Aspects Of Gikuyu Traditional Morality
Allover Africa there is a deep desire to revive and promote traditional African culture and moral values. This is apparently due to disillusionment with western culture and values. This study of Gikuyu traditional moral values had four objectives: (a) to discover the conceptual basis of traditional morality, (b) to discover how moral values were sanctioned, that is, how the society maintained the moral system, (c) to determine whether there was any connection between ,religious beliefs and morality, and (d) to examine the extent to which the younger generation understands and subscribes to the traditional moral values. A detailed study was made of five virtues, namely, honesty (wihokeku), generosity (utaana), justice (kihooto), temperance (wikindiria) and courage (ucamba). Between them these virtues touch on all the important areas of the traditional life. The study was conducted primarily by means of a questionnaire which was personally administered to informants in Nyeri and Kiambu districts. Three Groups of people were interviewed. The first group consisted of old people who had had first-hand experience of traditional life, the second of middle-aged people and third of young people. A secondary source of information about Gikuyu traditional morality consisted of some unpublished (archival) materials, books and reports by early European travellers, missionaries, administrators, and Gikuyu authors. This literature contains useful information and hints about traditional beliefs and practices. Five main things are clear about the conceptual basis of Gikuyu traditional morality. First, the Gikuyu consider d m~y as essential for the well-being of both the society and the individual. 'For this reason honesty, Generosity, justice, temperance and courage were very important moral values. Second, the Gikuyu conceived morality as one 1nte~rated whole. This is clear from the fact that many informants described a moral ideal in terns of other ideals. For instance, the honest man was described as one who could be relied upon because he was truthful, generous, courageous and had a sense of justice. Similarly, the informants' definition of courage included diligence and temperance. This concept of morality implies that a Good person_was ,one who possessed all the virtues, not just a few of them, (b) that no distinction was made between private and public morality. Third, the Gikuyu conceived morality as "the reasonable order of things" (kihooto). They understood the function of morality in life and obeyed moral rules because they made sense. Fourth, the Gikuyu understood morally good conduct as the mean between two extremes. For instance, generosity,which was valued highly, was understood as the balance between stinginess and prodigality. People were taught to be moderate in every area of life. Fifth, the concepts of iri and iriiri (wealth and honour) were strong incentive for a life of discipline and integrity. Property, wives, children and honour,which survived long after the individual's death were rewards of moral integrity. The Gikuyu had a highly organized system for sanctioning or maintaining morality. This system consisted first of human agents (parents, peer Groups, warriors, elders, kinsmen and the local community) and second, of supernatural agents (God and ancestral spirits). Reward and punishment played an essential role in maintaining morality. Taboos (mieiro} also served an important function. Religion played a central role in morality. God was seen as the ultimate authority in morality. His laws were inbuilt in his creation and the way of life he gave the people. God was seen as a God of justice, which implied that he was involved with the people's daily lives, blessing the morally good and punishing those who broke moral rules. Judgement was experienced in the present life. It mattered daily therefore how the community and the individual behaved. The Gikuyu believed that the spirits of the departed were also concerned about the conduct of living. The blessings of iri and iriiri (wealth and honour) resulted from the approval of God and ancestral spirits as such as from human effort. People believed they were accountable to God and so they could not ignore or discard the moral code as they pleased. The younger Generations have a considerable knowledge of the traditional Gikuyu morality and approve on it. But there is a great discrepancy between what people know and what they practice today. It is evident from this study, that because of,the changed social, economic and political circumstances it is impossible to revert to traditional African morality. ' However, it should be possible to adapt it to the changed circumstances. Based on the study two suggestions can be made. First, in order to maintain high moral standards the whole society must both understand the importance of morality and actively participate in sanctioning. In modern Kenya churches and other religious communities, schools and parents have a crucial role to play in teaching moral values and setting high moral standards. Second, religious belief and morality are inseparable because morality seems to ultimately derive its authority from God. To be effective the teaching of morality, should be done as part of religious instruction in. schools, homes, churches and other religious establishments.
CitationDoctor of Philosophy, University of Nairobi (1983)
University of Nairobi.Department of Arts