Interview with an Old Man

For the oral history, I conducted an interview with my father. This interview took place early Monday morning using Whatsapp. The goal of the interview was not to garner the exact detail of Kenya’s history but instead to gain insight into how the general public view the past, and its repercussions. I grew up in the US for the most part so the majority of my knowledge comes directly from my dad making him a great primary source.

My father is by no means an unbiased source, in fact he is probably the most opinionated person I’ve ever met. I didn’t want to receive a history lesson about the Kikuyu people, I have historical resources for that. What I cant gain from these sources is how modern Kenyan people feel about what happened. I want to know what made it down through the generations and whats important enough to be maintained in the oral history.

In this interview my father vacillated between Swahili and English. In my translation I did the best to maintain the integrity of his voice by preserving his grammar.

What’s your name and where did you grow up

“I am Leah’s dad and my legal name is Stanley Kigotho Miano. I was born in Nyeri country in Nairobi Kenya”

What Specific tribe were you born into

“I was born into the very prestigious tribe called Kikuyu. However, my parents on both sides are 50% Maasai and 50% Kikuyu but we practiced Kikuyu tradition definitely over Maasai tradition.”

Ok, I guess you answered my next question, but what do you think that others think of the Kikuyu

“Ahhh, the other 43 or so tribes think very highly of the Kikuyu’s because they fought for the democracy for this country and also they are leaders in entrepreneurship and also education and literacy.”

Would you say historically the perception of the Kikuyu tribe has gotten better or worse

“Ok, currently in Kenya we are trying to minimize you know highlighting so much of a certain tribe to think more of a Kenyan National but ah the perception of Kikuyu has most of the time been positive.”

Who would you say are the most influential women in your life?

“He most influential women is my mom, the other Leah Muthoni and also my sisters they have adopted the can-do attitude of their mum.”

Alright, what do you know about Kenya’s Matriarchal history

“Oo really, you did research for this, so actually women are still held really highly in Kikuyu culture whereby we do not have division lines of things can only be done, certain things can only be done by men. That’s why you also have a very high percentage of the women in involved in leadership in Kenya are Kikuyu.

Actually, per say the Kikuyu, the first order of leadership was a woman called Wangu wa Makeri, she was actually a queen slash king and she was a Kikuyu leader for a very long time. However, she made the life of men very difficult and so what the men did was to plan and overthrow her authority. There was another Wangu later way later like 1800 same kind of woman, they say she came back from the dead because men had become too lazy.”

What do you know about her, both of them.

“For one, well the men had to rebel, they couldn’t live like that, so they got everyone pregnant, how could you fight if you are pregnant and seized power back in the day. But the Colonial Wangu was the same way although I think she was overthrown more politically.”

What year did you immigrate to the United States

“Actually, I don’t think I immigrated to the united states, the year I went to school in the United States is June of 1989.”

OK, and how did moving affect your worldview

“It was actually, America was a very enclosed society and I found them not knowing so much about the rest of the world, so it was extremely frustrating how their measurement of social life was based on the little that they knew and most of them were not as traveled as I had been traveled. And it reflected in the way I was treated.”

When you first immigrated, at that time there were more American women in American political and economic power or Kikuyu women in Kenya holding economic and political power

“In 90’s I think more Kikuyu women were in power including corporations and also politics and also social status than in America and that led to the birth of the first black Nobel prize winner was a Kikuyu Professor Wangari Mathai”

Would you say that historically that compared to other women in east Africa that Kikuyu women experience more or less personal freedoms

“Very distinct. Even today women are somehow suppressed[In Kenya], especially in the North East, but to answer your question the Kikuyu have been more free than any other women that I know in East Africa because of education. Education has been the drive for women being liberated more so than any ethnicity background or cultural belief. Yes, and actually we have more women educated in our clans than men one of the reasons is that the population of women is high and also there was an epidemic you may know called girlchild[translation of a difficult concept], there was a promotion of girlchild because there was deliberate intention to promote a Kikuyu girl.”

In 2008 there was a lot of violence directed towards the Kikuyu due to the election, could you describe your experience.

“Yes, the violence, was because of a president, a Kikuyu president had been elected and the opposition felt aggrieved because they felt a level of entitlement, they were not abiding by the fairness of the election. One of the reasons they felt aggrieved was because the Kikuyu have always dominated in politics especially in the higher offices like the office of the president. In Kenya we have only had one president who was not a Kikuyu. So, the reason for the violence is because the opposition was mainly dominated by non-Kikuyu tribe and they felt entitled. Instead of leaving the politicians fight at their own level they took it to the streets, lit the masses. So, a lot of Kikuyu living in big cities, not Kikuyu areas were violently affected.”

While researching I came across these articles about how Kikuyu women are more difficult or harder to marry than women from other tribes.

“Yes…….you have some of that blood. The reason is they are very independent minded because they are well educated. They come from families that are open to them being independent and driven, and basically from childhood, even yourself you have never been told of Brian [My Brother] can do this but you can’t do this you can do that. So when they get married just like every other human being they opt for their space and their integrity to be respected however and it’s not only in the Kikuyu community but everywhere, in the past there was a place for women, and so since the Kikuyu women have been raised that has conflict with men who come from communities where they feel like your hardheaded and have certain privilege, but freedom is not a privilege , who wants there privileges being outlined by a community.”

Thank you, baba,

“No problem, never a problem, goodbye”