A Solar power equipped school as gift to the Maasai: Good or bad?
Journalists often draw strict lines between "us" - the modern - and "them" - living in the stone age - although, as anthropologist Kerim Friedman put it we're all modern now.
According to a recent story by Knight Ridder Newspapers, a gift to Maasai people in Kenya "adds fuel to debate on tribe's future". The article starts like this:
For centuries, the Masai people of Kenya have lived in huts without power or running water, used plants and minerals to heal themselves, and survived on a diet of cow milk, meat and blood.
So when Patrick O'Sullivan, a visitor from Silicon Valley entered one of their villages and left behind a school equipped with solar power, laptops and a projector, he sparked an old debate about the tribe's desire to preserve its culture while surviving in a modern world encroaching on its way of life.
What follows is a typical debate that might have taken place in so called modern socities when Internet was introduced: The elder people are rejecting changes:
But with the light came questions for the entire village. Elders - who had spent much of their lives resisting assimilation into the modern world, fighting British colonizers, and lobbying the Kenyan government for the tribe's right to self-sufficiency - felt their work was being lost in the tide of support from parents and teachers for O'Sullivan's school.
"Mostly elder people don't absolutely want the change. They want people to be as they were before," David Ole Koshal, leader of Oloolaimutia village, said on O'Sullivan's video footage.
What is so special about it? Why focus on the resistance by the elder people? As we read, most people embrace the changes:
Most Masai parents and teachers were delighted with the new tools for their children. The school's enrollment doubled from roughly 200 to 410, partly because children tending cattle during the day were able to attend classes at night thanks to solar-powered lights.
But as anthropology professor Lea B. Pellett said:
The more information and knowledge the better, but the Masai will have to take ownership of the change and preserve what is most important to them from their culture.