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The Coffee Plantations
The three coffee plantations surveyed are over 60 years old. Though originally foreign-owned, all except Nyakinyua are now owned by Kenyans but managed by companies which run them with a view to recovering the loans used to purchase them. For example, the 5,000 members, most of them women, of Nyakinyua Investment Limited bought Murera Coffee Estates from the Norwegian owners in 1977 and appointed three managers to run them.
Koorali Estate has an interesting cropping pattern, as both cash and food crops, including a variety of vegetables, are grown. Nyakinyua and Munene produce only coffee, though the workers have small plots on which they grow vegetables for their own consumption.
The total labour force varied with the work to be done and table 2 shows that most workers were seasonal casuals, except on Nyakinyua where there was a fortnightly turnover. More casuals arc employed during the picking season, but there are never enough, so all have to work for longer than the stipulated eight hours. Although children are a common sight on both the coffee and tea plantations, the management always denied their presence as workers, as they were not on the payroll. In fact, some of them supplemented their parents' work, especially during peak picking seasons, but they were paid on a daily basis for the work they did.
Male workers had a higher turnover rate, as they were more likely to find better opportunities elsewhere if they had some education. They were generally ambitious to earn more. The women stayed longer on the plantations: their mobility was limited by children, whom they often had to look after single-handed. In any case most of them had neither enough education to allow them to get better jobs somewhere nor land to return to in other rural areas.
Table 2. The labour force on the coffee plantations
|Plantation||Total employees||Composition||Type of contract||Union members||Workers housed|
The criteria for employment varied from plantation to plantation, though mature workers and those with experience, especially in pruning, were considered first. On Nyakinyua anyone over 18 who wanted to work was taken on for a three-month probation period. All workers were initially employed as casuals, with the possibility of permanent status between three and eight months later, depending on their skills and ability to work hard. There was no system to upgrade workers who acquired skills informally on the job, though this was done occasionally on Nyakinyua and the Brooke Bond tea plantations. There were various technical training programmes on Koorali and Munene but they were mainly for men.
Wage rates were the same for permanent and casual labour, but casual workers were paid only for days actually worked. Absence, for whatever reason, meant no money for that time. Frequent absenteeism could result in dismissal after two weeks' notice. Permanent workers had to be given two to three months' notice before termination. If a permanent worker failed to meet the daily quota, he or she was only paid for the work done, and not for the day. Permanent workers were entitled to 22 days' annual leave, rising to 25 days after five years' service. There was no leave allowance, but an allowance was paid to cover travel expenses for the worker and three children. Permanently employed women were entitled to two months' maternity leave with pay. Workers were given unpaid time off for family problems like illness or bereavement. They were also entitled to housing, small plots for cultivation, and termination payments. The employers contributed 5 per cent of the total earnings of permanent workers to the National Social Security Fund. All medical expenses had to be met by the workers themselves. Some workers belonged to the Kenya Plantation Workers' Union, but only permanent employees were eligible to join. Unionism was not compulsory and the membership was predominantly male.
Every coffee estate had a number of houses to which permanent workers and those with families were given first priority. Casual workers were only accommodated if there were extra houses. If a worker was not housed, transport to and from work was provided from a central point. On Koorali an allowance of Ksh. 120 per month was paid to any permanent worker who was not housed on the plantation.
The management considered the houses to be in fairly good condition. Electricity was not available but bathrooms, toilets, and kitchens had water laid on. The houses themselves remained as they were when the plantations were first set up in the colonial period. They consisted of single units that were previously meant to accommodate a sole worker but which were now housing families with as many as 10 members. New houses were being built on Koorali and the Brooke Bond tea estates, but they were still single units with no electricity, despite the fact that the plantations have their own generators.
Table 3. Criteria for head of household
The Tea Plantations
Contrary to what happened in the coffee-growing region in Central Province, the alienation of the land in the Kericho district and the Rift Valley did not turn the local communities to wage-labour, so the tea companies had to import workers from other districts. Most of them were Kisii, Luo, and Luhya migrants from western Kenya. These three large ethnic groups speak different languages and have slightly different cultural practices.
Patterns of labour recruitment generally followed lines of extended family relationships. The company would promote a worker to become a field supervisor and send him to his home area to recruit workers, so large numbers of them would come from one location. For example, most of the Luo workers at Brooke Bond come from South Nyanza. In most cases the company recruited the workers' dependent and family members, so the extended family was a major factor in labour migration to the tea plantations. Ethnic and personal contacts were also important.
