Polythene bags degrade innovation and culture

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

For those of us who grew in the village, visiting another home required planning. One needed an agenda to be tackled especially if its a home you don’t visit regularly. Hence there was sufficient reason for a visit. Not that people never used to interact, but a visitor was taken seriously. If one just wanted to interact, you could talk to each other over the fence or meet along the footpaths. Or even at the market place, local shopping centres or the watering point. But visit to homes was considered very honorable.
It was notable that home visits were also accompanied with exchange of gifts. A bottle of milk, a kilo of sugar, a packet of flour, sweet potatoes, cassava, arrowroots and maize cobs are among the items that were carried to the home to be visited. Normally these items were carried by women. The container used was normally a woven basket popularly known as ‘kiondo’.

In African culture, when you visit a home, generosity is extended, regardless of the economic status of the family visited. There was food and drink for visitors. This enabled community members to interact and bond more closely. The presentation of the gift was symbolic of the respect given to the home being visited and the planning done prior to the visit.
The end of the visit was characterized with more exchange of gifts. It was the turn of the home visited to return the ‘kiondo’ with something inside. One cannot return the ‘kiondo’ without a gift. The ‘kiondo’ was only used to carry the gift and is not given away to the home being visited. The person visited took the ‘kiondo’, emptied the contents, and filled it with different types of gifts in return. This was the fun of African culture.

What happened with the coming of the polythene bags? Normally, polythene bags are single use containers. The bag will carry the gift and since everybody knows its cheap, its normally retained with the gift. When the gift is unwrapped, the paper will be discarded away since it could even have gotten torn. In addition, nobody attaches a lot of value to the polythene bag, unlike the ‘kiondo’ which had to be returned to the owner.
Those who visit carrying gifts in polythene bags face a challenge of not committing the person visited to reciprocate with a gift. Some people give excuses that they have no containers to put the gift for the visitor. Culturally, the polythene bag is not considered as a suitable container that can compel for gift reciprocation.
Those young people who have grown during the era of polythene bags have missed this rich cultural heritage. They are used to one way traffic in gift exchange. Polythene bags denies people the opportunity to propagate this culture of gifts giving and reciprocating.
With the banning of the polythene bags in Kenya, it is expected that this rich cultural heritage will be revived. There will be more exchange of gifts, more interaction and bonding among communities. In addition, there will be reduced pollution to the natural environment.

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