Since the arrival of our Xo laptops in Eshibinga, the brains of the kids at Eshibinga primary are telling stories. In Africa, story telling, folklore, narratives is the way people were taught. We call it oral literature. African Oral literature is composed of narratives, riddles, folklore, songs, poems and sayings. An ideal situation in an African household will be that in the evening after dinner is served, the children will sit around a fire with their grandparents and they will tell stories, crack riddles and sing songs. It was through these activities that education was passed from generation to generation. Last week as we were discussing possible homegrown solutions to the jigger menace in our school, we discovered that oral literature may just be one of the possible homegrown solutions.
The jigger problem is basically a problem that can be solved through basic hygiene and generally showing people how to keep jiggers away. A jigger infestation is an irritatation and itch caused by Tunga penetrans is known as the chigger, jigger, chigoe, bicho do pé or sand flea. Sometimes it causes severe inflammation and ulceration. If the female flea dies in the skin, it may cause a secondary infection which, if ignored, could lead to tetanus, gangrene and even loss of a toe. Natural extrusion of the eggs sac or removal of the jigger with a dirty pin or needle leaves a tiny pit in the skin which may develop into a sore. The sore may extend and develop into a septic ulcer. An infection under a toenail may cause pus to form.
When I was growing up in Eshibinga, long ago, there was a story about a man called Otsialo. They said he was responsible for the jigger menace that afflicted not just Eshibinga, but most parts of Kenya’s Western Province in those days. Now this Otsialo, they said, had materialised one morning, at the royal palace in the Wanga Kingdom, all the way from Kabaka’s court in Mengo, Uganda. He carried a giant gourd. The Wanga Kingdom was a pre colonial centralized government that ruled parts of Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda.
For whatever reason, Otsialo had fallen foul with the authorities in Mengo and fled eastwards. This was how Otsialo arrived at the Nabongo’s court with a gourd of jiggers. They do not appear to have received him well in Wanga. He therefore broke his gourd and unleashed the dreaded sand fleas, right there in the royal palace. The rest has been so much history in the sands, all the way to Murang’a in Central Province. If you ask the people of Emanyulia about the origins of jiggers, they will tell you they came from Uganda. The origin was royal and the entry point was also royal.
The above story is a good example of a narrative. Narratives are used to explain phenomenons, and things that affect the local lives here in Africa. Apart from narratives we also have historical facts. narratives of gourds of jiggers. Before I was born,in the ealy 60s a young lady came to visit Eshibinga. Her name was Appleby, a Church Missionary Society evangelist of the years who devoted her life not only to evangelising, but also to addressing questions of basic hygiene in our village.. The local people christened her ‘Shimwenyi’, on account of her permanent smile.
Primary school youth in Luhyia land in the 1950s and 1960s read her book. Shimwenyi’s children’s storybook,titled “Omukhasi Omubooli” translated The Talkative Woman. It is still a classic today in my area. It is one of the first printed works in Western Kenya. This book of narratives focused on basic hygiene. The jigger was a recurrent character in the narratives. A very basic relation was established between cleanliness and good health. Like most problems that simple primary healthcare would sort out, jiggers are a matter of failing to pay attention to basic hygiene.
It is the works of this lady, that have got me thinking. She did not ask for money to eradicate jiggers in my area. She used literary skills, books and narratives. As much as jiggers is a menace in this area, but it is not as pronounced as it was during Appleby’s times. That is what my class and I are now thinking. We need home grown solutions to the jigger menace. The xo laptops can be more effective than the story book that Appleby wrote. We can use the xo’s to spread the story of hygiene. We can record our stories and read them out during those bonfire moments in our homes. What do you think?