The majority of the males interviewed had worked elsewhere and could easily compare situations in different places. The females had only been exposed to the rural and plantation environments. In most cases, the men had migrated to seek employment and the women had followed. Contemporary economic conditions have marginalized many in the rural areas and created a modern reservoir of unskilled labour.
Poverty and illiteracy were important factors: 36 per cent of the workers had not been to school. For the desperate, the low but regular monthly wage was better than less predictable levels of poverty in other rural areas. Brooke Bond offered nothing to attract labour, but, like all the plantations, it relied on a pool of destitute workers who had no alternatives.
The new recruits faced difficulties ranging from their economic constraints to psychological problems and inexperience in the work environment. They had to make a series of adjustments to plantation life. Most of the new employees were young males, though female workers were more visible on the plantations than in most other sectors of the formal economy.
The climatic and environmental conditions cause a number of health problems at Kericho and Kiambu. It is cold in the tea-growing zone, and as most of the workers came from regions of relatively low altitude, they found it very difficult to adjust and this lowered their productive capacity. Working conditions which required them to work in heavy rain definitely affected their health and colds and pneumonia were as common as malaria. There was usually a lot of dew on the tea and the dampness produced deep and long cracks on the palms of their hands. Heavy work in the fields and carrying tea baskets 11 hours a day caused backache, chest pain, and rheumatism, particularly among the women, whose health was already often impaired by anaemia related to childbirth and loss of blood. There was a high incidence of venereal diseases due to the considerable promiscuity and lack of medication.
The effects of the climate were exacerbated by poverty, for the workers were underpaid and could not afford a balanced diet. The overemphasis on cash crops at the expense or total elimination of crops for domestic consumption meant food had to be bought in from elsewhere. The workers were sometimes given small plots for growing vegetables, but they were not allowed to plant maize, which was the staple food of most of them. Some of the workers on Kiambu travelled to Nairobi every week for supplies of vegetables, fruit, legumes, and grains. A number of respondents, particularly on the tea plantations, depended on maize or beans supplied by their extended rural family. Meat was available, and those on Kericho could get fish, but they could hardly afford to buy as much as they needed. The long working hours also affected nutrition: apart from the fact that the workers had little time to cultivate or go looking for food, they had no lunch break, so the children had to fend for themselves or eat something prepared in the morning and left for them.
According to the respondents, children outnumbered the workers in the camps. This is in line with the fact that 61) per cent of the population of Kenya is under 15. Though they looked healthy because their diet included a lot of starch and carbohydrates, which put weight on them, the children had a number of health problems and mortality rates were high. Many were affected by chicken pox, measles, and a strange undiagnosed disease called enyamurero in Gusii, which causes skin rashes, swelling, and, eventually, death. Scurvy was common. The children lacked parental care and their parents could not afford to pay someone else to look after them, so the older children had to take care of the infants, who are thus exposed to numerous hazards. In most cases they were carried along to school so that they could be taken care of there by older siblings. The children either took cold lunches or did without food if they were unable to cook for themselves.
Following the practice of the time, the living quarters at Brooke Bond used to be allocated according to ethnic group. Up to 1978, when the government took steps to alleviate ethnic tensions in the country, there had been very few intercultural marriages on the plantations, and those that had taken place were viewed as contaminating values and were sources of tension in the camps. Compartmentalization was stopped in 1978 and workers from all groups were integrated in all the camps. This has forged more harmonious relations. An incipient class consciousness arising from their common experience and material conditions has also diluted some of the previous differences and difficulties.
Indeed, ethnic values are steadily being merged and transformed into a unique plantation culture. The workers have opted for Kiswahili as the common language. Collective co-operation and the development of new social networks, especially in serious crises like bereavement, have strengthened and modified the heritage of diverse traditions transplanted from a variety of rural backgrounds. For example, the workers contributed to meet all funeral expenses when someone died, and households lent each other domestic items.
Culture and Life-style
This unique plantation culture is distinct from the urban proletariat and peasant cultures, although it borrows heavily from the latter. It was more highly developed in the tea region, where the workers living in exile have been overwhelmed by their new environment and have changed, and recognized the need to change, their attitudes.
