The November issue of Anthropology News will include several commentaries, as well as teaching strategies and a photo essay, highlighting current anthropological work on aging, the life course and eldercare. In anticipation of the issue, we feature here a brief article by Maria Cattell, research associate at the Field Museum of Natural History and president-elect of the Association for Africanist Anthropology, on family dynamics of intergenerational support in Kenya. Please post your comments below.
Intergenerational Support among Luyia of Western Kenya by Maria G Cattell (Field Museum)
A big question everywhere in this graying world is “How can we care for our old people?” Among Luyia in western Kenya, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, families have tried to provide care for the elderly as best they can. Even so, one hears much nonsense about African families disappearing, even from Africans who know how deeply they themselves are embedded in kin networks where people are always asking each other for help.
In this 2004 photo, Paulina is giving great-granddaughter Didi a chicken, as Luyia grandmothers like to do. It is city girl Didi’s first visit to her rural homeland with her mother Frankline. As her granddaughter, Frankline was among the many children Paulina raised over the decades. In 2004 Paulina was 80 but still had a grandchild in her home—not an unusual situation for Luyia grandmothers, for various reasons. This picture thus inspires us to recognize that it’s not just the elderly who need care. It leads us to ask: “How do old people take care of others?” and it helps us realize that intergenerational support goes both ways.