchal, and the men simply enjoyed having multiple wives.
Emmanuel tells me that this custom is starting to change as education and women’s empowerment programs start to take hold. Emmanuel, for example, has just one wife and four children. Also, the Kenyan government has been encouraging the Maasai to settle and stop their nomadic ways, which reduces the need for a larger family.
It’s my opinion that large family sizes contribute to many of the problems in Kenya, and family planning education is a critical component for things turning around here. It’s not at all uncommon for people to have 6-10 children in the villages or slums. I discussed this with a group in Kibera who basically said that when a husband and wife are both unemployed, they procreate just to have something to do. Unfortunately, this just perpetuates the trend of having too few resources for too many people. I have heard a lot of younger (and often educated) people tell me they’re only going to have one or two children, which I find encouraging. I firmly believe that education is the key in Kenya. It’s the key to improved employment, less disease, and an overall higher quality of life.
Lastly, I want to thank Emmanuel for sharing these fascinating stories with me and allowing me to share them on my blog. Tune in tomorrow for an update on the Kibera water kiosk project.