Government policy has played a role. After 1978 all cultural activities and festivals were prohibited in the camps. A respondent explained: "Mod stopped all the traditional dances on his accession to the presidency because he is a Christian. They were told that cultural dancing troupes do not constitute development." This led to the suppression of traditional elements that had been carried into the diaspora and could have enriched this new culture. In general, the paucity of cultural activities on the plantations was striking. There were few musicians, no dances or ceremonies, hardly any rituals. However, there were still storytellers who passed social values on to the young through stories and poetry. There were also still a few people who played traditional instruments, though only to amuse themselves, since public performance was proscribed. There were Christian choirs and Christian rituals instead of traditional songs and ceremonies.
The survey included questions to try to assess changes in attitudes and circumstances that had come about through the mixture of ethnic groups characteristic of plantation life, and the investigation revealed some enriching cross-cultural interaction, including the use of Kiswahili, the common work language, interethnic marriages, and an increasing national consciousness which could override disparate, parochial ethnic identities.
The language used in the domestic setting remained basically unchanged except in those households that were the results of intermarriage. In this case Kiswahili and either or both the mother-tongues of the partners were used. Kiswahili was the language of communication in the workplace; the former trading language between Arabs and Africans has become a lingua franca between Africans who speak different languages and is now linked with migration and the intermingling of peoples in contemporary Kenya.
Perhaps because the topic was not well presented in the questionnaire, it was difficult to measure possible changes in attitudes towards customs and traditions. Some of the respondents showed that their attitudes remained unchanged while others indicated that circumstances had changed and therefore their attitudes had been modified by necessity. Many continued to prefer the ways of their own people, even though some customs were perceived to be outmoded and far removed from the contemporary plantation environment. There were some complaints of increasing ethnic bias in promotions as economic pressures tightened.
The facilities on the plantations were, at best, minimal and substandard, with better services to be found only on Nyakinyua, which was collectively owned. Amenities varied from plantation to plantation. On Nyakinyua they included a church in which the people met on Saturdays and Sundays, free nursery schooling, and television provided by the company. The women said they did not have time to watch it. Some of them felt alienated by it as they understood neither English nor Kiswahili. The few who did watch it said that, like radio, which they thought was more useful, it was educational. On Munene they were limited to piped water, a church, and a group set up by the women themselves. The adjacent Kamiti Prison provided primary and secondary schools and shops. However, the workers found it easy to commute either to Nairobi or Ruiru, as the plantation is only about three kilometres from the main road.
Koorali Estate had a nursery school, piped water, an all-weather road, a shopping centre, sporting facilities, and transport to Thika and Ruiru. There was a primary school less than one kilometre from the plantation and a health centre 13 kilometres away, both of them provided by the government. There were no telephones, adult literacy classes, day-care centres, or clubs
Nyakinyua had a nursery and primary school, a shopping centre, sporting facilities, a church, a cemetery, boreholes for water, and transport for workers living off the plantation, all provided by the plantation. However, there was no secondary school or health centre. The workers used those provided by the government in Ruiru and Gatundu. There are no public telephones, women's groups, day-care centres, or adult literacy classes. Only Nyakinyua had plans to improve amenities: the management hoped to upgrade the nursery and primary schools and the sporting facilities in the future.
Brooke Bond's 22 estates offered varying degrees of social support. For instance, there was a nursery on Jamjii, but the workers on Kericho were struggling to build a nursery out of their own funds.
The question of participation in adult literacy programmes was raised in order to measure gender participation in development-oriented programmes, but it was difficult to find such projects on the plantations. The dearth of adult literacy programmes and women's groups on some of the plantations was partially due to the fact that the workers had little time to organize or participate in them at the end of their long day. On Nyakinyua, where adult literacy classes did exist, gender participation was unequal. As happened elsewhere in the country, women attended the classes more often and in greater than the men. Male respondents asserted that adult literacy classes interfered with their leisure and drinking time and exposed them to competition with women. Some of the women who attended and benefited from the classes complained that they had to stop going because of their housework. The classes were held after work, which, as the time budgets show, was when the women had to look after their households.
Recreational activities for men on the plantations were limited to television, playing ajua (a game for men) and football, and going to church, though a good number of the workers did not attend because they did not have enough time. A few engaged in petty trading to supplement their meagre wages and some spent their spare time working on a vegetable garden, though this meant they had virtually no time for leisure and rest except at night.
