Old Age in Meru, Kenya: adaptive Reciprocity in a Changing Rural Community
Old people make important contributions to their societies. Despite cultural change, the skills and knowledge of elderly remain important human resources. The potential usefulness of old people holds special significance in developing countries with limited human and material assets. Facilitating the exploration of elders' latent capabilities requires a heuristic approach which highlights the importance of their contributions. This study first presents an ecological systems model which emphasizes the adaptive importance of old people and then applies that model to the analysis of aging patterns :n Meru, Kenya. The dissertation, therefore, provides a case study of old age in a rural African community as well as a vni test of the ability of an ecological systems model to guide the collection and analysis of data about aging. Fieldwork for this study was conducted in three small farming communities in the southern part of Meru, Kenya, in 1990 and 1991. In addition to extensive participant observation, the following data were collected: a household census, life histories, in-depth interviews with a sample of elderly, in-depth interviews with a sample of informants between the ages of 25 and 54 regarding attitudes toward old age, and a time allocation study of the activities of old people. In terms of goals and objectives, the study traces the influence of both systemic and individual factors on wellbeing in old age. It further investigates the contributions made by elders in southern Meru and explores relationships between those contributions and care-giving behavior. Finally, evidences of positive and negative feedback loops within the system are evaluated.