Unbowed, A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
In the Unbowed, A Memoir, Wangari Maathai provides a detailed description of various factors whose interplay shaped her in to a noble prize winner. She underscores the various struggles that she grappled with since her childhood and how she managed to become who she is now. Indeed, it can not be disputed that the various hardships that she encountered contributed significantly to her present day personality. She is a representation of a woman who has beaten all odds to become successful in society. Her political experience did not change her ideals but instead gave her a chance to further various vital and sustainable projects that the former governments had failed to implement. Notably her current status has been both directly and indirectly influenced by her past experiences. This paper provides an explicit analysis of the theme of colonialism as presented in her book, “Unbowed, The Memoir” and how it contributed to her holistic wellbeing.
Colonialism is a theme that has inevitably been analyzed by the author because of the various implications that it had on her wellbeing. In addition, it is worth acknowledging that the present day Kenya is largely a product of the colonial ideologies that were assumed in the historical past. The author addresses this theme in an objective manner and places equal emphasis on both the negative and positive effects of the same. To begin with, she acknowledges the fact that colonialism availed to the Kenyan population religion and education that were fundamental for future survival. She appreciates the fact that she was given a chance to pursue education and posits that she enjoyed the experience. Education according to her was critical in enabling her to secure more rewarding formal employment. However, she argues that the education provided during the colonial era did not instill vital independent and critical thinking skills.
Religion also had various positive implications in the life of the author. The religious beliefs that were taught by the missionaries were instrumental in inculcating viable behavioral values that were fundamental for harmonic living. The nuns provided vital services including caring for the orphaned children and providing basic pastoral services to the community. In addition, the author argues that the missionaries played a critical role of facilitating communication between the various tribes of Kenya. In this regard, it is indicated that they taught a basic reading skills that empowered the population to communicate effectively. This was highly regarded by the author.
Notably, the missionaries also had a negative effect on the functioning of the society. To begin with, Maathai indicates that their education led to the erosion of vital social values that were held in high regard by the population. This was perpetuated by the changes in culture that accompanied formal education. In this regard, it is worth acknowledging that in the traditional settings, these values were passed on orally. However, formal education led to introduction of foreign values that were passed on in a formal manner. Irrespective of the fact that these had similar meanings as the traditional values, they did not have a positive impact because they were not tailored to reflect the traditional environments. In addition, the colonialists encouraged adoption of the foreign culture by the Kenyans. In the long run, this led to incidences of loss of cultural identity as the traditional cultural aspects were considered inferior.
Moreover, the author implicates the missionaries for not only encouraging the natives to abandon their culture but for also encouraging them to destroy important cultural artifacts. These included things like musical instruments that were employed in local ceremonies as well as important rituals. Further, the missionaries discredited the traditional myths, traditions, rituals rites and in most cases demonized the dances. In general, the aspects of the indigenous culture were discouraged and the western ideals encouraged. In this respect, the author argues that a more ideal scenario could have been the mainstreaming of the western ideals in the traditional culture of the natives.
Another group of colonialists that influenced the life of Maathai were the white settlers. They provided employment to the natives and enabled them to earn a formal living. In addition these introduced new methods of farming that enhanced production at the local level and subsequently improved the quality of life of the locals. Also, new Agricultural products were introduced in the country. While it is contended that this led to the abandonment of cultural food crops that were adaptable to the environment, it is also acknowledged that this enabled the communities to have a taste of foreign products. Further, the author indicates that expansive and intensive agriculture resulted in to loss of productive lands by the natives. This had far reaching implications as they were forced to occupy reserves that were comparatively unproductive.
Further, she cites that the colonists introduced new building codes as well as fashion that improved the quality of life of the Kenyan populace as the had better forms of shelter and clothing. The introduction of a monetary economy has also been cited to have had various effects on the wellbeing of the society. In particular, the characteristic taxes made the population to assume employment in order to cater for their expenses. The family heads were forced to work in plantation farms and ranches that were far from their homes. This had a negative effect as it led to disintegration of traditional values that initially held the society together and incidences of prostitution were reportedly high. This then led to the emergence of a wide array of sexually transmitted diseases that were traditionally unknown to the natives.
There were also disparities with regard to distribution of vital natural resources within the Kenyan communities. As indicated earlier, the colonial government had deprived the natives of their basic rights to owning productive pieces of land. In addition, it is indicated that they gave different members of the communities varied jobs. While some were lucky to get better jobs, some were given low paying jobs. The author contends that this contributed significantly to differences within communities whose intensity increased when the colonial government left the country.
It is because redistribution of resources benefited the members of the communities that had been accorded relatively high profile jobs by the colonialists. Notably, this has perpetuated disparities regarding distribution of natural resources in the country to date. In fact, it is argued that this is largely responsibly for the ethnic conflict that Kenya still grapples with.
The implications of colonialism also had significant psychological effects to the population. During the early years of colonialism, Maathai indicates that the colonial government killed various individuals that exhibited any form of resistance to the colonial rule. This was done in a brutal way in order to prevent any more instances of resistance. Notably, this culminated in psychological trauma especially for individuals whose close relatives or community members were involved. Due to lack of effective healthcare, these problems are posited to have persisted in to the future.
In addition, the colonial government formulated and enforced certain rules that wee entirely meant to instill a sense of fear in the natives. For instance, the rules that forbade any form of meetings had an implication that one could easily be arrested for purposes of loitering. Further, it is posited that the uniforms that were used by the colonialists were also basically designed to enhance fear and enforce respect of the colonialists by the locals. The enforcement of this was aimed at easing the process of governance. Nevertheless, these ideas were taken up by the succeeding government and have greatly compromised the mode of governance over time.
At this juncture, it can not be disputed that colonialism had various impacts on the life of Wangari Maathai. The implications of the same influenced her experiences in various ways. While some aspects such as education, religious teachings and improved economic production yielded positive outcomes, some like killing of natives and depriving them of arable and for production were detrimental. Nevertheless, their interplay provided an environment that required high ideals in order for a woman to emerge successful. In this consideration therefore, it can be concluded that Mathai had ideal attributes that enabled her to assume a heroic position in the society.
Wangari, Maathai. Unbowed: A Memoir. USA: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.