For the young people, leisure time presented some problems. There were no youth groups. The young men played football, watched television where it was available, and visited each other. The young women plaited their hair, visited one another, watched television, and sewed. Men spent their leisure time at the social centre, watching television, visiting, chatting with other men and resting. Women respondents spent what they perceived as their free time with their children or working in the house, knitting, making baskets, or mending. Indeed, some women found it difficult to decide what was meant by "free time," for even when they were at their leisure they were doing tasks related to child care and maintenance. When parents were able to devote special time to their children they spent it advising them, telling them traditional stories, or singing with them. On occasion they were taken to visit relatives in order to get to know them better.
Conditions in the camp were crowded and noisy and there was little privacy, factors that related to the general lack of discipline, which was manifested in many ways: drunken men, difficult young people, women who had many men friends, men who associated with other women regardless of their social obligations, rape, and teenage pregnancy. However, while some respondents complained about these things, others said they saw no problems in these areas. A number of them attributed the informal cohabitation which had become a feature of plantation life to the pressures of poverty. The percentage of teenage pregnancies was high. It was a general lament among the women that girls as young as 12 and 13 were getting pregnant. Some older men also complained, but the younger men saw this as unavoidable in the absence of social barriers.
In a situation where exploitation was rampant, gender problems could pass unnoticed, but age-old patriarchal discrimination still operated against women. Some jobs were considered masculine, like working in the factory, or feminine, like tea-picking. In the house all duties fell on the women, a division of labour enforced by communal and patriarchal norms that were in fact in contradiction to the contemporary household situation. The social status of women was still inferior, and in male-headed households it was always the man who decided on crucial matters like expenditure.
Single women were the most exploited of all the workers. Most of them were widows, unmarried mothers, or divorced or separated women who had been ejected from the rural areas by poverty or social and cultural problems. On the plantations they faced a range of difficulties from financial constraints to problems with the care and social development of their children. Single women were often looked down upon as prostitutes, and relations between single and married women were riddled with tension. As one 44-year-old put it: "The relations between married and unmarried arc strained because of suspicion of unmarried women by married women of grabbing their husbands."
Life was hard for the odder people. Their expectations and ambitions had been smothered by the decades of poverty and their lives were nearing their end. The harsh working conditions left them weak and inefficient. One older female respondent likened plantation life to a dog's life. The old workers were psychologically displaced. They said that rural life would be better, yet they still went on working on the plantation under wretched conditions, a contradiction explicable in terms of the limitations of the subsistence economy in the rural areas and the dominance of the monetary economy. They would leave the plantation empty-handed if they retired. The employers claimed that the National Social Security Fund would provide for them, but the workers said they might be dead before this money got through bureaucracy and corruption to them.
Forty-nine per cent of the respondents found their housing unsatisfactory, 38 per cent were satisfied, and 13 per cent were uncertain. Although there were some new houses, there were still workers living in rough, grass-thatched colonial units with uncemented floors and walls that were breeding-grounds for jiggers, cockroaches, and rats. In some of the camps they had to share latrines, bathrooms, and kitchens, or the relevant functions were performed outdoors. The water source was usually far from the houses. There was no electricity in any of the camps, in spite of the fact that all plantation operations are automated and the electrical lines passed over the workers' houses. Even the newer houses were inadequate for a medium-size family, which caused a lot of strain in the household. The cooking place was often in the sitting-room. Some people avoided being in the house for much of the day. Various cultural practices were difficult in the houses. There were problems with extended family members and respected visitors, for the houses were inadequate for receiving them according to custom. On the other hand, there was no gender bias in the allocation of housing, which was determined solely on the basis of the job, a fact that partly explains the attraction of the plantation for female heads of households.
Table 4. Family types on the coffee plantation (percentages)
|Actual living arrangement||12.0||86.2||1.8||-|
|Preferred living arrangement||9.8||74.0||13.4||2.8|
Households and Families
The households on the plantation have been stamped with the indelible mark of the plantation system and the exploitation of its labour force. The changing patterns of relationships, and the forms, composition' attitudes, and aspirations of the households bore its impact to the extent that there were few similarities between households there and those in the pert-urban and rural areas. By accepting work on the plantation, the workers tacitly accepted a whole range of conditions that were not compatible with their cultural practices. Parents and grown children frequently had to live together in the restricted space of single living quarters, which often meant the family unit had to he broken up into nuclear households. Yet though the company's overt and covert policies usually discriminated against extended families, it could also take advantage of them as useful reserves of labour.
