Images of women in African oral literature: a case of Gikuyu and Swahili proverbs
This study was to examine critically the portrayal of women in selected Gikuyu and Swahili Proverbs. The aim was to describe the images of women that emanate from the selected proverbs. The research concern arose out of the realization that gender relations and attitudes are important in understanding society. The findings of the study have shed light on the societal attitudes towards women. A content analysis of one hundred and fifty three Gikuyu proverbs and one hundred and twenty seven Swahili proverbs collected from published and oral sources in the Kenyan Coast and Central provinces reveal that women have diverse and ambivalent images. The images were derived from both literal and underlying levels of meaning of the proverbs. The study shows that women as mothers in both Gikuyu and Swahili societies are portrayed positively in their roles as readers, teachers and role models of their children. The image of a mother borders on idolization. However, women in general and wives in particular, are portrayed negatively in both Gikuyu and Swahili societies especially with regard to their personalities. Women are generally depicted as treacherous, unreliable, unintelligent, dependent and lacking in vision and wisdom. According to the feminist literary theory, which was used as a guide in the analysis of the data in this study, the images emanating from the proverbs are a reflection of the societal attitudes towards women in the two communities as literature is a vehicle of cultural philosophy. The study concludes that, for the two communities to portray women positively as mothers and generally negatively, there must be a good reason. It could be an indication that women as a category threaten the male domain. It needs to be established why women are perceived negatively and how the negative image translates in real life situations.