Kenya’s Akamba Peace Museum Stresses Advocacy as Western Influences Put Pressure on Traditional Tribal Families

Akemba tribeSame-sex marriages have existed for many years among the Akamba. Recently this tradition has become controversial in the Machakos County of Kenya. These marriages are non-sexual, perma­nent unions between two women, which exist so that the women can rear children and pass on fam­ily property. In the Akamba community, in Macha­kos, one may be brought in to share motherhood with another woman already in a marriage, but who is unable to bear children, in order to create a family. Maweto is the name given to the women in these relationships. In the past, the Maweto moth­ers were highly respected in their communities and families.

The Maweto mothers had the freedom to choose men to father their children and sometimes they chose to have a man anointed by the commu­nity for this purpose. This man was not the hus­band in the household that they joined. The family formed by the union of these two women provided security for the children and partnership and the status of the two women. Maweto women were expected to look after their parents and inherited land and property just like other Akamba children. More recently, Maweto mothers and their children have been rejected by society.

Modern religions and western influence have changed the ideas that people use to define their families. Partly because of this, communities are turning away from Mawe­to families even though these families are able to support their children and offer a creative way for women to maintain their land and standing.

The Akamba Peace Museum decided to find cul­turally-appropriate ways to promote a positive im­age of Maweto families, while also advocating for their fundamental rights within society. The mu­seum now serves as a networking center for the Maweto Mothers of Ukambani. For the last twelve years, they have been engaging the marginalized Maweto women in its activities. The museum is currently providing the local community at Kyan­zasu village, in Machakos County, access to infor­mation about Maweto advocacy through ongoing discussion meetings and exchange visits among the Maweto Mothers of Ukambani.

The participa­tion of the Maweto Mothers in community affairs and their interaction with friends and visitors has empowered them. They do not consider them­selves as outcastes. This is a significant step in out­reach, which the Akamba Peace Museum is doing by bringing Kenyans to bear the testimony of once ostracized women in their rural setup participating in full community life. The Maweto Mothers are able to raise their voices and share their concerns to the wider community without fear of exclusion. This has created space for public debate, dialogue and action as visitors interact with the Maweto Mothers, read the newspaper stories, view photo­graphs, and watch video clips about the Maweto Mothers at the Peace Museum. This initiative was developed to address the gaps and enhance the participation of the marginalized in the community development process by keeping its non-partisan stand or position.

The Akamba Peace Museum has been promot­ing advocacy in addressing critical social issues at community level, such as poverty, social exclusion, empowerment of marginalized rural groups such as Maweto, and catalyze a democratic process in decision-making. The museum is also a source of empowerment that directs education among the youth and schools in Machakos connecting devel­opment with traditional knowledge. A group of 50 elders are currently working together with the youth to document local histories, material cul­ture, ceremonies, and songs through a continuous one-on-one education with the elders so as to pre­pare the youth to honor their heritage of social values while engaging in dialogue with modernity and christianity.

A report by founder and curator Munuve Mutisya, published by the International Network of Museums for Peace – May 2012

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