The size of the households varied greatly, from as few as two to as many as 12 people. Sometimes this depended on the age of the respondent: some young workers between 18 and 25 had smaller families, although others were still living with their parents and siblings in an extended family. People over 45 also had smaller households, as some of their offspring had already married or migrated and set up households of their own In some cases it was difficult to determine exactly how many residents there were, as children kept returning to live with parents or grandparents for extended periods. Respondents often counted all members of the family as members of the household. In some situations a male partner might or might not be included, depending on whether the co-residence arrangement was considered to be permanent or temporary. Needless to say, this approach affected a number of questions, particularly when women were asked about help with household expenses.
In the western region there was some polygamy and some male respondents who considered two or more families as members of their household. It was difficult to determine whether this was a household or not. Culturally, the households of a polygamous family reside within the same homestead, while conceptually the HGA project defined the household as a unit of co-residence. However, these families usually fulfilled most of the criteria for a single household in the sense that they had one male head who was responsible materially and in other ways for the well-being of the family.
Another unresolved question concerned wives who were left behind in the rural areas. The woman became de facto head of household in the absence of the husband, who remained the de jure head although he lived away from his family in his own household in urban areas or on the plantations. This represented a significant deviation from the cultural norm, in which migration had no place; nor was it possible to reconcile this situation with the usual concepts of household. There is a need to redefine the head of household in relation to contemporary realities.
Patterns of co-residence on the plantation were different to those which had prevailed in pre-colonial times and, to some extent, to the contemporary rural situation. They more closely resembled those in peri-urban areas, which were also under direct pressure from similar economic, social, and historical forces. Perhaps the most striking example of this was the phenomenon of the adult males who lived alone, having left their families elsewhere when they migrated to get work. These men, who represent the original composition of the plantation labour force, were excluded from the survey by virtue of the fact that their wives and children were not living on the plantation, but they would have made an interesting control group for the study of the allocation of domestic tasks. Observation suggested that the taboos that justify gender division of labour can evaporate in conditions that force males to undertake day-to-day tasks in the home.
The households included all ages from newborn infants to grandparents. Both observation and a rough count suggested that the ratio of young to old was heavily in favour of the former. This is consistent with the situation on the African continent as a whole, where nearly 50 per cent of the population is under 15 years of age. It was rare to find unemployed adults in the households on the coffee plantations. The low wages lead to the mobilization of every adult. Dependents were usually children or, occasionally, retired parents; extended families were very rare. In the tea zone, where they did exist, there were unemployed resident adults, usually offspring who had finished school or relatives who had come to stay for longer or shorter periods. The respondents themselves ranged from 18 to 50 and older, which was interesting for the project life-course approach. There were more older women than older men, an accurate reflection of the gender balance on the plantation.
One of the most striking findings of the survey was the proportion of female-headed households. Though some had been expected, as this has become a national phenomenon, 45.2 per cent of the female respondents stated that they were heads of household, which was unexpectedly high. However, given the unconventional family patterns and the economic forces and social pressures that impelled people to work on the plantations, perhaps this is not surprising. The existence of these independent female households was only possible because of the shift of the economic base from land and cattle to a cash wage. This economic alternative had ramifications which reverberated throughout the whole research project.
In the coffee zone there were relatively few male-headed family households. Whether by choice or necessity, most men had left their families in the rural areas. This perpetuated the colonial pattern in which the economic value of the worker was seen as more important than sustaining the social institution of the family. Because of the preponderance of nuclear family and female-headed households on the coffee plantations, the question of who headed the household and why produced little gender bias there. The ability to earn money and take the responsibility for decisions determined who headed the households. The gender and age criteria that were important in the rural areas were, in practical terms, irrelevant on the coffee plantations or in the pert-urban areas.
In contrast, there were dual criteria for determining the headship of the household on the tea plantations. Culturally, as in the rural models, gender and age were the important factors. However, since the workers had become part of the modern cash system, economic criteria were also important and any adult who earned money could be considered the head of household, regardless of gender or age. When both parents had retired and had nowhere else to go, or both were deceased, a son or daughter sometimes became the economic head of the household. In these cases, there was often a complex division of authority and power in the household, with a statutory head, a culturally recognized head, and someone else again in charge of financial or social matters.
Some women saw themselves as heads of households because they made all the decisions or were the sole providers in their households. Men saw themselves as heads of households because they "solve all the problems." It was also said that even in previous generations women were heads of households, but this was not substantiated. In any case, the whole issue of the role of head of household has changed since their grandparents' days because of the availability of new resources now and the stable marital relationships then.
Thus the concept and practical interpretation of head of household were problematic as there were varying criteria, cultural and economic, which might determine the position. In the case of polygynous families or women who had been previously married, it was sometimes even difficult to tell which household was headed by whom.
The preponderance of nuclear family households on the coffee plantations represented a major deviation from the rural life-styles. Economic constraints were said to be a major cause of their prevalence on the coffee plantations, where they had become the norm. The dominance of the nuclear family had both positive and negative effects and particular implications for the running of the household and the care of the children in both female- and male-headed households.
Some of the respondents expressed a desire for the social support of the extended family. For others, economic considerations overweighed any of the potential benefits. Emotional ties were put forward in favour of the extended family. Objections to it were generally summed up as "presenting too many problems."
Table 5. Marital status
The views of some, though not the majority, of the respondents on the coffee plantations were suffused with nostalgia for the life-style of the past or the rural area where the extended family was envisaged to be. A small number of the respondents who actually lived in extended families affirmed that this was their preference.
There were many more extended families in the tea region. This was influenced by the cultural values of the ethnic groups from which the tea plantation draws its labour force. The workers were mainly Luo, Luhya, and Kalenjin, people noted for their strong kinship tics. In addition, the tea plantations were situated in a densely populated area where high unemployment contributed to the number of extended families. They were of two types: generation-based (with three generations living under one roof) or gender-based (for example a woman and her children living with her parents or an unmarried sister with other family members).
Changes in household composition over the past ten years, the most conspicuous of which was the number of children born, were more noticeable in the younger households. This obviously had a strong impact on household expenditure, time-budgeting, and balancing domestic and workforce duties. In the same period, separation, divorce, and widowhood had catapulted 11 per cent of the sample into becoming female heads of household.
Marital status was the category which proved the most difficult to deal with in the field, and it remained elusive and ambiguous in analysis, too. Marital relationships seemed to be in flux or transition for a good proportion of the respondents. Apart from the couples who had been married for decades, it was hard to classify a relationship as marriage in the conventional African sense. A lot of cohabitation was described as marriage although it had no legal basis, and many of the partners had not fulfilled the requirements for customary marriage. Some of the respondents, particularly among the female household heads, firmly stated that they had never been married. There were a number of examples of serial marriage. These ambiguities should be borne in mind when considering table 5.
The fact that marriage was difficult to define to a major change in the definition of the household as conventionally understood. In spite of the limitations already noted, co-residence was a more useful criterion, as it allowed for flexibility and open-endedness in dealing with marital status.
Eighty-nine per cent of the sample said they had married. Questions to establish marital profiles elicited a wider variety of responses than would have been found in a stable rural community. Monogamous marriage, serial marriage, temporary marriage, and polygyny were all found, though whether or not some of the data reflected the real situation is perhaps debatable. Young females who had not been married asserted that they intended to marry. Older female heads of households said they did not, a realistic response in their cultural and economic milieu. It was not possible to establish whether or not unmarried males intended to marry, as unlike the single females, who lived with their parents, their children, or both, the men were not living in households and were therefore beyond the scope of the interviews.
Serial marriages, consisting of a number of successive cohabitations or temporary unions, were reported by both men and women. Two sets of questions about polygyny were addressed to the men and women respectively. It was very rare on the coffee plantation, where none of the respondents were openly living in a polygynous situation. Female respondents whose husbands had taken on another wife considered themselves no longer married. Some of them had been separated for many years. Those who had been separated from their husbands for less than five years had some hope of reunion, but not in a polygynous form. Polygyny was more frequent and female-headed households less frequent on the tea plantations because of cultural and demographic factors in western Kenya, where most of the workers originated. The majority of the women living in polygynous arrangements were second or third wives; the first wife was usually at home in the rural area "taking care of the family property." In some cases there was an age difference of 20 years between the husband and the young wives in these unions. Sometimes the first wife "divorced" the husband, and there were cases of first wives who had left their husbands and set up their own households on the plantation. Questions about how women felt when the husband took another wife drew some of the most profuse responses in the questionnaire. Their attitudes ranged from passive acceptance and indifference to rage and powerlessness. In a few cases the step was a joint decision between the first wife and the husband.
Patterns of reproduction and views on family planning reflected those in the rural rather than the pert-urban areas. The average number of children per household was four, though some female-headed households included as many as ten and twelve. The ages of these children varied: in some families the offspring were married while in others they were in their infancy.
In the coffee region most children lived with their parents, though a few were with grandparents in the rural areas. Some were grown up and had married and migrated to other plantations or the towns to set up their separate lives. In the tea region, the importance of the extended family emerged in shared responsibility for children. Many respondents not only had members of the extended family living with them, but a number had children staying with other members of the family. Although economic hardship predisposed people on the coffee plantations to the nuclear family, in the tea region the extended family was maintained in spite of the poverty.
Economic factors were seen as the only constraint on family size, and contemporary hard times were given as the reason for the preference for smaller families. The basic economic resource, family land, was perceived to be shrinking, while the prices of necessities were escalating. Many saw a more bleak, hard, and powerless future for their sons and daughters, so they thought that they should have fewer children than the respondents themselves had had. This applied particularly to sons who would be limited by dwindling family resources. Daughters were thought to have the possibility of marrying someone of better social and economic standing. However, there was not much gender distinction on this point: half the sample thought both their sons and daughters should have fewer children. For some, the pessimism expressed in "the coming days will be worse than today" was relieved by some gleam of hope of improvement through schooling and God's will. Between 15 and 18 per cent gave emotional and social reasons for wanting many grandchildren. Some parents simply said that their children should be free to make their own decisions about family size. Eighteen and over 21 were seen as the best ages for a daughter to have her first child. This is older than the age at which many girls actually gave birth on the plantations, which was between 14 and 16.
There were a variety of responses on family planning, but generally the respondents did not see it as intrinsically good, and only 24.3 per cent of the women said they practiced it. Even when they thought it was "good," the women themselves did not necessarily use modern chemicals or devices; many said they did it their own way. Male respondents were divided on whether or not family planning was "good." However, they themselves to a man did not practice it. This was confirmed by the women who said that "men could not care less about family planning." Older men still preferred large families and most men were repulsed by the very idea of contraception. "Men around here do not want to hear anything about family planning. They just want to reproduce like rats," said a female respondent. The women, who felt the burden of large families more, preferred smaller families. National policies aimed at curbing the population by controlling fertility had created some confusion because of the related concept of promoting better child care.
Obviously, only those women who had tried or observed modern forms of contraception were able to reply to questions about their advantages and disadvantages. Many thought there were no advantages; a few said that the ability to space and determine the number of children was beneficial. Some of the advantages listed sounded like undigested repetition of the slogans of the media and health workers. They referred to macro-level benefits like curbing the national population rather than the micro-level benefits to the household and the individual. Some respondents felt their fate was determined at the cosmic level and their reproduction was under divine control.
However, the disadvantages were perceived at the micro-level: they included fear of death, sterility, or abnormal babies as side-effects from the drugs. Serious side-effects observed with the use of chemical contraceptives had made many respondents opposed to family planning. Some people on the coffee plantation said that birth-control pills and pesticides that were absorbed into the body interacted badly, and there were complaints of nausea, dizziness, and fainting. Women in the tea region suffered intermittent bleeding, severe backache, and miscarriages, and some gave birth to weak children who later died. Some shunned family planning because they had lost many children whom they would have liked to have had. Lack of information led to resistance to contraception. The experience of many respondents suggests that promoting contraception without education, follow-up, and care means that most women do not continue with family planning. Depopulation was noted as a macro-level disadvantage of an increase in mortality and decrease in fertility.
Some women rejected modern chemical and mechanical contraceptives, insisting that the knowledge and practices of their mothers' generation were just as good, and they continued to use traditional methods. Others said that knowledge about family planning had improved their lives. Even though many of them did not use modern contraceptives, they knew they had an alternative should they ever want to space or stop births.
Comparing the actual and preferred family size of the two age-groups shows that, a generation ago, families had more than six children and that they thought more than six were desirable. Clearly, there were more resources available to families then. Gender preference in offspring was also tested. Over 70 per cent wanted to have a son. They saw a son as the inheritor of their name and property, a leader in the family, and essential to its prestige. Others had no preference. A third group left the gender of a child to be determined by God.
Responses to questions about the preferred marital and reproductive status of women varied according to the experiences and observations of the respondents. They were asked to choose between having no children at all, being married without children, and being employed, rich, and having no children. Some female respondents thought it better to have children even without being married. The male respondents on the whole believed that women should be married and have children.
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